Bunkley-v-Verber et al

Filing 37

ORDER GRANTING 16 MOTION TO DISMISS by Judge William H. Orrick. Defendants' motion is GRANTED as to all causes of action in the Complaint, which is DISMISSED. Bunkley may amend the Complaint within 20 days of the date below. (jmdS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 3/9/2018)

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 JEFFREY BUNKLEY, Plaintiff, 8 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 Case No. 17-cv-05797-WHO ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS v. NICHOLAS VERBER, et al., Re: Dkt. No. 16 Defendants. 12 INTRODUCTION 13 Plaintiff Jeffrey Bunkley was arrested pursuant to a valid arrest warrant for “Jeffrey 14 Binkley” and booked by County of San Mateo deputies Nicholas Verber and Randolph Cousenes 15 (together, the “County Deputies”). He brings suit against the County Deputies and the County of 16 San Mateo alleging violations of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest and 17 detention and his Fifth Amendment right to due process of law under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as 18 several state law claims, including negligence, negligent training and supervision, assault and 19 battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and violation of California Civil Code § 52.1. 20 Because the County Deputies had probable cause to believe that Bunkley was the person described 21 in the arrest warrant, none of his causes of action states a claim for relief and the Complaint is 22 DISMISSED with leave to amend. 23 24 BACKGROUND Plaintiff Jeffrey Bunkley was at home on September 8, 2016, when the County Deputies 25 knocked on his door and informed plaintiff that they intended to arrest him on an outstanding 26 arrest warrant for Jeffrey Binkley. See Complaint (“Compl.”) ¶ 9 [Dkt. No. 1]. The arrest warrant 27 stated that Jeffrey Binkley was also known as “Jeffrey Michael Bunkley.” See Defs.’ Request for 28 Judicial Notice (“RJN”) [Dkt. No. 17], Ex. B. Plaintiff denied that he was Jeffrey Binkley. See 1 Compl. ¶ 9. He also denied that he had ever lived in Gilroy or worked in Redwood City, pursuant 2 to the County Deputies’ questions. Id. The County Deputies nonetheless placed plaintiff under 3 arrest and transported him to the Maguire Correction Facility in Redwood City, California, where 4 he was booked. Id. LEGAL STANDARD 5 Under Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(6), a district court must dismiss a complaint if it 6 7 fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to 8 dismiss, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its 9 face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation 12 omitted). While courts do not require “heightened fact pleading of specifics,” a plaintiff must 13 allege facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 14 555, 570. In deciding whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, 15 the court accepts the plaintiff’s allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of 16 the plaintiff. See Usher v. City of Los Angeles, 828 F.2d 556, 561 (9th Cir. 1987). The court is 17 not required to accept as true “allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of 18 fact, or unreasonable inferences.” In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 19 2008). 20 If the court dismisses a complaint, it “should grant leave to amend even if no request to 21 amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured 22 by the allegation of other facts.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000). In making 23 this determination, the court should consider factors such as “the presence or absence of undue 24 delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments, 25 undue prejudice to the opposing party and futility of the proposed amendment.” See Moore v. 26 Kayport Package Express, 885 F.2d 531, 538 (9th Cir. 1989). 27 28 2 DISCUSSION 1 Defendants’ Request for Judicial Notice I. 3 Defendants request judicial notice of two documents, the misdemeanor complaint in 4 People v. Jeffrey Binkley, as well as the February 18, 2014, arrest warrant for Jeffrey Binkley. “As 5 a general rule, a district court may not consider any material beyond the pleadings in ruling on a 6 Rule 12(b)(6) motion.” Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001). A district 7 court may nonetheless consider certain materials––“documents attached to the complaint, 8 documents incorporated by reference in the complaint, or matters of judicial notice”––at the 9 pleadings stage. United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2003). Defendants contend 10 that these documents are matters of judicial notice because they are matters of public record. See 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 2 Lee, 250 F.3d at 689; see also Neylon v. Cty. of Inyo, No. 1:16-cv-0712, 2016 WL 6834097, at *4 12 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 21, 2016) (“Courts may properly take judicial notice of a bench warrant as a 13 matter of public record.”); Ferguson v. United States, No. 15cv1253, 2016 WL 4793180, at *3 14 (S.D. Cal. Sept. 14, 2016) (taking judicial notice of arrest warrant because it was a “matter[] of 15 public record, and the parties d[id] not dispute [its] authenticity”). Bunkley does not dispute these 16 documents’ authenticity, but argues that I may only take judicial notice of the fact that these two 17 documents were filed, not their contents. 