Meniooh v. Humboldt County et al

Filing 33

ORDER by Judge Robert M. Illman granting 19 Motion to Dismiss; denying 26 Motion to Amend/Correct. (rmilc2S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 3/31/2021)Any non-CM/ECF Participants have been served by First Class Mail to the addresses of record listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 EUREKA DIVISION 7 8 RAHTAH MENIOOH, 9 Plaintiff, Re: Dkt. No. 19, 26 11 United States District Court Northern District of California ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS v. 10 Case No. 20-cv-05634-RMI HUMBOLDT COUNTY, et al., Defendants. 12 13 Now pending before the court is a Motion (dkt. 19) filed by Defendants, the County of 14 15 Humboldt and Kristin Ellis (“Defendants”), seeking dismissal of Plaintiff’s First Amended 16 Complaint (“FAC”) (dkt. 11) without further leave to amend; also pending before the court is 17 Plaintiff’s Motion (dkt. 26) to file a Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”). For the reasons stated 18 below, the Defendants’ request for a dismissal with prejudice is granted, and Plaintiff’s Motion is 19 denied. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND 20 Plaintiff alleges that he is the father of a girl (“I.M.”) who was one-year-old at the time of 21 22 the subject incident. See FAC (dkt. 11) at 1, 4. Plaintiff’s child, I.M., resided in Plaintiff’s home at 23 the time, along with the mother and a four-year-old boy identified as “B.M.K.” Id. at 4. Plaintiff 24 alleges that on August 1, 2017, I.M.’s grandmother, Sue Capolupo,1 made statements to 25 unidentified “Doe” employees of the Humboldt County Child Welfare Services (“CWS”) 26 “regarding PLAINTIFF’s customs and traditions for aborigines’ children [sic].” Id. at 3. Plaintiff 27 28 1 Plaintiff named Sue Capolupo as a Defendant in the initial complaint, see Compl. (dkt. 1) at 2, but voluntarily dropped her upon filing the FAC. See FAC (dkt. 11) at 3. 1 further alleges that the CWS employees and Defendant social worker Ellis then “fabricated” the 2 grandmother’s statements in order “to investigate and seek an investigative warrant.” Id. at 3, 5. 3 On August 2, 2017, Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office deputies and CWS employees responded to the family’s home in Manila but were denied entry by Plaintiff and the children’s 5 mother. See Request for Judicial Notice (“RFJN”), Exh. A (dkt. 20) at 7. Plaintiff stated that he 6 “opposed” the investigation. FAC (dkt. 11) at 4. The following day, August 3, 2017, Defendant 7 Ellis successfully petitioned for a warrant that, according to Plaintiff “was based on no facts or 8 probable cause.” Id.; see also RFJN, Exh. A (dkt. 20) at 2-8. Plaintiff further alleges that the 9 warrant affidavit included false assertions that: (1) Plaintiff “practices a religion called Earth 10 Center of Maanu and believes in purification”; (2) the mother pours boiling water on parts of 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 4 I.M.’s body as part of a purification ritual; (3) the family does not use conventional doctors; (4) 12 the parents say they are not citizens of America but the Universe; (5) the father of B.M.K. stated 13 that he has a recording of a conversation the mother had with Sue Capolupo wherein the mother 14 stated she poured boiling water on I.M.’s genital areas “to reduce the child’s sexual feelings to 15 keep her from being promiscuous when she is older”; and (6) when B.M.K.’s father speaks with 16 his son, Plaintiff “will often take the phone and began [sic] shouting at [the father] saying that 17 [B.M.K.] is a bad child and needs to be beaten.” FAC (dkt. 11) at 6, 9; see also RFJN, Exh. A 18 (dkt. 20) at 7-8. Plaintiff alleges that the affidavit omitted facts such as “the water is boiled and 19 cooled before [being] applied to any child,” and “all information given about the aborigine baths 20 which is the foundation to Modern showers and baths.” FAC (dkt. 11) at 10. Plaintiff also alleges 21 that Defendants “failed to further investigate the aborigine baths by contacting the Earth Center 22 representatives to gain understanding of the customs” which they were investigating. Id. Further, 23 Plaintiff claims that Sue Capolupo will state that she did not make the unidentified statements 24 attributed to her—apparently those attributed to Capolupo by the father of B.M.K. Id. at 6. 25 Plaintiff alleges that on August 7, 2017, in executing the warrant, the unidentified CWS 26 employees “searched Plaintiff’s residence, interviewed the 4-year-old (B.M.K.) and forced the 27 mother to go with them to the hospital for a medical exam of Plaintiff’s one-year-old daughter 28 [I.M.].” Id. at 4; see also RFJN, Exh. A (dkt. 20) at 1. Plaintiff further alleges that the actions of 2 1 Defendant Ellis and the unnamed CWS workers were “retaliatory” and “motivated by Plaintiff’s 2 freedom of speech of informing [Defendants] to close the referral or get a warrant” during the 3 August 2, 2017 visit. FAC (dkt. 11) at 11. 