Ceragioli, et al., v. Butte County et al

Filing 31

ORDER signed by District Judge Troy L. Nunley on 3/25/2024 GRANTING 6 and 23 Motions to Dismiss, and DENYING all other motions as Moot. Any Amended Complaint shall be filed within 30 days of the date of service of this order, and defendants shall file a response no later than 21 days from the filing. (Woodson, A)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 DARIO CERAGIOLI, et al., 12 Plaintiffs, 13 14 No. 2:23-cv-01113-TLN-DMC ORDER v. BUTTE COUNTY, et al., 15 Defendants. 16 17 This matter is before the Court on Defendants Butte County Sheriff Korey L. Honea, in 18 19 20 his individual and official capacities (“Sheriff Honea”); Butte County Deputy Sheriffs Joseph George (“Deputy George”) and Casey O’Hern (“Deputy O’Hern”), in their individual and official capacities; and Butte County’s (collectively, “County Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 21 6.) Also before the Court is Defendants Wellpath, LLC; Wellpath Management, Inc.; Crystal 22 23 Comer (“Comer”); Tanya Atkinson (“Atkinson”); and Pamela Johansen’s (“Johansen”) (collectively, “Wellpath Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 23.) Both motions have 24 been fully briefed. 25 For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS County Defendants’ Motion to 26 Dismiss (ECF No. 6) and GRANTS Wellpath Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 23). 27 /// 28 1 1 I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND 2 This case concerns the death of a pre-trial detainee, Dario Ceragioli (“Ceragioli”). County 3 Defendants include Butte County and its Sheriff and Deputy Sheriffs. (ECF No. 1 at 9–10.) 4 Wellpath Defendants are individuals — Atkinson, Comer, and Johansen — and corporate entities 5 who contracted with Butte County to provide medical and mental health services in its jails. (Id. 6 at 9–11.) Plaintiffs Dario Ceragioli, by and through Elizabeth Ceragioli as successor in interest, 7 Elizabeth Ceragioli, Mary Ceragioli, Anthony Ceragioli, and Joshua Ceragioli (collectively, 8 “Plaintiffs”) allege Ceragioli was a 62-year-old man who lived in Butte County and suffered from 9 multiple sclerosis and deteriorating mental health. (Id. at 2.) 10 On June 7, 2022, Deputy George and other deputies responded to a call that Ceragioli was 11 exhibiting erratic and violent behavior, including forcing himself into his neighbor’s home and 12 physically assaulting her, running around the neighborhood naked, charging at trucks and 13 attempting to strike their drivers, and speaking in an incoherent fashion. (Id. at 2 n. 2.) Deputy 14 George obtained an arrest warrant for Ceragioli and took him to the Butte County Jail where 15 Wellpath Defendants monitored him for twenty-four hours to determine whether he was under the 16 influence of alcohol or drugs. (Id. at 2, 4–6, 9–11.) Plaintiffs allege Ceragioli presented with 17 florid psychosis but Comer and Atkinson failed to run tests to determine its cause or otherwise 18 consult with a psychiatrist or refer Ceragioli to a medical facility. (Id. at 3.) Comer noted 19 Ceragioli “cleared sobering” after 24 hours of monitoring and Johansen noted the state of 20 Ceragioli’s mental condition and hygiene, but Plaintiffs allege there was no substantive 21 interaction with medical staff until Ceragioli was found motionless in his cell days later, suffering 22 from sepsis and organ failure. (Id. at 3–4.) 23 On June 16, 2022, Ceragioli was pronounced dead. (Id. at 3.) According to Plaintiffs, 24 earlier and more substantive medical treatment by Wellpath Defendants to address Ceragioli’s 25 psychosis would have saved his life. (Id.) 26 On June 12, 2023, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against County Defendants and Wellpath 27 Defendants (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging: (1) Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment 28 violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”); (2) Fourteenth Amendment supervisory liability 2 1 under § 1983; (3) violations of Cal. Gov’t Code § 845.6; and (4) wrongful death under California 2 law. (ECF No. 1.) 3 Defendants filed the instant motions to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 4 (“Rule” or “Rules”) 8(a)(2) and 41(b), or in the alternative, 12(b)(6), Plaintiffs filed oppositions, 5 and Defendants filed replies. (ECF Nos. 6, 11–12, 23, 27, 30.) 6 II. STANDARD OF LAW 7 Rule 8(a) requires that a pleading contain “a short and plain statement of the claim 8 showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678–79 9 (2009). Under notice pleading in federal court, the complaint must “give the defendant fair notice 10 of what the claim ... is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 11 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotations omitted). “This simplified notice pleading standard relies on 12 liberal discovery rules and summary judgment motions to define disputed facts and issues and to 13 dispose of unmeritorious claims.” Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002). 14 “If [a] plaintiff fails … to comply with [Rule 8], a defendant may move to dismiss the 15 action or any claim against it.” Rule 41(b). On a motion to dismiss, however, the factual 16 allegations in the complaint must be accepted as true. