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Kathlyn A. Rhodes v. Placer County

March 30, 2011

KATHLYN A. RHODES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PLACER COUNTY, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



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

ORDER AND FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Presently before this court is a motion to dismiss ("MTD") and motion to strike ("MTS"), and in the alternative, a motion for a more definite statement, filed by defendants Sonja Marie Jackson, M.D. and David Fakhri, M.D. (Dkt. No. 73.) Plaintiff Kathlyn Rhodes*fn1 opposed the motions with a written opposition and declaration. (Oppo., Dkt. Nos. 94, 95.) The defendants filed a written reply. (Dkt. No. 99.) The matter was submitted without oral argument pursuant to Eastern District Local Rule 230(g). (Dkt. No. 101.)
After plaintiff filed her second amended complaint (the "SAC"), three sets of defendants filed motions to dismiss and partially strike the SAC, and those motions are now pending before the court.*fn2 The motions filed by other defendants will be addressed in separate orders. This order addresses only the motions filed by Drs. Jackson and Fakhri (the "moving defendants"). (Dkt. No. 73.)

After careful consideration of the pleadings on file, the record, and the papers filed in support of and in opposition to these motions, and as discussed below, the undersigned recommends that the motion to dismiss be granted in part and denied in part, that the motion to strike be granted in part and denied in part, and that the motion for a more definite statement be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a licensed attorney*fn3 appearing in pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this action on February 20, 2009. (Dkt. No. 1.) In general, plaintiff complains of alleged violations of her rights based upon events surrounding her arrest and subsequent treatment at a mental health facility. Following this court's screening of her original complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, plaintiff filed a first amended complaint on May 20, 2009. (Dkt. No. 4.) Several defendants filed motions to dismiss that complaint. This court heard oral arguments on the motion to dismiss the first amended complaint on March 25, 2010. (Dkt. No. 60.) During that hearing, the undersigned warned plaintiff that, because she was a licensed member of the California Bar, she would not continue to receive the leniency typically given to pro se litigants. The undersigned directed plaintiff to very carefully review and amend her pleading to correct the various deficiencies noted in the motions to dismiss, including the need to plead specific factual allegations against each defendant for each claim. The undersigned gave plaintiff the example of the defamation/slander claim, and informed her that to properly state such a claim, she must allege: the statement(s) made; by whom; and identify who heard those alleged statements. The undersigned also emphasized that some of the statute of limitations arguments made in the motions to dismiss appeared "well-taken," and cautioned plaintiff that while she would be permitted the opportunity to amend the apparently time-barred claims, she would be held to the standards of an attorney and might therefore face sanctions for continuing to pursue claims that are, in fact, time-barred. The undersigned warned plaintiff that, as a member of the bar, she would be expected to omit claims that were time-barred unless she could make good faith arguments to the contrary. Finally, the undersigned instructed plaintiff that with respect to any claims with a claim presentation requirement (i.e., claims requiring compliance with the Government Claims Act), plaintiff would need to plead the dates she presented her claim(s) and attach the notice or claim to her pleading. (Id.)

After the hearing on March 25, 2010, the court dismissed the first amended complaint and gave plaintiff leave to file her SAC. (Dkt. No. 61.) The court ordered plaintiff to craft her SAC so as to distinguish between each defendant and his or her alleged actions, to state non-conclusory factual bases for claims, and specifically set forth the notice provided to defendants for any claims requiring such notice or claim presentation. (Dkt. Nos. 60, 61 at 2-4.)

