Mauricio Gonzalez v. East Los Angeles Sheriffs

Filing 8

ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND by Judge Stephen V. Wilson. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that within twenty 20 days of the date of this Order. (See document for further details.) (Attachments: #1 CV66 Form Civil Rights Complaint, #2 CV9 Notice of Dismissal) (et)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 MAURICIO GONZALEZ, 12 Plaintiff, 13 16 ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND v. 14 15 Case No. 2:19-cv-07867-SVW-JC EAST LOS ANGELES SHERIFF DEPARTMENT, 17 18 I. 19 Defendant. INTRODUCTION On September 11, 2019, plaintiff Mauricio Gonzalez, who is currently in 20 custody at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, California, is proceeding 21 pro se, and has been granted leave to proceed without prepayment of filing fees 22 (“IFP”), filed a Civil Rights Complaint (“Complaint” or “Comp.”) with an exhibit 23 (Comp. Ex.) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) against the East Los 24 Angeles Sheriff Department (“Department”). (Comp. at 1, 3). Plaintiff essentially 25 complains about the circumstances of his detention, and seeks monetary and 26 unspecified injunctive and declaratory relief. (Comp. at 5-6). 27 As the Complaint is deficient in multiple respects, including those detailed 28 below, it is dismissed with leave to amend. 1 II. THE COMPLAINT 2 Construed liberally, the Complaint essentially alleges the following: 3 On an unspecified hot and sunny day in the Fall of 2017, between 4 approximately 12 and 1 p.m., plaintiff, who was with his brother-in-law, was 5 pulled over in a traffic stop by two Department deputies – one male and one female 6 – because plaintiff had paper license plates. (Comp. at 3, 5; Comp. Ex. 7 ¶ 20). The deputies searched and then detained the men for no apparent reason. 8 (Comp. at 5; Comp. Ex. ¶ 20). The deputies placed plaintiff in the rear passenger 9 seat of a black and white patrol unit and kept him there for several hours without 10 ventilation – the windows were up and the internal climate unit was off. (Comp. at 11 5; Comp. Ex. ¶ 20). At some point, the heat became unbearable and plaintiff 12 blacked out. (Comp. at 5; Comp. Ex. ¶ 20). To his shock and terror, plaintiff 13 regained consciousness in a holding cell with EKG patches on his body and pain 14 from what an x-ray revealed to be a dislocated right shoulder. (Comp. at 5). 15 Plaintiff was fingerprinted and released without further incident. (Comp. at 5). 16 This incident caused plaintiff lingering emotional scars, including PTSD and night 17 terrors, and left him with an irrational fear of authority figures. (Comp. at 6; 18 Comp. Ex. ¶¶ 19, 21). 19 Plaintiff appears to claim that the foregoing conduct violated his Fourth 20 Amendment right to be free from seizure without a warrant and probable cause and 21 his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. 22 III. PERTINENT LAW 23 A. 24 As plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding IFP on a civil rights complaint against The Screening Requirement 25 governmental defendants, the Court must screen the Complaint, and is required to 26 dismiss the case at any time it concludes the action is frivolous or malicious, fails 27 to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a 28 defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B); Byrd 2 1 v. Phoenix Police Department, 885 F.3d 639, 641 (9th Cir. 2018) (citations 2 omitted). 3 When screening a complaint to determine whether it states any claim that is 4 viable, the Court applies the same standard as it would when evaluating a motion 5 to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Rosati v. Igbinoso, 6 791 F.3d 1037, 1039 (9th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Rule 12(b)(6), in turn, is 7 read in conjunction with Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 8 Zixiang Li v. Kerry, 710 F.3d 995, 998-99 (9th Cir. 2013). Under Rule 8, each 9 complaint filed in federal court must contain a “short and plain statement of the 10 claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). While 11 Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, at a minimum a complaint 12 must allege enough specific facts to provide both “fair notice” of the particular 13 claim being asserted and “the grounds upon which [that claim] rests.” Bell 14 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 & n.3 (2007) (citation and quotation 15 marks omitted); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (Rule 8 16 pleading standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully17 harmed-me accusation”) (citing id. at 555). In addition, under Rule 10 of the 18 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint, among other things, must 19 (1) state the names of “all the parties” in the caption; (2) state a party’s claims in 20 sequentially “numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set 21 of circumstances”; and (3) where “doing so would promote clarity,” state “each 22 claim founded on a separate transaction or occurrence . . . in a separate count. . . .” 23 Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a), (b). 