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Easley v. County of El Dorado

November 2, 2010

GARY D. EASLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF EL DORADO; EL DORADO SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT; EL DORADO PROBATION DEPARTMENT; MIKE COOK; RICHARD HORN; HAL BARKER; OLGA HOPKINS; JEFF NEVES; AND NOLAN TRACY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER and FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Presently before the court is a motion to dismiss plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by the following defendants: the County of El Dorado, which was also sued as the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office and the El Dorado County Probation Department; Mike Cook; Richard Horn; Olga Hopkins; and Nolan Tracy (collectively "defendants").*fn1 (Dkt. No. 23.) The court heard this matter on its law and motion calendar on October 21, 2010. Attorney Andrew T. Caulfield appeared on behalf of defendants. Plaintiff, who is proceeding without counsel, appeared on his own behalf. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned will recommend that defendants' motion to dismiss be granted and that all of plaintiff's claims be dismissed with prejudice as to the above-referenced defendants.*fn2

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint, which is the operative complaint, alleges that several defendants violated plaintiff's constitutional rights and seeks recovery, in large part, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See generally Third Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 16.) Plaintiff also alleges two claims under California state law. Generally, plaintiff's claims arise from his interactions with officers of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office in the years 2003 and 2005.

Briefly stated, plaintiff alleges that on or about December 11, 2003, defendants Horn and Cook, who are alleged to have been officers with the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office ("Sheriff's Office"), unlawfully entered plaintiff's cabin without warning, conducted an illegal search of the premises, and used physical force to handcuff and arrest or "imprison" plaintiff. (Third Am. Compl. at 3, 4-5.) This arrest also led to what plaintiff alleges was a malicious criminal prosecution proceeding under "Case # P03CRF0694" in the Superior Court of California for the County of El Dorado ("Superior Court"), which is alleged to have been ultimately terminated in plaintiff's favor. (Id. at 5-6, 8.) Plaintiff alleges a number of claims, discussed in more detail below, that arise out of the December 11, 2003 arrest and resulting criminal prosecution.

Plaintiff also alleges that on or about March 16, 2005, defendant Nolan Tracy, who is alleged to have been an officer with the Sheriff's Office, "accosted" plaintiff near plaintiff's home, used physical force to handcuff plaintiff, and falsely arrested plaintiff. (Id. at 3, 11.) This arrest led to what plaintiff alleges was a malicious criminal prosecution proceeding under "Case # P05CRM0345" in the Superior Court. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges a number of claims, discussed in more detail below, that arise out of the March 16, 2005 arrest and resulting prosecution.

Of note, on September 6, 2005, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court that relates, in large part, to the events that occurred on December 13, 2003, which gave rise to some of the alleged constitutional violations here. (See Pl.'s Compl., Easley v. County of El Dorado, et al., 2:05-cv-01780 FCD DAD PS (E.D. Cal.) ("Easley I"), Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff amended his complaint as a matter of right within ten days of filing it. (Easley I, Dkt. No. 4.) After granting plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, United States Magistrate Judge Dale A. Drozd, who was the magistrate judge assigned to the Easley I matter, screened the amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and dismissed it without prejudice, providing plaintiff with an opportunity to file a further amended complaint. (Easley I, Dkt. No. 6.) Upon plaintiff's failure to file an amended complaint, Magistrate Judge Drozd filed findings and recommendations that recommended dismissal of plaintiff's amended complaint without prejudice. (Easley I, Dkt. No. 8.) On June 8, 2006, United States District Judge Frank C. Damrell, Jr. adopted the proposed findings and recommendations after conducting a de novo review and dismissed plaintiff's action without prejudice. (Easley I, Dkt. No. 17.) The Clerk of Court entered judgment on that same day. (Easley I, Dkt. No. 18.)