On April 27, 2010, plaintiff filed her SAC. (SAC, Dkt. No. 66.) Plaintiff's SAC sets forth fourteen separate claims for relief stemming from an allegedly improper search and arrest and subsequent confinement in a mental facility following her time as a guest at the Comfort Suites hotel in Rocklin, California. (Dkt. No. 66.) The SAC asserts claims against twenty-three separate defendants.*fn4

The SAC alleges that on November 20, 2007, three Rocklin police officers surrounded plaintiff in a public parking lot, performed a pat down of her body, interrogated her and ordered her to undergo a field sobriety test. (SAC ¶ 10.) Plaintiff alleges that this interaction occurred across the street from the Comfort Suites hotel in Rocklin, where she had rented Room 101. (Id.) Although plaintiff avers that she successfully complied with the police officers' requirements, she nonetheless was "forced to ride in the back of Rocklin Police Officer Davis' patrol car from the parking lot to the front door of Comfort Suites," and that she was injured by officer Davis during this process. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that defendants Platina, Collins and others prepared a false police report claiming that defendant Yao told Officer Platina that plaintiff had been "praying to a light" and singing in the hotel lobby and was "acting crazy." (Id. ¶ 21.)

Later that same night, plaintiff contends that Officer Platina and another officer returned to the Comfort Suites, told the hotel clerk, defendant Yao, to unlock plaintiff's room, and thereafter searched plaintiff's hotel room and her other belongings without a warrant or exigent circumstances. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff contends that the officers also broke into her car trunk to perform a search. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff then states that "Rocklin Police Officers Platina and/or Jantz, Davis and/or one or more 'Doe' Defendants 1-20 subsequently beat Plaintiff to the ground and rendered her unconscious, then transported Plaintiff in the back of Platina's patrol car to the Placer County Main Jail in Auburn during the night of November 20, 2007." (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff also alleges that "Platina sexually assaulted Plaintiff in the back seat of his police vehicle." (Id.) Plaintiff avers that she was assaulted and injured by a variety of persons including four entities, five individuals, and 80 unnamed Doe defendants with whom she came into contact on November 20 and 21, 2007. (Id. ¶ 16 ("Said Defendants refused to allow Plaintiff to make any telephone calls; refused to give Plaintiff food, water or medical treatment for her personal injuries inflicted by Defendants; interrogated Plaintiff against her consent; laughed at and ignored Plaintiff's multiple requests to call her boy friend [sic], a lawyer and/or a judge; told Plaintiff she was at Guantanamo Bay and that most of Plaintiff's family was dead; rendered Plaintiff unconscious and searched her body, stripped off Plaintiff's socks and two toe rings without her consent; and injected needles and foreign substances into Plaintiff's body without her consent.").

Plaintiff alleges that on the night of November 21, 2007, she was transported via ambulance from the Placer County Main Jail to the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center ("SCMHTC"). (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff alleges that upon her arrival at SCMHTC, she was "beat" in the parking lot by three Doe defendants employed by any of five separate entity defendants. (Id.)

Plaintiff alleges that she was involuntarily confined for eight days at the SCMHTC. (Id.) Plaintiff avers that "[a]s a proximate result of the police brutality, medical malpractice, torture and abuse by Platina, Jantz, Davis, Seipert, Hamilton, Bonner, CFMG, AMR, 'Doe' Defendants 1-80 and/or others, Plaintiff sustained severe personal and bodily injuries, including injuries to her head, neck, back, left nipple, both knees, left hip, right shoulder, both wrists, both legs and both feet." (Id. ¶ 22.)

Plaintiff alleges that during her time at the SCMHTC, she was "treated" by the moving defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 85.) She alleges that moving defendants "were and are physicians licensed to practice psychiatry" in California. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff alleges that moving defendants did not properly advise her of the risks of ingesting medications called Seroquel and Lithobid. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff alleges that moving defendants also did not advise her of various rights (i.e., the right to a hearing, the right to a patient's advocate). (Id.)

More precisely, plaintiff alleges that moving defendant Jackson "treated" her on or about November 25 through 28, 2007, and "prescribed" a medication, Seroquel, "without plaintiff's consent." (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that moving defendant Jackson did not disclose Seroquel's "adverse side effects" to plaintiff, in violation of a duty of care. (Id.)

