Robles vs. Aguilar

Filing 17

ORDER by Judge Maria-Elena James granting in part and denying in part 8 Motion to Dismiss. Amended Pleadings due by 3/30/2017. (mejlc3S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 3/10/2017)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 JUSTINE VALENTIN ROBLES, Case No. 16-cv-07038-MEJ Plaintiff, 8 ORDER RE: MOTION TO DISMISS v. Re: Dkt. No. 8 9 10 VICTOR AGUILAR, et al., Defendants. United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 13 INTRODUCTION Pending before the Court is Defendants Victor Aguilar, City of Sebastopol, and Jeffrey 14 Weaver (together, “Defendants”)’s Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 (“Rule”) 12(b)(6). Plaintiff Justine Robles filed an Opposition (Dkt. No. 15) and Defendants filed 16 a Reply (Dkt. No. 16). The Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without oral argument 17 and VACATES the March 30, 2017 hearing. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); Civ. L.R. 7-1(b). Having 18 considered the parties’ positions, the relevant legal authority, and the record in this case, the Court 19 GRANTS IN PART Defendant’s Motion for the following reasons. 20 21 BACKGROUND On November 20, 2015, Defendant Aguilar stopped Plaintiff for an alleged traffic violation 22 and performed field sobriety tests. Compl. ¶ 13, Dkt. No. 1. Following the sobriety tests, 23 Defendant Aguilar took Plaintiff into custody and transported her to the Sebastopol Police 24 Department. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff declined to submit to a further breath or blood test at that point. 25 Id. ¶ 14. After Defendant Aguilar refused to answer Plaintiff’s questions regarding the earlier 26 tests, she became frustrated, and stood up from the stool upon which she had been seated; she was 27 handcuffed, with her hands secured behind her back. Id. Defendant Aguilar physically grabbed 28 Plaintiff by the arm, yelled at her, and attempted to force her back onto the stool. Id. at ¶ 15. 1 When Plaintiff did not sit back onto the stool, Defendant Aguilar kicked Plaintiff’s legs out from 2 under her; Plaintiff could not break her fall because her hands were cuffed behind her back, so she 3 fell onto the concrete floor. Id. Defendant Aguilar forced Plaintiff to the ground and thrust her 4 head into the concrete floor and adjacent wall; he climbed on top of her, grabbed her by the neck, 5 and rolled her onto her back. Id. ¶ 16. He continued to grab her by the throat, rolled her onto her 6 side, and again slammed her head, this time into a metal door jamb. Id. Although Plaintiff was 7 visibly injured and still handcuffed, Defendant Aguilar continued to hold her down on the ground 8 for fifteen minutes before allowing her to be treated. Id. Plaintiff alleges “[t]he entire incident is 9 captured on video.” Id. ¶ 17. 10 Based on these allegations, Plaintiff claims Defendant Aguilar used excessive force while United States District Court Northern District of California 11 Plaintiff was held at the Sebastopol Police Department. She asserts a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim 12 against Aguilar based on violations of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. She also 13 asserts a Monell claim against Defendants Weaver and the City. Finally, she asserts state law 14 claims for negligence, negligent hiring and supervision, violation of the Bane Act, assault and 15 battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) against all Defendants. 16 Defendants move to dismiss all claims, primarily based on a videotape of the incident. 17 LEGAL STANDARD 18 Rule 8(a) requires that a complaint contain a “short and plain statement of the claim 19 showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). A complaint must therefore 20 provide a defendant with “fair notice” of the claims against it and the grounds for relief. Bell Atl. 21 Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotations and citation omitted). 22 A court may dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) when it does not contain enough 23 facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Id. at 570. “A claim has facial 24 plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable 25 inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 26 678 (2009). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for 27 more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 28 U.S. at 557). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need 2 1 detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to 2 relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a 3 cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the 4 speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations and parentheticals omitted). 5 In considering a motion to dismiss, a court must accept all of the plaintiff’s allegations as 6 true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. at 550; Erickson v. Pardus, 7 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007); Vasquez v. Los Angeles Cty., 487 F.3d 1246, 1249 (9th Cir. 2007). In 8 addition, courts may consider documents attached to the complaint. Parks Sch. of Bus., Inc. v. 9 Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). If a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is granted, the “court should grant leave to amend even if no 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly 12 be cured by the allegation of other facts.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000) (en 13 banc) (internal quotations and citations omitted). However, the Court may deny leave to amend 14 for a number of reasons, including “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the 15 movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice 16 to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [and] futility of amendment.” 