(PS) Porter v. Yuba City Police Dept.

Filing 44

ORDER signed by Chief District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on 05/06/22 DENYING 35 Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANTING 33 Motion to Amend the Complaint. (Licea Chavez, V)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 Quiana Lei Porter, 12 Plaintiff, 13 14 15 No. 2:20-cv-01554-KJM-DB ORDER v. Yuba City Police Officers Hansen, Jurado, Jensen, Escheman, et al., Defendants. 16 17 Plaintiff Quiana Lei Porter brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against several Yuba 18 City Police Officers. Defendants move for summary judgment and Porter moves to amend her 19 complaint. The court denies the motion for summary judgment and grants the motion to 20 amend. 21 I. BACKGROUND 22 On July 31, 2018, Yuba City police officers arrested Porter outside her brother’s home. 23 Statement of Disputed Facts (SDF) ¶ 1, ECF No. 41-3. She recorded some of the arrest on her 24 phone.1 The video shows six officers. Williams Decl. Ex. B (video footage), Not. of Lodging, 1 Porter maintains she did not film anything “relevant to this case” because the video does not show the alleged assault Porter endured at the hands of the defendant officers. SDF ¶ 11. However, the video is relevant because it shows that before she filed this action, Porter knew the names of the officers. This is pertinent to the court’s analysis regarding the timeliness of Porter’s claims under relevant federal and California law as discussed below. 1 1 ECF No. 35-5. Throughout the video, Porter claims the officers are grabbing her. She also asks 2 them their names and badge numbers. The officers named as defendants—Hansen, Jurado,2 3 Jensen, and Escheman—gave their names in response. Id.; SDF ¶ 11. Porter only recorded a 4 minute and twenty-four seconds of the arrest before one of the officers approached her and said 5 she was under arrest. The phone then recorded a few more seconds of audio without capturing 6 video. 7 A little more than two years later, on August 3, 2020, Porter filed a pro se complaint in 8 this court against the Yuba City Police Department and fifty Doe Defendants. SUD. ¶ 2. She 9 alleged the unnamed officers “grabb[ed],” “pummeled” and “threw her to the ground” before 10 handcuffing her while her breast was exposed until a “male officer grabbed her breast[ ] and put it 11 back into her shirt.” Compl. at 2, ECF No. 1; Porter Decl. ¶¶ 14–16, ECF No. 39-2. She alleged 12 incorrectly that her arrest had taken place on August 1, 2018. Compl. at 2. She did not identify 13 any officers by name. 14 Porter then retained counsel and filed an amended complaint, but again named no 15 individual officers. SDF ¶ 4; First Am. Compl., ECF No. 7. After the case had been pending for 16 almost a year, she filed the operative second amended complaint. SDF ¶ 7; Second Am. Compl. 17 (SAC) ¶ 12, ECF No. 19. This complaint names, for the first time, defendants Hansen, Jurado, 18 Jenson and Escheman. See generally SAC. Porter brings three claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: 19 1) excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment; 2) false arrest in violation of the Fourth 20 Amendment; and 3) unlawful detention in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. 21 Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing among other things that Porter’s claims are barred 22 by the statute of limitations. Mot. to Dismiss at 4–5, ECF No. 20. The court denied the motion 23 because, based on the face of the complaint and existing record, it appeared Porter had included 24 Doe defendants as placeholders for the officers involved in her arrest, suggesting she did not 25 know the officers’ names at the time. Prev. Order (Nov. 4, 2021) at 4, ECF No. 28. Thus, the 2 The court acknowledges that in its prior order directing the Clerk of Court to correct the spelling of two defendants names it provided the improper spelling for defendant Hurardo, whose name should be spelled Jurado. 