4 Plaintiff filed his original complaint on August 13, 2020. See Compl. (dkt. 1). The complaint was dismissed by the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), with leave to amend. 6 See Order of September 15, 2020 (dkt. 10). Plaintiff filed a FAC on October 15, 2020, setting 7 forth four causes of action. See FAC (dkt. 11). Plaintiff’s first claim is brought pursuant to 42 8 U.S.C. § 1983 for unlawful search and seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth 9 Amendments. Id. at 15. By way of his second claim, Plaintiff asserts that, under Section 1983, 10 Defendants’ actions constituted retaliation in violation of his rights under the First Amendment. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 5 Id. at 15-16. Plaintiff’s third claim appears to be a hybrid claim which restates his Section 1983 12 claims for unlawful search and seizure, combined with a Section 1983 claim against the County 13 under Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Id. at 16-22. 14 Plaintiff’s final claim is entitled “Defamation,” and purports to be authorized by 28 U.S.C. § 4101. 15 Id. at 22-23. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, a declaration that Defendants 16 violated the Fourth Amendment, and an injunction enjoining the Defendants from engaging in the 17 conduct alleged in the complaint. Id. at 23-24. 18 January 12, 2021, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint in its entirety 19 on the grounds that his Section 1983 claims are time-barred by the statute of limitations and his 28 20 U.S.C. § 4101 claim is incognizable. See Motion to Dismiss (dkt. 19). Instead of filing a response 21 to the Defendants’ motion, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend his Complaint along with a Proposed 22 Second Amended Complaint (“PSAC”), in which he asserts that a three-year statute of limitations 23 should apply to his complaint. See Motion to Amend (dkt. 26); PSAC (dkt. 27). Defendants 24 responded in opposition to Plaintiff’s motion to amend on the basis that it was futile and 25 improperly filed. See Opposition and Objection to Motion for Leave to File SAC (dkt. 29). On 26 March 1, 2020, the undersigned conducted a motion hearing, during which Plaintiff stated that he 27 neither lived at the house where the warrant was executed, nor was he present during its execution. 28 3 1 See Motion Hearing (dkt. 30).2 Plaintiff also stated that he became aware of the warrant on the day 2 it was executed, August 7, 2017. Id. During the motion hearing, the court granted Plaintiff an 3 opportunity to respond to the Defendants’ Opposition and Objection to Motion for Leave to File 4 SAC. Id.; see also Def.’s Opp. (dkt. 29). Rather than filing a written response to Defendants’ 5 opposition and objection, Plaintiff filed an untimely Opposition to the Defendants’ Motion to 6 Dismiss, in which he reasserts the claim that a three-year statute of limitations should instead be 7 applied to his complaint and that the court should grant his request for leave to file a SAC. See 8 Opposition to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (dkt. 31). STANDARD OF REVIEW 9 A plaintiff may bring an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to redress violations of “rights, 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and [federal] laws,” that were perpetrated by 12 a person or entity, including a municipality, acting under the color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; 13 see also Monell v. Dep’t of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-95 (1978). In the present context, in 14 order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a 15 plaintiff must allege facts that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level,” Bell Atl. Corp. v. 16 Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); thus, the “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, 17 accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 18 662, 678 (2009). While “all well-pleaded allegations of material fact are taken as true and 19 construed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party,” Wyler Summit Partnership v. Turner 20 Broad. Sys. Inc., 135 F.3d 658, 661 (9th Cir. 1998), the court is not required to accept as true 21 allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences. 22 Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001). Thus, mere recitals of the 23 elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, are insufficient. Iqbal, 556 24 25 26 27 28 2 This stands in contradiction to assertions made by Plaintiff in his initial and First Amended Complaints. See Compl. (dkt. 1) at 15 (“PLAINTIFF even went as far as getting on his roof top of his home for not being shown deference for honoring his Ancestral culture.”); FAC (dkt. 11) at 15-16 (“Defendants have violated Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights to speech by retaliating on PLAINTIFF for verbal [sic] establishing his right to privacy and security ta [sic] his home.”). Indeed, Plaintiff’s contradictory assertions call into question whether Plaintiff has standing to bring the claims in this complaint. However, the court need not wade into those waters as the court finds that even if Plaintiff could establish standing, his claims are barred by the statute of limitations. 