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). A 17 court must give the plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the “well- 18 pleaded” allegations of the complaint. Retail Clerks Int'l Ass'n v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 19 753 n.6 (1963). A plaintiff need not allege “‘specific facts’ beyond those necessary to state his 20 claim and the grounds showing entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570 (internal citation 21 omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the 22 court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct 23 alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). 24 Nevertheless, a court “need not assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of 25 factual allegations.” United States ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 26 1986). While Rule 8(a) does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an 27 unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A 28 pleading is insufficient if it offers mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the 3 1 elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 2 678 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory 3 statements, do not suffice.”). Moreover, it is inappropriate to assume the plaintiff “can prove 4 facts that it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the...laws in ways that have not 5 been alleged.” Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 6 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). Ultimately, a court may not dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff has alleged “enough 7 8 facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 9 697 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Only where a plaintiff fails to “‘nudge[ ] [their] claims 10 ... across the line from conceivable to plausible’” is the complaint properly dismissed. Id. at 680 11 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). While the plausibility requirement is not akin to a 12 probability requirement, it demands more than “a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted 13 unlawfully.” Id. at 678. This plausibility inquiry is “a context-specific task that requires the 14 reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679. If a complaint fails to state a plausible claim, “‘[a] district court should grant leave to 15 16 amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading 17 could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.’” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 18 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (quoting Doe v. United States, 58 F.3d 484, 497 (9th Cir. 1995)); 19 see also Gardner v. Marino, 563 F.3d 981, 990 (9th Cir. 2009) (finding no abuse of discretion in 20 denying leave to amend when amendment would be futile). Although a district court should 21 freely give leave to amend when justice so requires under Rule 15(a)(2), “the court's discretion to 22 deny such leave is ‘particularly broad’ where the plaintiff has previously amended its 23 complaint[.]” Ecological Rights Found. v. Pac. Gas & Elec. Co., 713 F.3d 502, 520 (9th Cir. 24 2013) (quoting Miller v. Yokohama Tire Corp., 358 F.3d 616, 622 (9th Cir. 2004)). 25 /// 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 4 1 III. ANALYSIS 2 The thrust of Defendants’ motions to dismiss is that Plaintiffs have failed to comply with 3 Rule 8(a)(2) and therefore the Complaint should be dismissed in its entirety pursuant to Rule 4 41(b). (ECF No. 6-1 at 9–12; ECF No. 23 at 5–8.) As will be discussed, the Court agrees with 5 Defendants and finds the factual basis for each Defendants’ liability for each claim is unclear.1 Rule 8 requires “each averment of a pleading to be ‘simple, concise, and direct.’” 6 7 McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1179 (9th Cir. 1996). To comply with Rule 8, a complaint 8 should clearly and fully set forth “who is being sued, for what relief, and on what theory, with 9 enough detail to guide discovery.” Id. at 1178. Even if the factual elements of a cause of action 10 are present but are scattered throughout the complaint and not organized into a “short and plain 11 statement of the claim,” dismissal for failure to satisfy Rule 8 is proper. Id. “The propriety of 12 dismissal for failure to comply with Rule 8 does not depend on whether the complaint is wholly 13 without merit.” Id. at 1179. Indeed, Rule 8(d)’s requirement that each averment of a pleading be 14 “‘simple, concise, and direct,’ applies to good claims as well as bad, and is a basis for dismissal 15 independent of Rule 12(b)(6).” Id. “Shotgun pleading occurs when one party pleads that multiple parties did an act, without 16 17 identifying which party did what specifically; or when one party pleads multiple claims, and does 18 not identify which specific facts are allocated to which claim.” Hughey v. Camacho, No. 2:13- 19 CV-2665-TLN-AC, 2014 WL 5473184, at *4 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 23, 2014) (first citing In re 20 Mortgages Ltd., No. 2:08-BK-07465-RJH, 2013 WL 1336830, at *12 (Bankr. D. Ariz. Mar. 29, 21 2013); and then citing Magulta v. Samples, 256 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2001)). In the instant 22 case, the Complaint does both and thus violates Rule 8(a)(2). Id. Plaintiffs’ Complaint includes 23 fourteen pages of factual allegations that describe a wide variety of conduct by different 24 individuals employed by different entities. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 1–21, 24–47, 49–51.) Importantly, 25 the Complaint does not even include a factual allegations section and instead contains an 26 27 28 Because the Court dismisses Plaintiffs’ Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) and 41(b), the Court declines to address Defendants’ alternative arguments under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). 