2 1 court found the operative complaint related back to Porter’s original filing and her claims were 2 timely. Id. 3 The parties then completed initial discovery disclosures. SDF ¶ 10. Based on the 4 evidence received, the parties each filed a motion. For her part, Porter moves to amend her 5 complaint to correct some factual allegations and add a First Amendment retaliation claim. Mot. 6 to Am., ECF No. 33. The motion is fully briefed, and the court submitted it on the papers. Am. 7 Opp’n, ECF No. 34; Am. Reply at ECF No. 38; Min. Order, ECF No. 36. For their part, the 8 defendants move for summary judgment. Mem. for Summary J. (MSJ); ECF No. 35-1; MSJ 9 Opp’n, ECF No. 41; MSJ Reply, ECF No. 42. The court held a hearing on the defense motion on 10 March 25, 2022. Plaintiff’s counsel Stanley Goff and defendants’ counsel Danielle Williams 11 were present. The court first considers defendants’ motion for summary judgment. 12 II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT 13 A. Legal Standard 14 A court may grant summary judgment “if . . . there is no genuine dispute as to any 15 material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). 16 The moving party bears the initial burden of showing the district court “there is an absence of 17 evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 18 (1986). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, which “must establish that there is a 19 genuine issue of material fact . . . .” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 20 574, 585 (1986). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court draws all inferences and 21 views all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 587–88. 22 B. Analysis 23 First, the defendants seek summary judgment on their statute of limitations defense. MSJ 24 at 3. To prevail based on an affirmative defense at summary judgment, defendants must prove 25 the defense in question is “beyond controversy.” S. Cal. Gas Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 26 336 F.3d 885, 888 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). Specifically, they must prove “no 27 reasonable jury could fail to find that the defense had been established.” Snell v. Bell Helicopter 28 Textron, Inc., 107 F.3d 744, 746 (9th Cir. 1997). Conversely, a plaintiff “can defeat summary 3 1 judgment by demonstrating the evidence, taken as a whole, could lead a rational trier of fact to 2 find in its favor.” S. Cal. Gas, 336 F.3d at 888. 3 For § 1983 claims, such as those asserted here, federal courts “apply the forum state’s 4 statute of limitations for personal injury actions, along with the forum state’s law regarding 5 tolling,” so long as the law is not “inconsistent with federal law.” Butler v. Nat’l Cmty. 6 Renaissance of California, 766 F.3d 1191, 1198 (9th Cir. 2014). Here, the relevant statute of 7 limitations is two years. See id.; Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 335.1. Porter has always alleged her 8 arrest took place on August 1, 2018, Compl. at 2; SAC ¶ 9, which would set the end of the 9 statutory filing period as August 3, 2020, the day she filed this action. However, it is now 10 undisputed that Porter was actually arrested on July 31, 2018, SDF ¶ 1, meaning the statutory 11 period ended three days before she filed her complaint. However, the court declines to grant 12 summary judgment on this ground, as explained below. 13 Before the limitations period expired, the Judicial Council of California promulgated 14 emergency rules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See Judicial Council of Cal., 15 Emergency Rules Related to COVID-19.3 Under emergency rule 9, “[n]otwithstanding any other 16 law, the statutes of limitations and repose for civil causes of action that exceed 180 days are tolled 17 from April 6, 2020, until October 1, 2020.” Id. “By its terms, ‘Emergency rule 9 is intended to 18 apply broadly to toll any statute of limitations on the filing of a pleading in court asserting a civil 19 cause of action.’” Palacios v. Interstate Hotels & Resorts Inc., No. 21-5799, 2021 WL 4061730, 20 at *3 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 7, 2021) (quoting Judicial Council of Cal., Advisory Comm. Comment). In 21 Palacios, for example, the court relied on this rule to toll the plaintiff’s Fair Employment and 22 Housing claims. Id. Defendants do not dispute that the emergency rule applies to Porter’s 23 claims. Nor do they claim to have suffered any prejudice as a result of the three days’ delay 24 between the expiration of the limitations period and the day plaintiff filed suit. The court finds 25 ///// 3 See https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/appendix-i.pdf (accessed April 11, 2022). The court takes judicial notice of these emergency rules under Federal Rule of Evidence 201. See Arizona Libertarian Party v. Reagan, 798 F.3d 723, 727 n.3 (9th Cir. 2015). 