Plaintiff also alleges that, during her time at SCMHTC, moving defendant Fakhri "treated Plaintiff on or about November 25, 2007," "changed the dosage of Seroquel and prescribed Lithobid (Lithium)," also without plaintiff's informed consent. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 54(b).) Plaintiff alleges that Fakhri, among other defendants, administered injections to plaintiff's body against her will. (Id. ¶¶ 30(b), 54(b).)

Plaintiff also alleges that, on July 27, 2008, months after her discharge from SCMHTC, plaintiff "saw Dr. Fakhri" and called his name, but he ignored her. (Id. at 6.)

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

Moving defendants' motion is brought pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1), 12(b)(6), 12(e) and 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A. Legal Standard For A Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1)

A motion brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) is a challenge to the court's jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Vacek v. UPS, 447 F.3d 1248, 1250 (9th Cir. 2006). The plaintiff has the burden of establishing that subject matter jurisdiction is proper. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). "A federal court is presumed to lack jurisdiction in a particular case unless the contrary affirmatively appears." A-Z Int'l v. Phillips, 323 F.3d 1141, 1145 (9th Cir. 2003).

B. Legal Standard For A Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

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 the 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). The complaint must give a defendant "fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotations and modification omitted).

On a motion to dismiss, the court construes the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and resolves all doubts in the plaintiff's favor.*fn5 Corrie v. Caterpiller, 503 F.3d 974, 977 (9th Cir. 2007); Parks School of Business, Inc. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995). The complaint's factual allegations are accepted as true. Church of Scientology of Cal. v. Flynn, 744 F.2d 694, 696 (9th Cir. 1984). In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), however, a complaint must contain more than a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007). Factually unsupported claims framed as legal conclusions, and mere recitations of the legal elements of a claim, do not give rise to a cognizable claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-51 (2009) (holding that Rule 8 "demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me-accusation").

Iqbal and Twombly describe a two-step process for evaluation of motions to dismiss. The court first identifies the non-conclusory factual allegations, and the court then determines whether these allegations, taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, "plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949-50.*fn6

"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). "'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).

"Plausibility," as it is used in Twombly and Iqbal, does not refer to the likelihood that a pleader will succeed in proving the allegations. Instead, it refers to whether the non-conclusory factual allegations, when assumed to be true, "allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). A complaint may fail to show a right to relief either by lacking a cognizable legal theory or by lacking sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). Only where a plaintiff has failed to "nudge [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible," is the complaint properly dismissed.

Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1951-52. 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; accord Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. 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.

C. Legal Standard For A Motion To Strike Under Rule 12(f).

Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a district court "may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co., 618 F.3d 970, 973 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Fantasy, Inc. v. Fogerty, 984 F.2d 1524, 1527 (9th Cir. 1993), rev'd on other grounds by Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517 (1994)). "Rule 12(f) does not authorize a district court to strike a claim for damages on the ground that such damages are precluded as a matter of law."

Id. at 971. Further, courts may not resolve disputed and substantial factual or legal issues in deciding a motion to strike. Id. at 973. "The function of a 12(f) motion to strike is to avoid the expenditure of time and money that must arise from litigating spurious issues by dispensing with those issues prior to trial . . . ." Id. Granting a motion to strike may be proper if it will make trial less complicated or eliminate serious risks of prejudice to the moving party, delay, or confusion of the issues. Fantasy, 984 F.2d at 1527-28; Travelers Cas. and Sur. Co. of America v. Dunmore, No. CIV. S-07-2493 LKK-DAD, 2010 WL 5200940, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 15, 2010) (unpublished) (same). Motions to strike are generally disfavored, and in determining whether to grant a motion to strike a district court resolves any doubt as to the sufficiency of a defense in the defendant's favor. E.g., Mag Instrument, Inc. v. JS Prods., Inc., 595 F. Supp. 2d 1102, 1106 (C.D. Cal. 2008) (internal citations omitted).