24 To avoid dismissal on screening, a complaint must “contain sufficient 25 factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its 26 face.” Byrd, 885 F.3d at 642 (citations omitted); see also Johnson v. City of 27 Shelby, Mississippi, 574 U.S. 10, __, 135 S. Ct. 346, 347 (2014) (per curiam) 28 (Twombly and Iqbal instruct that plaintiff “must plead facts sufficient to show that 3 1 [plaintiff’s] claim has substantive plausibility”). A claim is “plausible” when the 2 facts alleged in the complaint would support a reasonable inference that the 3 plaintiff is entitled to relief from a specific defendant for specific misconduct. 4 Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted); see also Keates v. Koile, 883 F.3d 1228, 5 1242 (9th Cir. 2018) (“[A] [Section 1983] plaintiff must plead that each 6 Government-official defendant, through the official’s own individual actions, has 7 violated the Constitution.”) (quoting id. at 676); Gauvin v. Trombatore, 682 8 F. Supp. 1067, 1071 (N.D. Cal. 1988) (complaint “must allege the basis of 9 [plaintiff’s] claim against each defendant” to satisfy Rule 8 requirements) 10 (emphasis added). Allegations that are “merely consistent with” a defendant’s 11 liability, or reflect only “the mere possibility of misconduct” do not “show[] that 12 the pleader is entitled to relief” (as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)), and thus 13 are insufficient to state a claim that is “plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 14 678-79 (citations and quotation marks omitted). 15 At this preliminary stage, “well-pleaded factual allegations” in a complaint 16 are assumed true, while “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action” 17 and “legal conclusion[s] couched as a factual allegation” are not. Id. (citation and 18 quotation marks omitted); Jackson v. Barnes, 749 F.3d 755, 763 (9th Cir. 2014) 19 (“mere legal conclusions ‘are not entitled to the assumption of truth’”) (quoting 20 id.), cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 980 (2015). 21 In general, civil rights complaints are interpreted liberally in order to give 22 pro se plaintiffs “the benefit of any doubt.” Byrd, 885 F.3d at 642 (citations and 23 internal quotation marks omitted). Nonetheless, pro se plaintiffs must still follow 24 the rules of procedure that govern all litigants in federal court, including the 25 Rule 8 requirement that a complaint minimally state a short and plain statement of 26 a claim that is plausible on its face. See Ghazali v. Moran, 46 F.3d 52, 54 (9th Cir. 27 1995) (per curiam) (“Although we construe pleadings liberally in their favor, pro 28 se litigants are bound by the rules of procedure.”) (citation omitted), cert. denied, 4 1 516 U.S. 838 (1995); see also Chapman v. Pier 1 Imports (U.S.) Inc., 631 F.3d 939, 2 954 (9th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (“[A] liberal interpretation of a . . . civil rights 3 complaint may not supply essential elements of [a] claim that were not initially 4 pled.”) (quoting Pena v. Gardner, 976 F.2d 469, 471 (9th Cir. 1992)) (quotation 5 marks omitted; ellipses in original). 6 If a pro se complaint is dismissed because it does not state a viable claim, 7 the court must freely grant “leave to amend” (that is, give the plaintiff a chance to 8 file a new, corrected complaint) if it is “at all possible” that the plaintiff could fix 9 the identified pleading errors by alleging different or new facts. Cafasso v. 10 General Dynamics C4 Systems, Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1058 (9th Cir. 2011) (citation 11 omitted); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-30 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) 12 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). 13 B. 14 To state a Section 1983 claim, a complaint must allege that a defendant, Section 1983 Claims 15 while acting under color of state law, caused a deprivation of the plaintiff’s federal 16 rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (citations 17 omitted); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989) (citation omitted). 18 There is no vicarious liability in Section 1983 lawsuits. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676. 19 Hence, a government official may not be held liable under Section 1983 unless the 20 particular official’s own actions caused the alleged constitutional deprivation. 21 OSU Student Alliance v. Ray, 699 F.3d 1053, 1069 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing id.), 22 cert. denied, 571 U.S. 819 (2013). A Section 1983 plaintiff must establish both 23 causation-in-fact and proximate (i.e., legal) causation. See Harper v. City of Los 24 Angeles, 533 F.3d 1010, 1026 (9th Cir. 2008). Allegations regarding Section 1983 25 causation “must be individualized and focus on the duties and responsibilities of 26 each individual defendant whose acts or omissions are alleged to have caused a 27 constitutional deprivation.” Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 633 (9th Cir. 1988) 28 (citations omitted). 