4 1 the statute of limitations for Porter’s § 1983 claim was tolled from April 6, 2020 until October 1, 2 2020. Her original complaint was timely. 3 This conclusion does not resolve the defendants’ motion entirely. The defendants also 4 argue Porter’s claims against the individual officers are untimely because she did not name any of 5 them in her original complaint; rather, as noted, she first identified them in her second amended 6 complaint, which she filed after the extended emergency limitations period had expired. MSJ 7 at 3. This is the same argument the defendants raised in their motion to dismiss, which the court 8 denied. Mot. to Dismiss at 4–5. 9 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 governs the resolution of this question. Under Rule 10 15, an amendment relates back to a previous pleading if it would also do so “under the state law 11 that provides the applicable statute of limitations, . . . even if the amendment would not otherwise 12 relate back under the federal rules.” Butler, 766 F.3d at 1200 (citation omitted). The general rule 13 under California law “is that an amended complaint that adds a new defendant does not relate 14 back to the date of filing the original complaint.” Woo v. Superior Ct., 75 Cal. App. 4th 169, 176 15 (1999). However, an exception exists under California’s Code of Civil Procedure section 474. 16 Under section 474, an amendment may relate back if it is “simply correct[ing] a misnomer by 17 which an ‘old’ defendant was sued.” Shidler v. Cty. of San Bernardino, No. 19-503, 2020 WL 18 10224752, at *3 (C.D. Cal. July 28, 2020) (citing Hawkins v. Pac. Coast Bldg. Prods., Inc., 19 124 Cal. App. 4th 1497, 1503 (2004)). The exception encompasses cases in which an amendment 20 substitutes “a new defendant for a fictitious Doe defendant.” Woo, 75 Cal. App. 4th at 176. It 21 applies either if the plaintiff was “genuinely ignorant of the defendant’s identity at the time the 22 original complaint was filed.” Shidler, 2020 WL 10224752, at *3 (citing Butler, 766 F.3d at 23 1202), or “was initially unaware of [the defendant’s] true relationship to the injuries upon which 24 the action was based.” Kurz v. Superior Ct., No. H035548, 2011 WL 288460, at *7 (Cal. Ct. 25 App. Jan. 31, 2011) (unpublished). Under the first test, if the “ignorance requirement of section 26 474 is not met, a new defendant may not be added after the statute of limitations has expired even 27 if the new defendant cannot establish prejudice resulting from the delay.” Woo, 75 Cal. App. 4th 28 at 177 (citation omitted). 5 1 When the court previously confronted this question, “[t]he record show[ed] [Porter] was 2 ignorant of the officers’ names,” prior to her retention of counsel. Prev. Order (Nov. 4, 2021) 3 at 4. Now, however, it is undisputed the four officers all told Porter their names at the time of her 4 arrest, and she recorded them doing so on her phone. SDF ¶ 11; Ex. B. No evidence suggests she 5 did not have access to the video when she filed her original complaint. SDF ¶ 10. 6 The defendants contend the only proper inference from the existence of the video is that 7 Porter was not “genuinely ignorant” of the officers’ identities under California law, which would 8 mean the second amended complaint does not relate back and was untimely. MSJ at 5. In Butler 9 v. National Community Renaissance of California, the Ninth Circuit interpreted the relevant 10 California law. 766 F.3d at 1191. It held the plaintiff’s claims did not relate back under section 11 474 because she was not “genuinely ignorant” of the defendants’ identities when she filed her 12 original complaint. Id. at 1202. She had described her claims against them in prior legal 13 disputes. See id. In reaching this conclusion, the Ninth Circuit relied on the California Court of 14 Appeal’s opinion in Woo v. Superior Court. Id. (citing 75 Cal.App.4th at 169). In Woo, the court 15 held that “if the plaintiff knows the defendant’s identity and then forgets it at the time the 16 complaint is filed, to use the section 474 relation-back doctrine . . . the plaintiff must have at least 17 reviewed readily available information likely to refresh . . . her memory.” 