United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ALONZO J. SEVERSON, Plaintiff,
KING COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
ORDER DECLINING TO SERVE AMENDED COMPLAINT AND
GRANTING LEAVE TO AMEND
P. DONOHUE, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Alonzo Severson is currently a pretrial detainee confined at
the King County Jail. Proceeding pro se and in
forma pauperis, he filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil
rights complaint against King County. See Dkt. 4-1.
The Court declined to serve and granted leave to amend. Dkt.
7. Currently before the Court is plaintiff's amended
complaint, which names as defendants King County prosecutors
David Ryan and Gabriel Jacob, Bellevue Police Detective Steve
Sargent, Seattle Police Detective Todd Jacobsen, the Seattle
Times, KOMO 4 News, and Q13 Fox News. Dkt. 8. Having reviewed
plaintiff's amended complaint, the Court finds and
Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Ryan, Mr. Jacob, Detective
Sargent, and Detective Jacobsen held a press conference where
they released inaccurate information to the media regarding
his participation in a burglary ring. Dkt. 8 at 3. He claims
that he was never charged with the crimes that were mentioned
at the press conference. Id. Plaintiff claims that
he is the victim of slander and defamation of character,
which have caused emotional distress. Id.
further alleges that the Seattle Times, KOMO 4 News, and Q13
Fox News discriminated against him as an African American in
their coverage of the case. Id. He claims that the
evidence shown in the news belonged to a non-African American
man, but the only faces portrayed in the media were faces of
African Americans, including plaintiff. Id.
Plaintiff seeks monetary damages. Id. at 4.
Once a complaint is filed in forma pauperis, the
Court must dismiss it prior to service if it “fails to
state a claim on which relief can be granted.” 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii); see Talley v.
Jackson, 2015 WL 3796339, at *1 (W.D. Wash. June 18,
2015) (citations omitted). To avoid dismissal, a complaint
must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 664 (2009). The
factual allegations must be “enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The
complaint may be dismissed if it lacks a cognizable legal
theory or states insufficient facts to support a cognizable
legal theory. Zixiang v. Kerry, 710 F.3d 995, 999
(9th Cir. 2013).
Court holds pro se plaintiffs to less stringent
pleading standards than represented plaintiffs and liberally
construes a pro se complaint in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. Erickson v. Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Nevertheless, § 1915(e) “not
only permits but requires a district court to dismiss an in
forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim.”
Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1229 (9th Cir. 2000)
(en banc). When dismissing a complaint under § 1915(e),
the Court gives pro se plaintiffs leave to amend
unless “it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of
the complaint could not be cured by amendment.”
Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir.
sustain a § 1983 civil rights claim, plaintiff must show
(1) he suffered a violation of rights protected by the
Constitution or created by federal statute, and (2) the
violation was proximately caused by a person acting under
color of state or federal law. West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d
1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991). To satisfy the second prong,
plaintiff must allege facts showing how individually named
defendants caused or personally participated in causing the
harm alleged in the complaint. Arnold v. IBM, 637
F.2d 1350, 1355 (9th Cir. 1981).
Having screened plaintiff's amended complaint, the Court
has identified the following deficiencies:
a. Plaintiff complains about the actions of the Seattle
Times, KOMO 4 News, and Q13 Fox News, alleging that they
discriminated against him as an African American in their
news coverage of the burglary ring. Members of the media are
private individuals, and therefore, they generally do not act
under color of law, as required for a § 1983 claim. A
§ 1983 claim can lie against a private individual or
entity, however, when the private party “is a willful
participant in joint action with the State or its
agents.” Kirtley v. Rainey, 326 F.3d 1088,
1092 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Dennis v. Sparks, 449
U.S. 24, 27 (1980)). The ultimate issue in determining
whether a private party is subject to suit under § 1983
is whether the alleged infringement of federal rights is
fairly attributable to the government. Id. The
plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the media
defendants were state actors. Florer v. Congregation
Pidyon Shevuyim, N.A., 639 F.3d 916, 922 (9th Cir.
Ninth Circuit recognizes four different tests used to
identify state action: “(1) public function; (2) joint
action; (3) governmental compulsion or coercion; and (4)
governmental nexus.” Id. (citation omitted).
“Satisfaction of any one test is sufficient to find
state action, so long as no countervailing factor
exists.” Kirtley, 326 F.3d at 1092.
public function test asks whether private individuals or
groups are endowed by the State with powers or functions that
are governmental in nature. Id. at 1093. Plaintiff
makes no allegation that the media defendants were endowed
with such powers or functions.
the joint action test, courts “consider whether the
state has so far insinuated itself into a position of
interdependence with the private entity that it must be
recognized as a joint participant in the challenged activity.
This occurs when the state knowingly accepts the benefits
derived from unconstitutional behavior.” Id.
(internal quotation and citation omitted). There is no
allegation that the local government and media are
interdependent or that the local government knowingly
accepted any benefits derived from the allegedly
unconstitutional media coverage.
compulsion test considers whether the coercive influence or
‘significant encouragement' of the state
effectively converts a private action into a government
action.” Id. at 1094. Plaintiff alleges that
state actors held a press conference, but the Court finds
this insufficient to constitute coercion or significant
nexus test asks whether there is such a close nexus between
the State and the challenged action that the seemingly
private behavior may be fairly treated as that of the State
itself.” Id. at 1094-95 (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted). Generally, the governmental
nexus test requires evidence that the private actor is
“entwined with governmental policies, or . . . [the]
government is entwined in [the private actor's]
management or control.” Brentwood Academy v. ...