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BERRY LYNN ADAMS v. DANIEL L. KRAFT

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA SAN JOSE DIVISION


November 30, 2010

BERRY LYNN ADAMS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
DANIEL L. KRAFT, A STATE OF CALIFORNIA PARK RANGER, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lucy H. Koh United States District Judge

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United States District Court

For the Northern District of California 9

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17 ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SANCTIONS

Plaintiff filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that several State of California Park Rangers violated his civil rights in a series of incidents. Three motions are 19 currently before the court: Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend, Defendants' motion for judgment 20 on the pleadings, and Defendants' motion for sanctions. This Order deals only with the motion for 21 sanctions. The Court addresses Defendants' remaining two motions in a concurrently-filed Order 22 granting Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend and denying as moot Defendants' motion for 23 judgment on the pleadings. Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), the Court deems Defendants' 24 motion for sanctions appropriate for resolution without oral argument. For the reasons discussed 25 below, Defendants' motion for sanctions is DENIED.

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3 of this case. This Order summarizes only the relevant background for purposes of ruling on the 4 motion for sanctions. 5

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No. 42. The Honorable James Ware granted this substitution on July 19, 2010. Dkt. No. 53. 8

I. BACKGROUND

The Court's concurrently-filed Order granting leave to amend describes the full background

Plaintiff's original attorney, M. Van Smith, filed the initial complaint on February 10, 2010.

On June 9, 2010, Plaintiff submitted a motion to substitute Attorney Kate Wells in for Smith. Dkt. 7

While the motion to substitute counsel was pending, Ms. Wells informed Defendants' counsel that 9 she intended to file a motion to amend the complaint to address aspects of the complaint addressed 10 in Defendants' yet-to-be-filed motions for sanctions and for judgment on the pleadings. See Pl.'s

Opp'n to Mot. for Sanctions at 1-2 [Dkt. #70]. Defendants served their motion for sanctions on June 25, 2010, but had not yet filed it with the Court. Dkt. No. 55, Ex. G. The parties agreed on a 13 deadline of July 30, 2010 for Plaintiff to prepare a Proposed First Amended Complaint for 14 Defendants' review. Decl. of Kate Wells at ¶ 5 [Dkt. #70]. Despite that agreement, Defendants 15 filed the motion for judgment on the pleadings on July 14, 2010, but waited until July 30, 2010 to 16 file the motion for sanctions. Dkt. Nos. 51, 55. Plaintiff had sent a Proposed First Amended 17

Defendants' motion for sanctions addresses only the parts of the complaint related to Defendants Superintendent Kirk Lingenfelter and Sergeant K.P. Best. See Defs.' Mot. for 20 Lingenfelter, Sergeant Best, and the other State Park Ranger Defendants to falsely charge Plaintiff 22 with a crime based on an alleged threat of physical harm directed against Plaintiff's former friend, 23 [Dkt. #68]. Plaintiff alleges that the State Park Rangers singled Plaintiff out for harassment based 25 on his public criticism of the State Park Rangers. Plaintiff also alleges that Superintendent 26 Plaintiff was a "intimidating presence" and created multiple "public disturbances." Compl. at 28

United States District Court

For the Northern District of California

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Complaint to Defendant on July 29, 2010. 18

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Sanctions at 1 [Dkt. #55]. Plaintiff's complaint alleges an agreement between Superintendent 21

Greg Inloes. See Compl. at ¶¶ 14-17 [Dkt. #1], Proposed First Am. Compl. ("PFAC") at ¶ 19 24

Lingenfelter and Sergeant Best wrote letters to the Santa Cruz County District Attorney stating that 27

¶¶ 19-21, PFAC at ¶¶ 6, 21. Plaintiff alleges that Superintendent Lingenfelter failed to prevent selective enforcement of the law against Plaintiff by the other Defendants in this case. Compl. at 2

¶ 23, PFAC at ¶ 8. Finally, Plaintiff's original complaint claimed unlawful arrest by several of the 3

PFAC, Plaintiff's counsel attempts to clarify this allegation by alleging that Superintendent 5

Lingenfelter and Sergeant Best were involved in a supervisory capacity, and further alleging that 6 they failed to train and supervise the other defendants appropriately. PFAC at ¶¶ 35, 45-47. 7

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9 unreasonable, or without factual foundation, or is brought for an improper purpose." Conn v. 10 baseless filings . . . [and] Rule 11 imposes a duty on attorneys to certify that they have conducted a reasonable inquiry and have determined that any papers filed with the court are well-grounded in 13 fact, legally tenable, and not interposed for some improper purpose." U.S. ex rel. Robinson 14 Rancheria Citizens Council v. Borneo, Inc., 971 F.2d 244, 254 (9th Cir. 1992) (quoting Cooter & 15 Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U.S. 384 (1990)). An "improper purpose" is a purpose to "harass or 16 to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation." Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(1). 17