75 Cal. App. 4th 18 at 180. If a plaintiff could have identified the appropriate defendant “from the readily available 19 information, then section 474 is unavailable.” Id. 20 Although the Ninth Circuit did not acknowledge it, Woo created a split among California 21 appellate courts. See White v. City of Los Angeles, No. 19-243, 2020 WL 9893054, at *2 (C.D. 22 Cal. July 24, 2020) (discussing the two approaches California courts take in applying section 23 474). In 1993, a different court of appeal held that a plaintiff in essentially the same position as 24 Porter could rely on section 474. See Balon v. Drost, 20 Cal. App. 4th 483 (1993). Following a 25 car crash, the parties in Balon had exchanged their names and other information. Id. at 486. 26 Although the plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, had a piece of paper with defendant’s 27 name on it, she “subsequently forgot about the slip of paper and [defendant’s] identity” and 28 named the defendant as a Doe in her complaint. Id. The court permitted her to rely on section 6 1 474 because her “conduct [ ] demonstrate[d] carelessness, not a willful misuse of section 474.” 2 Id. at 490. Under Balon’s more forgiving reading of the statute, a plaintiff may rely on section 3 474 if she forgets a defendant’s name or identity or forgets she has information providing this 4 information before filing her original complaint, if the lapse was negligent. 5 Although the California Supreme Court might eventually resolve the conflict between 6 Woo and Balon in Porter’s favor, this court is bound by the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Butler to 7 follow Woo. See Int’l Bus. Machines Corp. v. Bajorek, 191 F.3d 1033, 1041 (9th Cir. 1999) (“We 8 are not free to read California law without deferring to our own precedent on how to construe 9 it.”); Zuniga v. United Can Co., 812 F.2d 443, 450 (9th Cir. 1987) (“District courts are, of course, 10 bound by the law of their own circuit . . . .”). Under Woo and Butler, Porter’s operative complaint 11 does not relate back to her original filing. She knew the officers’ names: they identified 12 themselves in a video she recorded, and nothing suggests she did not have that video when she 13 filed her original complaint. In fact, she alleged in her original complaint that she “got her phone 14 and got the incident on video.” Compl. at 2. Reviewing the video before filing her original 15 complaint would have refreshed her recollection of the officers’ names. See Woo, 75 Cal. App. 16 4th at 180. However, this does not necessarily compel the conclusion that Porter’s claims against 17 the individual officers are untimely. 18 “Even a person whose identity was known to the plaintiff when the action was filed may 19 be brought in under section 474 as a ‘Doe’ defendant.” Miller v. Thomas, 121 Cal. App. 3d 440, 20 444–45 (Ct. App. 1981). This is the case “if the plaintiff was initially unaware of that person’s 21 true relationship to the injuries upon which the action was based . . . or if a change in law has 22 indicated that persons not originally joined might also be held liable.” Id.; Est. of Ronnie Paul 23 Sandoval v. Cnty. of San Diego, No. 16-1004, 2016 WL 4491598, at *3 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 5, 2016) 24 (same). Here, although Porter knew officers’ names, she did not know each officer’s role in her 25 injuries. A jury might conclude she did not know what each officer did during the alleged attack 26 and arrest. Or it might find she could not reasonably discern who grabbed her, pulled her, struck 27 her repeatedly, choked her, and dragged her to the ground. See MSJ Opp’n at 4 (citing Porter 28 Decl. ¶¶ 15–16). The record does not conclusively determine which of the several officers pulled 7 1 her up “from the ground with her breasts completely exposed,” placed her “in tight fitting 2 handcuffs,” or grabbed her exposed breast to put it back into her shirt. Id. Furthermore, a jury 3 might be persuaded that given the circumstances of the alleged assault and arrest, Porter could not 4 tell which officers acted as bystanders. And even if she knew the defendants’ names, California 5 courts allow relation back “if the plaintiff was initially unaware of [the defendant’s] true 6 relationship to the injuries upon which the action was based . . . .” Kurz, 2011 WL 288460, at *7 7 (citation omitted). 