Hampton v. San Joaquin County Sheriffs Department, et al.,

Filing 34

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER signed by District Judge Morrison C. England, Jr. on 6/29/2017 GRANTING in its entirety 20 Defendant's Motion to Dismiss; amended complaint due 20 days from the date of this Memorandum and Order; Plaintiff's 26 Motion for leave to file a First Amended Complaint is DENIED as MOOT. (Reader, L) Modified on 6/30/2017 (Reader, L).

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 12 DELILAH MARIE HAMPTON; and JAMILA BREELER, Plaintiffs, 13 14 15 16 v. No. 2:16-cv-01816-MCE-AC MEMORANDUM AND ORDER COUNTY OF SAN JOAQUIN, et al., Defendants. 17 18 Through the present lawsuit, Plaintiff Delilah Marie Hampton seeks damages from 19 Defendants San Joaquin County and fourteen individually-named San Joaquin County 20 Sheriff’s deputies, claiming that she was unreasonably restrained by the deputies, and 21 subsequently arrested, after she reportedly caused a scene in a Superior Court 22 courtroom. Plaintiff Hampton claims violations of her constitutional right to be free from 23 unreasonable search and seizure pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and further asserts 24 various state law claims for false arrest, imprisonment and battery. She also contends 25 that Defendant County is liable for the wrongdoing she alleges by failing to adequately 26 train, supervise and discipline its deputies. In addition, Plaintiff Jamila Breeler asserts 27 her own claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress as a result of 28 contemporaneously observing the injuries sustained by her sister, Plaintiff Hampton. 1 1 Defendants County and thirteen of the individually named deputies1 now move to 2 dismiss Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil 3 Procedure 12(b)(6) on grounds that it fails to allege any specific violations against any of 4 the allegedly involved deputies, and consequently fails to state any claim upon which 5 relief can be granted.2 As set forth below, Defendants’ Motion is GRANTED.3 6 7 BACKGROUND 8 9 On March 10, 2016, Plaintiff Hampton visited San Joaquin County Superior 10 Court’s facilities in Stockton, California, to observe a scheduled court proceeding. After 11 a short time inside the courtroom, Plaintiff alleges she was told to leave by Defendant 12 San Joaquin Sheriff’s Department Deputy Steve Head. Once outside, Plaintiff claims 13 that Deputy Head threw her against a wall and attempted to place her under arrest 14 without probable cause or legal justification. FAC, ¶¶ 12-14. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff 15 Hampton claims she “was thrown to the ground and subjected by all DEFENDANTS to 16 unreasonable and excessive force while PLAINTIFF was handcuffed.” Id. at ¶ 15. Aside 17 from the allegations levied against Deputy Head described above, the FAC contains no 18 further charging allegations against any of the thirteen other deputies claimed by Plaintiff 19 Hampton to have acted improperly. 20 With regard to Plaintiff Breeler, the FAC states that she was “in close proximity” to 21 her sister and consequently observed the injuries inflicted on her sister, causing Breeler 22 “to suffer severe emotional distress.” Id. at ¶ 16. 23 /// 24 25 26 27 1 Deputy Steve Head is not a moving party in the instant motion. 2 Plaintiffs also include the City of Stockton as a named Defendant, apparently because a City of Stockton Police Officer, Defendant Tess Vallines, was also involved in the events underlying this litigation. Neither the City nor Officer Vallines, however, are parties to the present Motion. 3 28 Having determined that oral argument would not be of material assistance, the Court ordered this matter submitted on the briefs in accordance with Local Rule 230(g). 2 1 Finally, in contending that the County bears responsibility for its deputies’ alleged 2 misconduct, Plaintiffs state only in conclusory fashion that the County has “a duty to 3 adequately train, supervise, and discipline their deputy Sheriffs in order to protect 4 members of the public, including PLAINTIFF[S], from being harmed by such deputies 5 unnecessarily.” Id. at ¶ 40. 6 7 Aside from these cursory allegations, the FAC contains no other factual detail with respect to moving Defendants’ claimed wrongdoing. 8 9 STANDARD 10 11 On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil 12 Procedure 12(b)(6), all allegations of material fact must be accepted as true and 13 construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. 14 Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). Rule 8(a)(2) “requires only ‘a short and plain 15 statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief’ in order to ‘give the 16 defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Bell 17 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 18 47 (1957)). A complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not require 19 detailed factual allegations. However, “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of 20 his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic 21 recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (internal citations and 22 quotations omitted). A court is not required to accept as true a “legal conclusion 23 couched as a factual allegation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting 24 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief 25 above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & 26 Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216 (3d ed. 2004) (stating that the 27 pleading must contain something more than “a statement of facts that merely creates a 28 suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action”)). 3 1 Furthermore, “Rule 8(a)(2) . . . requires a showing, rather than a blanket 2 assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3 (internal citations and 3 quotations omitted). Thus, “[w]ithout some factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard 4 to see how a claimant could satisfy the requirements of providing not only ‘fair notice’ of 5 the nature of the claim, but also ‘grounds' on which the claim rests.” Id. (citing Wright & 6 Miller, supra, at 94, 95). A pleading must contain “only enough facts to state a claim to 7 relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. If the “plaintiffs . . . have not nudged their 8 claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, their complaint must be dismissed.” 