5 1 An individual government official “causes” a constitutional deprivation 2 when he (1) “does an affirmative act, participates in another’s affirmative acts, or 3 omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the 4 deprivation”; or (2) “set[s] in motion a series of acts by others which the 5 [defendant] knows or reasonably should know would cause others to inflict the 6 constitutional injury.” Lacey v. Maricopa County, 693 F.3d 896, 915 (9th Cir. 7 2012) (en banc) (quoting Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743-44 (9th Cir. 1978)) 8 (quotation marks omitted). 9 10 11 C. Fourth Amendment 1. Arrests Police officers must have probable cause to make an arrest without a 12 warrant. Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964). When a warrantless arrest lacks 13 probable cause, it violates the Fourth Amendment and may support a Section 1983 14 claim for damages. Rosenbaum v. Washoe County, 663 F.3d 1071, 1076 (9th Cir. 15 2011) (citation omitted). In general, police officers have probable cause to make 16 an arrest when the facts and circumstances within their own knowledge and of 17 which they had “reasonably trustworthy information” would lead “a reasonably 18 prudent person to believe that the suspect has committed a crime.” Beck, 379 U.S. 19 at 91 (citations omitted); Rosenbaum 663 F.3d at 1076 (citation omitted). Courts 20 must consider “the totality of circumstances known to the arresting officers” when 21 determining whether a prudent person could have found a “fair probability” that a 22 crime had been committed. Crowe v. County of San Diego, 608 F.3d 406, 432 (9th 23 Cir. 2010) (citation omitted), cert. denied, 562 U.S. 1135 (2011). “Because the 24 probable cause standard is objective, probable cause supports an arrest so long as 25 the arresting officers had probable cause to arrest the suspect for any criminal 26 offense, regardless of their stated reason for the arrest.” Edgerly v. City and 27 County of San Francisco, 599 F.3d 946, 954 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Devenpeck v. 28 Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 153-55 (2004)). 6 1 2 2. Excessive Force Where a claim of excessive force arises in the context of an investigatory 3 stop, arrest, or other “seizure” of a free citizen, the claim is “properly analyzed 4 under the Fourth Amendment’s ‘objective reasonableness’ standard.” Graham v. 5 Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 388 (1989). 6 Although the Ninth Circuit has not squarely addressed the issue of a 7 post-arrest detention in a hot, unventilated police vehicle in a published decision, it 8 appears that this conduct can constitute excessive force under the Fourth 9 Amendment. See Kassab v. San Diego Police Dep’t, 453 Fed. App’x 747, 748 (9th 10 Cir. 2011). In Kassab, the plaintiff stated that “he was detained in a police car for 11 more than four hours, with the windows rolled up, no air conditioning, and an 12 interior temperature of 115 degrees,” and claimed that as a result, he “suffered 13 from heat stroke, had difficulty breathing, and almost passed out several times.” 14 Id. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to 15 the defendants, finding that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether 16 defendants used excessive force in confining the plaintiff to the hot police car. Id.; 17 see also Burchett v. Kiefer, 310 F.3d 937, 945 (6th Cir. 2002) (post-arrest 18 detention in police vehicle with windows rolled up in 90 degree heat for three 19 hours constituted excessive force under the Fourth Amendment). 20 Whereas an “unnecessary exposure to heat” may cause a constitutional 21 violation, see Dillman v. Tuolumne Cnty., 2013 WL 1907379, at *10 (E.D. Cal. 22 May 7, 2013) (discussing cases), being briefly confined in uncomfortable 23 conditions, such as a hot patrol car, does not amount to a constitutional violation. 24 See Arias v. Amador, 61 F. Supp. 3d 960, 976 (E.D. Cal. 2014) (post-arrest 25 detention for approximately 15 minutes in “very hot” police car in which window 26 rolled down about 4 inches not in violation of the Fourth Amendment); Estmon v. 27 City of New York, 371 F. Supp. 2d 202, 214 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (finding no Fourth 28 Amendment violation where plaintiff held in hot police car for ten minutes without 7 1 injury); Glenn v. City of Tyler, 242 F.3d 307, 314 (5th Cir. 2001) (finding no 2 Fourth Amendment violation where plaintiff left in unventilated vehicle in sun for 3 approximately 30 minutes). 4 D. Eighth Amendment 5 The Eighth Amendment – which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual 6 punishment – applies only to convicted inmates, not pretrial detainees. See 7 Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. at 392 n.6 (the Eighth Amendment's prohibition 8 against cruel and unusual punishment applies only after conviction and sentence). 9 IV. DISCUSSION 10 The Complaint – which identifies the Department, in its official capacity as 11 the sole defendant – fails to state a viable Section 1983 claim against such entity. 