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Jon-Cory Schmidt v. County of Nevada; Nevada County Sheriff's

March 29, 2011

JON-CORY SCHMIDT
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COUNTY OF NEVADA; NEVADA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE; JAMES BENNETT; AND DOES 1-20 INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frank C. Damrell, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the court on the motion of defendants County of Nevada ("Nevada County"), Nevada County Sheriff's Office ("Sheriff's Office"), and James Bennet ("Bennett") (collectively, "defendants") to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 12(b)(6).*fn1

Plaintiff Jon-Cory Schmidt ("plaintiff") opposes the motion. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED.*fn2

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is the owner of a parcel of land located in Nevada County. According to plaintiff, he "and nine other interested parties were in lawful possession of medical cannabis recommendations issued by licensed California Physicians." (Pl.'s Compl. ["Compl."], filed Oct. 12, 2010 [Docket #1], ¶ 14.) "Pursuant to those recommendations, they cultivated a community or collaborative garden" consisting of eighty immature marijuana plants on plaintiff's property. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that the marijuana plants were legally cultivated in compliance with California Health & Safety Code § 11362.5 et seq. (Id.)

In September 2009, defendant Bennet, a Nevada County Sheriff, filed an affidavit with Nevada County Magistrate Judge Catherine Heidelberger for purposes of obtaining a warrant to search the premises of plaintiff's home. (Id. ¶ 15.) Judge Heidelberger reviewed the affidavit, determined probable cause existed, and issued the requested warrant. (Id.) On September 22, 2009, defendants executed the warrant, seizing at least eighty immature marijuana plants growing on plaintiff's property. (Id. at 16.) Defendants also seized various other marijuana-related contraband, including ten pounds of already cultivated marijuana. (Id.)

Plaintiff then filed a motion for return of the marijuana and other items seized pursuant to California Penal Code §§ 1539 and 1540 in California Superior Court for the County of Nevada. (Pl.'s Opp'n ["Opp'n"], filed Feb 24, 2011 [Docket #21], at 2:20--22.) On December 1, 2009, plaintiff and his attorney appeared before Judge Heidelberger for oral argument on the motion. (Opp'n, Ex. 1.) After the hearing, Judge Heidelberger issued a written order,*fn3 denying the motion for return of the marijuana. (Id.) The order explained that return of the marijuana was not warranted because plaintiff did not have legal possession. (Id.)

Plaintiff then petitioned for a writ of mandate, requesting that the appellate division of the Nevada County Superior Court vacate Judge Heidelberger's order. (Opp'n at 2:23--25.) On April 26, 2010, Superior Court Judge C. Anders Holmer issued a written tentative order on the writ. (Id.) According to the court, "the central issue [raised by the writ] was whether or not petitioner was in lawful possession of the marijuana seized." (Defs.' Mtn to Dismiss ["MTD"], filed Dec. 01, 2010 [Docket #8], Ex. 1.) The court denied the writ, holding that pursuant to relevant statutory and case law, plaintiff was not in legal possession of the marijuana. (Id.) The court adopted the tentative ruling on May 26, 2010. (Id.)

Plaintiff then filed this complaint, asserting four claims for relief: (1) unlawful detention of personal property; (2) declaratory relief; (3) damages for violation of equal protection rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (4) conversion of personal property against defendants. (Compl. ¶¶ 19--37.) Specifically, plaintiff contends that defendants "have illegally seized such medical marijuana through unlawful seizure, confiscation, and impoundment." (Compl. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff alleges that the seizure violated his constitutional rights by depriving him, without due process of law, of eighty immature marijuana plants that plaintiff asserts he lawfully possessed pursuant to California's Compassionate Use Act. (Compl. ¶¶ 10--16.) Finally, plaintiff alleges defendants "made unreasonable and illegal searches and seizures . . . and deprived plaintiff of his rights, privileges, and immunities as guarantied by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution." (Compl. ¶ 11.)

STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), a pleading must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Under notice pleading in federal court, the complaint must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotations omitted). "This simplified notice pleading standard relies on liberal discovery rules and summary judgment motions to define disputed facts and issues and to dispose of unmeritorious claims." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002).

On a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). The court is bound to give plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the "well-pleaded" allegations of the complaint. Retail Clerks Int'l Ass'n v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 753 n.6 (1963). A plaintiff need not allege "'specific facts' beyond those necessary to state his claim and the grounds showing entitlement to relief." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "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." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.

Nevertheless, the court "need not assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." United States ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 1986). While Rule 8(a) does not require detailed factual allegations, "it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. A pleading is insufficient if it offers mere "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950 ("Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice."). Moreover, it is inappropriate to assume that the plaintiff "can prove facts which it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).

Ultimately, the court may not dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff has alleged "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Only where a plaintiff has failed to "nudge [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible," is the complaint properly dismissed. Id. at 1952. While the plausibility requirement is not akin to a probability requirement, it demands more than "a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. at 1949. This plausibility inquiry is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 1950.

In ruling upon a motion to dismiss, the court may consider only the complaint, any exhibits thereto, and matters which may be judicially noticed pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 201. See Mir v. Little Co. Of Mary Hospital, 844 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1988); Isuzu Motors Ltd. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 12 F. Supp. 2d 1035, 1042 (C.D. Cal. 1998).

ANALYSIS

A. Collateral Estoppel

Defendants contend that the court must dismiss plaintiff's claims*fn4 for unlawful detention and conversion because the Nevada County Superior Court, in two separate proceedings and two written orders, determined that plaintiff was not in lawful possession of the marijuana. ("MTD" at 4:4--5:10.) Specifically, defendants contend that the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars plaintiff from re-litigating the issue of whether he was in lawful possession of the marijuana, and thus, his claims for ...


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