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Mendoza-Saravia v. Fresno County Sheriff's Dep't

August 2, 2010

MENDOZA-SARAVIA, BY AND ESTATE OF ANGEL ANTONIO THROUGH HIS ESTATE ADMINISTRATOR, JOSE MENDOZA-SARAVIA, ET AL; PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FRESNO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, ET AL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Oliver W. Wanger United States District Judge

RE: DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DISMISS OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, MOTION FOR A MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT (Doc. 9)

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendants County of Fresno and City of Mendota now move, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b), to dismiss the complaint on grounds, among others, that Plaintiffs lack standing. In the alternative, Defendants move for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e).

Plaintiffs are the alleged successors-in-interest and surviving relatives of Jose Mendoza-Saravia, who allegedly died as a result of an encounter with Fresno County Sheriff Deputies on November 26, 2008. They oppose the merits of the motion. Alternatively, they request an opportunity to file an amended complaint.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This action involves the alleged violation of Jose Mendoza-Saravia's civil rights and other injuries. The following facts are derived from the complaint, filed on February 10, 2010.

On November 26, 2008, several deputies with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department responded to a disturbance call at 325 Blanco Street, Mendota, California, the then-residence of decedent Jose Mendoza-Saravia. Plaintiffs allege that the deputies "confronted" Mr. Mendoza-Saravia, leading to an altercation between the deputies and Mr. Mendoza-Saravia. At an unknown point in time, Mr. Mendoza-Saravia was shot at close range with a beanbag projectile in the upper torso. Mr. Mendoza-Saravia was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead the same evening.

III. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On February 10, 2010, Plaintiffs filed the instant action in Fresno County Superior Court, alleging six causes of action: (1) negligence against all defendants; (2) assault and battery against all defendants; (3) violation of "California Civil Rights" and "the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States" against all defendants; (4) products liability against MK Ballistic Systems;*fn1 (5) strict liability in tort against MK Ballistic Systems; and (6) breach of warranties against MK Ballistic Systems.

Plaintiffs seek to recover compensatory and punitive damages against Defendants Fresno County, the City of Mendota, Fresno County Sheriff's Department, and West Coast Ammunition.*fn2

On April 4, 2010, this case was removed on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. The notice of removal asserts that Plaintiffs' action is founded on claims arising under federal laws, including the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

On June 23, 2009, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss.

Plaintiffs oppose the motion.

IV. LEGAL STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss can be made and granted when the complaint fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate where the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

To sufficiently state a claim to relief and survive a 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations" but the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Mere "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. Rather, there must be "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for 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." Id. (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

In deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all "well-pleaded factual allegations." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. A court is not, however, "required to accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences." Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001); see, e.g., Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., --- F.3d ----, 2009 WL 1978730, at *3 (9th Cir. July 10, 2009) ("Plaintiffs' general statement that Wal-Mart exercised control over their day-to-day employment is a conclusion, not a factual allegation stated with any specificity. We need not accept Plaintiffs' unwarranted conclusion in reviewing a motion to dismiss.").

The Ninth Circuit has summarized the governing standard, in light of Twombly and Iqbal, as follows: "In sum, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory factual content, and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief." Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

V. DISCUSSION

Defendants now move, pursuant to Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss the following claims advanced against them: (1) federal civil rights claims; (2) negligence; and (3) assault and battery.

Defendants first argue that Plaintiffs lack standing to pursue their survival and wrongful death actions because they do not satisfy California Code of Civil Procedure §§ 377.11 and 377.60, the applicable statutory frameworks. Whether a "particular party has standing to pursue a claim naturally precedes the question of whether that party has successfully stated a claim." Moreland v. City of Las Vegas, 159 F.3d 365, 369 (9th Cir. 1998). Plaintiff bears the burden of proving that standing exists. Northwest Envtl. Def. Ctr. v. Bonneville Power Admin., 117 F.3d 1520, 1528 (9th Cir. 1997). Defendants challenge whether Plaintiffs Jose Mendoza-Saravia and Angie Melissa Castro have standing to sue.

A. Standing

1. Plaintiff Jose Mendoza-Saravia

Citing California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.11, Defendants assert that Plaintiff Jose Mendoza-Saravia lacks standing to sue, as he is not the decedent's successor-in-interest, defined as the beneficiary of decedent's estate.*fn3 Defendants explain:

The first two causes of action in the complaint are state law claims for negligence (first) and assault and battery (second). Plaintiff Jose Mendoza-Saravia alleges that he is the personal representative of Decedent's estate. While the complaint is unclear, it appears that Mr. Mendoza-Saravia is bringing a survival action under California law, based on the torts allegedly committed against Decedent. However, he has failed to properly allege that he has standing to bring such an action.

(Doc. 9-1 at 2:23-28.)

Plaintiff Jose Mendoza-Saravia rejoins that he satisfies § 377.11's requirements because "he is the brother of Angel Mendoza-Saravia and is his successor in interest and administrator of his estate." He relies on two statements to support this assertion:

(1) the complaint's sixth paragraph, which states that Jose Mendoza-Saravia "is [the] duly qualified and acting personal representative of the estate of Angel Mendoza-Saravia"; and (2) his declaration, ...


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