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Bryan Denman v. City of Tracy

September 9, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland E. Burrell, Jr. United States District Judge


Defendants City of Tracy ("City") and Janet Thiessen, the City's police chief ("Thiessen"), move under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(6) for an order dismissing Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process excessive force claims alleged under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and for Thiessen moves for dismissal of Plaintiff's negligence and battery claims which are alleged under California law. Plaintiff § 1983 claims against Thiessen are alleged against her in both her official and individual capacities.

I. Legal Standard

To avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ----, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

In analyzing whether a claim has facial plausibility, a court "accept[s] as true all well-pleaded allegations of material fact, and construe[s] them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Daniels-Hall v. Nat'l Educ. Ass'n, 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir. 2010). However, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). "In sum, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory 'factual content,' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief." Moss v. United States Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

II. Factual Allegations

The following factual background is based on Plaintiff's allegations in his Complaint. "On or about August 31, 2010, [Plaintiff] was driving home" when "a City of Tracy police officer pulled [him] over for a minor traffic infraction[.]" (Compl. ¶ 7.) The officer obtained Plaintiff's "permission to search the vehicle[,]" discovered "a lug nut wrench underneath the driver's seat[,]" and arrested Plaintiff for "felony possession of a deadly weapon." Id. ¶ 8. "At no time during the traffic stop was [Plaintiff] combative or physically aggressive." Id. ¶ 9.

When Plaintiff arrived at the police station, he was "kept handcuffed and placed in a chair with his hands behind his back." Id. ¶10. He "began voicing his objection to the arrest." Id. "One of the officers . . . became enraged by [Plaintiff's] comments and rushed over[,] grabbed him by the neck and violently threw [him] to the floor[,]" causing Plaintiff to strike his head on the floor. Id. ¶ 11. "[O]ther officers struck [Plaintiff] with their knees and elbows and jumped on top of him." Id. ¶ 12. The officers then "wrapped [Plaintiff] in a restraint device similar to a straight-jacket and placed a hood or blindfold device over [Plaintiff's] head." Id. ¶ 13. "The officers also tightened [Plaintiff's] handcuffs to the point that they [caused him] extreme pain." Id. Plaintiff was "treated for a concussion," experiences "ongoing back pain[,]" and "had a lump on his head and a black eye following the officers' use of force." Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff "does not know the names of the police officers who were involved in the incident." Id. ¶ 29.

III. Discussion

A. § 1983 Substantive Due Process Claim

Defendants make the following arguments concerning why they contend Plaintiff's substantive due process claim should be dismissed:

[Plaintiff's] claims are for excessive force related to his arrest. The Fourth Amendment provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection for pretrial deprivations of liberty, thus [P]laintiff's claims must be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment['s protection of substantive due process] affords him no basis for relief. Plaintiff's complaint contains no factual allegations at all to support a Fourteenth Amendment claim that is distinct from his Fourth Amendment excessive force claim. (Mot. 6:4-9.)

Plaintiff does not oppose this portion of Defendants' motion, and since his factual allegations do not support his substantive due ...

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