8 9 This court ultimately is persuaded by a sister district court’s analysis of a similar problem in Kestler v. City of Santa Rosa, No. 15-01361, 2016 WL 3091674 (N.D. Cal. June 2, 2016). In 10 Kestler, the original complaint named the “City of Santa Rosa and Officers Kertianis and 11 Farrington, as well as Doe Defendants 1-25” and alleged that “[a]dditional City of Santa Rosa 12 Police Officers arrived [at the scene] and assisted Officer Ferrington [sic] by hog-tying [the 13 plaintiff].” Id. at *1. The Police Department’s “incident report clarifie[d] that Officer Boyd was 14 one of the officers who arrived on the scene” and that while “Officer Farrington was holding 15 Plaintiff face down on the ground, . . . Officer Boyd delivered approximately three flashlight-jab 16 strikes to Plaintiff’s mid-section.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The 17 defendants argued section 474 did not apply because plaintiff had included Boyd’s name on a list 18 of officers who may have attacked him, which he created before filing his original complaint. Id. 19 at *2. The district court disagreed, finding that “listing the officers whose names appeared in the 20 incident report as having attacked him—d[id] not establish that [p]laintiff knew the specific facts 21 as to Officer Boyd’s involvement.” Id.; see also Bolbol v. City of Daly City, No. 09-1944, 22 2011 WL 3156866, at *4 (N.D. Cal. July 26, 2011) (“[I]f the identity of the Doe defendant is 23 known but, at the time of the filing of the complaint the plaintiff did not know facts that would 24 cause a reasonable person to believe that liability is probable, the requirements of section 474 are 25 met.”). 26 Porter’s claims and theories are similar to those the court persuasively analyzed in Kestler. 27 With the benefit of reasonable inferences, which this court must draw in Porter’s favor at this 28 stage, she knew only that a group of officers was involved when she filed her original complaint. 8 1 As her video confirms, there were at least six. What each did, she did not know. She amended 2 her complaint to add the officer’s names after she and her counsel “reviewed the relevant 3 evidence.” Order on Mot. to Am. (July 20, 2021), ECF No. 18. The defendants have therefore 4 not established their statute-of-limitations defense “beyond controversy.” S. Cal. Gas, 336 F.3d 5 at 888 (citation omitted). If a jury eventually accepted Porter’s interpretation of the evidence 6 about what she knew and when, her claims against the individual officers relate back. 7 Accordingly, the court denies the motion for summary judgment. 8 III. MOTION TO AMEND 9 Porter moves to amend her complaint. She claims she recently received initial disclosures 10 from defendants, which included dash camera footage and the police incident report. Mot. to Am. 11 at 2. These materials prompted Porter to add allegations that Officer Hansen tried “to grab 12 [Porter’s] phone from her hand [while she was recording the officers,] and after he made this 13 attempt, he then announced that [Porter] was under arrest.” Proposed Third Am. Compl. ¶ 15, 14 Mot. to Am. Ex. 1, ECF No. 33-1. It was after Porter refused to hand over her phone that “all of 15 the named Defendant officers on the scene” allegedly attacked her “with no warning.” Id. Based 16 on her review of these new materials, Porter says she needs to correct “certain facts” in the 17 complaint and to add a First Amendment retaliation claim. Id. The court has already scheduled 18 this case, see Rule 16 Bench Order, ECF No. 29; thus, to prevail Porter must meet the standards 19 for amendment under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 16 and 15. 20 Under Rule 16(b)(4), dates in a scheduling order may be modified only for “good cause.” 21 See Johnson v. Mammoth Recreations, Inc., 10 975 F.2d 604, 608 (9th Cir. 1992). The primary 22 factor courts consider in making a good cause determination is whether the moving party acted 23 diligently. Id at 609. To show its diligence, the moving party must demonstrate: 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 (1) that she was diligent in assisting the [c]ourt in creating a workable Rule 16 order; (2) that her noncompliance with a Rule 16 deadline occurred or will occur, notwithstanding her diligent efforts to comply, because of the development of matters which could not have been reasonably foreseen or anticipated at the time of the Rule 16 scheduling conference; and (3) that she was diligent in seeking amendment of the Rule 16 order, once it became apparent that she could not comply with the order. 