17 Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Foman v. 18 Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). DISCUSSION 19 20 A. The Court Will Not Consider the Video on a Motion to Dismiss 21 Defendants ask the Court to consider a videotape of the incident, which they contend will 22 prove Plaintiff cannot state a claim. Defendants essentially offer the videotape to attack the truth 23 of Plaintiff’s allegations. They contend the Court may consider the video because Plaintiff 24 referenced it in her Complaint by alleging “[t]he entire incident is captured on video.” Mot. at 2; 25 see Compl. ¶ 17. Although Plaintiff does reference the existence of the video, the Court does not 26 find this allegation incorporates the footage by reference or that the footage is central to her 27 Complaint; nor does Plaintiff rely upon the footage to state her claims. 28 Moreover, Defendants do not identify a single case where a court has agreed to review a 3 1 videotape when deciding a motion to dismiss an excessive force claim. See id. at 2-4. The Court 2 will not consider the video recording on this Motion to Dismiss, especially where Plaintiff has 3 neither attached the video to the Complaint nor relied upon it to state a claim. Cf. Gersbacher v. 4 City of N.Y., 134 F. Supp. 3d 711, 718-20 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (“[W]here courts have considered 5 video evidence in conjunction with 12(b)(6) motions, the video has either been offered by the 6 plaintiff as part of its pleadings or the plaintiff has incorporated the video by reference after the 7 defendant introduced the video.”); Crutchfield v. Nash, 2015 WL 1268162, at *1 n.2 (W.D. Va. 8 Mar. 19, 2015) (considering dash-cam video on motion to dismiss where plaintiff attached video 9 to complaint, and defendant authenticated it); Garrett v. Crawford, 2016 WL 843391, at *9 (W.D. Tex. Mar. 1, 2016) (examining dash cam footage of incident “would be inappropriate . . . when 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 considering a motion to dismiss” excessive force claim). The footage may present a compelling defense at a later stage in the proceedings, but it 12 13 cannot be considered to evaluate the sufficiency of Plaintiff’s claims on a motion to dismiss. 14 B. 15 Defendant Aguilar To state a Section 1983 claim, Plaintiff must allege that a person acting under color of state 16 law violated a right secured by the Constitution or law of the United States. See West v. Adkins, 17 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Taking as true the well-pleaded allegations of the Complaint, Plaintiff 18 states an excessive force claim against Defendant Aguilar. She alleges he used excessive force 19 while she was detained at the police station by knocking her to the hard ground while she was 20 handcuffed and posing no threat, slamming her head against the wall and floor, and keeping her on 21 the floor for fifteen minutes despite her obvious injuries. She contends these actions violated her 22 rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Finally, she 23 alleges Defendant Aguilar was a police officer acting under color of state law. These allegations 24 are sufficient to state an excessive force claim under Section 1983. 25 Defendants argue qualified immunity bars Plaintiff’s claim. To prevail on his qualified 26 immunity argument, Defendant Aguilar must establish it would have been “objectively reasonable 27 [for him] to believe that the amount of force employed was required by the situation he 28 confronted. . . .” Knapps v. City of Oakland, 647 F. Supp. 2d 1129, 1163 (N.D. Cal. 2009) 4 1 (quoting Wilkins v. City of Oakland, 350 F.3d 949, 954 (9th Cir. 2003)). Assuming the truth of the 2 well-pleaded allegations of the Complaint, Plaintiff was handcuffed following a traffic stop during 3 which she presumably failed a field sobriety test, and her only infraction at the police station was 4 to get off the stool upon which she was seated. Again, assuming the truth of these allegations, no 5 reasonable officer could believe that knocking Plaintiff to the ground and slamming her head 6 repeatedly while she was handcuffed was necessary. Plaintiff asserts four state law claims against Aguilar: negligence, Bane Act, assault and 7 8 battery, and IIED. These claims are premised on Aguilar’s excessive and intentional use of force. 9 For the same reasons the Court found Plaintiff sufficiently stated a Section 1983 claim against 10 Aguilar, the Court finds Plaintiff sufficiently states common law claims against him. The Bane Act creates a private right of action if a defendant utilizes improper means (e.g., United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 threats, intimidation, or coercion) to interfere with an individual’s civil rights. See Cal. Gov’t 13 Code § 52.1. Defendants argue the claim is insufficiently pleaded because it does not allege any 14 conduct independent from the Constitutional violation. See Mot. at 15 (citing Shoyoye v. Cty. of 15 Los Angeles, 203 Cal. App. 4th 947, 961 (2012)). Plaintiff has alleged facts sufficient to state a 16 Bane Act claim against Aguilar. At the pleading stage, “Shoyoye applies only when the conduct is 17 unintentional.” M.H. v. Cty. of Alameda, 90 F. Supp. 3d 889, 898 (N.D. Cal. 2013). Plaintiff 18 alleges Aguilar’s conduct was intentional, and Shoyoye therefore does not apply. For these reasons, the Court denies Defendant Aguilar’s Motion to Dismiss. 19 20 C. Sufficiency of Claims Against Defendants Weaver and City of Sebastopol 21 Plaintiff does not respond to any of the specific arguments Defendants raise in their 22 Motion regarding Monell liability or Plaintiff’s state law claims. See Opp’n at 10. The Court will 23 analyze the merits of Defendants’ Motion despite Plaintiff’s failure to do so. In the future, the 24 Court will deem a failure to substantively address an argument as an admission that the claim or 25 argument lacks merit. 26 1. 