4 1 U.S. at 678; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. 2 Further, because Plaintiff is unrepresented, this court will construe his pleadings and 3 arguments liberally, interpreting them to raise the strongest arguments they suggest. See Bernhardt 4 v. Los Angeles County, 339 F.3d 920, 925 (9th Cir. 2003) (“[c]ourts have a duty to construe pro se 5 pleadings liberally, including pro se motions”); cf. Wilwording v. Swenson, 404 U.S. 249, 251 6 (1971) (per curiam) (habeas corpus petition that presents claims cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 7 1983 should be construed to that extent as a complaint under Section 1983); with, Franklin v. State 8 of Oregon, 662 F.2d 1337, 1347-48 & n.13 (9th Cir. 1981) (courts should construe pro se 9 pleadings liberally; construing Section 1983 complaint as a habeas corpus petition). 10 Dismissal for failure to state a claim is appropriate only where it appears, beyond doubt, United States District Court Northern District of California 11 that the plaintiff can prove no set of pleaded facts that would entitle her or him to relief. Morley v. 12 Walker, 175 F.3d 756, 759 (9th Cir. 1999). In short, for a complaint to survive a motion to 13 dismiss, the non-conclusory factual content, and reasonable inferences from that content, must 14 plausibly suggest a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief. Moss v. United States Secret Serv., 572 15 F.3d 962, 970 (9th Cir. 2009). DISCUSSION 16 17 18 Plaintiff’s Section 1983 Claims are Barred by the Statute of Limitations All causes of action in Plaintiff’s initial and First Amended complaints arise from, and are 19 based upon, the procurement of the subject warrant on August 3, 2017, and its execution on 20 August 7, 2017. As explained below, Plaintiff’s Section 1983 claims are barred by the statute of 21 limitations. 22 A party may raise a statute of limitations defense in a motion to dismiss “[i]f the running of 23 the statute is apparent on the face of the complaint.” Jablon v. Dean Witter & Co., 614 F.2d 677, 24 682 (9th Cir. 1980); see also Yamauchi v. Cotterman, 84 F. Supp. 3d 993, 1004 (N.D. Cal. 2015) 25 (“A plaintiff fails to state a claim, and therefore dismissal is appropriate, where his failure to 26 comply with the applicable statute of limitations is evident from the allegations of the 27 complaint.”). The statute of limitations for Section 1983 claims is that which is provided by the 28 forum state’s law for personal injury torts. Taylor v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 993 F.2d 710, 711 5 1 (9th Cir. 1993). California’s statute of limitations for personal injury torts is two years. Cal. Code 2 Civ. P. § 335.1; see also Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 927 (9th Cir. 2004) (noting that the statute 3 of limitations changed from one year to two years in 2003). Thus, Section 1983 claims that arise in 4 California are subject to a two-year statute of limitations. Id. The accrual date of a Section 1983 5 claim is a question of federal law. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 388 (2007). A civil rights claim 6 accrues under federal law “when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury that is the 7 basis of the action.” Belanus v. Clark, 796 F.3d 1021, 1025 (9th Cir. 2015); Elliott v. City of Union 8 City, 25 F.3d 800, 802 (9th Cir. 1994) (quoting Norco Construction, Inc. v. King Cty., 801 F.2d 9 1143, 1145 (9th Cir. 1986). Plaintiff alleges three Section 1983 claims against Defendants for deprivation of his rights 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. All of his claims are based on alleged 12 violations which occurred when Defendant Ellis allegedly made materially false statements and 13 omissions in obtaining the subject warrant on August 3, 2017, and when the warrant was executed 14 on August 7, 2017. See Compl. (dkt. 1) at 12; FAC (dkt. 11) at 4, 11, 22; see also RFJN, Exh. A. 15 These same dates are also corroborated by the Application and Declaration in Support of the 16 warrant and proof of service for the warrant, of which this court takes judicial notice. It should 17 also be noted that this court has previously taken judicial notice of Exhibit A to the RFJN in a 18 parallel proceeding. See Capolupo v. Eills, No. 18-CV-07458-RMI, 2019 WL 2327883, at *3 19 (N.D. Cal. May 31, 2019); see also Dawson v. Mahoney, 451 F.3d 550, 551 (9th Cir. 2006) 20 (allowing for judicial notice in Federal Court of State Court orders and proceedings); Bunkley v. 21 Verber, No. 17-CV-05797-WHO, 2018 WL 1242168, at *2-3 (N.D. Cal. 2018) (taking judicial 22 notice of arrest warrant).3 Further, Plaintiff confirmed during the motion hearing that he was made 23 aware of the warrant on the date of its execution (that is, on August 7, 2017). Thus, Plaintiff’s 24 Section 1983 claims accrued on August 7, 2017, rendering his complaint (filed on August 13, 25 26 27 28 “A matter that is properly subject to judicial notice under Federal Rule of Evidence 201 may be considered along with the complaint when deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.” Flanagan v. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ins. Corp., No. 94-16965, 1996 U.S. App. LEXIS 8394, at *13-14 (9th Cir. Apr. 4, 1996) (citing MGIC Indem. Corp. v. Weisman, 803 F.2d 500, 504 (9th Cir. 1986)); Hernandez v. Sutter W. Capital, C 09–03658 CRB, 2010 WL 3385046 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 26, 2010) (same). 3 6 1 2020) late by more than a year. In short, Plaintiff argues that California’s Section 1983 limitations period should not apply 2 to his claims, but that the court should instead apply other limitations periods. See Opposition to 4 Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (dkt. 31) at 3-4 (citing to New York and New Mexico’s three-year 5 statute of limitations). Plaintiff also asserts that the court should look to the “nature of the 6 complaint” in determining the appropriate limitations period and that, in so doing, his claims 7 would be best analogized to a “deliberate indifference” claim, which he argues would require a 8 three-year limitations period. Id. at 5; see also PSAC at 3. However, it is well established that the 9 forum state’s limitations period for personal injury torts applies to Section 1983 claims and in this 10 context and, as stated above, California provides a two-year statute of limitations. See Taylor, 993 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 3 F.2d at 711 (9th Cir. 1993). Additionally, the limitations period does not depend on “the nature of 12 the underlying right being asserted” such that each state applies the same statute of limitations to 13 all Section 1983 claims. See City of Rancho Palos Verdes, Cal. v. Abrams, 544 U.S. 113, 124 14 (2005). Thus, Plaintiff’s request to apply a three-year statute of limitations is not appropriate.4 15 Plaintiff is Not Entitled to Equitable Tolling Although Plaintiff has not met his burden of asserting that the statute of limitations should 16 17 be equitably tolled,5 out of an abundance of caution the court will analyze whether tolling should 18 be applied. “For actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, courts apply the forum state’s statute of 19 limitations for personal injury actions, along with the forum state’s law regarding tolling, 20 including equitable tolling, except to the extent any of these laws is inconsistent with federal law.” 21 Jones, 393 F.3d at 928 (citing Fink v. Shedler, 192 F.3d 911, 914 (9th Cir. 1999)). Under 22 California’s test for equitable tolling, a plaintiff must satisfy the following three conditions: “(1) 23 defendant must have had timely notice of the claim; (2) defendant must not be prejudiced by being 24 required to defend the otherwise barred claim; and (3) plaintiff’s conduct must have been 25 26 27 28 The court would note that even if a three-year statute of limitations was applied, Plaintiff’s complaint would still be time-barred because the claims accrued on August 7, 2017 and his complaint was filed August 13, 2020 – three years and six days later. 4 5 See Capital Options, LLC v. Goldsmith (In re Capital Options, LLC), 719 F. App’x 609, 612 (9th Cir. 2018) (citing Hinton v. Pac. Enters., 5 F.3d 391, 395 (9th Cir. 1993)). 7 1 reasonable and in good faith.” Bacon v. City of L.A., 843 F.2d 372, 374 (9th Cir. 1988) (applying 2 California law). 3 Applying this standard, the court finds that Plaintiff is not entitled to equitable tolling. First, Plaintiff has alleged no facts which would support equitable tolling in his initial complaint, 5 his FAC, his PSAC, or in any of his filings. Thus, he has not met his burden. See Capital Options, 6 719 F. App’x at 612. Second, Plaintiff is unable to establish that he placed Defendants on notice of 7 his claims within the limitations period. See Collier v. City of Pasadena, 142 Cal. App. 3d 917, 8 924 (1983) (“The timely notice requirement essentially means that the first claim must have been 9 filed within the statutory period.”). Third, even if Plaintiff was able to establish timely notice, 10 which he is not, he is unable to establish that his conduct was “reasonable and in good faith,” 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 4 where he waited more than twelve months after the expiration of the statute of limitations before 12 filing his complaint. See Ervin v. Cty. of L.A., 848 F.2d 1018, 1020 (9th Cir. 1988) (“appellant’s 13 unwarranted delay in filing her federal civil rights claim was neither reasonable nor in good 14 faith.”); Claraty v. Hall-Mills, No. 18-cv-06861-JCS, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 417, at *10 (N.D. 15 Cal. Jan. 2, 2020) (finding the Plaintiff did not act in good faith by filing seventeen months after 16 statute of limitations expired); Ortega v. Flores, No. 19-cv-00319-HSG, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17 206472, at *12 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 27, 2019) (finding the plaintiff did not pursue his claims in good 18 faith by filing 4 years after applicable limitations period expired). 