9 1 Martinez-Sanchez v. Anthony Vineyards, Inc., No. 1:19-1404, 2020 WL 7360579, at *3 (E.D. Cal. 2 Dec. 15, 2020). Although the possibility of prejudice to the opposing party “might supply 3 additional reasons to deny a motion, . . . [i]f [the moving] party was not diligent, the inquiry 4 should end,” and the request denied. Johnson, 975 F.2d at 609 (citation omitted). 5 The court finds Porter has acted diligently. She was diligent in her efforts to help the 6 court create a workable schedule, see generally Pl. Status Report, ECF No. 25, and has met the 7 scheduling deadlines up to this point. Porter did not anticipate any reason to amend her 8 complaint, other than to substitute in the proper names of Doe Defendants, until receiving the 9 defendants’ initial disclosures. Id. at 4; Mot. to Am. at 3–4. Porter acted diligently, in seeking 10 amendment just ten days after receiving the disclosure materials, which Porter’s counsel received 11 two weeks after the court set the initial disclosure deadline. Mot. to Am. at 3–4. Thus, Porter has 12 shown she was diligent, establishing good cause to modify the schedule under Rule 16. 13 Under Rule 15(a)(2), “[t]he court should “freely give[ ] [leave to amend its pleading] 14 when justice so requires” and the Ninth Circuit has “stressed Rule 15’s policy of favoring 15 amendments.” Ascon Properties, Inc. v. Mobil Oil Co., 866 F.2d 1149, 1160 (9th Cir. 1989). “In 16 exercising its discretion [regarding granting or denying leave to amend] ‘a court must be guided 17 by the underlying purpose of Rule 15 -- to facilitate decision on the merits rather than on the 18 pleadings or technicalities.’” DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton, 833 F.2d 183, 186 (9th Cir. 1987) 19 (citation omitted). “Courts may decline to grant leave to amend only if there is strong evidence of 20 ‘undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure 21 deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue 22 of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of amendment, etc.’” Sonoma Cnty. Ass’n of Retired 23 Emps. v. Sonoma Cnty., 708 F.3d 1109, 1117 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 24 178, 182 (1962)). 25 The court finds no reason to deny Porter leave to amend. Fact discovery is not set to 26 conclude for more than two months, with expert discovery continuing for three months after that. 27 See Rule 16 Bench Order. The court has neither held a pretrial conference, nor set a trial date. 28 Mot. to Am. at 7. Given the early stages of this case, the court finds no evidence of undue delay 10 1 or that the defendants will be prejudiced. There is no indication Porter is acting in bad faith. The 2 defendants’ sole argument is that amendment would be futile because, as their motion for 3 summary judgment argues, Porter’s claims are barred by the statute of limitations. Am. Opp’n 4 at 2. Specifically, the defendants argue, the addition of the First Amendment claim would be 5 futile “because the statute of limitations has already [expired] and the new claim will not relate 6 back to the filing of the original Complaint.” Id. at 1. In resolving defendants’ summary 7 judgment motion, the court has found the current record does not allow it to conclude Porter’s 8 operative complaint is untimely as a matter of law. While the court cannot at this juncture predict 9 the ultimate fate of Porter’s new First Amendment claim, it is not prepared to find allowing 10 amendment would be futile at this time. See Mot. to Am. at 3. The court grants the motion to 11 amend. 12 IV. CONCLUSION 13 The court denies the motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 35). 14 The court grants the motion to amend (ECF No. 33). 15 The Clerk is directed to correct the spelling of Hurardo to Jurado in the case caption. 16 This order resolves ECF Nos. 33 & 35. 17 IT IS SO ORDERED. 18 DATED: May 6, 2022. 19 11

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