27 Plaintiff cannot state a Monell claim against an individual defendant. See Guillory v. 28 Weaver Orange Cty., 731 F.2d 1379, 1382 (9th Cir. 1984) (“Monell does not concern liability of 5 1 individuals acting under color of state law.”). Monell liability applies only to municipal or other 2 local government units when employees of such entities are found to have committed other 3 constitutional violations and “a policy, practice or custom of the entity can be shown to be a 4 moving force behind a violation of constitutional rights.” Dougherty v. City of Covina, 654 F.3d 5 892, 900 (9th Cir. 2011). As amendment of this claim against Defendant Weaver would be futile, 6 the Court grants Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Section 1983 Monell claim against Defendant 7 Weaver with prejudice. See Smith v. Cty. of Santa Cruz, 2014 WL 3615492, at *11 (N.D. Cal. 8 July 22, 2014). 9 Plaintiff alleges facts supporting her negligent hiring and supervision claim against Weaver (Compl. ¶¶ 44-51), but alleges absolutely no facts stating any other state law claim against that 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 Defendant. See Compl. The Court accordingly dismisses with leave to amend Plaintiff’s 12 negligence, Bane Act, assault and battery, and IIED claims against Weaver; the Court denies the 13 Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s negligent hiring and supervision claim against Weaver. 14 2. City of Sebastopol 15 To be entitled to the presumption of truth, a plaintiff asserting a Monell claim “may not 16 simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must [include] sufficient allegations of 17 underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.” 18 A.E. ex rel. Hernandez v. Cty. of Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 637 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Starr v. Baca, 19 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011)); see also Bagley v. Sunnyvale, 2017 WL 344998, at *16 20 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 24, 2017) (analyzing pleading standard for Monell claim). Plaintiff’s formulaic 21 recitation of the elements of a Monell claim against the City includes no facts “regarding the 22 specific nature of [the] alleged ‘policy, custom, or practice[.]’” Id. at 637; see also Dougherty v. 23 City of Covina, 654 F.3d 892, 900-01 (9th Cir. 2011) (affirming dismissal where complaint 24 “lacked any factual allegations . . . demonstrating that [the] constitutional deprivation was the 25 result of a custom or practice [] or that the custom or practice was the ‘moving force’ behind [the] 26 constitutional deprivation”). Plaintiff’s bare bones, conclusory allegations are insufficient to 27 survive a motion to dismiss. See id.; Anakin v. Contra Costa Reg’l Med. Ctr., 2016 WL 2893257, 28 at *4 (N.D. Cal. May 18, 2016) (Section 1983 plaintiff must identify “specific policies or 6 1 customs” in complaint); Roy v. Contra Costa Cty., 2016 WL 54119, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 5, 2016) 2 (plaintiffs in federal courts bear burden of “identifying specific policies” to plead Monell claims). 3 Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Section 1983 claim against the City accordingly is granted 4 with leave to amend, provided Plaintiff can allege specific facts that identify a City policy, custom, 5 or practice. Plaintiff asserts five state law claims against the City: negligence, negligent hiring and 6 supervision, Bane Act, assault and battery, and IIED. Under California law, “[e]xcept as provided 8 by statute . . . [a] public entity is not liable for an injury, whether such injury arises out of an act or 9 omission of the public entity or a public employee or any other person.” Cal. Gov’t Code § 815. 10 To plead a state law claim against the City, Plaintiff “must therefore identify a statute specifically 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 7 authorizing public entity liability as an exception to section 815.” Steinle v. City & Cty. of S.F., 12 2017 WL 67064, at *10 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 6, 2017). Plaintiff alleges the City is responsible for 13 Aguilar and Weaver’s conduct under principles of respondeat superior and pursuant to 14 Government Code section 815.2(a). See Compl. ¶¶ 41, 49, 55, 61, 67. Section 815.2(a) provides 15 that “[a] public entity is liable for injury proximately caused by an act or omission of an employee 16 of the public entity within the scope of his employment if the act or omission would, apart from 17 this section, have given rise to a cause of action against that employee[.]” Because Plaintiff has 18 identified a statute she contends authorizes public entity liability based on Aguilar’s and/or 19 Weaver’s acts or omissions, and because the Court finds Plaintiff has stated claims against Aguilar 20 and Weaver, the Court denies Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss her state law claims against the 21 City. 22 23 CONCLUSION For the reasons stated above, the Court declines to consider the footage of the incident and 24 denies Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the claims against Officer Aguilar, the state law claims 25 against the City of Sebastopol, and the negligent hiring and supervision claim against Chief 26 Weaver. The Court otherwise grants Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss: the Monell claim against 27 the City of Sebastopol is dismissed with leave to amend; the Monell claim against Weaver is 28 dismissed without leave to amend; the negligence, Bane Act, assault and battery, and IIED claims 7 1 2 3 against Weaver are dismissed with leave to amend. Plaintiff shall file an amended Complaint no later than March 30, 2017. Defendants shall file a responsive pleading no later than April 20, 2017. 4 5 6 7 8 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: March 10, 2017 ______________________________________ MARIA-ELENA JAMES United States Magistrate Judge 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 8

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