Ayala et al v. County of Imperial et al

Filing 42

ORDER vacating order of dismissal, denying ex parte motion to amend 40 , entering partial final judgment, and admonition to counsel. No later than Tuesday, April 25, 2017, plaintiffs' counsel may file a renewed motion for leave to amend that co mplies with all of the Court's orders and directions, as well as all applicable rules. As to claims by Sandra Barraza, and all claims against the City of Calexico, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Immigration a nd Customs Enforcement, and all Doe Defendants, the Court determines that there is no just reason to delay entry of a final judgment. As to these claims, the Court directs that judgment be entered in favor of Defendants. Signed by Judge Larry Alan Burns on 3/21/17. (kas)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 VIRGIE AYALA, et al., 12 13 CASE NO. 15cv397-LAB (PCL) Plaintiffs, ORDER VACATING ORDER OF DISMISSAL; vs. 14 ORDER DENYING EX PARTE MOTION TO AMEND; 15 ORDER ENTERING PARTIAL FINAL JUDGMENT; AND 16 17 COUNTY OF IMPERIAL, ADMONITION TO COUNSEL Defendant. 18 19 Procedural Background and Vacatur of Dismissal 20 This case concerns the fatal shooting of Mark Ayala in El Centro, California on 21 January 31, 2014. On February 3, 2017, the Court dismissed the first amended complaint 22 and directed Plaintiffs, if they thought they could amend, to file an ex parte motion for leave 23 to do so, attaching their proposed second amended complaint as an exhibit. They were also 24 ordered to show cause why the Doe Defendants should not be dismissed for failure to serve. 25 Both were to have been done by March 1, 2017. 26 On the deadline, Plaintiffs attempted to circumvent the Court’s order by filing three 27 noncompliant documents, including a second amended complaint that was not attached to 28 a motion. Because of Plaintiffs’ decision to submit noncompliant paper copies instead of -1- 15cv397 1 obeying electronic filing rules, the documents did not immediately appear in the docket. The 2 Court, believing Plaintiffs had abandoned their claims, therefore dismissed the case and 3 entered judgment. When the documents were later forwarded to chambers, the Court issued 4 an order correcting various problems and specifically ordering Plaintiffs’ counsel to obey 5 certain requirements. (See Order of March 7, 2017 (Docket no. 37).) The Court then struck 6 two of the documents, and denied a motion for leave to take early discovery. It also ordered 7 Plaintiffs’ counsel to comply with local electronic filing requirements and cautioned them that 8 any further violations of those requirements would result in both rejection of the submitted 9 documents, and sanctions. 10 The Court then ordered Plaintiffs to file an ex parte motion for leave to amend by 11 March 15, 2017. (Docket no. 37 at 2:15–16.) They were specifically cautioned that if they 12 did not obey the Court’s order, the action would be dismissed without leave to amend. 13 (Docket no. 37 at 2:19–21) (emphasis in original). 14 When Plaintiffs again missed the deadline, the Court again dismissed the case. After 15 that, Plaintiffs filed another late and noncompliant document. This time it is a motion for 16 leave to file a second amended complaint. Besides missing the deadline, it violates several 17 local rules that Plaintiff have specifically been told they must obey. 18 Plaintiffs’ counsel have again violated Civil Local Rule 5.1, regarding legibility of 19 documents, in spite of being reminded about it twice. In particular, their violation of Rule 20 5.1(a) regarding font size makes their briefing unduly hard to read.1 They also violated Civil 21 Local Rule 15.1(b), concerning requirements for motions for leave to amend. Together, these 22 two violations mean the Court has been handed the task of visually comparing two lengthy 23 complaints in small type. In future, Plaintiff’s counsel will be required to comply with these 24 and all other applicable rules. 25 1 26 27 28 One of Plaintiffs’ counsel’s many violations was that since the start of the case, neither one had registered for electronic case filing, which is mandatory in this District for all attorneys. This was a continuing violation they had been warned about four times. One of the two has now registered, but does not appear to have the required software and hardware. (See Users Manual for Electronic Case Filing at 6.) Plaintiffs’ documents appear to have been typed on an 8-point typewriter, then scanned, and an image of the pages uploaded to the docket. The resulting image is not text searchable. -2- 15cv397 1 Although Plaintiffs’ counsel have persistently violated rules, ignored deadlines, and 2 disregarded the Court’s orders, the Court is mindful of the policy of adjudicating cases on 3 the merits where reasonably possible. See Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1472 (9th Cir. 4 1986). Because it appears Plaintiffs are still making some effort to litigate this case and an 5 adjudication on the merits is still a possibility, and in view of the serious nature of Plaintiffs’ 6 claims, the Court VACATES its order of dismissal entered March 16. 