18 While I may take judicial notice of matters of public record, I may not take judicial notice 19 of any fact that is “subject to reasonable dispute.” Fed. R. Evid. 201(b). Thus, in Lee, the Ninth 20 Circuit held that the district court had erred in judicially noticing not just “the fact of the 21 extradition hearing” or “the fact that a Waiver of Extradition was signed by [a person],” but also 22 “the validity of [the person’s] Waiver of Extradition in dismissing plaintiffs’ § 1983 claims at the 23 pleading stage.” Lee, 250 F.3d at 689–90 (emphasis in original). In so doing, the district court 24 had impermissibly accepted the validity of the person’s waiver, which was in direct dispute due to 25 his mental incapacity. Id. at 690. 26 Here, Bunkley argues that I may not consider the contents of the documents because he 27 disputes “that Jeffrey Binkley had an ‘AKA’ of Jeffrey Michael Bunkley.” Opp. at 6. But 28 Defendants do not argue that any “Jeffrey Binkley” was also known as “Jeffrey Michael 3 Bunkley,” or vice versa. Instead, Defendants request judicial notice of these documents only for 2 the fact that the phrase appears on them, not for the truth of that phrase. Because plaintiff does not 3 dispute the existence or authenticity of the warrant itself,1 nor the fact that this phrase appears on 4 the warrant’s face, this is not a fact subject to reasonable dispute, and I may take judicial notice of 5 the arrest warrant and that it was issued for “Jeffrey Binkley,” “also known as: Jeffrey Michael 6 Bunkley.” See RJN, Ex. B. On the other hand, I decline to take judicial notice of the 7 misdemeanor complaint at this time, as it does not provide any relevant information beyond that 8 contained in the arrest warrant. See Adriana Int’l Corp. v. Thoeren, 913 F.2d 1406, 1410 n.2 (9th 9 Cir. 1990) (declining to take judicial notice of another action “not relevant” to the case); Neylon, 10 2016 WL 4793180, at *4 (“[I]f an exhibit is irrelevant or unnecessary to deciding the matters at 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 1 issue, a request for judicial notice may be denied.”). II. 12 Motion to Dismiss A. Whether the County Deputies Are Entitled to Qualified Immunity from 13 Bunkley’s Section 1983 Claim 14 The County Deputies claim that they are entitled to qualified immunity from Bunkley’s 15 16 Section 1983 claims. “The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from 17 liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or 18 constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 19 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The County Deputies argue 20 that plaintiff fails to allege facts showing the violation of a constitutional right. Bunkley contends 21 that his Fourth Amendment right against unlawful arrest was violated when the County Deputies 22 entered his home and arrested him on an outstanding warrant for someone with a different name, 23 despite his protestations of innocence. Bunkley alleges in his Complaint that: Plaintiff answered the door and was informed by Defendants VERBER and COUSENES that they intended to arrest Plaintiff on an outstanding arrest warrant for Jeffrey Binkley. 24 25 26 27 28 1 Indeed, Bunkley incorporates the arrest warrant by reference in his Complaint. See Compl. ¶ 9 (“Plaintiff answered the door and was informed by Defendants VERBER and COUSENES that they intended to arrest Plaintiff on an outstanding arrest warrant for Jeffrey Binkley.”). 4 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 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 Plaintiff denied that he was Jeffrey Binkley. The Defendants asked Plaintiff whether he had ever lived in Gilroy or worked in Redwood City. Plaintiff told them he had not. Despite his denials and without probable cause to believe that Plaintiff was Jeffrey Binkley, the Defendants handcuffed Plaintiff, placed him under arrest on the outstanding warrant for Jeffrey Binkley, and transported him to the Maguire Correctional Facility in Redwood City, California, where he was booked on that warrant. Compl. ¶ 9. Bunkley appears to argue that the arresting officers did not have probable cause to arrest him because he is named “Jeffrey Bunkley” rather than “Jeffrey Binkley.” The arrest warrant, however, clearly states that “[t]he above-named person [i.e., Jeffrey Binkley] is also known as: Jeffrey Michael Bunkley.” RJN, Ex. B. Given that the officers had an arrest warrant for either a “Jeffrey Binkley” or “Jeffrey Michael Bunkley,” they had probable cause to arrest Bunkley. No constitutional violation occurred. Bunkley relies on Lee, where the Ninth Circuit held that a plaintiff had adequately alleged a constitutional violation where no reasonable police officer could have believed that the arrested individual, Kerry Sanders, was the fugitive Robert Sanders, given Kerry Sanders’s “obvious mental incapacity” and “the fact that Kerry Sanders’s fingerprints and other identifying characteristics did not match those of Robert Sanders.” Lee, 250 F.3d at 685. That case is distinguishable because the two individuals did not share the same name or other known names, as is the case here. Moreover, Bunkley does not identify other obvious distinguishing characteristics, such as mental incapacity, fingerprints, or other physical features, that the officers could have used to differentiate him from Binkley. Instead, ample case law, including Supreme Court precedent, holds that “[t]he Constitution does not guarantee that only the guilty will be arrested. If it did, § 1983 would provide a cause of action for every defendant acquitted––indeed, for every suspect released.” Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 (1979). In Baker, the Court held that there was no Fourth Amendment or other constitutional violation when someone was arrested pursuant to a valid arrest warrant despite his claim of mistaken identity, detained for three days, and later found to be innocent. Id. at 144; see also Rivera v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 745 F.3d 384, 391 (9th Cir. 2014) (“Rivera has not presented any evidence that the Counties knew that Rivera was not the true subject of the warrant. Nor do the circumstances of this case suggest that further investigation into Rivera’s identity was 28 5 1 2 required.”). Because the County Deputies had probable cause to arrest Bunkley based on a valid arrest 3 warrant, he suffered no constitutional violation and the County Deputies are entitled to qualified 4 immunity from his Section 1983 claim. This claim for relief is DISMISSED as to the County 5 Deputies. 6 7 8 9 B. Whether the County of San Mateo is Immune from Bunkley’s Section 1983 Claim Pursuant to Monell The County of San Mateo also contends that it is immune from Bunkley’s Section 1983 claim. Pursuant to Monell, “a local government may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents.” Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). “Instead, it is when execution of a government’s policy or custom, 12 whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent 13 official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983.” 14 Id. “A local governmental entity’s failure to train its employees can also create § 1983 liability 15 where the failure to train ‘amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons’ with whom 16 those employees are likely to come into contact.” Lee, 250 F.3d at 681 (citing City of Canton, 17 Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388–89 (1989)). Bunkley argues that the County of San Mateo 18 failed to train and supervise the County Deputies, resulting in the deprivation of plaintiff’s 19 constitutional rights. 20 In order to prevail on his Section 1983 claim, Bunkley therefore must sufficiently allege 21 that: “(1) [he was] deprived of [his] constitutional rights by defendant[] and [its] employees acting 22 under color of state law; (2) that the defendant[] ha[s] customs or policies which amount to 23 deliberate indifference to [his] constitutional rights; and (3) that these policies are the moving 24 force behind the constitutional violations.” Lee, 250 F.3d at 681–82 (internal quotation marks and 25 alterations omitted). Given that Bunkley fails to allege a constitutional violation by the County 26 Deputies, his Section 1983 claim against the County itself necessarily fails as well. His Section 27 1983 claim against the County of San Mateo is DISMISSED. 28 6 C. Bunkley’s Remaining Claims 1 Defendants move to dismiss plaintiff’s state law claims pursuant to California Civil Code 2 3 Section 43.55,2 which provides that “[t]here shall be no liability on the part of, and no cause of 4 action shall arise against, any peace officer who makes an arrest pursuant to a warrant of arrest 5 regular upon its face if the peace officer in making the arrest acts without malice and in the 6 reasonable belief that the person arrested is the one referred to in the warrant.” Cal. Civ. Code § 7 43.55(a). As already discussed, based on the arrest warrant, the County Deputies had a reasonable 8 belief that Bunkley was the person referred to in the warrant. They are entitled to immunity from 9 Bunkley’s causes of action for negligence, assault and battery, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Bunkley agreed in opposition that these causes of action against the County of 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 San Mateo should be dismissed, and they are hereby DISMISSED. Bunkley’s cause of action for negligent training and supervision against the County of San 12 13 Mateo fails to state a claim because it is based on the conduct of the deputies in executing the 14 search warrant, which was reasonable for the reasons discussed above. He also voluntarily 15 dismisses his Bane Act claim and requests leave to amend, which I GRANT. CONCLUSION 16 17 For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ motion is GRANTED as to all causes of action in 18 the Complaint, which is DISMISSED. Bunkley may amend the Complaint within 20 days of the 19 date below. IT IS SO ORDERED. 20 21 Dated: March 9, 2018 22 23 William H. Orrick United States District Judge 24 25 26 27 28 2 Defendants also argue that California Penal Code Section 847, known as the “false arrest immunity,” also applies, but plaintiff has not brought any claim for false arrest or false imprisonment. 7

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?