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Barrington v. San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department

February 25, 2009

ROBERT BARRINGTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frank C. Damrell, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the court on defendant San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department's ("SJCSD") motion to dismiss plaintiff Robert Barrington's ("Barrington") Complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendant contends that plaintiff failed to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 because: (1) the SJCSD is neither a legal entity nor "person" within the meaning of the statute and, consequently, is not a proper defendant; and (2) the SJCSD acted pursuant to a mandatory state directive and is thus immune under the Eleventh Amendment. (Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss ("MTD"), filed Dec. 29, 2008, at 1.) For the reasons set forth below,*fn1 defendant's motion to dismiss is GRANTED, with leave to amend.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's claims arise from the following alleged facts: On October 20, 2006, deputies of the SJCSD, responding to a domestic violence dispute, arrested Barrington outside his residence and placed him in the back of a patrol car. (Compl., filed Oct. 10, 2008, ¶ 19.) Over Barrington's objections, and without a search warrant, the deputies proceeded to enter and search Barrington's residence, collecting a "series of firearms" and removing them from the residence. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) The deputies stated that they acted pursuant to an "official policy" of the SJCSD, purportedly based on California Penal Code Section 12028.5. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) Based on the foregoing, plaintiff brought an action under 42 U.S.C Section 1983, claiming that the SJCSD's policy violated his Fourth Amendment rights. (Id. ¶ 35.)

STANDARD

A. Motion to Dismiss

On a motion to dismiss, the allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). The court is bound to give plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the "well-pleaded" allegations of the complaint. Retail Clerks Int'l Ass'n v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 753 n.6 (1963). Thus, the plaintiff need not necessarily plead a particular fact if that fact is a reasonable inference from facts properly alleged. See id.

Nevertheless, it is inappropriate to assume that the plaintiff "can prove facts which it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). Moreover, the court "need not assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." U.S. ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 1986).

Ultimately, the court may not dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff has alleged "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). Only where a plaintiff has not "nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible," is the complaint properly dismissed. Id. "[A] court may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002) (quoting Hudson v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984)).

B. Motion to Amend

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 15(a) states that "t]he court should freely give leave when justice so requires." "Leave to amend should be granted unless amendment would cause prejudice to the opposing party, is sought in bad faith, is futile, or creates undue delay." Martinez v. Newport Beach, 125 F.3d 777, 785 (9th Cir. 1997).

ANALYSIS

A. Proper Defendants under Section 1983

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1983, "[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage . . . subjects, or causes to subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress." Section 1983 confers no substantive rights itself, but ...


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