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John Pruitt; John Pruitt, Jr., A Minor, By v. County of Sacramento; Sacramento County Sheriff's Department Sheriff

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


January 20, 2011

JOHN PRUITT; JOHN PRUITT, JR., A MINOR, BY AND THROUGH HIS GUARDIAN AD LITEM, HIS CUSTODIAL PARENT JOHN PRUITT; RE: PHILLIP PRUITT, A MINOR, BY AND THROUGH HIS GUARDIAN AD LITEM, HIS CUSTODIAL PARENT JOHN PRUITT; MICHAEL PRUITT, A MINOR, BY AND THROUGH HIS GUARDIAN AD LITEM, HIS CUSTODIAL PARENT JOHN PRUITT; ISAIAH PRUITT, A MINOR, BY AND THROUGH HIS GUARDIAN AD LITEM, HIS CUSTODIAL PARENT JOHN PRUITT; AND DARRYL BERG, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO; SACRAMENTO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT SHERIFF JOHN MCGINNESS; SERGEANT SANTOS RAMOS; DETECTIVE SEAN BERRY; DETECTIVE BRAD ROSE; DETECTIVE RANDY MOYA; DETECTIVE JACQUELINE KLOSS; DETECTIVE KEVIN STEED; DETECTIVE STEVE WHARTON; PROBATION OFFICER TIMOTHY RUIZ; DEPUTY THOMAS LYNN; DEPUTY CRAIG HARMON; AND DOES 1-100, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER MOTION TO DISMISS

Plaintiffs John Pruitt, John Pruitt, Jr., Phillip Pruitt, Michael Pruitt, Isaiah Pruitt, and Darryl Berg brought this action against defendants County of Sacramento, John McGinness, Santos Ramos, Sean Berry, Brad Rose, Randy Moya, Jacqueline Kloss, Kevin Steed, Steve Wharton, Timothy Ruiz, Thomas Lynn, and Craig Harmon, arising out of a series of events culminating in criminal charges brought and later dismissed against John Pruitt and Darryl Berg. The Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") alleges various claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for constitutional violations, various Bivens*fn1 claims, and common law false arrest and false imprisonment. Defendants now move to dismiss plaintiffs' § 1983 and common law claims for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

I. Factual and Procedural Background The individual defendants are state law enforcement officers who were part of a drug task force in the Sacramento area. (SAC ¶¶ 1, 31.) In 2008, the officers set a meeting with a suspected methamphetamine dealer, Leslie Shugart, wherein an undercover officer, Brad Rose, would attempt a controlled purchase. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 17, 34-41.) Officer Rose met with Shugart on February 19, 2008. (Id. ¶ 37.) During the meeting, Rose wore a bodywire that two other officers monitored. (Id. ¶ 36.) The wire was also recorded. (Id.) Rose offered to buy methamphetamine from Shugart, who informed him that she needed to acquire more drugs in order to complete the transaction. (Id. ¶ 37.) When she left the meeting site, officers followed her and observed her encounter a white Impala, which they followed. (Id. ¶ 38.) Rose met Shugart forty minutes after their initial meeting, and Shugart sold him 57.2 grams of methamphetamine. (Id. ¶ 40.)

Hours later, officers stopped a white Impala in Rocklin, California. (Id. ¶ 49.) John Pruitt and Darryl Berg were the occupants. (Id.) The officers asked the men to step out of the car and searched them, searched the vehicle, arrested them, and took them to a nearby police station. (Id. ¶¶ 50-54.) Both were eventually charged with violating federal drug laws. (Id. ¶ 57.)

In the criminal case, Pruitt and Berg filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the search of the Impala, arguing that the officers lacked probable cause to support the warrantless search and seizure. (Id. ¶ 64; Defs.' Req. for Judicial Notice Ex. A (Docket No. 59).) Judge Karlton held an evidentiary hearing on the motion, at which the existence of a recording of Rose's bodywire was raised, but several officers denied that such a recording existed. (SAC ¶¶ 68-74; Defs.' Req. for Judicial Notice Ex. D at 23:19-24:9, 25:7-26:4, 34:11-35:4, 66:12-67:19.) Judge Karlton denied the motion to suppress. (SAC ¶ 75; Defs.' Req. for Judicial Notice Ex. D at 135:3.)

Several months after the hearing, the bodywire recording was discovered and produced to the defendants. (SAC ¶ 79.) Pruitt and Berg then moved to dismiss. (Defs.' Req. for Judicial Notice Ex. E.) Judge Karlton held a hearing on the motion, focused primarily on the bodywire recording, and ended the hearing by ordering the parties to come up with a discovery plan for investigation into the alleged suppression of evidence. (Pls.' Req. for Judicial Notice Ex. B (Docket No. 57) at 8:25-9:11, 13:13-15:7, 16:13-17:20, 20:19-22.) Soon thereafter, the government moved to dismiss all charges, which Judge Karlton granted. (SAC ¶¶ 85, 87.)

