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Johnson v. City of San Diego

August 13, 2009

KARL PHILIP JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF SAN DIEGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hayes, Judge

ORDER

The matter before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Strike the First Amended Complaint (Doc. # 18).

Background

This action arises out of an incident which occurred on May 20, 2006, when Defendants Jamie Fitzpatrick and Frank Wilson, police officers of Defendant San Diego Police Department, arrested, handcuffed, and placed Plaintiff in the back of their patrol vehicle. Plaintiff alleges that he was placed in the patrol vehicle without a required seatbelt or other safety restraint; that the patrol vehicle was involved in an accident with another vehicle; and that Plaintiff sustained injuries as a result of not being placed in a seatbelt or restraint system.

On November 13, 2007, Plaintiff filed a "notice of petition and petition for order relieving petitioner from provisions of Government Code, section 945.4*fn1 and allowing the filing of a late claim" ("Petition") in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego (Doc. # 18, Exhibit C). Plaintiff attached to the Petition a copy of a Claim for Damages ("State Complaint"), which Plaintiff filed in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego on May 16, 2007.*fn2 The State Complaint alleged the following causes of action: (1) negligence; (2) false imprisonment; (3) illegal search and seizure; (4) invasion of privacy; (5) negligent infliction of severe emotional distress; (6) negligent entrustment; (7) permissive use; (8) violation of due process and equal protection; and (9) violation of federal and state constitutional and statutory rights. On December 19, 2007, the California Superior Court denied the Petition on grounds that Plaintiff failed to establish that the failure to timely present a government tort claim to the City of San Diego was through mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; and that the application presented to the City for leave to present a late claim was not presented within a reasonable time. Id., Exhibit E. On February 13, 2008, Plaintiff appealed the denial of the Petition to the California Court of Appeal. Id., Exhibit F. On June 24, 2008, the California Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on grounds that Plaintiff failed to file a brief after notice was given. Id., Exhibit G.

On May 19, 2008, Plaintiff initiated the action presently before this Court by filing a complaint against the City of San Diego, the San Diego Police Department, and San Diego Police Officers Jamie Fitzpatrick and Frank Wilson (Doc. # 1). On May 8, 2009, Plaintiff filed a first amended complaint ("FAC") (Doc. # 16). The FAC alleges the following causes of action: (1) illegal search and seizure; (2) invasion of privacy; (3) cruel and unusual punishment; and (4) violation of federal and state constitutional and statutory rights.

In support of the first cause of action for illegal search and seizure, the FAC alleges that Fitzpatrick and Wilson, "under color of law and in deliberate indifference to plaintiff's health, safety and rights, and without a warrant and without probable cause, unlawfully stopped and detained plaintiff, searched his person, clothing and belongings, and improperly placed and held him handcuffed in a moving police vehicle without lap and shoulder belts." FAC, ¶ 12. The FAC alleges that Plaintiff did not consent to any such search, seizure or transport. The FAC alleges that Defendants "deprived plaintiff of the following clearly established and well-settled constitutional rights:" (1) "[f]reedom from illegal and warrantless searches and seizures;" (2) "[f]reedom from summary punishment;" (3) "[f]reedom from the use of illegal, excessive, unreasonable, unnecessary and/or outrageous search procedures;" and (4) "[d]ue process and equal protection in handling, treatment and transportation." FAC, ¶ 13.

In support of the second cause of action for invasion of privacy, the FAC alleges that Fitzpatrick and Wilson "invaded plaintiff's right of privacy" by "stopping, arresting, searching and otherwise interfering with plaintiff without probable cause, a warrant, excuse or justification." Id., ¶ 17. The FAC alleges that plaintiff did not consent to the search or other acts by Defendants, and "submitted to said defendants' acts only because he was afraid, was ordered to submit by said defendants who were acting under color of their authority and under color of the statutes, ordinances, regulations, customs and practices of the State of California, the City of San Diego and the San Diego police department." Id., ¶ 18. The FAC alleges that Defendants' "conduct constituted illegal and warrantless searches and arbitrary intrusions by defendants, and each of them, upon plaintiff's belongings, privacy and body, thereby depriving plaintiff of life, liberty, and property without due process of law." Id., ¶ 20.