On June 23, 2008, over two years after the dismissal of Easley I, plaintiff filed the complaint and motion to proceed in forma pauperis in the pending action. (Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint as a matter of right. (Dkt. No. 4.) United States Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan, who was initially assigned to this matter, granted plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis, but dismissed plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (Dkt. No. 6.) Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint, which included a key or legend that plaintiff intended to be used to decode his pleading, which was filled with symbols, puzzles, anagrams, or cryptographs. Plaintiff also advised the court that his claims would require an interested reader and some effort; hence, inclusion of the key or legend. Not amused by plaintiff's game-playing, Magistrate Judge Brennan dismissed the Second Amended Complaint, but charitably did so without prejudice. (Dkt. No. 12.) Magistrate Judge Brennan provided plaintiff with "one final opportunity" to file a complaint that conformed to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court's Local Rules, and the court's prior orders.

Plaintiff ultimately filed a Third Amended Complaint, and this matter was reassigned to the undersigned after the undersigned took the bench in February 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 16, 17.) The Third Amended Complaint does not contain the puzzles, symbols, and cryptographs present in prior pleadings. The undersigned ordered that plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint be served on several named defendants. (Dkt. No. 18.) All defendants named in the Third Amended Complaint, except defendants Jeff Neves and Hal Barker, subsequently filed the pending motion to dismiss, seeking dismissal of the Third Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on the grounds plaintiff's claims are either barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations and are not subject to tolling, or are barred by plaintiff's failure to plead conformity with the presentment requirements of California's Government Claims Act.

Plaintiff filed a written opposition to defendants' motion*fn3 (Dkt. Nos. 28), and defendants filed a reply brief (Dkt. No. 31). On October 20, 2010, the day before the hearing on the pending motion, plaintiff filed a procedurally improper document entitled "Objection to the Defendant's [sic] Reply Brief." (Dkt. No. 32.) Although plaintiff's "objection," which amounts to a sur-reply, is procedurally improper, the undersigned has, out of an abundance of caution, considered this filing in resolving defendant's motion to dismiss.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the pleadings set forth in the complaint. Vega v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 654 F. Supp. 2d 1104, 1109 (E.D. Cal. 2009). Under the "notice pleading" standard of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff's complaint must provide, in part, a "short and plain statement" of plaintiff's claims showing entitlement to relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); see also Paulsen v. CNF, Inc., 559 F.3d 1061, 1071 (9th Cir. 2009). "A complaint may survive a motion to dismiss if, taking all well-pleaded factual allegations as true, it contains 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Coto Settlement v. Eisenberg, 593 F.3d 1031, 1034 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). "'A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Caviness v. Horizon Cmty. Learning Ctr., Inc., 590 F.3d 806, 812 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). The court accepts all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Corrie v. Caterpillar, 503 F.3d 974, 977 (9th Cir. 2007). The court is "not, however, required to accept as true conclusory allegations that are contradicted by documents referred to in the complaint, and [the court does] not necessarily assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations." Paulsen, 559 F.3d at 1071 (citations and quotation marks omitted).

A claim may be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on the ground that the claim is barred by the applicable statute of limitations when the expiration of the limitations period is apparent on the face of the complaint. Von Saher v. Norton Museum of Art at Pasadena, 592 F.3d 954, 969 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Huynh v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 465 F.3d 992, 997 (9th Cir. 2006)). A court may also consider judicially noticeable documents in assessing the running of the statute of limitations. See Diaz v. Carlson, 5 F. Supp. 2d 809, 815 (C.D. Cal. 1997); Hernandez v. Sutter W. Capital, No. C 09-03658 CRB, 2010 WL 3385046, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 26, 2010) (unpublished). "'[A] complaint cannot be dismissed unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would establish the timeliness of the claim.'" Von Saher, 592 F.3d at 969 (modification in original) (quoting Supermail Cargo, Inc. v. United States, 68 F.3d 1204, 1206 (9th Cir. 1995)).