12 A local government entity – like the Department – cannot be held liable 13 under Section 1983 solely because it employs a tortfeasor. Monell v. New York 14 City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 692 (1978). The entity may be 15 held liable only where actions taken pursuant to an official government “policy” 16 caused an alleged constitutional deprivation. Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 17 60-61 (2011) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 692). Thus, a plaintiff who seeks to hold 18 a local government entity liable under Section 1983 must essentially demonstrate 19 that (1) an employee or other official with the government entity violated the 20 plaintiff’s constitutional rights; (2) the official’s actions were taken while 21 implementing or executing the entity’s “official” government policy; and (3) the 22 entity’s policy was the “moving force” behind the unconstitutional actions. See 23 Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-91; Dougherty v. City of Covina, 654 F.3d 892, 900 (9th 24 Cir. 2011) (citation and quotation marks omitted), cert. denied, 569 U.S. 904 25 (2013); see also Rodriguez v. County of Los Angeles, 891 F.3d 776, 802 (9th Cir. 26 2018) (9th Cir. 2018) (describing “three possible theories” of Section 1983 liability 27 for local government entities) (citation omitted). 28 /// 8 1 Here, assuming for purposes of analysis that the individual deputies’ alleged 2 detention of plaintiff without a warrant and probable cause in an unventilated hot 3 patrol car for several hours violated the Fourth Amendment,1 plaintiff fails to 4 allege that the deputies’ action were taken pursuant to an official government 5 policy or that any such policy was the moving force behind the deputies’ alleged 6 unconstitutional actions. See, e.g., Kassab, 453 Fed. App’x at 748 (affirming 7 district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of City on excessive force 8 claim because plaintiff failed to create triable dispute as to whether exposure to 9 excessive heat was product of City custom or practice or failure to train). 10 V. ORDERS 11 In light of the foregoing, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Complaint is 12 dismissed with leave to amend. 13 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that within twenty (20) days of the date of this 14 Order, plaintiff must do one of the following: 15 1. File a First Amended Complaint which cures the pleading defects set 16 forth herein;2 or 17 18 1 As noted above, the alleged conduct could not violate the Eighth Amendment because 19 such provision applies only to convicted inmates, not pretrial detainees. See Graham, 490 U.S. 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 at 392 n.6. 2 The Clerk is directed to provide plaintiff with a Central District of California Civil Rights Complaint Form, CV-66, to facilitate plaintiff’s filing of a First Amended Complaint if he elects to proceed in that fashion. Any First Amended Complaint must: (a) be labeled “First Amended Complaint”; (b) be complete in and of itself and not refer in any manner to the original Complaint – i.e., it must include all claims on which plaintiff seeks to proceed (Local Rule 152); (c) contain a “short and plain” statement of each of the claim(s) for relief (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)); (d) make each allegation “simple, concise and direct” (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(1)); (e) set forth clearly the sequence of events giving rise to the claim(s) for relief; (f) allege specifically what each defendant did and how that individual’s conduct specifically violated plaintiff’s civil rights; and (g) not add defendants or claims that are not reasonably related to the claims asserted in the original Complaint. To the extent plaintiff elects to include in a First Amended Complaint, the individual arresting deputies as defendants in their individual capacities, he is (continued...) 9 1 2. Sign and file the attached Notice of Dismissal which will result in 2 the voluntary dismissal of this action without prejudice; or 3 3. File a Notice of Intent to Stand on Complaint, indicating plaintiff’s 4 intent to stand on the original Complaint despite the pleading defects set forth 5 herein, which may result in the dismissal of this action in its entirety based upon 6 such defects. 7 Plaintiff is cautioned that plaintiff’s failure timely to file a First 8 Amended Complaint, a Notice of Dismissal, or a Notice of Intent to Stand on 9 Complaint may be deemed plaintiff’s admission that amendment is futile, and 10 may result in the dismissal of this action with or without prejudice on the 11 grounds set forth above, on the ground that amendment is futile, for failure 12 diligently to prosecute and/or for failure to comply with this Order. 13 IT IS SO ORDERED. October 7, 2019 14 DATED:____________ 15 16 ________________________________ 17 HONORABLE STEPHEN V. WILSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 18 19 Attachments 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 2 (...continued) also reminded that he must state their names (or, if he does not know their names, refer to them as “John Doe” and “Jane Doe”) in the caption. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a). 10

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