19 In summary, liberally construing the complaint and making all reasonable inferences in 20 Plaintiff’s favor, the court grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss with prejudice as to Plaintiff’s 21 Section 1983 claims because they are barred by the statute of limitations and are not entitled to 22 equitable tolling. See Jablon, 614 F.2d at 682 (district court may dismiss a claim “[i]f the running 23 of the statute is apparent on the face of the complaint” and the assertions of the complaint do not 24 permit a showing that the statute was tolled). 25 Plaintiff’s Claim Under 28 U.S.C. § 4101 is Not Cognizable 26 Plaintiff’s final claim is entitled “Defamation” and is brought pursuant to “28 U.S. 4101.” 27 FAC (dkt. 11) at 22-23. Section 4101 of Title 28 is the definitions section for the Securing the 28 Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act (the “SPEECH Act”). The 8 1 SPEECH Act makes foreign defamation judgments unenforceable in the United States unless it 2 can be shown that such judgments satisfy the protections of freedom of speech and press 3 guaranteed by both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the constitution of 4 the state in which the domestic court is located. See 28 U.S.C. § 4102(a)(1); Naoko Ohno v. Yuko 5 Yasuma, 723 F.3d 984, 1004 n. 22 (9th Cir. 2013). “The Act was prompted by a perceived 6 increase in the frequency of foreign libel judgments inconsistent with the First Amendment . . . 7 and concern that these suits were ‘significantly chilling American free speech and restricting both 8 domestic and worldwide access to important information.’” Naoko, 723 F.3d at n. 22. A claim for 9 defamation cannot be brought under the SPEECH Act because it is well established that, “28 U.S.C. § 4101 is simply a definitional section (for statutes relating to foreign judgments) and does 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 not provide for a private right of action.” Hall-Johnson v. City & Cty. of S.F., No. 18-cv-01409- 12 LB, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 230486, at *23-24 (N.D. Cal. Sep. 6, 2018); Dorsett v. DeSanto, No. 13 16-cv-05802-JST, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13600, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 31, 2017) (“While 28 14 U.S.C. § 4101 defines “defamation,” it does not provide for jurisdiction in federal district court in 15 suits brought by private citizens against private citizens of the same state.”). 16 Here, Plaintiff alleges that “Defendant ‘OFFICER’ [sic] declaration made to the magistrate 17 on Aug. 3, 2017 are defamatory per se.” FAC (dkt. 11) at 22. He makes no reference to a 18 defamation judgment, let alone a foreign one. See Dorsett, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13600, at *4 19 (“The section was enacted to make ‘foreign defamation judgments unenforceable in the United 20 States unless it can be shown that such judgments’ are valid in light of the First Amendment, and 21 is inapplicable in this case.”). Based on the above, Plaintiff’s claim brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 22 § 4101 is dismissed with prejudice. 23 24 CONCLUSION Accordingly, because the court concludes that Plaintiff’s Section 1983 claims are time- 25 barred; because his defamation claim, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 4101, is not cognizable; and 26 because any attempt to plead around the statute of limitations would be futile, the complaint is 27 properly dismissed with prejudice. See In re Daou Systems, 411 F.3d 1006, 1013 (9th Cir. 2005) 28 (complaint may be dismissed with prejudice if it is clear that it cannot be saved by amendment); 9 1 Bloom v. Martin, 77 F.3d 318, 321 (9th Cir. 1996) (“Dismissing a complaint without leave to 2 amend is appropriate when granting leave would serve no purpose because the acts complained of 3 cannot constitute a claim for relief.”); Bell v. City of Kellogg, 922 F.2d 1418, 1425 (9th Cir. 1991) 4 (dismissal with prejudice is proper if amendment “would be futile in saving the plaintiff’s case”). 5 Therefore, for the reasons stated herein, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (dkt. 19) the operative 6 complaint with prejudice is GRANTED; and Plaintiff’s motion to Amend or Correct his operative 7 complaint (dkt. 26) is DENIED. 8 A separate judgment shall issue. 9 IT IS SO ORDERED. 10 Dated: March 31, 2021 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 ROBERT M. ILLMAN United States Magistrate Judge 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 10

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