7 Denial of Motion for Leave to Amend 8 The repeated violations partially outlined above would, by themselves, merit summary 9 denial of the motion for leave to amend. But the motion also fails on the merits. The motion 10 attaches a proposed second amended complaint (“SAC”). 11 Except for the County of Imperial, all Defendants, have been dismissed without leave 12 to amend. This includes the City of El Centro, the City of Brawley, the City of Imperial, the 13 City of Calexico, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs 14 and Immigration Enforcement, and, most recently all Doe Defendants.2 The SAC’s caption, 15 however, includes all the original Defendants. 16 The SAC tries to resurrect claims against the Doe Defendants that were dismissed 17 without leave to amend. It does so by identifying them as parties, by making lengthy and 18 detailed allegations against them, and by raising six claims against them. Plaintiffs did not 19 seek reconsideration of the Court’s order dismissing the Doe Defendants. Attempting to 20 circumvent the Court’s orders in this way is improper and will not be allowed. 21 The SAC also fails to name the County in the “Parties” section, and fails to make any 22 allegations against it that would result in its liability until claim seven, on page 14 of the SAC, 23 for municipal liability under Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 24 (1978). And even then, the claims are woefully inadequate. The SAC alleges that the 25 County has the power to adopt policies. (SAC, ¶ 95.) Then in an attempt to identify what 26 those policies were that gave rise to the claims here, they allege, in toto: 27 28 2 See Docket no. 38 (Order denying leave to conduct early discovery, and dismissing all claims against Doe Defendants without leave to amend, for failure to serve). -3- 15cv397 1 2 3 4 5 96. [The County and certain Doe Defendants), through their employees, officers, and deputy sheriffs knowingly and intentionally promulgated, maintained, applied, enforced, and suffered the continuation of policies, customs, practices, and usages in violation of AYALA’s rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. 97. The [Imperial County Narcotics Task Force], through its managers, supervisors, and policymakers, fostered a custom of extreme lawlessness, which inevitably and foreseeably led to AYALA being shot in excess of 37 times and killed. 6 7 (SAC, ¶¶ 96–97.) As the Court has explained more than once before (see, e.g., Docket no. 8 27, 9:5–11:23), this clearly falls short of the pleading standard the Supreme Court set forth 9 in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554–55 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 10 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). See also AE ex rel Hernandez, 666 F.3d 631, 637 and n.5 (9th Cir. 11 2012) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal standard applies to Monell claims). Even worse, other 12 elements of a Monell claim, which the Court pointed out in earlier rulings, are also missing. 13 See Plumeau v. Sch. Dist. No. 40 County of Yamhill, 130 F.3d 432, 438 (9th Cir. 1997). 14 In addition, the SAC again fails to allege facts showing that the Imperial County 15 Narcotics Task Force is an arm or division of the County of Imperial, as opposed to a federal 16 entity, an arm of the state of California, or an entity in its own right. As made clear in earlier 17 pleadings, the Task Force is staffed with both federal and county officers, so it is hardly clear 18 that the County’s policies are the moving force behind the Task Force’s constitutional 19 violations, as is required for a Monell claim. (See Docket no. 27 at 12:3–13.) The Court has 20 already taken judicial notice of government documents showing the Task Force is part of the 21 U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency3 (see Docket no. 27 at 2:22–4:4), which has already been 22 dismissed as a Defendant. In addition, the Task Force was originally named as a Defendant 23 in its own right, but has since been dismissed. To the extent Plaintiffs were bringing tort 24 claims against any federal Defendants, they failed to comply with Federal Tort Claims Act 25 requirements. 26 3 27 28 Although the Court did not rely on caselaw, it is worth noting that in the past, joint task forces of this type have been controlled by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. See Liston v. County of Riverside, 120 F.3d 965, 988 (9th Cir. 1997) (“[O]fficers from several law enforcement agencies, under the control of the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, formed a joint narcotics task force . . . .”) -4- 15cv397 1 The proposed SAC attempts to overcome the facts of which the Court has taken 2 notice, by citing the results of a Google search and the fact that the Imperial County District 3 Attorney is chair of the Task Force. (SAC, ¶¶ 99–100.) The fact that Google’s algorithms 4 associate the Task Force with the Imperial County Sheriff’s office is of no help here. And 5 the fact that the District Attorney is the Task Force’s chair does not show that the Task Force 6 itself is run by the County or that the County formulates its policies. See, e.g., Sharer v. 7 Oregon, 581 F.3d 1176, 1179–80 (9th Cir. 2009) (considering various factors to determine 8 whether two state entities, both headed by the same official, were independent of each 9 other). Finally, the allegation that the Task force is either the County’s alter ego or else a 10 “joint venturer with the County” is wholly conclusory and unsupported by factual allegations. 