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Neri v. County of Stanislaus District Attorney's Office

September 8, 2010

MARK NERI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE COUNTY OF STANISLAUS DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, COUNTY OF STANISLAUS, AND DOES 1 THROUGH 50, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS (Doc. No. 6)

This case arises from the placement of Plaintiff Mark Neri ("Neri") on a so-called "Brady List" by Defendant Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office (the "DAO"). Neri lost his job as a police officer with the City of Ceres as a result of his placement on the Brady List.*fn1 Neri has filed this lawsuit against the DAO and the County of Stanislaus ("the County"). Neri brings claims under the California Constitution and under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; he also requests injunctive and declaratory relief. Defendants move to dismiss. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' motion.

BACKGROUND

From the complaint, Neri was hired by the City of Ceres ("Ceres") police department in 1995. He was promoted to the rank of detective in 2006. On April 28, 2008, the DAO informed the Ceres Police Chief that Neri's name was going to be placed on a Brady List and that several hundred pages of documents pertaining to Neri, i.e. "Brady Material," would be disclosed to criminal defendants. The DAO and County do not appear to have any objective criteria for why or how the DAO selects officers for investigation or placement on the Brady List, or what type of material is considered Brady Material.

The DAO had conducted an apparent impromptu investigation of Neri. The investigation included reviews of a former employer's (also a police agency) department records and the Ceres police department personnel files. No one informed Neri that the DAO had obtained his employment records. Neri was not given the opportunity to object to the dissemination of personnel and private documents before the DAO disclosed the information. Included in the disseminated documents was information regarding an allegation that was neither sustained nor acted upon by Neri's former employer or the DAO. Despite the allegation's unsustained and irrelevant nature, the DAO deemed the allegation Brady Material.

Ceres sent a letter to the DAO requesting that the DAO refrain from disclosing Neri's personnel and personal information. Nevertheless, the DAO began informing criminal defense lawyers that Brady Material existed as to Neri. The DAO sent a form letter to defense counsels advising about the Brady Material and included a CD with the letter. The CD contained approximately 500 pages of documentation that the DAO deemed to be constitutionally relevant. The CD did not properly redact personal information belonging to Neri. A majority of the documents can be summarized as the history of a custody dispute between Neri and his ex-wife. Also included is an incident regarding a dispute with a daycare provider over who was to pick up Neri's son. Also included is an allegation that Neri had "keyed" his ex-girlfriend's car. However, the "keying" incident was investigated by the Ceres police department and determined to be unfounded. Also included is an allegation of domestic violence by Neri against his future wife. The complainant and a witness initially reported mistruths, but later reported "the true chain of events." The prosecutor handling the case for the DAO was unable to prosecute Neri after the witness and complainant recanted. Ceres did not discipline Neri regarding the domestic violence allegation. Neri alleges that he was selected for investigation, and was placed on the Brady List, as part of a grudge and in retaliation for the DAO being unable to convict Neri of domestic violence.

After Ceres received the Brady List letter, Ceres officials met with the DAO. Ceres supported Neri and challenged his placement on the Brady List. The DAO made it clear that it would not remove Neri's name. In May 2008, the City placed Neri on administrative leave and continued to try to negotiate with the DAO. The DAO later informed Ceres that it would not allow Neri to testify for the prosecution in any of their cases without independent corroboration.

On February 21, 2009, Ceres terminated Neri. Ceres stated that as a result of Neri's placement on the Brady List, he had automatically violated rules and policy. Further, since Neri's job requires that he give testimony in legal proceedings, he could not fulfill his job requirements. Neri appealed the February 2009 decision. Although the appeals board found Neri credible, the board upheld the termination in July 2009. The sole reason for the termination was Neri's placement on the Brady List. The board stated that they had no control over the Brady List and that placement of Neri on the Brady List violated several city policies. Placement on the Brady List has prevented Neri from pursuing his trade as a police officer.

In September 2009, Neri testified before a jury in the " Carrillo case." Neri had been the lead detective in the case. The DAO disclosed Neri's Brady Material to defense counsel. During two days of testimony, no party brought up any of the Brady Material regarding Neri. The defendant in the " Carrillo case" was convicted of two counts of homicide. Despite calling Neri and using his testimony in the "Carrillo case," the DAO has kept Neri's name on the Brady List.

On May 11, 2010, Neri filed suit against the County and the DAO. Under his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim, Neri contends that Defendants have a policy or practice of placing officers on a Brady List without the aide of established and objective criteria, and that his 14th Amendment right to pursue a profession has been violated by placing his name on the Brady List and disclosing personal information.

RULE 12(b)(6) FRAMEWORK

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 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). To "avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 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, leave to amend need not ...


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