Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dept.

Decision Date16 February 1988
Docket NumberP,KARIM-PANAH,No. 86-6198,86-6198
Citation839 F.2d 621
Parties46 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 287, 10 Fed.R.Serv.3d 791 Parvizlaintiff-Appellant, v. LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT; Daryl E. Gates; City of Los Angeles; Tom Bradley; Sid Mills; Byron E. Young; Henry T. Knopp; Robert Robles; Dean Blidterfeldt; M.F. Lords; Tester Obrymski; Agapito Ramirez; Robert G. Gandy; Tom Knoff, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Parviz Karim-Panahi, pro per.

Richard Helgeson, City Atty., Los Angeles, Cal., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Before ALARCON and NELSON, Circuit Judges, and AGUILAR, * District Judge.

ALARCON, Circuit Judge:

I. BACKGROUND

Parviz Karim-Panahi (Karim-Panahi) appeals from the judgment of dismissal of his amended complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim.

On May 16, 1983, Karim-Panahi was arrested on misdemeanor charges of trespassing, Cal.Penal Code Sec. 602(l), and resisting or obstructing a police officer in the performance of his or her duties, Cal. Penal Code Sec. 148. The arresting officers transported Karim-Panahi to a jail facility, where he was booked and subjected to a strip search and a body cavity search.

Based on his conduct during the booking process, Karim-Panahi was prosecuted and convicted under section 148. On appeal, the conviction was overturned on the ground that the prosecution had failed to present sufficient evidence to show that the officers were lawfully discharging their duties when they searched Karim-Panahi.

On February 14, 1986, Karim-Panahi filed a complaint pro se in the present matter. He purported to allege claims under 42 U.S.C. Secs. 1983, 1985 and 1986 against the City of Los Angeles (City), the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and various of their agents and employees arising out of the earlier arrest, strip search and prosecution. He also purported to allege employment discrimination and state law tort claims.

On defendants' motion, the district court dismissed Karim-Panahi's complaint with leave to amend, ruling that the complaint was vague, ambiguous, and unintelligible. The court explained to Karim-Panahi that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require a short concise, brief statement of your case," but the court did not identify any particular deficiencies in the complaint.

Karim-Panahi then filed an amended complaint pro se, asserting essentially the same claims. Again, the defendants moved for dismissal. On May 29, 1986, Karim-Panahi filed a "Notice of Forceful Move and Change of Address," in which he alerted the court to the possibility that economic exigencies might prevent him from attending the upcoming hearing on defendants' motion.

On June 9, 1986, the court held a hearing on the motion. Neither Karim-Panahi nor any attorney acting on his behalf appeared at the hearing. The court dismissed the amended complaint with prejudice, on the ground that it failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The district court did not advise Karim-Panahi of the deficiencies in the amended complaint.

Karim-Panahi now appeals from the dismissal of his amended complaint.

II. JURISDICTION

An order dismissing a complaint with prejudice is final and appealable. Conerly v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 623 F.2d 117, 119 (9th Cir.1980). We have jurisdiction over Karim-Panahi's timely appeal under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291 (1982).

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review de novo the dismissal of a complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 1 Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1447 (9th Cir.1987).

In civil rights cases where the plaintiff appears pro se, the court must construe the pleadings liberally and must afford plaintiff the benefit of any doubt. Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n. 1 (9th Cir.1985) (en banc). "A pro se litigant must be given leave to amend his or her complaint unless it is 'absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by amendment.' " Noll, 809 F.2d at 1448 (quoting Broughton v. Cutter Laboratories, 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir.1980) (per curiam)); accord Eldridge v. Block, 832 F.2d 1132, 1135-36 (9th Cir.1987). Moreover, before dismissing a pro se civil rights complaint for failure to state a claim, the district court must give the plaintiff a statement of the complaint's deficiencies. Eldridge, 832 F.2d at 1136; Noll, 809 F.2d at 1448-49. "Without the benefit of a statement of deficiencies, the pro se litigant will likely repeat previous errors." Noll, 809 F.2d at 1448.

IV. ANALYSIS

A. Claims under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983
1. Defendants City, LAPD, Knopp, Young, Robles, and Blisterfeldt

Section 1983 imposes liability upon any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of a federally protected right. 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 (1982). "To make out a cause of action under section 1983, plaintiffs must plead that (1) the defendants acting under color of state law (2) deprived plaintiffs of rights secured by the Constitution or federal statutes." Gibson v. United States, 781 F.2d 1334, 1338 (9th Cir.1986), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 107 S.Ct. 928, 93 L.Ed.2d 979 (1987).