5 1 1 introduction, rife with legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. (Id. at ¶¶ 1–21.) 2 These “allegations” are later incorporated by reference within the four causes of action that are 3 asserted against Defendants without any designation of which facts support each claim for each of 4 the Defendants. This lack of clarity permeates the Complaint and is a sufficient basis for 5 dismissal. Quintanar v. Cnty. of Stanislaus, No. 118CV01403TLNBAM, 2021 WL 4443251, at 6 *3 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 28, 2021) (citing Destfino v. Reiswig, 630 F.3d 952, 958 (9th Cir. 2011)). The 7 Court will address certain arguments from Defendants’ motions to dismiss to further illustrate the 8 issue. 9 10 A. County Defendants County Defendants correctly argue Plaintiffs’ Complaint fails to “clearly allege facts 11 stating a claim for relief against each Defendant, leaving County Defendants guessing as to which 12 claims are levied against each of them and upon which facts and legal theories Plaintiffs base 13 their claims.” (ECF No. 6-1 at 11.) For example, Plaintiffs’ first cause of action is a § 1983 14 claim against Defendants premised on purported violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth 15 Amendments. (ECF No. 1 at 14–16.) According to the Complaint, however, County Defendants 16 and Wellpath Defendants had completely distinct alleged interactions with Ceragioli — Deputy 17 George was allegedly responsible for Ceragioli’s arrest and Wellpath Defendants and Butte 18 County were allegedly responsible for his medical care in the jail cells. (Id.) But Plaintiffs’ 19 Complaint is devoid of any factual allegations concerning Deputy George after Ceragioli’s arrest 20 and therefore it is unclear how he may be liable for Ceragioli’s purported unconstitutional 21 medical treatment. The Complaint merely refers to Defendants collectively and does not clearly 22 identify the theories on which County Defendants’ liability allegedly rests or the specific facts to 23 support them. Plaintiffs’ other causes of action suffer from the same deficiencies. (See ECF No. 24 1 at 17–21.) Thus, County Defendants have not been given sufficient notice of the claims levied 25 against them. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (complaint must give defendant fair notice of what the 26 claim is and the grounds upon which it rests); Quintanar, 2021 WL 4443251, at *4. 27 28 Accordingly, the Court DISMISSES with leave to amend Plaintiffs’ Complaint as to County Defendants. 6 1 B. Wellpath Defendants Like County Defendants, Wellpath Defendants correctly argue Plaintiffs’ causes of action 2 3 are comprised of impermissible shotgun allegations.2 (ECF No. 23-1 at 5–8.) As noted above, 4 Plaintiffs’ first cause of action includes conclusory allegations that Defendants violated 5 Ceragioli’s constitutional rights but does not specify what conduct by which party led to the 6 violations complained of. For example, a portion of Plaintiffs’ first cause of action is dedicated to 7 Ceragioli’s purported unlawful criminal detention. (ECF No. 1 at 15.) But again, Plaintiffs fail to 8 provide any facts to support an inference that Wellpath Defendants contributed to this ostensible 9 violation. The only allegations the Court finds regarding Wellpath Defendants are that Comer 10 and Atkinson “did not run any tests to determine whether there was a medical cause for 11 [Ceragioli’s] psychosis,” and the allegations related to Johansen’s notes about Ceragioli’s 12 hygienic and mental states. (Id. at 3–4.) Despite these meager factual allegations, Plaintiffs refer 13 to the parties collectively in each claim and fail to cite any specific factual allegations showing 14 how each party is alleged to have violated their rights or Ceragioli’s. Thus, Wellpath Defendants 15 have not been given sufficient notice of the claims levied against them. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 16 555 (complaint must give defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it 17 rests); Quintanar, 2021 WL 4443251, at *4. Accordingly, the Court DISMISSES with leave to amend Plaintiffs’ Complaint as to 18 19 Wellpath Defendants. 20 /// 21 /// 22 /// 23 /// 24 The Court notes Wellpath Defendants’ motion to dismiss on Rules 8 and 41 grounds does not specifically address Plaintiffs’ third cause of action. Nevertheless, Wellpath Defendants have made clear they believe “all causes of action are subject to dismissal pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8, 12(b)(6) and/or 41(b).” (ECF No. 23-1 at 2.) Moreover, Plaintiffs do not oppose the dismissal of their third cause of action as to Wellpath Defendants. (ECF No. 27 at 4.) Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Wellpath Defendants’ motion to dismiss as to all causes of action. 7 2 25 26 27 28 1 VI. 2 For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss pursuant 3 to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) and 41(b). (ECF Nos. 6, 23.) The Court DENIES as 4 moot all other motions. Any amended complaint shall be filed and served not later than thirty 5 (30) days from the electronic filing date of this Order. Defendants shall file any responsive 6 pleading not later than twenty-one (21) days from the filing and service of any amended 7 complaint. 8 9 CONCLUSION IT IS SO ORDERED. Date: March 25, 2024 10 11 12 13 Troy L. Nunley United States District Judge 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 8

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