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Newman v. San Joaquin Delta Community College District

May 27, 2010

SHIRLEY NEWMAN AND ANTHONY BUTLER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SAN JOAQUIN DELTA COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT; DANIELE RULEY; AND JAMES WOOD, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: MOTION TO DISMISS

Plaintiffs Shirley Newman and Anthony Butler brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants San Joaquin Delta Community College District ("Delta College"), Daniele Ruley, and James Wood for alleged violations of their constitutional rights. Presently before the court is defendant Wood's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

I. Factual and Procedural Background

In 2008, plaintiffs were students at Delta College. (SAC ¶ 11.) Plaintiff Newman allegedly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and spinal damage and disease. (Id. ¶ 10.) Delta College was allegedly aware of Newman's ailments, since she had suffered anxiety attacks on numerous occasions. (Id. ¶ 13.) Newman wears a medic-alert bracelet on her wrist as a result of her medical conditions that lists her medical aliments and Butler as an emergency contact. (Id. ¶ 10) Butler is Newman's husband and legally designated care provider. (Id. ¶ 11.)

On March 13, 2008, plaintiffs were attending class at Delta College. (Id. ¶ 12.) At approximately 11:30 a.m., Butler was attending a writing lab class in the Holt Building on the Delta College campus. (Id.) At the time, Newman was attending a different class in the Holt Building. (Id.) During her class, Newman allegedly began suffering from extreme anxiety and left her classroom to go to Butler's class, as she normally would during an anxiety attack. (Id. ¶ 13.) Upon entering the classroom Butler occupied, the class's instructor, Dr. Elizabeth Maloney, allegedly escorted Newman and Butler into a private classroom. (Id.) In the room, Newman allegedly knocked some items off of a desk and said she was "looking for something to hurt somebody." (Id.) Patti Lynn Drake, who was in the room at the time, left and called the Delta College police, mentioning that Newman was ill. (Id.)

The Delta College Police call center dispatched Delta College Police Officers Ruley and Wood to investigate. (Id. ¶ 14.) When Ruley and Wood arrived at the classroom, plaintiffs were allegedly peacefully leaving. (Id. ¶ 15.) Wood allegedly attacked Butler without provocation and used unreasonable force in dragging him to the ground, restraining Butler face-down. (Id.) Ruley allegedly threw Newman against a wall with a great amount of force. (Id.) Ruley allegedly remarked that she had just had a great workout using force against Newman and made racially derogatory remarks. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Plaintiffs were allegedly then detained by Ruley and Wood. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 18.)

On March 14, 2008, plaintiffs received a letter from Delta College's Vice President of Student Services, Jose Michel, temporarily suspending them for an alleged assault on a Delta College police officer. (Id. ¶ 20(l).) Michel sent plaintiffs another letter on March 17, 2008, suspending them through the summer of 2008 for assaulting a campus police officer and causing a disturbance. (Id. ¶ 20(m).) Delta College upheld the suspensions on April 8, 2008, allegedly based in part on false testimony from Ruley that plaintiffs were struggling with each other. (Id. ¶ 20(o).)

In May 2008, Delta College allegedly provided that Newman could be reinstated for the summer 2008 session if she brought a recent evaluation by a licensed psychiatrist regarding her treatment plan. (Id. ¶ 20(p).) Newman was denied summer enrollment after she provided a letter from a therapist instead of a psychiatrist. (Id. ¶ 20(q).) In June 2008, Delta College contacted Newman and identified that her fall 2008 enrollment would also be contingent upon receiving a letter from a psychiatrist about her treatment plan. (Id. ¶ 20(r).) On July 21, 2008, Newman's suspension was rescinded and her student record was allegedly cleared. (Id. ¶ 20(s).)

Plaintiffs filed this action on September 12, 2008, in San Joaquin County Superior Court and subsequently filed a First Amended Complaint on November 19, 2009. (Docket No. 1.) Defendants subsequently removed the case to this court on December 11, 2009. (Id.) Defendant Woods filed a motion to dismiss the First Amended Complaint on January 5, 2010. (Docket No. 8.) In response, plaintiffs filed a statement of non-opposition and requested leave to file a Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") (Docket No. 12), which the court granted. (Docket No. 25.) Currently before the court is Wood's motion to dismiss the SAC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).*fn1

II. Discussion

On a motion to dismiss, the court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984); Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff needs to plead "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). This "plausibility standard," however, "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully," and where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57).

A. Battery Claims

Plaintiffs' first causes of action assert claims against defendants for common law battery. Under California law, the elements of battery are "(1) defendant intentionally performed an act that resulted in a harmful or offensive contact with the plaintiff's person; (2) plaintiff did not consent to the contact; and (3) the harmful or offensive contact caused injury, damage, loss or harm to plaintiff." Brown v. Ransweiler, 171 Cal. App. 4th 516, 526-27 (2009) (internal citations omitted). When a state law battery claim is brought against a police officer, "a plaintiff must prove that the peace officer's use of force was unreasonable . . . . The question is whether a peace officer's actions were objectively reasonable based on the facts and circumstances confronting the peace officer." Id. at 527.

Plaintiffs have alleged that they were peacefully leaving a classroom at Delta College when Wood forcefully dragged Butler to the ground and restrained him there face-down. (SAC ¶ 15.) Plaintiffs allege that they did not fail to comply with any of Wood's commands and never attempted to resist Wood or flee the area. (Id. ¶ 17.) While Wood contends that he did not use excessive force because there was a legitimate threat of violence from plaintiffs, at this stage of the proceedings, plaintiffs' allegations must be taken as true. See Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236. Accordingly, the SAC has plausibly plead that Wood acted unreasonably by dragging Butler to the ground and holding him there in response to plaintiffs peaceful departure from a classroom. Butler has therefore adequately pled a claim for battery against Wood. However, the SAC does ...


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