11 The motion to which the SAC is attached cites the “any set of facts” pleading 12 standard, arguing that a complaint meets the pleading standard only if no set of facts can 13 be proved under the amendment that would constitute a valid claim. (Docket no. 40 at 14 3:2–4.) The Supreme Court has specifically disapproved this standard, Plaintiffs should not 15 rely on it again.4 16 In short, the proposed SAC violates several rules and Court orders, improperly 17 attempts to resurrect claims dismissed without leave to amend, and in its present form easily 18 fails to satisfy the pleading standard. Even if it were filed, it would be subject to immediate 19 dismissal. Granting leave to file to SAC in its present condition would therefore be futile, and 20 the motion is DENIED. 21 If Plaintiffs’ counsel believe there is any chance they can successfully amend, they 22 must first review all the Court’s rulings in this case as well as the Civil Local Rules 23 (particularly Rules 5.1 and 15.1.) No later than Tuesday, April 25, 2017, they may file a 24 renewed motion for leave to amend that complies with all of the Court’s orders and 25 4 26 27 28 If Plaintiffs’ counsel had Shepardized this case, they would have seen that it had been impliedly overruled on this point by Twombly and Iqbal. See, e.g., Twombly, 550 U.S. at 560–63. To be sure, an amended complaint that fails even this lenient test would be subject to dismissal and such an amendment would be futile, and cases continue to cite it for that purpose. But an amendment that passes the “any set of facts” test does not necessarily meet the higher standard set forth in Twombly and Iqbal, and that is the purpose for which the standard is cited here. -5- 15cv397 1 directions, as well as all applicable rules. They must not attempt to add any new 2 Defendants, to bring claims against any Defendants who have dismissed, or to raise any 3 claims other than a Monell claim against the County. And they must not seek reconsideration 4 of any of the Court’s orders unless they comply with ¶ 4(j) of the Court’s standing order. 5 The Court has deliberately set an unusually generous deadline for Plaintiffs to comply 6 with this order, so that they will have plenty of time to comply if they possibly can, and also 7 so that if they do file a motion, it will be the result of diligent, careful work. Failure to file a 8 motion within the time permitted that complies with all these requirements will result 9 in dismissal of this entire action without leave to amend, and no additional 10 opportunities to amend will be given. No more extensions will be granted. 11 Entry of Judgment Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) 12 Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b), the Court may order the entry of final judgment as to 13 some but not all claims in appropriate circumstances. On March 24, 2016, all claims were 14 dismissed without leave to amend as to the City of Calexico, the U.S. Drug Enforcement 15 Agency, the U.S. Border Patrol, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. On 16 March 7, 2017, all Doe Defendants were also dismissed. None of these Defendants were 17 ever served with process, nor did Plaintiffs even make an effort during the two years this 18 case has been pending. In all likelihood, the Doe Defendants do not even know they were 19 ever Defendants in this suit. This meant that the Court never had personal jurisdiction over 20 them. See S.E.C. v. Ross, 504 F.3d 1130, 1140 (citing precedent for the principle that only 21 substantial compliance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 4 gives federal courts jurisdiction over 22 defendants). Furthermore, the two-year statute of limitations on claims against them has 23 now run, so the claims are permanently barred. See Butler v. Nat’l Community Renaissance 24 of Calif., 766 F.3d 1191, 1198 (9th Cir. 2014). These Defendants therefore were entitled to 25 expect that they would no longer have to defend against the claim, and requiring them to do 26 so now would unfairly surprise and prejudice them. See Anderson v. Air West, Inc., 542 27 F.2d 522, 525 (9th Cir. 1976) (holding that dismissal was the appropriate sanction, where 28 plaintiff had failed to serve defendants until after the limitations period had expired). -6- 15cv397 1 Although another case now pending in this Court brings claims based on the same incident, 2 none of these Defendants were ever Defendants in that case. 3 In view of Plaintiffs’ repeated efforts to drag the federal Defendants and Doe 4 Defendants back into the case, the Court determines that there is no just reason to delay 5 entry of judgment as to claims against them. See 10 Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice 6 and Procedure: Civil 3d § 2656 at n.20 (3d ed.) (“Once the statute has run, a potential 7 defendant who has not been served is entitled to expect that he will no longer have to defend 8 against the claim.”). 