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RODRIGUEZ v. CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL

March 13, 2000

CURTIS
V.
RODRIGUEZ, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, V. CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeremy Fogel, United States District Judge.

    ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION TO DISMISS, DENYING MOTION TO SEVER PLAINTIFFS AND/OR STRIKE CLASS ACTION ALLEGATIONS AND DENYING MOTION TO STRIKE PORTIONS OF PLEADING, [Docket Nos. 29, 31, 33].

This case presents a broad, vigorously disputed challenge to an alleged law enforcement practice known as racial profiling. Defendants*fn1 have filed three motions directed at the pleadings: (1) a motion to dismiss the First Amended Complaint; (2) a motion to sever plaintiffs and/or strike Plaintiffs' class action allegations; and (3) a motion to strike certain portions of the First Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs*fn2 oppose the motions. The Court has read the moving and responding papers and has considered the oral arguments of counsel presented on February 18, 2000. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part, and the motion to sever plaintiffs and/or strike the class action allegations and the motion to strike portions of the First Amended Complaint will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint alleges that Defendants maintain a policy, pattern and practice of targeting African-Americans and Latinos in conducting stops, detentions, interrogations and searches of motorists. The individual plaintiffs have alleged specific incidents of racial profiling which they claim occurred on or near State Highway 152 and Interstate Highway 5 in the Pacheco Pass area of Santa Clara and Merced Counties. Both the individual and the organizational plaintiffs allege that racial profiling is an integral part of a federally funded drug interdiction program sponsored by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency known as "Operation Pipeline" as well as other drug interdiction efforts. Plaintiffs base their allegations in part upon a draft report of California's Joint Legislative Task Force on Government Oversight on September 29, 1999, which alleges the existence of racial profiling in Operation Pipeline.

II. MOTION TO DISMISS

A. Legal Standard

The issue to be decided on a motion to dismiss is not whether a plaintiff's claims have merit but rather whether the moving defendant has shown beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts entitling him or her to relief. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The court's review is limited to the face of the complaint, documents referenced by the complaint and matters of which the court may take judicial notice. See Levine v. Diamanthuset, Inc., 950 F.2d 1478, 1483 (9th Cir. 1991); In re Stac Elecs. Sec. Litig., 89 F.3d 1399, 1405 n. 4 (9th Cir. 1996); MGIC Indem. Corp. v. Weisman, 803 F.2d 500, 504 (9th Cir. 1986). Ordinarily, a complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law for only two reasons: (1) lack of a cognizable legal theory or (2) insufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory. See Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 533-34 (9th Cir. 1984) (citing 2A J. Moore, Moore's Fed. Practice ¶ 12.08 at 2271 (2d ed. 1982)). When a court considers a motion to dismiss, all allegations of the complaint are construed in the plaintiff's favor. See Sun Savings & Loan Ass'n v. Dierdorff, 825 F.2d 187, 191 (9th Cir. 1987). In particular, "[c]ivil rights complaints are to be liberally construed," and need only comply with F.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Buckey v. County of Los Angeles, 968 F.2d 791, 794 (9th Cir. 1992). For a motion to dismiss to be granted, it must appear to a certainty that the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any set of facts that could be proved. See Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1433, 1439 (9th Cir. 1987). Motions to dismiss generally are viewed with disfavor under this liberal standard and are rarely granted. See Gilligan v. Jamco Dev. Corp., 108 F.3d 246, 249 (9th Cir. 1997).

B. NAACP's and LULAC's Standing

Both of the organizational plaintiffs — NAACP and LULAC — are nonprofit membership organizations which allege that they are suing on behalf of their members. Defendants argue that NAACP and LULAC lack standing to sue on behalf of their members under the circumstances of this case.

"[E]ven in the absence of injury to itself, an association may have standing solely as representative of its members." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 511 (1975); see, e.g., NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958); International Union, UAW v. Brock, 477 U.S. 274 (1986). Associational standing is particularly appropriate where "the association is seeking to represent the interests which are central to the purpose of the organization" and "where the relief sought is some form of prospective remedy, such as declaratory judgment, which will inure to the benefit of the organization's membership." Peick v. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., 724 F.2d 1247, 1259 (7th Cir. 1983).

An association has standing if (1) its members would have standing to sue in their own right; (2) the interests the organization seeks to protect are relevant to the organization's purpose; and (3) neither the claim asserted nor the relief sought requires the participation of individual members of the organization in the lawsuit. See Brock, 477 U.S. at 282; Hunt v. Washington State Apple Adver. Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333 (1977); Responsible Gov't, Inc. v. Washoe County, 110 F.3d 699, 702 (9th Cir. 1997).

Defendants do not dispute that the interests sought to be protected by NAACP and LULAC in this litigation are relevant to the purposes of these organizations, which include opposing racial discrimination against African-Americans and Latinos, respectively. In addition, Defendants also acknowledge that Plaintiffs have alleged that individual members of NAACP and LULAC have been stopped and detained by CHP and BNE officers on the basis of race.

Defendants' primary argument is that the organizational plaintiffs' allegations are too general and that more specific allegations should be made so that one may determine the actual identities of particular members of each organization who claim to have been subjected to Defendants' alleged illegal practices. However, while information about claimed injuries caused to members of NAACP and LULAC may be obtained in the course of discovery, no legal authority requires that the names and contact information of individual members be alleged in the complaint. Legal Aid Society of Hawaii v. Legal Services Corp., 145 F.3d 1017, 1030 (9th Cir. 1998), cited by Defendants, is inapposite. That case considered the issue of standing in the context of a motion for summary judgment rather than a motion to dismiss; it thus involved an examination of the entire record following an opportunity for discovery rather than a bare pleading. See id. at 1030-31.