D. Legal Standard For A Motion For A More Definite Statement; Rule 12(e). If a pleading to which a responsive pleading is permitted is so vague or ambiguous that a party cannot reasonably be required to frame a responsive pleading, the party may move for a more definite statement before interposing a responsive pleading. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). A Rule 12(e) motion is proper only if the complaint is so indefinite that the defendant cannot ascertain the nature of the claim being asserted. Federal Sav. & Loan Ins. Corp. v. Musacchio, 695 F. Supp. 1053, 1060 (N.D. Cal. 1988); Famolare, Inc. v. Edison Bros. Stores, Inc., 525 F. Supp. 940, 949 (E.D. Cal. 1981). The court must deny the motion if the complaint is specific enough to apprise defendant of the substance of the claim being asserted. Bureerong v. Uyawas, 922 F. Supp. 1450, 1461 (C.D. Cal. 1996). The court should also deny the motion if the detail sought by a motion for more definite statement is obtainable through discovery. Beery v. Hitachi Home Electronics (America), Inc., 157 F.R.D. 477, 480 (C.D. Cal. 1993); accord Harvey v. City of Oakland, No. C07-01681 MJJ, 2007 WL 3035529, at *8 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 16, 2007) (not reported).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Dismiss

Moving defendants' MTD seeks relief on numerous grounds (Dkt. No. 73-2), each of which is addressed in turn below.

1. Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Moving defendants assert Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) in efforts to dismiss the action on grounds that the court lacks federal subject matter jurisdiction as to them. (Dkt. No. 73-2 at 3.) In an argument virtually absent of case law or other support for its position,*fn7 defendants contend that (1) there is no federal question jurisdiction underlying plaintiff's claim against them and (2) that there is no basis for supplemental jurisdiction. (Dkt. No. 73-2 at 3.) Defendants suggest that their alleged wrongful acts are not part of the same "case or controversy" as the acts alleged to have violated federal law, and thus that no supplemental jurisdiction exists. (Dkt. No. 73-2 at 3.) Defendants argue that supplemental jurisdiction does not exist as to them because there is "no common factual nexus" or temporal relationship between the alleged events triggering federal question jurisdiction and the alleged events ascribed to defendants. (Id.) Defendants' arguments are not well-taken.

In general, the court must exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state-law claims that are part of the "same case or controversy." 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Only a "loose factual connection" to the underlying federal claim is required for supplemental jurisdiction purposes. See e.g. CVPartners Inc. v. Boben, No. C 09-689 SI, 2009 WL 1331108, at *1 (N.D. Cal. May 13, 2009) (not reported); Campos v. Western Dental Servs. Inc., 404 F. Supp. 2d 1164, 1168-69 (N.D. Cal. 2005) (exercising supplemental jurisdiction where claim and counterclaim were factually and legally distinct but were "offshoots of same basic transaction").) If this condition is satisfied,*fn8 the federal court maintains jurisdiction over the state claims and all other parties -- even parties not facing an allegation that they violated federal law. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a); Sea-Land Serv. v. Lozen Int'l, 285 F.3d 808, 814 (9th Cir. 2002) (claims that "rely on identical facts for their resolution" are part of the same "case or controversy" for supplemental jurisdiction purposes); Executive Software N. Am., Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for the Cent. Dist. of Cal., 24 F.3d 1545, 1556 (9th Cir. 1994), overruled on other grounds in Cal. Dept. of Water Res. v. Powerex Corp., 533 F.3d 1087 (9th Cir. 2008); e.g., Ortega v. Brock, 501 F. Supp. 2d 1337, 1340-44 (M.D. Ala. 2007) (court had original jurisdiction over defendant officer based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim and had supplemental jurisdiction over other defendants based on state-law claims.)

Plaintiff's state law claims are related to the federal claims alleged in this action (SAC ¶¶ 8-9) and thereby form part of the same case or controversy. Here, plaintiff has alleged numerous violations of her rights over seven consecutive days, beginning on November 20, 2007, with the allegedly improper search of her body, hotel room, and vehicle, continuing with her allegedly improper detention and treatment at the Placer County Main Jail, and continuing with her allegedly improper detention and treatment at the SCMHTC allegedly under the care of moving defendants through November 28, 2007. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 10, 14.) Thus, the SAC alleges a temporally-connected chain of events. Yet moving defendants seek to sever this chain of events at the time plaintiff was placed in the care of defendants at SCMHTC.