9 Claims by Plaintiff Sandra Barraza were also dismissed on the merits without leave 10 to amend, for lack of standing. (See Docket no. 27 at 6:1–9, 13:27–28.) See 10 Wright, 11 Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 3d § 2656 at n.19 (3d ed.) (dismissal 12 for lack of subject matter jurisdiction that disposes of a claim completely is within the scope 13 of Rule 54(b)). 14 As to claims by Sandra Barraza, and all claims against the City of Calexico, the U.S. 15 Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Immigration and Customs 16 Enforcement, and all Doe Defendants, the Court determines that there is no just reason to 17 delay entry of a final judgment. As to these claims, the Court directs that judgment be 18 entered in favor of Defendants. 19 Admonition to Plaintiffs’ Counsel 20 Plaintiffs’ counsel’s repeated violations of the Court’s orders and applicable rules have 21 gone well beyond excusable neglect. Their latest infraction is extraordinary. In the Court’s 22 memory, it has never vacated a dismissal twice in the same case because of a party’s 23 tardiness — particularly when counsel offered no explanation for missing the deadline. 24 Most recently, Plaintiffs were strictly ordered to file their motion no later than March 25 15. If they did so, Defendants were given until March 29 to file a response in opposition. 26 When the March 15 deadline passed, the Court dismissed the case, just as it said it would. 27 Then Plaintiffs’ counsel without explanation or comment filed their tardy motion. Violations 28 like this unfairly prejudice Defendants and prevent the Court from controlling its docket. -7- 15cv397 1 Defense counsel had every reason to think the Court’s scheduling order meant what 2 it said. When March 15 came and went and the Court dismissed the case on March 16, they 3 had every reason to think the case actually was dismissed. They were free to turn their 4 attention to other tasks and to adjust their schedules accordingly. When Plaintiffs’ counsel 5 filed their late motion, Defense counsel could not have known for certain what to do. Would 6 the Court accept the late filing? And in case the Court did accept it, should they begin 7 preparing their opposition? And if a filing was due, Plaintiffs’ tardiness had eaten up some 8 of their response time; was the deadline still March 29, or would their deadline be extended? 9 With this late and unexplained filing, Plaintiffs’ counsel unfairly surprised their opponents and 10 imposed undue burdens on them. Whether this was the result of gamesmanship or merely 11 inexcusable negligence, the result was the same. Plaintiffs’ counsel gained an unfair 12 advantage at Defendants’ expense. 13 The late filing also wasted judicial resources and prevented the Court from controlling 14 its own docket. In this case, the Court issued a scheduling order with its own schedule in 15 mind. If the Court’s order had been followed, the Court either would have been able to 16 dismiss the case on March 16 with a brief order, or wait for Defendants’ briefing on March 17 29. Either way, the Court would have been free to turn its attention to matters on calendar. 18 On March 15 and 16, the Court was in the middle of a civil trial, and a motion for a temporary 19 restraining order had just come in. Both are urgent matters that the Court must attend to 20 promptly. The rogue filing derailed the schedule the Court had set, forcing the Court to deal 21 with the artificial emergency Plaintiffs’ counsel’s violation had needlessly created. As a 22 result, it was not until Monday, March 20, that the Court was able to issue an order relieving 23 Defense counsel of filing a response to the late filing. 24 While the Court has done its best to uphold the policy of deciding cases on their 25 merits whenever reasonably possible, the time has come when it is no longer reasonably 26 possible to do so justly. Plaintiffs’ counsel are not entitled to special indulgences and favors 27 at Defendants’ expense. And the Court is not prepared to abandon its role as a neutral and 28 impartial arbitrator to ride to Plaintiffs’ rescue when their own counsel cannot or will not. -8- 15cv397 1 While adjudication on the merits is an important policy, considerations of fairness, expense, 2 and finality are important as well. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 1; see also Anderson, 542 F.2d at 3 526 (holding that dismissal of claims avoided the evil of allowing the plaintiff to benefit from 4 her attorney’s abuses, and was not an unduly harsh sanction). 5 Plaintiffs’ counsel will not be permitted to usurp control of the docket or to impose 6 unfair burdens on their opponents, who are relying on the Court’s orders. Plaintiffs’ counsel 7 must read and comply with all of the Court’s orders, the Court’s own standing order, the Civil 8 Local rules, and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. At this point, sanctions less than 9 dismissal do not appear to be an option. See Anderson, 542 F.2d at 525. Plaintiffs’ counsel 10 should expect that any further violations will result in dismissal. If this case is dismissed, 11 there will be no third vacatur. 12 13 14 IT IS SO ORDERED. DATED: March 21, 2017 15 16 HONORABLE LARRY ALAN BURNS United States District Judge 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -9- 15cv397

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