In support of the third cause of action for cruel and unusual punishment, the FAC alleges that Fitzpatrick and Wilson "handcuffed plaintiff, over tightened said cuffs so as to hurt plaintiff, and placed plaintiff in the rear of their police vehicle without a lap and shoulder belt in deliberate indifference to plaintiff's rights, health, safety and well being." Id., ¶23. The FAC alleges that plaintiff "suffered injury and damage to his face, jaw, neck, back, mind, body, arms, legs, and nervous system, embarrassment, severe emotional distress and as yet additional unascertained injuries and damages" as a result of Defendants' unlawful conduct. Id., ¶ 24.

In support of the fourth cause of action for violation of federal and state civil, constitutional and statutory rights, the FAC alleges: "This action is brought pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. [s]sections 1981, 1983, 1985 and 1986, pursuant to The Americans With Disabilities Act and pursuant to California Civil Code, Sections 51, 52 and 52.1." Id., ¶ 29. The FAC alleges that "[b]y reason of being handcuffed plaintiff was effectively rendered disabled and could not care for or protect himself," and that "by reason of handcuffing and disabling plaintiff, placing him in a moving vehicle without the safety of seatbelt restraints and otherwise improperly transporting plaintiff, defendants, and each of them, deprived plaintiff of his rights as secured by the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and as further secured by the California Constitution and statutes." Id., ¶ 32.

On May 28, 2009, Defendants filed the Motion to Dismiss and Strike the FAC (Doc. #18). Defendants move to dismiss the FAC pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and strike portions of the FAC pursuant to Rule 12(f) and (g). On July 1, 2009, Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss and Strike (Doc. # 19). On July 7, 2009, Defendants filed a Reply (Doc. # 20).

Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of the pleadings. See De La Cruz v. Tormey, 582 F.2d 45, 48 (9th Cir. 1978). A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) where the factual allegations do not raise the right to relief above the speculative level. See Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). Conversely, a complaint may not be dismissed for failure to state a claim where the allegations plausibly show that the pleader is entitled to relief. See id. (citing Fed R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). In ruling on a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court must construe the pleadings in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and must accept as true all material allegations in the complaint, as well as any reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom. See Broam v. Bogan, 320 F.3d 1023, 1028 (9th Cir. 2003); see also Chang v. Chen, 80 F.3d 1293 (9th Cir. 1996).

Analysis

I. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

Defendants contend that Plaintiff is a state-court loser seeking to re-litigate his case in federal court because the California Superior Court denied the Petition, and the California Court of Appeal dismissed Plaintiff's appeal. Defendants contend that this Court cannot "pass upon Plaintiff's claims without reviewing, relying on and/or reversing a California state court decision that rendered judgment in favor" of Defendants. Id. at 8. Defendants contend that "[a]ll three requirements for the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine are satisfied in this case" because (1) Plaintiff was a party to the State Action; (2) Plaintiff alleged the same claims in the State Complaint and the action presently before this Court; and (3) the two actions did not parallel one another. Mot. to Dismiss, p. 5-7. Defendants move to dismiss the FAC on grounds that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars this action.

Plaintiff contends that the FAC "does not invite the federal court to review and reverse the state court's ruling." Opposition, p. 4. Plaintiff contends that the claims alleged in the FAC "were not entertained" in the State Action. Id. Plaintiff contends that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply because this is not an instance where Plaintiff has "filed a complaint in district court appealing to the district court to review a state court's ruling." Id. (emphasis in original).

Rooker-Feldman "is a narrow doctrine, confined to 'cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.'" Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 464 (2006) (quoting Exxon Mobil v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)). The "doctrine applies only in 'limited circumstances,' Exxon Mobil, supra, at 291, 125 S.Ct. 1517, where a party in effect seeks to take an appeal of an unfavorable state-court decision to a lower federal court." Lance, 546 U.S. at 466. The Ninth Circuit follows the following formulation for Rooker-Feldman:

If a federal plaintiff asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly erroneous decision by a state court, and seeks relief from a state court judgment based on that decision, Rooker-Feldman bars subject matter jurisdiction in federal district court. If, on the other hand, a federal plaintiff asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly illegal act or omission by an adverse party, Rooker-Feldman does not bar jurisdiction. If there is simultaneously pending federal and state court litigation between the two parties dealing with the same or related issues, the federal district in some circumstances may abstain or stay proceedings; or if there has been state court litigation that has already gone to judgment, the federal suit may be claim-precluded under § 1738. But in neither of these circumstances does Rooker-Feldman bar jurisdiction.

Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1164 (9th Cir. 2003). The district court lacks jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman if "the federal plaintiff [is] seeking to set aside a state judgment," whereas there is jurisdiction if the federal plaintiff "present[s] some independent claim, albeit one that denies a legal conclusion that a state court has reached in a case to which he was a ...


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