Artificially severing this pleaded chain of alleged events at the time of plaintiff's admittance into SCMHTC makes little sense, given that the events preceding her admittance are relevant to whether such admittance (and subsequent treatment) was proper. Those events give context to plaintiff's alleged treatment at SCMHTC. Given this temporal and logical connection, moving defendants' alleged actions are part of the same "case or controversy" as the acts alleged to have violated federal law-in other words, potential reasons for plaintiff's arrest and detention relate to moving defendants' treatment of plaintiff. Even if the SAC fails to alleged that the moving defendants violated federal law, the other defendants' alleged violations of federal law have not been challenged at this posture.*fn9 Absent such a showing, this court maintains jurisdiction over the case and all parties to it, including the moving defendants. Hence, at the present time, the invocation of supplemental jurisdiction is appropriate here. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). The motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is denied.

2. Failure To State A Claim

The moving defendants request dismissal of seven claims for relief on grounds that they fail to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Moving defendants' arguments with respect to these claims are addressed in turn below.

a. Plaintiff's Second Claim for Violation of California Civil and Constitutional Rights (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 43, 45, 46, 51 et seq., 1708.)

Plaintiff's second claim cites to a litany of statutes but is largely unsupported by specific factual assertions regarding the moving defendants. For the most part, this dart-board approach to pleading fails to meet the notice requirements of Federal Rule 8. To the extent that plaintiff is claiming violation of a specific privacy interest, she was obligated to identify the nature of the privacy interest that was violated, and by whom, so that each defendant has sufficient notice of the claims against him or her. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557. Federal pleading standards require the presentation of factual allegations sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief as to each defendant. See Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998) ("[a] plaintiff must allege facts, not simply conclusions, that show that an individual was personally involved in the deprivation of civil rights").

Plaintiff brings a melange of purported statutory claims against the moving defendants. Plaintiff describes these statutory claims as violations of her "rights guaranteed by the California Constitution." (SAC ¶ 30.) Plaintiff essentially alleges that each and every named and unnamed defendant participated in a conspiracy to violate plaintiff's civil and constitutional rights. Plaintiff then enumerates some facts underlying her belief that her rights were so violated. Plaintiff frequently lumps all defendants into one category as if they all performed each action together. (E.g., id. ¶ 85 (summarily listing various defendants, "including but not limited to" nine individual and entity defendants, then alleging that "defendants . . . inject[ed] Plaintiff's body with needles and foreign substances at the Main Jail in Auburn and/or in the AMR ambulance and at SCMHTC . . . ." and then continuing to list various alleged wrongs without ascribing any of them to specific defendants) (emphasis added).)

As the moving defendants point out, plaintiff provides very few non-conclusory facts supporting a basis for their potentialliability under plaintiff's second claim. Comparing the second claim for relief as pleaded within plaintiffs' SAC and that same claim as stated within her former pleading demonstrates that, in many instances, rather than using her opportunity to amend the pleading to insert additional factual allegations to support her claim, plaintiff instead tacked laundry lists of various defendants onto laundry lists of allegations and bare citations to statutes. (Compare Dkt. No. 4 ¶¶ 26-32 with SAC ¶ 30(a)-(c).)

However, when the conclusory allegations are stripped away, the SAC can be read to state certain factual allegations as against moving defendants: namely, that during plaintiff's time at SCMHTC, the moving defendants prescribed medications without her informed consent and that those medications were injected against plaintiff's wishes. (SAC ΒΆΒΆ 6, 54, 54(b), 85.) Although these allegations are almost always directed at moving defendants and other defendants, the SAC repeatedly ascribes these alleged ...


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