Pruitt, Berg, and Pruitt's children*fn2 then filed the instant action, complaining that the search, seizure, arrest, and prosecution were unlawful. In their SAC, plaintiffs bring claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for constitutional violations, various Bivens claims, and common law false arrest and false imprisonment claims. Presently before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss the SAC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

II. Discussion

On a motion to dismiss, the court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984); Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). "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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This "plausibility standard," however, "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully," and where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57) (internal quotation mark omitted).

In general, a court may not consider items outside the pleadings upon deciding a motion to dismiss, but may consider items of which it can take judicial notice. Barron v. Reich, 13 F.3d 1370, 1377 (9th Cir. 1994). A court may take judicial notice of facts "not subject to reasonable dispute" because they are either "(1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned." Fed. R. Evid. 201. Judicial notice may properly be taken of matters of public record outside the pleadings. MGIC Indem. Corp. v. Weisman, 803 F.2d 500, 504 (9th Cir. 1986) (taking judicial notice of a motion to dismiss in a separate suit). This includes proceedings from other cases.

See Bennett v. Medtronic, Inc., 285 F.3d 801, 803 n.2 (9th Cir. 2002) ("[W]e may take notice of proceedings in other courts, both within and without the federal judicial system, if those proceedings have a direct relation to matters at issue.") (quoting U.S. ex rel. Robinson Rancheria Citizens Council v. Borneo, Inc., 971 F.2d 244, 248 (9th Cir. 1992)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, the court will grant the parties' requests and take judicial notice of several motions and transcripts from the underlying criminal proceedings. The court takes judicial notice of the fact of the proceedings and not of any facts contained within the documents.

A. Collateral Estoppel: First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Claims The doctrine of collateral estoppel prevents the relitigation of an issue previously argued and resolved in a prior proceeding. Hydranautics v. FilmTec Corp., 204 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2000). Federal law controls the collateral estoppel analysis where a federal court has decided the earlier case. See McQuillion v. Schwarzenegger, 369 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2004).

A prior court decision will have preclusive effect under the doctrine of collateral estoppel where:

(1) the issue necessarily decided at the previous proceeding is identical to the one which is sought to be relitigated; (2) the first proceeding ended with a final judgment on the merits; and (3) the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted was a party or in privity with a party at the first proceeding.

Hydranautics, 204 F.3d at 885 (quoting Younan v. Caruso, 51 Cal. App. 4th 401, 406-07 (2d Dist. 1996)). The party asserting collateral estoppel bears the burden of showing what the prior judgment determined. Hydranautics, 204 F.3d at 885. "[O]ne general limitation the [Supreme] Court has repeatedly recognized is that the concept of collateral estoppel cannot apply when the party against whom the earlier decision is asserted did not have a 'full and fair opportunity' to litigate that issue in the earlier case." Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 95 (1980) (citing Mont. v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153 (1979); Blonder-Tongue Labs., Inc. v. Univ. of Ill. Found., 402 U.S. 313, 328-29 (1971)).

"A 'final judgment' for purposes of collateral estoppel can be any prior adjudication of an issue in another action that is determined to be 'sufficiently firm' to be accorded conclusive effect." Luben Indus., Inc. v. United States, 707 F.2d 1037, 1040 (9th Cir. 1983). Several factors are relevant to the determination of "firmness":

[P]reclusion should be refused if the decision was avowedly tentative. On the other hand, that the parties were fully heard, that the court supported its decision with a reasoned opinion, that the decision was subject to appeal or was in fact reviewed on appeal, are factors supporting the conclusion that the decision is final for purpose of preclusion.

Id. (quoting Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 13 cmt. g (1982)).

A denial of a motion to suppress is an interlocutory order that is not appealable by a defendant until conviction. Cogen v. United States, 278 U.S. 221, 227 (1929) (a motion to suppress evidence is "but a step in the criminal case preliminary to the trial thereof"); see Lombardi v. City of El Cajon, 117 F.3d 1117, 1121 (9th Cir. 1997) (interlocutory suppression rulings not followed by a conviction or acquittal are without preclusive effect because of lack of finality); People of Territory of Guam v. Mafnas, 721 F.2d 683, 685 (9th Cir. 1983) ("As a general rule, an order by a district court denying or granting a motion to suppress is not an appealable final order [conferring appellate jurisdiction]."). Here, the fact that the criminal case was dismissed before a conviction or acquittal and Pruitt and Berg had no opportunity to appeal the probable cause determination from their motion to suppress weighs against a finding that the judgment was final.

