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Wyatt v. Walmart Store

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


October 16, 2009

VICTOR H. WYATT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WALMART STORE, CHICO, CALIFORNIA, WALMART, INC., MARTHA SHARPE, AND DOES 1-20 DEFENDANTS.

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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Victor H. Wyatt ("Plaintiff") initiated the instant action alleging that Defendant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and its employee, Defendant Martha Sharpe (hereinafter collectively referred to as "Defendants" unless otherwise indicated), violated both state and federal law when Defendant Sharpe detained him for shoplifting.

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is granted.

BACKGROUND*fn2

On November 26, 2006, Plaintiff allegedly entered Wal-Mart with two empty ink cartridges intending to ensure he purchased the correct new cartridges. Plaintiff did not "check" the cartridges with Wal-Mart because they were used items. After locating another item he intended to purchase, Plaintiff proceeded to the electronics department to obtain new ink cartridges. Since Plaintiff could not read the cartridges without his glasses, he claims he paid for the other item and exited the store.

Plaintiff alleges that he was then stopped by a woman who identified herself as a store employee, but who failed to show identification. Plain-clothed officers asked Plaintiff to return the cartridges, and Plaintiff complied. Plaintiff was then taken into the back of the store where a Wal-Mart employee allegedly became physically abusive and attempted to restrain him. According to Plaintiff, he then broke away and "waited across the street until everyone calmed down."

Plaintiff claims that, at that time, he returned to the store and was handcuffed to a chair by Defendant Sharpe. Defendant Sharpe proceeded to take photographs of some torn ink cartridge boxes. Plaintiff then asserted that the cartridges he had on his person were empty and that he had brought them into the store with him. According to Plaintiff, no one examined the cartridges to confirm the truth of his statements, and the cartridges subsequently disappeared.

Plaintiff also claims that he asked for someone to fingerprint the "new" cartridges to show that his prints were not on them. He further contends that he asked for someone to obtain and look at the surveillance video to show that he had not taken anything. According to Plaintiff, when he asked for the fingerprints and video surveillance Defendant Sharpe replied, "You're a black and in Butte County. All it takes to prove you've done it is my belief and statements. Besides I am going to be working as a sheriff for Butte County Jail where you are going to be going for your lawsuits."

On or about February 5, 2007, as a result of the shoplifting charges levied against him, a jury convicted Plaintiff of felony theft.*fn3 Request for Judicial Notice in Support of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss ("RJN"), Exhibit A. After the California Third District Court of Appeal affirmed Plaintiff's conviction, the California Supreme Court denied Plaintiff's Petition for Review on June 11, 2008.

Id., see also Defs.' Request for Judicial Notice filed March 2, 2009, Exhibit A.

Plaintiff claims that his prior history with both Wal-Mart, the Chico Police Department, and the County of Butte provided motivation for the allegedly unconstitutional treatment that led to the above arrest. More specifically, prior to his arrest and conviction, Plaintiff was a lead plaintiff in a civil rights case against Butte County Jail through which he alleged he was deprived of various rights and mistreated by incarcerating authorities. In October of 2006, Plaintiff reported police abuse by the Chico Police Department following an allegedly false report made by a Wal-Mart employee about Plaintiff. Subsequently, in November of 2006, Plaintiff filed a civil rights action against the City of Chico for abuse by law enforcement personnel. Later, on November 23, 2006, Plaintiff was allegedly stopped and beaten by Chico Police officers in retaliation for the demotion of a Chico Police Officer, which had allegedly resulted from Plaintiff's complaints and civil rights cases against the Chico Police Department.

Through the present action, Plaintiff now pursues civil remedies for violations of both state and federal law that he claims Wal-Mart perpetuated based on his race and in retaliation for his prior claims. Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's original Complaint, filed November 26, 2008, on grounds that they did not qualify as state actors for purposes of imposing liability under 42 U.S.C § 1983.

By Memorandum and Order filed July 8, 2009, the Court granted Defendants' Motion, finding that the Complaint stated insufficient facts upon which the requisite state action could be inferred. Because the Court found that Plaintiff's federal claim under § 1983 lacked viability, it declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims advocated by Plaintiff.

Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, filed July 26, 2009, incorporates additional allegations in support of Plaintiff's contention that Defendants acted as state actors in his arrest and detention. In filing the second Motion to Dismiss presently before the Court, Defendants no longer challenge Plaintiff's § 1983 claim on that basis. Instead, Defendants now advance a separate argument; namely, that Plaintiff's claim is barred under the principles set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). We consider that argument below.

STANDARD

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), all allegations of material fact must be accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the...claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99 (1957). While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the "grounds" of his "entitlement to relief" requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554-56, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Id. at 555 (citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-236 (3d ed. 2004) ("The pleading must contain something more...than...a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action").

If the court grants a motion to dismiss a complaint, it must then decide whether to grant leave to amend. The court should "freely give[]" leave to amend when there is no "undue delay, bad faith[,] dilatory motive on the part of the movant,...undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of...the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment...." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a); Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). Generally, leave to amend is only denied when it is clear that the deficiencies of the complaint cannot be cured by amendment. DeSoto v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 957 F.2d 655, 658 (9th Cir. 1992).