1096, 1109 (9th Cir. 2003). 19

20 by looking to whether a reasonable basis for the challenged position existed in law and fact at the 21 time the position was adopted. Conn, 967 F.2d at 1421; see also Bus. Guides, Inc. v. Chromatic 22

Commc'ns Enters., Inc., 498 U.S. 533, 554 (1991) (establishing the "objective standard of 23 reasonable inquiry" imposed by Rule 11). In determining whether an objectively reasonable basis 24 exists, whether the pleader is correct in his perception of the law is not critical. Conn, 967 F.2d at 25

1421. Thus, if a court finds that counsel made a reasonably arguable claim at the time of filing the 26 complaint, it should not apply Rule 11 sanctions. 27 28

Defendants, including Superintendent Lingenfelter and Sergeant Best. Compl. at ¶ 30. In the 4

II. LEGAL FRAMEWORK

"Rule 11 requires the imposition of sanctions when a motion is frivolous, legally

Borjorquez, 967 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1992). "The central purpose of Rule 11 is to deter

United States District Court

For the Northern District of California

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The test for improper purpose is an objective one. G.C. and K.B. Invs., Inc. v. Wilson, 326 F.3d 18

Courts also use an objective standard to address the other conditions for Rule 11 sanctions

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants argue that the complaint's claims against Defendants Superintendent Lingenfelter and Sergeant Best: 1) lack evidentiary support; 2) are not warranted by existing law; 4 and 3) were filed for an improper purpose. See Defs.' Mot. for Sanctions at 1. Defendants seek 5 sanctions against Plaintiff personally, as well as against both his counsel, Attorneys Smith and 6

The Court does not agree that the alleged deficiencies of the complaint rise to the level of 8 sanctions, especially considering that Rule 11 is an "extraordinary remedy . . . to be exercised with 9 extreme caution." See Conn, 967 F.2d at 1421; see also Hudson v. Moore Bus. Forms, Inc., 836 10

F.2d 1156, 1159 (9th Cir. 1987) ("ultimate failure on the merits" is irrelevant in a Rule 11 11 sanctions inquiry). Although Plaintiff's original complaint is poorly organized and confusing at 12 Wells. Id. 7

United States District Court

For the Northern District of California points, it does allege that Superintendent Lingenfelter and Sergeant Best were either involved with 13 or knew of at least some of the ongoing activities allegedly in violation of Plaintiff's civil rights, 14 and failed to prevent them. Compl. at ¶¶ 14-17, 19-21, 23. Although there is no respondeat 15 superior liability under § 1983, supervisors may still be liable for failing to prevent certain 16 unlawful conduct. See Preschooler II v. Clark County Sch. Bd. of Trustees, 479 F.3d 1175, 1183 17

(9th Cir. 2007) (finding supervisory liability where the supervisor "participated in or directed the 18 violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them" despite also holding that 19 there is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983) (quoting Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 20

(9th Cir. 1989)). Interpreted in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the original complaint does 21 seem to allege a legally cognizable theory of supervisory liability. 22

23 would amend his complaint to clarify the exact allegations Defendants' claimed were insufficient 24 as to Defendants Superintendent Lingenfelter and Sergeant Best. The PFAC clarifies that 25

Plaintiff's claims against Superintendent Lingenfelter and Sergeant Best are based on their failure 26 to prevent unlawful conduct and failure to train and supervise the subordinate State Park Rangers. 27

Even though Defendants had agreed to allow Plaintiff until July 30, 2010 to submit an amended On July 7, 2010, Plaintiff's counsel, Ms. Wells, notified Defendants' counsel that Plaintiff See PFAC at ¶¶ 45-47 (clarifying claims against Superintendent Lingenfelter and Sergeant Best). 28 complaint, Defendants still chose to bring a motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the original 2 complaint on July 14, 2010. While Defendants have made clear that they disagree with Plaintiff on 3 the facts of the case, Plaintiff's original complaint is not so "devoid of any plausible foundation" 4 that it rises to the level of sanctions. Hudson, 836 F.2d at 1161. At worst, Plaintiff may have 5 failed to state a claim.*fn1

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Thus, the Court finds that the actions of Plaintiff and his counsel do not merit the heavy hammer of sanctions. Rather, the potential deficiencies highlighted by Defendants are more 8 appropriately raised in a motion to dismiss. 9

IV. CONCLUSION

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Accordingly, Defendants' motion for sanctions is DENIED. The December 2, 2010 hearing

11 on Defendants' motion for sanctions is vacated. The Case Management Conference scheduled for

United States District Court

For the Northern District of California

December 2, 2010 at 1:30 p.m. remains as set. 13

IT IS SO ORDERED. 14 15

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