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Hahn v. California Dep't of Parks and Recreation

September 17, 2009

LAWRENCE V. HAHN AND COLDSTREAM ADVENTURES UNLIMITED, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF PARKS AND RECREATION, PAM ARMAS, SIERRA DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT, DONALD K. SCHMIDT, TARA LYNCH, DEAN OERTLE, MARK MCGOVERN, STEVE MICHAELS, MARK ROMINGER, AND DOES 1 THROUGH 100, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

This matter is before the Court on Defendants California Department of Parks and Recreation ("the State" or "Parks"), Pam Armas, Donald K Schmidt, Tara Lunch, Dean Oertle, Steve Michaels and Mark Rominger's (collectively "Parks Employees") motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and to strike the First Amended Complaint ("FAC") pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure Section 425.16. Doc. # 7. Plaintiffs Lawrence Hahn and Coldstream Adventures Unlimited, Inc. (collectively "Hahn") oppose the motions. Doc. # 8. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Hahn asserts that since August 1994 he has owned estates in real property, all within Placer County, consisting of approximately a 59-acre parcel of land located at 8975 Coldstream Road, as well as two recorded easements across parcels. Pl's FAC, Doc. # 6 ("FAC"), ¶ 48. Hahn alleges the easements entitle him to access areas within both Coldstream Canyon and Emigrant Canyon, via portions of Coldstream Road, for any lawful purpose, including, but not limited to commercial activities. FAC ¶ 48. Hahn asserts he has operated a snowmobile tour business, as well as other commercial activities on and around his property. FAC ¶ 46. In 1996, Defendants installed a gate on Coldstream Road, at the entrance of Donner Memorial State Park ("DMSP"). FAC ¶ 53. In 1997, Defendants began periodically locking the gate on Coldstream Road, which, in turn, obstructed the general public's use of the road. FAC ¶ 55.

Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint alleges fourteen claims for relief: (1) Violation of the Fourth Amendment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) Violation of the First Amendment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) Violation of Civil/Liberty Rights, Due Process Violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (4) Violation of Civil/Property Rights, Due Process Violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (5) Equal Protection Violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (6) Inverse Condemnation under California Constitution Article 1, Section 19; (7) Continuing Breach of Contract; (8) Continuing Public Nuisance; (9) Continuing Private Nuisance; (10) Malicious Prosecution; (11) Abuse of Process; (12) Defamation of Character/Slander Per Se; (13) Declaratory Relief; and (14) Injunctive Relief.

On September 9, 2009, a hearing was held in this Court on the motion to dismiss. In Hahn's Opposition Brief and at the hearing, Hahn conceded that the Ninth through Twelfth claims for relief (for malicious prosecution, defamation of character/slander per se, abuse of process, and private nuisance) in the FAC should be dismissed on the basis that the State and Parks Employees are absolutely immune from suit pursuant to Government Code Sections 821.6 and 815.2. See Pl's Opp., Doc. # 8, 8-9. As such, this Court dismissed claims Nine through Twelve of Plaintiff's FAC with prejudice at the September 9, 2009 hearing. The remaining claims were taken under submission and are the subject of this written order. Further, the Court stated at the hearing that it will focus on the merits of the motion to dismiss rather than the motion to strike. As discussed below, the Court need not rule on the motion to strike at this time.

II. OPINION

A. Legal Standard

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 the 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 Calif., Inc. v. Calif. 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." United States ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 1986). Indeed, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, U.S. , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed. 2d 868, 2009 U.S. LEXIS 3472, at *29 (May, 18, 2009)(citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

Ultimately, the court may not dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff alleged "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, U.S. , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed. 2d 868, 2009 U.S. LEXIS 3472, at *29 (May, 18, 2009)(citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Only where a plaintiff has failed to "nudge [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible," is the complaint properly dismissed. Id. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id.

B. Eleventh Amendment

Defendants move the Court to dismiss this action in its entirety based upon Eleventh Amendment immunity. Pls' Mot., Doc. # 7. Defendants argue the Eleventh Amendment bars takings claims and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against a state and thus, Parks, a state agency, is protected from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Pls' Mot. at 6-7. In addition Defendants argue Parks Employees are sued in their official capacities and thus the Eleventh Amendment bars takings claims and § 1983 claims against them as well. Id. at 7. Plaintiff contends that Parks and Parks Employees are not immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment "because the State of California is not immune under California law for uncompensated takings of private property." Defs' Opp., Doc. # 8, at 2.

"The Eleventh Amendment has been authoritatively construed to deprive federal courts of jurisdiction over suits by private parties against unconsenting States." Seven Up Pete Venture v. Schweitzer, 523 F.3d 948, 956 (9th Cir. 2009), citing Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996). The Eleventh Amendment bars a suit in which a state agency, such as Parks, is named as a defendant regardless of the relief sought. Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). The Eleventh Amendment applies to suits seeking injunctive relief against the State or its agency as well as to suits for damages. Id. at 101-102. Eleventh Amendment immunity also generally applies to officials of the State sued in their official capacity because "a suit [brought] against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office. As such, it is no different from a suit against the State itself." Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).

Here, Hahn has sued Parks for damages, declaratory and injunctive relief. Hahn admits in his FAC that he sues Parks as an agency of the state. FAC ΒΆ 5. As a state agency, Parks is protected by the Eleventh Amendment and cannot be sued in federal court for any of the claims for relief sought in Hahn's FAC. Further, Hahn sues the Parks Employees in their official capacities. His claims against Parks Employees as currently pled are either ...


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