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

July 19, 2011


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


This matter is before the court on the motion of defendants County of Nevada ("Nevada County"), Nevada County Sheriff's Office (the "Sheriff's Office"), and James Bennet ("Bennett") (collectively, "defendants") to dismiss plaintiff's first amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 12(b)(6). Plaintiff Jon-Cory Schmidt ("plaintiff") opposes the motion. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED.*fn1


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." (First Am. Compl. ("Am. Compl.") [Docket #25], filed Apr. 13, 2011, ¶ 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 Deputy 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. ¶ 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. (Order [Docket #24], filed Mar. 30, 2011, at 3.) On December 1, 2009, plaintiff and his attorney appeared before Judge Heidelberger for oral argument on the motion. (Id.) After the hearing, Judge Heidelberger issued a written order,*fn2 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. (Id.) 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." (Id.) 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 his original complaint in this court, 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. (Original Compl., filed Oct. 12, 2010 [Docket #1], ¶¶ 19--37.) Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff's claims for unlawful detention and conversion on the grounds that the Nevada County Superior Court, in two separate proceedings and two written orders, determined that plaintiff was not in lawful possession of the marijuana. (Order at 6.) The court found that the doctrine of collateral estoppel barred the plaintiff from re-litigating the issue of whether he was in lawful possession of the marijuana; thus, because lawful possession was necessary to prevail on plaintiff's claims for unlawful detention and conversion, the court dismissed these claims without leave to amend. (Id. at 15.) However, plaintiff was granted leave to amend his claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at 16.)

Plaintiff subsequently filed his first amended complaint, alleging that defendants' actions violated his constitutional rights by depriving him of due process of law. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10--16.) Plaintiff also alleges that defendants "unfairly[] and discriminatorily" applied statutes, laws, ordinances, and regulations against him in violation of the equal protection clause. (Id. ¶¶ 33-9--10).


A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) allows a court to dismiss a pleading for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The court has an independent obligation to address sua sponte whether it has subject matter jurisdiction. See Allstate Ins. Co. v. Hughes, 358 F.3d 1089, 1093 (9th Cir. 2004) (citing United States v. Ceja-Prado, 333 F.3d 1046, 1049 (9th Cir. 2003)) ("The court has a continuing obligation to assess its own subject matter jurisdiction, even if the issues is neglected by the parties."). The court presumes a lack of subject matter jurisdiction until it is proved otherwise. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); Stock W., Inc. v. Confederated Tribes, 873 F.2d 1221, 1225 (9th Cir. 1989).

The plaintiff bears the burden of proof that subject matter jurisdiction exists. See Stock W., Inc., 873 F.2d at 1225. Where the subject matter jurisdiction analysis focuses only on the allegations of the complaint, the factual allegations of the complaint are presumed to be true, and the pleading is dismissed only if the plaintiff fails to allege an element necessary for subject matter jurisdiction. See Thornhill Publ'g Co. v. General Tel. & Elecs. Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 733 (9th Cir. 1979). A complaint will be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction if there is no case or controversy within the meaning of that constitutional term. Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 198 (1962).

B. Failure to State a Claim

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 ...

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