ANALYSIS

A. Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims

Plaintiff's First and Second Causes of Action*fn4 allege various constitutional violations arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pursuant to § 1983, Plaintiff must demonstrate that Defendants (1) deprived him of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) acted under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

As indicated above, Defendants' status as state actors, at least for purposes of this Motion to Dismiss, is no longer at issue. With respect to the requisite constitutional violation, Plaintiff alleges violations of his right to equal protection of the laws and his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. As indicated above, Defendants argue that Plaintiff is precluded by Supreme Court precedent from asserting any constitutional violation under the circumstances of this case.

In Heck v. Humphrey, supra, the Supreme Court held that: when a state prisoner seeks damages in a section 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. 512 U.S. at 487.

Thus, in order to pursue a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that would undermine a prior conviction, Plaintiff must prove that the underlying conviction has been "reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal..., or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus." Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-477.

Here, Plaintiff was convicted of felony theft as a result of the shoplifting incident that underlies this litigation. Plaintiff has presented no evidence that his conviction has been either reversed or invalidated. In fact, Plaintiff appealed his conviction and his conviction was affirmed on appeal.

Plaintiff premises his § 1983 claims on violations of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment (apparently on the basis of his right to be free of racial discrimination) as well as his violations of his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment. FAC, ¶ 7. His claims in that regard specifically relate to alleged "racial profiling [of] persons of color." Id. at ¶ 19. Plaintiff cites no authority, however, to support his apparent argument that an individual found guilty of an offense can evade the consequences of his criminal activity by claiming he should not have been "caught." While Plaintiff cites Cruz v. Donnelly, 727 F.2d 79 (3d Cir. 1984), arguing that it has a "fairly similar fact pattern" to the case at bar, in Cruz, unlike the present matter, the plaintiff was wrongfully accused, and subsequently exonerated, of shoplifting.

Moreover, the other case cited by Plaintiff, Limone v. United States, 2009 WL 2621536 (1st Cir. 2009) is both substantively dissimilar (as involving malicious prosecution rather than any alleged § 1983 violation), and procedurally inapposite (as involving circumstances where the underlying convictions were vacated).

Defendants correctly maintain that Plaintiff's § 1983 claims, as currently constituted, are barred under Heck because a verdict in Plaintiff's favor in this action would necessarily imply the invalidity of his criminal conviction-- a conviction that was upheld on appeal and has not otherwise been rendered invalid.

In arguing for a different result, Plaintiff appears to fundamentally misunderstand Heck's import. He appears to argue, for example, that simply seeking appellate relief is enough to get around Heck. (See Pl.'s Opp., 4:25-5:9). Despite Plaintiff's contention to the contrary, however, Heck makes it clear that simply exhausting appellate remedies is insufficient; instead, a § 1983 claim which, if successful, would tend to invalidate a standing conviction is impermissible unless the underlying conviction is in fact validated. The fact that no such invalidation has occurred here is fatal to Plaintiff's § 1983 claim given its present focus on Plaintiff's detention at Wal-Mart and his subsequent shoplifting prosecution.

While Plaintiff argues that his § 1983 claims are also founded on violations of various state laws, including the Unruh Act, California Civil Code § 51, and The Bane Act, California Civil Code § 52.1, those allegations are premised on state law, as opposed to a viable § 1983 claim, which flows from the violation of either federal law or the United States Constitution. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. at 48. Moreover, while Plaintiff also argues in Opposition to this Motion that his § 1983 claims may also be based on violations of either 42 U.S.C. § 2000 or 42 U.S.C. § 1981, neither of those purported infractions are even mentioned in the operative pleading, Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. Finally, while Plaintiff's Opposition to this Motion also makes reference to "physical abuse" and "assault and battery" (See Opp., 5:14 and 9:21, respectively), again the FAC is framed solely on the fact of Plaintiff's detention and the subsequent charges brought against him, not to any alleged excessive force in the course of his arrest. Consequently Plaintiff's § 1983 claims, as they currently stand, necessarily fail.

B. Plaintiff's State Law Claims

It is clear that, in the instant case, the Court lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims under both 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 or 1332.*fn5 Moreover, while "...in any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy...," if the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, it may decline to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (a), (c). Given that the Court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, and being presented with no compelling reason to hold otherwise, the Court declines to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over the state causes of action in this case. Accordingly, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's state law claims is also granted.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons just stated, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 20) is GRANTED, with leave to amend.*fn6 In the event Plaintiff does choose to file a Second Amended Complaint, however, he is cautioned to avoid claims barred by Heck under the rationale articulated by the Court above. In addition, any further amended pleading must be filed by Plaintiff not later than twenty (20) days after the date this Memorandum and Order has been electronically filed. If no amended complaint is filed within that twenty(20)-day period, this case will be dismissed without leave to amend, and absent further notice.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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