IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
November 9, 2010
CODY LEE MCKIE, PLAINTIFF,
CITY OF ROCKLIN; ROCKLIN POLICE DEPARTMENT; CHIEF MARK SIEMANS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE CHIEF OF THE ROCKLIN POLICE DEPARTMENT; OFFICER ANTHONY HANDLEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A ROCKLIN POLICE OFFICER; AND DOES 1 THROUGH 50, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS‟ MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS
This matter comes before the Court on Defendants‟ City of Rocklin ("the City") (also sued herein as Rocklin Police Department), Chief Mark Siemens ("Siemens") and Cpl. Anthony Handley ("Handley") (collectively "Defendants") Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 10). Defendants seek judgment on the Complaint (Doc. 1) filed by Plaintiff Cody Lee McKie ("Plaintiff").
Plaintiff partially opposes the motion.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, Defendants‟ motion is GRANTED.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that he was shot in the foot by Handley, while at an open loading bay on the premises of the Rocklin Kmart Store. The Complaint alleges that the shooting occurred at approximately 12:30 a.m. on June 25, 2009, when the store was closed. Plaintiff was standing in a bent over position when Handley drew his service weapon and shot Plaintiff. Handley was backed up by a second officer who drew her taser. Plaintiff was taken to the hospital by paramedics. Plaintiff now brings two claims for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force in violation of the fourth amendment, a claim for negligence and a claim for violation of California Civil Code § 52.1.
In addition to the limited factual allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint, judicially noticeable documents show that Handley was responding to a silent alarm from the store, when he discovered Plaintiff. Plaintiff was then arrested and charged with burglary and receiving stolen property. Plaintiff brought a motion, in State Court, to suppress the evidence obtained on the basis that Handley used excessive force in violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. The motion to suppress was argued and denied, and Plaintiff ultimately plead guilty to the criminal charges.
After Plaintiff filed the Complaint, Defendants filed an Answer. Additionally, the parties filed a stipulation to remove from the Complaint all references to punitive damages. Defendants now move the Court for judgment on the pleadings on all four claims for relief. Plaintiff only opposes granting judgment on the pleadings for the second and third claims for relief.
A. Legal Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) authorizes motions for judgment on the pleadings. "After pleadings are closed -- but early enough not to delay trial -- a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). Judgment on the pleadings is properly granted when there is no issue of material fact in dispute, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fleming v. Pickard, et al., 581 F.3d 922, 925 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Heliotrope Gen. Inc. v. Ford Motor Company, 189 F.3d 971, 979 (9th Cir. 1999). A motion for judgment on the pleadings is equivalent to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and the standard of review is the same. Hal Roach Studios v. Richard Feiner & Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1990).
In deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings the court must accept all the allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. However, conclusory allegations and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion for judgment on the pleadings. In re Syntex Corp. Sec. Litig., 95 F.3d 922, 926 (9th Cir. 1996).
It must appear beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Sun Savings and Loan Ass'n v. Dierdorff, 825 F.2d 187, 191 (9th Cir. 1987).
In addition to considering the allegations of the complaint, like a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court may also take into account materials to which it can take judicial notice. A Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings may consequently be granted if, after assessing both the complaint, plus matters for which judicial notice is proper, it appears beyond doubt that the non-moving party cannot prove any facts that would support his claim for relief.
Morgan v. County of Yolo, 436 F.Supp.2d 1152, 1155 (E.D. Cal. 2006) (internal citations omitted).
Defendants' request the Court take judicial notice of three documents: the transcript of Plaintiff's preliminary examination in Placer County Superior Court, the October 9, 2009 Placer County Superior Court ruling on the motion to suppress and the judgment order from the case. (Doc. 12). Defendants' request for judicial notice is unopposed and is granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 201.
B. Claims for Relief
1. Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, First Claim for Relief
Plaintiff asserts a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against Defendants on the grounds that Defendants used excessive force against him when Handley shot him in the foot prior to arresting him. Plaintiff alleges that the shooting violated Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right of due process and right to be free of excessive force by police officers. Defendants argue that collateral estoppel bars further litigation of this claim.
To prevail in a § 1983 civil action against state actors for the deprivation of: rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, a plaintiff must show that (1) acts by the defendants (2) under color of state law (3) deprived him of federal rights, privileges or immunities and (4) caused him damage. Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights, but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred. Accordingly, the conduct complained of must have deprived the plaintiff of some right, privilege or immunity protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
Thornton v. City of St. Helens, 425 F.3d 1158, 1163-64 (9th Cir. 2005) (internal citations omitted).
The doctrine of collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, prevents re-litigation of legal and/or factual issues necessarily considered and determined in a prior legal proceeding between the same parties, or their privies. The collateral estoppel doctrine applies with equal force to claims brought under § 1983. Whether collateral estoppel applies in a given case is primarily a legal question. State law governs the application of collateral estoppel to issues that were decided in a prior state court proceeding. Under California law, collateral estoppel is applied where (1) the issue sought to be precluded is identical to that which was decided in a prior proceeding; (2) that issue was actually litigated and necessarily decided in that proceeding; (3) there was a final judgment on the merits; and (4) that party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted was a party or in privity with a party to the prior proceeding.