Defendants also argue that Plaintiffs' claims cannot be adjudicated without the participation of individual members of NAACP and LULAC. Defendants quite reasonably point out that proof of the existence of a policy or practice of racial profiling requires proof of more than one instance of official misconduct. However, Plaintiffs in fact have pled more than one instance of official misconduct. There is no authority for the proposition that only members of the organizational plaintiffs can serve as individual plaintiffs; at this early stage of the proceedings, it would appear to be sufficient that the individual plaintiffs are members of the racial and ethnic groups for whom the organizational plaintiffs state that they are advocates.

The Court concludes that for present purposes NAACP and LULAC have standing to sue on behalf of their members. As in Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, see id., at 1029-31, this conclusion does not preclude a determination that these organizations lack standing later in the litigation.

C. Venue

The incident of racial profiling alleged by Rodriguez occurred in Santa Clara County, which is located in the Northern District of California; the incidents alleged by Lopez and Washington occurred in Merced County, which is in the Eastern District of California. Defendants argue that the proper venue for the Lopez and the Washington incidents is the Eastern District rather than the Northern District. However, venue is proper in any district "in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred." 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2)(1999). Section 1391(b)(2) does not require that a majority of the events have occurred in the district where suit is filed, nor does it require that the events in that district predominate. See Sidco Indus. Inc. v. Wimar Tahoe Corp., 768 F. Supp. 1343, 1346 (D. Or. 1991) (language of § 1391(b)(2) "contemplates that there may be more than one district in which a substantial part of the events giving rise to the claim occurred, and that venue would be proper in each such district"); see also Bates v. C & S Adjusters, Inc., 980 F.2d 865, 867 (2d Cir. 1992); First of Mich. Corp. v. Bramlet, 141 F.3d 260, 264 (6th Cir. 1998). All that Plaintiffs need show is that a substantial part of the events giving rise to their claims occurred in the Northern District of California.

Rodriguez, a resident of Santa Clara County, allegedly was stopped in Santa Clara County, in the Northern District. Moreover, Plaintiffs claim in their class action allegations that Defendants routinely utilize racial profiling in the Pacheco Pass area, much of which is located in the Northern District. Plaintiffs allege that the stops of Rodriguez, Lopez, Washington and all other purported class members are related because they stem from the same alleged practice or policy of racial profiling in the Pacheco Pass area. Plaintiffs thus clearly are alleging that a substantial part of the events giving rise to this action occurred in the Northern District. Accordingly, while venue would be proper in the Eastern District, venue also is proper in the Northern District.

D. Claims Against Helmick and Doane as Supervisory Officials

Defendants urge dismissal of the claims against Helmick and Doane because the First Amended Complaint does not contain specific factual allegations supporting the alleged conclusion that these defendants maintain or are responsible for a policy which leads directly to stops of Plaintiffs' vehicles on the basis of race. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit explicitly has rejected a judicially crafted heightened pleading standard for civil rights cases; instead, it has held that such claims need only comply with F.R.Civ.P. 8(a). See Bergquist v. County of Cochise, 806 F.2d 1364, 1367 (9th Cir. 1986), disapproved on other grounds by City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989). As the circuit court has stated:

This circuit applies a rule of reason to civil rights actions challenged for sufficiency at the pleading stage. While a liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled, plaintiff is not expected to plead his evidence or specific factual details not ascertainable in advance of discovery.

Gibson v. United States, 781 F.2d 1334, 1340 (9th Cir. 1986) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also San Jose Charter of the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club v. City of San Jose, No. C 99 20022 SW PVT, 1999 WL 1211672, at *12 (N.D.Cal. Dec. 6, 1999) ("Civil rights plaintiffs . . . have never been expected to plead their evidence or specific factual details not ascertainable before discovery has taken place.")

A supervisory law enforcement official is liable in his or her individual capacity "if he [or she] set in motion a series of acts by others, or knowingly refused to terminate a series of acts by others, which he [or she] knew or reasonably should have known, would cause others to inflict the constitutional injury." Larez v. City of Los Angeles, 946 F.2d 630, 646 (9th Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks, brackets and citation omitted); see also Bergquist, 806 F.2d at 1370. The First Amended Complaint alleges that Helmick and Doane personally participated in racial profiling, acted jointly and in concert with others who racially profiled, authorized, acquiesced in or failed to take action to prevent racial profiling, promulgated policies and procedures pursuant to which racial profiling occurred, with deliberate indifference failed and refused to implement and maintain adequate training and supervision and/or ratified the use of racial profiling. The First Amended Complaint also alleges that CHP and BNE supervisors and management continue to encourage these activities in Operation Pipeline despite evidence that drivers of color are targeted and subjected to unwarranted stops, detentions, interrogations and searches, and that the supervisors have been aware that CHP and BNE officers are engaging in racial profiling but have refused to stop it. These allegations, if proved, would establish liability under Larez, Bergquist and Harris. Cf. Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches v. Maryland Dep't of State Police, 72 F. Supp.2d 560, 565 (N.D.Md. 1999). Accordingly, applying as it must the ordinary pleading standard of F.R.Civ.P. 8(a), the Court concludes that the claims against Helmick and Doane are sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss.

E. Immunity Under the California Tort Claims Act

Defendants assert that they are immune from Plaintiffs' state law statutory and common law tort claims under three separate provisions of the California Government ...


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