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Young v. City of Visalia

January 15, 2010

THAD YOUNG AND SANDRA YOUNG, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF VISALIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anthony W. Ishii Chief United States District Judge

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS (Doc. No. 58)

This is a civil rights case brought by Plaintiffs Thad Young and Sandra Young against 23 defendants. On August 18, 2009, the Court dismissed the original complaint. See Court's Docket Doc. No. 54. On August 28, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint ("FAC"). The City of Visalia ("the City"), along with 14 individual Visalia police officers ( the "Visalia Officers"), have filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. The motion will be granted in part.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

As alleged in the complaint, on November 29, 2007, Defendant Nathan Flaws of the Visalia Police Department obtained a search warrant for property owned and occupied by Plaintiffs. The search warrant application identified the property as having multiple structures and an address of 29022 Road 164. The application did not include a description of a separate, adjacent property parcel. The separate, adjacent property was known locally as the "Old Grange Hall" and had its own separate address, 29006 Road 164, prominently printed on the side of its mailbox. A wooden fence ran along most of the boundary between the "Old Grange Hall" and 29022 Road 164, and other physical characteristics, including a separate parking lot, further showed the separateness of the two properties. The Tulare County Superior Court issued the search warrant, but the warrant made no mention of the Old Grange Hall property.

On December 4, 2007, the warrant was executed. The complaint alleges that all defendants participated in the search of 29022 Road 164. The defendants also entered and searched the Old Grange Hall despite the fact that this property was not part of the search warrant. From pre-search briefing, the Defendants knew that the warrant did not include the Old Grange Hall. The Old Grange Hall was searched without exigent circumstances, permission, or other legal justification and was searched against Plaintiffs' will. Defendants are alleged to have known that the Old Grange Hall was not part of 29022 Road 164. During the search of the two separate properties, the Defendants destroyed or substantially damaged numerous pieces of Plaintiffs' property.

While executing the warrant, several Defendants trained their guns on Thad Young, who was working in his shop on the 29022 Road 164 property, did not identify themselves as law enforcement, and a female officer told him not to move or she would "blow his head off." Those Defendants handcuffed Young and led him out of the shop. As they were leaving the shop, those Defendants pepper-sprayed Young's dogs without reason, despite his pleas not to do so. These Defendants took Young to the residential portion of 29022 Road 164 and set him in a room with other persons. Young informed these Defendants (and specifically Defendant Abbott) that he had diabetes and a heart condition and both of these conditions required that he take medication. Young also stated that he had a back condition for which he took pain medication. For nearly fives hours, these Defendants refused Young access to fluids, the bathroom, and his prescribed medication despite Young's requests. These Defendants also kept Young seated on an uncomfortable chair and kept him in handcuffs without reason. During the detention, Defendant Abbott requested that Young sign a form. When Young asked for his eyeglasses, Abbott refused and threatened to take him to the police station if he did not sign. Defendant Gilbert told Young that they were "just there for the money" and that they were going to put his son away for 37 years because of a gun that Young owned. Young then signed the form without reading it and later learned that it was a disclaimer of ownership for $2,000 cash that had been discovered during the search.

Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit in January 2009. The FAC alleges three civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various state law claims.

LEGAL FRAMEWORK

Rule 8 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) sets the pleading standard for claims for relief. "Under the liberal rules of pleading, a plaintiff need only provide a 'short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Sagana v. Tenorio, 384 F.3d 731, 736 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)). This rule does "not require a claimant to set out in detail the facts upon which he bases his claim." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957). The pleadings need only give the opposing party fair notice of a claim and the claim's basis. Conley, 355 U.S. at 47; Sagana, 384 F.3d at 736; Fontana v. Haskin, 262 F.3d 871, 877 (9th Cir. 2001).