The court must construe a pro se pleading liberally to determine if it states a claim and, prior to dismissal, tell a plaintiff of deficiencies in his complaint and give plaintiff an opportunity to cure them if it appears at all possible that the plaintiff can correct the defect. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc); see also Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990) (stating that "pro se pleadings are liberally construed, particularly where civil rights claims are involved"). In ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b), the court "may generally consider only allegations contained in the pleadings, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters properly subject to judicial notice." Outdoor Media Group, Inc. v. City of Beaumont, 506 F.3d 895, 899 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

III. DEFENDANTS' REQUESTS FOR JUDICIAL NOTICE

In connection with their motion to dismiss, defendants filed two requests for judicial notice pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 201. (See Req. for Judicial Notice, Dkt. No. 23, Doc. Nos. 23-4, 23-5, 23-6; see also Am. Req. for Judicial Notice, Dkt. No. 31, Doc. No. 31.) Defendants request that the court to take judicial notice of 20 documents that fall into three categories: (1) criminal complaints and minute orders filed in the underlying criminal actions in the Superior Court (see requests numbered 1-7); (2) pleadings and orders filed in this action (see requests numbered 8-13); and (3) pleadings and orders filed in Easley I, 2:05-cv-01780 FCD DAD PS (see requests numbered 14-20).*fn4 (See Am. Req. for Judicial Notice at 2-5.)

The undersigned grants defendants' requests for judicial notice of the various court filings despite the fact that the court need not rely on all of these documents to resolve defendants' motion. The district court may take judicial notice of state court actions where the state court proceedings have a direct relation to the matters at issue. See, e.g., Betker v. U.S. Trust Corp. (In re Heritage Bond Litig.), 546 F.3d 667, 670 n.1, 673 n.8 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing U.S. ex rel. Robinson Rancheria Citizens Council v. Borneo, Inc., 971 F.2d 244, 248 (9th Cir. 1992)); Bias v. Moynihan, 508 F.3d 1212, 1225 (9th Cir. 2007); Cactus Corner, LLC v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 346 F. Supp. 2d 1075, 1092 (E.D. Cal. 2004). Similarly, the district court may take notice of proceedings within the federal judicial system where those proceedings have a direct relation to the matters at issue. See, e.g., Bias, 508 F.3d at 1225; Reyn's Pasta Bella, LLC v. Visa USA, Inc., 442 F.3d 741, 746 n.6 (9th Cir. 2006); Cactus Corner, LLC, 346 F. Supp. 2d at 1092. The court filings that are the subject of the Amended Request for Judicial Notice bear directly on the issue of whether plaintiff filed the current lawsuit within the applicable limitations period and whether that limitations period should be tolled for any reason. Accordingly, defendants' Amended Request for Judicial Notice is granted.*fn5

IV. DISMISSAL OF PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS PURSUANT TO RULE 12(b)(6)

Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint Contains ten numbered "Counts" and one unnumbered claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The undersigned first addresses whether the applicable statute of limitations or the presentation requirements of California's Government Claims Act bars each of plaintiff's claim and then addresses plaintiff's arguments regarding relief from any such bars.*fn6

A. Count I: False Arrest, Illegal Search, and False Imprisonment (Superior Court Case No. P03CRF0694)

Plaintiff's first claim for relief alleges that defendants Horn, Cook, and the Sheriff's Office violated plaintiff's rights secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and, as a result, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Third Am. Compl. at 4-7.) Plaintiff alleges that on December 11, 2003, Officers Horn and Cook unlawfully entered plaintiff's home without warning, conducted an illegal search of his home, and falsely arrested him. This arrest led to what plaintiff alleges was a malicious prosecution in the Superior Court proceeding under Case No. P03CRF0694. (See id. at 5.) Defendants contend that plaintiff's claims of false arrest, illegal search, and false imprisonment are all barred by the two-year statute of limitations that governs Section 1983 claims.

"Section 1983 does not contain a statute of limitations." Fink v. Shedler, 192 F.3d 911, 914 (9th Cir. 1999). Rather, the United States Supreme Court has held that although Section 1983 provides for a federal cause of action, the law of the state in which the cause of action arose governs the length of the statute of limitations. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007). The limitation period that a state provides for "personal-injury torts" applies to Section 1983 claims. Id. Under California law, the statute of limitations applicable to personal injury torts is two years.*fn7 See Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 335.1; see also Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 927 (9th ...


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