The tentative nature of the probable cause determination similarly weighs against finality. When the allegedly exculpatory bodywire evidence was presented to Judge Karlton at the hearing on Pruitt and Berg's motion to dismiss, the issue of probable cause was not squarely presented and Judge Karlton did not reverse his prior ruling. However, at the conclusion of that hearing, Judge Karlton ordered the parties to come up with a discovery plan for investigation into the alleged misconduct. (Pls.' Req. for Judicial Notice Ex. B (Docket No. 57) at 8:25-9:11, 13:13-15:7, 16:13-17:20, 20:19-22.) This indicates that he intended to revisit the issue, which was left in an extremely tentative position until the government dismissed the charges. Because the probable cause determination was never appealable and was obviously under scrutiny from the deciding judge himself, the decision was not "firm" enough to constitute a final judgment on the merits for purposes of collateral estoppel.

In addition, collateral estoppel as to a prior probable cause ruling "does not apply when the decision to hold a defendant to answer was made on the basis of fabricated evidence presented at the preliminary hearing or as the result of other wrongful conduct by state or local officials." Awabdy v. City of Adelanto, 368 F.3d 1062, 1068 (9th Cir. 2004); see Zendejas v. Cnty. of L.A., No. CV 09-04858, 2010 WL 4537090, at *3 n.1 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 1, 2010) (following Awabdy and rejecting application of collateral estoppel where the plaintiff alleged that the probable cause finding was induced by wrongdoing). When a plaintiff has alleged wrongdoing as part of the probable cause determination, that determination cannot be said to be fully and fairly litigated, and thus the determination does not have preclusive effect. See Awabdy, 368 F.3d at 1068.

Here, Judge Karlton's ruling regarding probable cause cannot be given preclusive effect. Plaintiffs have alleged that defendants lied under oath, manufactured probable cause after the arrest, and hid exculpatory and impeachment evidence. (See SAC ¶¶ 2, 16-17, 23-24, 42-44, 52, 66, 69-75, 79, 81-82, 94, 99, 109-115, 120, 128-129, 170, 174, 179-180, 182-183.) Taking these allegations as true, the issue of probable cause was never fully and fairly litigated.

Pruitt and Berg never had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue of probable cause, which was never subject to a final judgment on the merits. Thus, since collateral estoppel does not preclude relitigation of the probable cause determination from the criminal case, defendants' motion to dismiss the first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and fourteenth claims on the basis of issue preclusion will be denied.

B. Brady Violations: First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Claims The Ninth Circuit recently held that a criminal defendant who is not convicted of the underlying charges brought against him is not entitled to pursue a § 1983 claim for suppression of material or exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Smith v. Almada, 623 F.3d 1078, 1088 (9th Cir. 2010). In Smith, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on a Brady claim in favor of a police officer, where the police officer had allegedly withheld exculpatory evidence at a trial that ended in a mistrial. Id. at 1081-83. The court reasoned that allowing a Brady-based § 1983 claim absent a conviction would conflict with Brady's central purpose, which was "to ensure a fair trial, a trial whose verdict was reliable[,] . . . 'not punishment of society for misdeeds of a prosecutor . . . .'" Id. at 1086 (quoting Brady, 373 U.S. at 87-88). In light of that purpose, "regardless of any misconduct by government agents before or during trial, a defendant who is acquitted cannot be said to have been deprived of the right to a fair trial." Id. (quoting Morgan v. Gertz, 166 F.3d 1307, 1310 (10th Cir. 1999)). Since Pruitt and Berg were never convicted in the underlying criminal case, any § 1983 claims for suppression of material or exculpatory evidence could not state a plausible claim to relief.

Four of plaintiffs' § 1983 claims are premised in part on Brady violations: malicious prosecution and suppression of material exculpatory and impeachment evidence, conspiracy to violate the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, denial of due process, and municipal liability for failure to supervise and train adequately. (See SAC ¶¶ 93-94, 110, 112, 120, 128.) However, since each of these claims contains allegations distinct from the alleged Brady violations, Smith does not require dismissal.

Plaintiffs' malicious prosecution claim, in addition to alleging Brady violations, contains allegations that defendants testified falsely under oath and manufactured evidence. (See id.

¶ 94.) The conspiracy claim alleges that defendants engaged in unlawful searches, seizures, and arrests, manufactured evidence to support probable cause, suborned perjurious testimony, coerced confessions, and engaged in vindictive prosecution. (See id. ¶¶ 111-113.) The municipal liability claim alleges that the County of Sacramento, McGinness, Ramos, and Berry failed to supervise the training of officers, failed to implement adequate policies and programs, maintained a policy and custom of harassment, and condoned harassment. (See id. ¶ 129.) The due process claim is brought by Pruitt's children and is derivative of the other claims. (See id. ¶¶ 118-122.) Thus, even without the allegations of Brady violations, plaintiffs have stated a plausible claim to relief under § 1983.*fn3 The court will not dismiss the claims under Smith.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint be, and the same hereby is, DENIED.


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