9 Id. However, “[a] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge 10 that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and ‘that a recovery is very remote and 11 unlikely.’” Id. at 556 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). 12 A court granting a motion to dismiss a complaint must then decide whether to 13 grant leave to amend. Leave to amend should be “freely given” where there is no 14 “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, . . . undue prejudice 15 to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the 16 amendment . . . .” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Eminence Capital, LLC v. 17 Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) (listing the Foman factors as those to 18 be considered when deciding whether to grant leave to amend). Not all of these factors 19 merit equal weight. Rather, “the consideration of prejudice to the opposing party . . . 20 carries the greatest weight.” Id. (citing DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton, 833 F.2d 183, 21 185 (9th Cir. 1987)). Dismissal without leave to amend is proper only if it is clear that 22 “the complaint could not be saved by any amendment.” Intri-Plex Techs. v. Crest Group, 23 Inc., 499 F.3d 1048, 1056 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing In re Daou Sys., Inc., 411 F.3d 1006, 24 1013 (9th Cir. 2005); Ascon Props., Inc. v. Mobil Oil Co., 866 F.2d 1149, 1160 (9th Cir. 25 1989) (“Leave need not be granted where the amendment of the complaint . . . 26 constitutes an exercise in futility . . . .”)). 27 /// 28 /// 4 1 ANALYSIS 2 3 Except for Deputy Steve Head, Plaintiffs fail to identify with any particularity 4 whatsoever the role the remaining thirteen deputies played in the events underlying 5 Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries. Without any additional factual specificity, Plaintiffs have failed 6 to make any showing that the deputies’ use of force was either objectively unreasonable 7 or excessive so as to support either Plaintiff Hampton’s claims founded thereon. 8 9 Simply alleging that the deputies acted “unlawfully and unreasonably [in] using force against [Plaintiff Hampton] which was excessive and/or unnecessary under the 10 totality of the circumstances” is nothing more than a conclusory legal allegation that fails 11 to provide sufficient facts to enable the thirteen deputies to meaningfully respond to 12 Plaintiffs’ FAC. See FAC, ¶ 21. While the Court must construe the complaint in the light 13 most favorable to Plaintiff and accept as true the factual allegations contained in her 14 complaint, that rule does not apply to a legal conclusion couched as a fact. Johnson v. 15 Shasta County, 83 F. Supp. 3d 918, 925 (E. D. Cal. 2015). Because this dearth of any 16 factual specificity imbues each of the causes of action pled against the thirteen deputies 17 by Plaintiff Hampton, as well as any claim for derivative liability against Defendant 18 County for allowing any unlawful activity to occur,4 Plaintiff Hampton’s claims against 19 said Defendants are plainly inadequate. 20 Moreover, with respect to the claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress 21 asserted by Plaintiff Breeler, by alleging that Breeler was “in close proximity” to her sister 22 and “experienced a contemporaneous sensory awareness of [her] injuries” (FAC, ¶ 16), 23 Plaintiff Breeler appears to seek recovery under the so called “bystander” theory of 24 liability articulated by the California Supreme Court in Thing v. La Chusa, 48 Cal. 3d 644 25 (1989). In order to state a cognizable cause of action in that regard, however, Plaintiff 26 4 27 28 As indicated above, Plaintiff Hampton seeks to hold the County liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on grounds that the County had a duty to adequately train, supervise and discipline its deputies to refrain from violating her constitutional rights, or that the County ratified such violations, under the rationale articulated by the Supreme Court in Monell v. Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). 5 1 Breeler must show 1) that she is closely related to the injured victim; 2) that she was 2 present at the injury-producing event and aware that it was causing injury to the victim; 3 and 3) that she suffered serious emotional distress beyond that typically anticipated as a 4 disinterested witness. Id. at 667-68. “While physical injury [to the bystander plaintiff] is 5 no longer required, the emotional distress must be such that ‘a reasonable [person], 6 normally constituted,’ would be unable to endure it.” Akey v. Placer County, No. 2:14-cv- 7 2402-KJM-KJN, 2015 WL 5138152 at * 8 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 1, 2015), citing Molien v. 8 Kaiser Found. Hospitals, 27 Cal. 3d 916, 928 (1980). 9 Here, in conclusorily alleging only that she suffered “severe emotional distress”, 10 without any further factual explication of just what she was or how it affected her, Plaintiff 11 Breeler has not adequately pleaded a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim 12 under a bystander theory of liability. 13 14 CONCLUSION 15 16 For all the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 20) is 17 GRANTED in its entirety.5 Plaintiffs may file an amended pleading not later than twenty 18 (20) days after the date this Memorandum and Order should they wish to do so. If no 19 amended complaint is filed, the causes of action dismissed by virtue of this Order shall 20 be deemed dismissed with prejudice upon no further notice to the parties. 21 /// 22 /// 23 /// 24 /// 25 /// 26 5 27 28 While moving defendants also claim they are entitled to qualified immunity under the circumstances of this matter, because the Court concludes that Plaintiffs’ allegations are insufficient on their face to state any viable claim against said defendants, it need not address the qualified immunity at this time and declines to do so. 6 1 Because leave to amend is being accorded by this Memorandum and Order, Plaintiffs’ 2 subsequently filed Motion for Leave to Amend First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 26) is 3 DENIED as moot. 4 5 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: June 29, 2017 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7

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