Section 1983 also imposes liability upon municipalities for constitutional deprivations resulting from actions taken pursuant to government policy or custom. Monell v. Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2037, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). In this circuit, a claim of municipal liability under section 1983 is sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss "even if the claim is based on nothing more than a bare allegation that the individual officers' conduct conformed to official policy, custom, or practice." Shah v. County of Los Angeles, 797 F.2d 743, 747 (9th Cir.1986).

The fourth amendment, applicable to the states through the fourteenth amendment, protects individuals against arrests without probable cause, McKenzie v. Lamb, 738 F.2d 1005, 1007 (9th Cir.1984), and against the use of excessive force during arrest procedures. Robins v. Harum, 773 F.2d 1004, 1008 (9th Cir.1985). The fourth amendment further prohibits strip searches of persons arrested for minor offenses, unless "jail officials have a reasonable suspicion that the particular arrestee is carrying or concealing contraband or suffering from a communicable disease." Giles v. Ackerman, 746 F.2d 614, 615 (9th Cir.1984) (per curiam), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1053, 105 S.Ct. 2114, 85 L.Ed.2d 479 (1985).

In addition, this circuit has held that a claim of malicious prosecution is cognizable under section 1983 if the prosecution is conducted with the intent to deprive a person of equal protection of the laws. Usher v. City of Los Angeles, 828 F.2d 556, 562 (9th Cir.1987); Bretz, 773 F.2d at 1031.

Although Karim-Panahi's amended complaint consists in large part of a rambling and vituperative narrative plagued with errors in grammar and spelling, it does appear to allege that certain Los Angeles police officers, apparently defendants Knopp, Young, Robles and Blisterfeldt, arrested Karim-Panahi "unlawfully and with no reason," after which they beat, assaulted and tortured him. Amended Complaint paragraphs 20, 21. The pleading further alleges that these acts were engaged in under color of state law. Id. p 11. The amended complaint also appears to contain an allegation of official policy sufficient under Shah to state a claim against the City and the LAPD. 2 See id. p 31.

With respect to malicious prosecution, the amended complaint alleges that the police officer defendants maliciously and with no reason subjected Karim-Panahi "to criminal trial and appeals through a case that they FABRICATED in the Municipal Court," id. p 21, and that these actions were undertaken by reason of Karim-Panahi's national origin, religion, race, and political views. Id. paragraphs 11, 12.

In light of the foregoing allegations, we are precluded from concluding, as we must to uphold dismissal of the amended complaint, that the deficiencies in the section 1983 claims against the City, the LAPD, Knopp, Young, Robles, and Blisterfeldt cannot be cured by amendment after appropriate instructions from the district court. Accordingly, as to these claims, the district court erred in dismissing the amended complaint without leave to amend. On remand, the district court should advise Karim-Panahi of the deficiencies, if any, in his allegations under section 1983. 3 We do not, of course, require the district court to act as legal advisor to the plaintiff. Noll, 809 F.2d at 1448-49. However, the court must do more than simply advise the pro se plaintiff that his complaint needs to be shorter and more concise. Cf. Eldridge, 832 F.2d at 1136-37 (where magistrate ordered pro se plaintiff in civil rights action to file amended complaint "complying with the Local Rules of this Court in form" but failed to explain how complaint was deficient, district court abused its discretion in dismissing action for noncompliance with court's order). The district court is required to draft "a few sentences explaining the deficiencies." Noll, 809 F.2d at 1449.

2. Defendants Gates, Bradley, and Mills

Karim-Panahi purports to base a section 1983 claim against defendants Gates, Bradley, and Mills on their alleged cover-up of fourth amendment violations by the police officer defendants. The amended complaint charges that Gates, Bradley, and Mills falsified facts and destroyed evidence and documents, which resulted in obstruction of justice. Amended Complaint p 24. Such allegations may state a federally cognizable claim provided that defendants' actions can be causally connected to a failure to succeed in the present lawsuit. However, if plaintiff were to succeed in this suit, then his cover-up allegations would be mooted. See, e.g., Dooley v. Reiss, 736 F.2d 1392,...

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