Harvey v. City of Fresno, 2010 WL 892114, *8 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 9, 2010) (internal citations omitted). The doctrine of collateral estoppel may apply in a civil action to issues determined in a prior motion to suppress ruling. Ayers v. City of Richmond, 895 F.2d 1267, 1271 (9th Cir. 1990).
Defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment on the pleadings in the first claim for relief, because Plaintiff's first claim was already fully litigated and decided by the State Court at the suppression hearing for his criminal case. The judge in that case determined that Handley acted reasonably and did not violate the Fourth Amendment. See Ruling, pp. 83-85 (Doc. 12, Exhibit B).
In his opposition brief, Plaintiff did not raise any arguments in opposition to Defendants' collateral estoppel argument. Plaintiff conceded the first claim, instead arguing that even though the first and fourth claims are barred by collateral estoppel, he can still maintain the remaining two claims for relief.
After carefully reviewing the papers on this issue, the Court finds Defendants' arguments on the first claim for relief have merit. Each element necessary for collateral estoppel is met. Accordingly, Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED for the first claim for relief.
2. Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Second Claim for Relief
Plaintiff's second claim for relief is also a claim raised under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The second claim is brought against Defendants Siemens and the City, alleging that they failed to properly train and supervise their subordinate officers (including Handley), and failed to properly define the Rocklin Police Department's use of force policy. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights, causing injury to Plaintiff.
Municipal governments may only be sued under §1983 for their unconstitutional or illegal policies. Cities may not be sued for the acts of their employees. Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) (holding that "a local government may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents. Instead, it is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers 2 or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983"). A plaintiff may also establish Monell liability by showing that "[a] local governmental entity's failure to train its employees . . . "amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons' with whom those employees are likely to come into contact." Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 681 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989)).
The second claim for relief is predicated on the Court finding that a constitutional violation was committed. However, because the first claim for relief is barred by collateral estoppel, the second claim for relief also fails. The State Court in the criminal proceeding found that Handley did not violate Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights, and Plaintiff has conceded that he cannot re-litigate the issue. The Complaint makes no allegations of any constitutional violations beyond the previously discussed Fourth Amendment violation. Accordingly, Siemens and the City cannot be held liable under § 1983, as there is no underlying constitutional violation. Thus, judgment on the pleadings, in Defendants' favor, is granted for this claim.
3. Negligence, Third Claim for Relief
The Complaint alleges that Defendants owed Plaintiff a duty of care, were negligent in their actions and caused Plaintiff injury. Defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment on the pleadings for this claim, because it is also barred by the state court ruling. "The elements of a cause of action for negligence are (1) a legal duty to use reasonable care, (2) breach of that duty, and (3) proximate cause between the breach and (4) the plaintiff's injury. The existence of a legal duty to use reasonable care in a particular factual situation is a question of law for the court to decide." Harvey, 2010 WL 892114 at *15 (dismissing negligence claim based on arrest, when the State Court had already determined probable cause for arrest) (internal citations omitted). The State Court decided that Handley acted reasonably and did not use excessive force. Therefore, Defendants argue litigation of the negligence claim based on unreasonable action is barred.
Plaintiff argues that the negligence claim is not based on excessive force, rather it is based on Defendants' failure to follow policies and procedures, which may have proximately caused Plaintiff's injuries. Though Plaintiff states that the negligence claim is not based on excessive force, as Defendants' note, the only act complained of throughout the complaint is Handley's shooting of McKie in the foot. Having determined that collateral estoppel bars litigation of the underlying use of force claim, the remaining claims that derive from the use of force claim are likewise barred.
Plaintiff cites Daughtery v. Wilson, 2009 WL 25796070 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 18 2009) for the proposition that a negligence claim accompanying a constitutional claim should not be dismissed if only the constitutional claim was previously decided. However, Daughtery is distinguishable from the case at hand, because the alleged negligence claim in Daughtery was based on failure to provide medical care following the plaintiff's arrest. Therefore, though re-litigation of the constitutionality of the arrest was 2 barred, the negligence claim arose from a separate action and was 3 therefore not barred by collateral estoppel. In this case, the 4 allegations of the complaint clearly show that the negligence claim 5 directly stems from the use of force and policies surrounding use 6 of force. No policies distinct from the use of force issue are 7 alleged. Each claim in the complaint derives from Handley's use of 8 force. Accordingly, as the use of force issue has already been 9 fully litigated, and Handley found to have acted reasonably, judgment on the pleadings is granted in Defendants' favor for the third claim for relief.
4. Violation of California Civil Code § 52.1, Fourth Claim for Relief
California Civil Code § 52.1 prohibits interference with rights provided by the United States Constitution or the California Constitution. Section 52.1 authorizes damage awards for constitutional violations carried out by means of threat, intimidation or coercion. Plaintiff's fourth claim for relief alleges that Defendants interfered with Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights and rights under Article 1, Section 13 of the California Constitution. Article 1, Section 13 of the California Constitution contains language that is identical to that of the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, Defendants argue that this claim is also barred by collateral estoppel, because the state court found that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred. Absent an underlying constitutional violation, this claim must be dismissed. Plaintiff's opposition brief raised no arguments in opposition to Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings for this claim, and the Court finds that Defendants' arguments have merit.
Accordingly, Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted for the fourth claim for relief.
For the reasons set forth above, Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings is hereby GRANTED, WITH PREJUDICE.
IT IS SO ORDERED.