47). The pleadings are to "be construed as to do substantial justice," and "no technical forms of pleading . . . are required." Fed. Rules Civ. Pro. 8(e)(1), 8(f); Sagana, 384 F.3d at 736; Fontana, 262 F.3d at 877. "Specific legal theories need not be pleaded so long as sufficient factual averments show that the claimant may be entitled to some relief." Fontana, 262 F.3d at 877; American Timber & Trading Co. v. First Nat'l Bank, 690 F.2d 781, 786 (9th Cir. 1982). However, "[c]ontext matters in notice pleading. Fair notice under [Rule 8(a)] depends on the type of case." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

Rule 12(b)(6)

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a claim may be dismissed because of the plaintiff's "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or on the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Johnson v. Riverside Healthcare Sys., 534 F.3d 1116, 1121 (9th Cir. 2008); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). In reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), all allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Marceau v. Blackfeet Hous. Auth., 540 F.3d 916, 919 (9th Cir. 2008); Vignolo v. Miller, 120 F.3d 1075, 1077 (9th Cir. 1999). The Court must also assume that general allegations embrace the necessary, specific facts to support the claim. Smith v. Pacific Prop. and Dev. Corp., 358 F.3d 1097, 1106 (9th Cir. 2004); Peloza v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 37 F.3d 517, 521 (9th Cir. 1994). But, the Court is not required "to accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences." In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1056-57 (9th Cir. 2008); Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001). Although they may provide the framework of a complaint, legal conclusions are not accepted as true and "[t]hreadbare recitals of elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009); see also Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2003). As the Supreme Court has recently explained:

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. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).

Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft, 129 S.Ct. at 1949; see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see also Weber v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 521 F.3d 1061, 1065 (9th Cir. 2008). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitlement to relief.' . . .

Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged -- but it has not shown -- that the pleader is entitled to relief.

Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50. "In sum, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the nonconclusory 'factual content,' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief." Moss v. United States Secret Serv.,572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).

If a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is granted, "[the] district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts." Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). In other words, leave to amend need not be granted when amendment would be futile. Gompper v. VISX, Inc., 298 F.3d 893, 898 (9th Cir. 2002).

DEFENDANTS' MOTION

1. Monell Liability

Defendants' Arguments

The City argues that the first through third causes of action attempt to allege Monell liability against it for a failure to train and supervise. However, the allegations do not sufficiently show a policy or custom. There is no description of what the hiring and training practices were, how the training and hiring practices were deficient, or how the practices caused harm. No new additional facts are alleged. Plaintiffs again rely on legal conclusions that make it impossible to know whether various unidentified incidents constitute a "pattern of tortious conduct" or render constitutional violations "highly predictable."

Plaintiffs' Opposition

Plaintiffs argue that their Monell claim is adequately stated as it is premised upon the City's own encouragement of over-exuberant seizure and forfeiture efforts of its officers and simultaneous downplaying of the officers' civil rights violations. Detective Gilbert's statement that the defendants were "just there for the money" indicates the existence of the seizure and forfeiture policy. It is also noteworthy that fourteen officers participated in the search, including several supervisory officers. The City is requesting a hightened pleading standard that is not actually required. Without discovery to obtain the express policies of the City, the pleading standard required by the City could never be met at this early stage in the case.

Relevant Allegation

In relevant part, Paragraph 19 reads: Defendants [the City]. . . are named herein for having so knowingly failed to reasonably select and hire, and to reasonably well educate, instruct and train, and direct, supervise, control and discipline the conduct of its officers and supervisors, including the individual defendants named herein, in recurring situations such as are alleged herein, in which their officers', deputes', and supervisors' violations of the civil and statutory rights of individuals, including plaintiffs herein, were anticipated and could have been prevented by such selection and hiring, education, training, direction, supervision, control, and discipline, that [the City] . . . set in motion a chain of events that made the violations alleged herein foreseeable and substantially certain to occur.

More specifically, it is believed and on that basis alleged, that [the City] . . . knew that particularly during operations aimed at seizure of assets, at times officers conducted searches that violated the 4th Amendment, including by way of searches without warrant or exigent circumstances and unreasonable detentions. Despite such knowledge and as policy and widespread, consistent practice, [the City] . . . emphasized to their officers to seize assets including cash, while [the City] . . . downplayed or ignored the means by which their officers accomplished the seizures, including violations of civil rights of persons from whom assets ...


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