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Pamela J. Fox, et al v. County of Tulare

October 25, 2011

PAMELA J. FOX, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COUNTY OF TULARE, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO ) DISMISS [Doc. #9 and #27]

INTRODUCTION

On March 24, 2011, Plaintiff Pamela J. Fox, on behalf of herself and as Next Friend to Plaintiff C.M.R., a Minor, filed a Complaint against the Minor's father, Steven D. Rogers; County of Tulare ("County"); County social workers Leticia Castaneda and Erica Soto; former County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant Ron Castaneda; Chief Deputy County Counsel John Rozum; and Deputy County Counsels Julia Langley and Carol Helding. Plaintiffs bring claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 and several state tort law claims, which relate to the County's handling of Fox's custody dispute with Rogers. Plaintiffs' general theory is that all Defendants conspired to assure that Rogers retained custody of C.M.R.

On June 13, 2011, Defendants County, John Rozum, Julia Langley and Carol Helding filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On August 8, 2011, Defendants Leticia Castaneda, Erica Soto and Ron Castaneda filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).*fn1 For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

LEGAL STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6),a claim may be dismissed because of the plaintiff's "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or on the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Johnson v. Riverside Healthcare Sys., 534 F.3d 1116, 1121 (9th Cir. 2008); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). In reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), all allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Marceau v. Blackfeet Hous. Auth., 540 F.3d 916, 919 (9th Cir. 2008); Vignolo v. Miller, 120 F.3d 1075, 1077 (9th Cir. 1999). The Court is not required "to accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences." In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1056-57 (9th Cir. 2008); Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001). As the Supreme Court has explained:

While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).

Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

To avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[.]" Telesaurus VPC, LLC v. Power, 623 F.3d 998, 1003 (9th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). "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).

If a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is granted, "[the] district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts." Doe v. United States, 58 F.3d 494, 497 (9th Cir. 1995). In other words, leave to amend need not be granted when amendment would be futile. Gompper v. VISX, Inc., 298 F.3d 893, 898 (9th Cir. 2002).

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

C.M.R. is a minor female child born in 2005. Complaint at ¶ 5. C.M.R. is the daughter of Pamela Fox ("Fox") and Steven Rogers ("Rogers"). Id. Plaintiffs' general theory in the Complaint is that all Defendants conspired to assure that Rogers retained custody of C.M.R. Id. at ¶ 18.

Plaintiffs allege that the conspiracy began when Rogers and Ron Castaneda, a close friend who was then a Lieutenant in the Tulare County Sheriff's Department ("TCSD"), began to falsify reports of child abuse against Fox. Id. at ¶ 16. On or about April 24, 2007, Ron Castaneda improperly and illegally accessed confidential law enforcement records about Edward Skelton ("Skelton"), Fox's boyfriend at the time, in order to benefit Rogers. Id. at ¶ 39. Ron Castaneda filed a report on April 24, 2007, that tried to justify Rogers taking C.M.R. to urgent care and the hospital for rape examinations. Id. at ¶ 40. On April 25, 2007, Rogers took C.M.R. to urgent care, claiming that C.M.R. had been molested by Skelton. Id. at ¶ 41. Thereafter, Rogers made several reports of abuse against Skelton, which were all declared "unfounded." Id. at ¶¶ 42 and 44. In August of 2007, Fox and her attorney filed a personnel complaint to TCSD regarding Ron Castaneda's conduct.*fn2 Id. at ¶ 46. On or about September 2007, after an investigation was conducted by Internal Affairs, Ron Castaneda took an early retirement from TCSD. Id. at ¶ 47. Subsequently, on October 18, 2007, Rogers filed for custody of C.M.R. in the Family Law Court.

Id. at ¶ 49.

On July 23, 2008, C.M.R. told Fox that Rogers had molested her and that Rogers photographed her naked. Id. at ¶ 51. Child Welfare Services ("CWS") and TCSD investigated these allegations. Id. at ¶ 52. On July 23, 2008, TCSD prepared an affidavit for a search warrant of Rogers' computer, which was related to TCSD investigation case number 08-10615. Id. at ¶ 53. The search warrant was executed on July 25, 2008. Id. ¶ 54. TCSD found "260 images of prepubescent children depicted in a sexually explicit manner" on Rogers' computer. Id. No charges were ever filed related to that case. Id. at ¶ 55. Fox was never told of the discovery of the child pornography. Id. at ¶ 53.

CWS was later notified of numerous sexual abuse allegations against Rogers. Id. at ¶¶ 59, 62-64. CWS did not conduct an investigation or take any action against Rogers based on these allegations. Id. On November 6, 2008, Erica Soto ("Soto"), County social worker, reported to TCSD that Fox had alleged that C.M.R. had been molested by Rogers. Id. at ¶ 68. Soto told TCSD that Fox had made four prior false allegations against Rogers. Id. at ¶ 69. As a result of Soto's influence, TCSD's investigation was closed as "unfounded." Id. at ¶ 70. Contrary to Soto's assertion, Fox did not report this incident to TCSD or CWS until they came to speak with her. Id.

On December 3, 2008, Leticia Castaneda ("Leticia"), supervising County social worker and sister-in-law to Ron Castaneda, and Soto called a meeting with Fox and Rogers. Id. at ¶ 76. During the meeting, Leticia and Soto revealed the contents of confidential CWS files to Rogers. Id. at ¶ 77. Rogers used the confidential information in his quest for custody of C.M.R. Id. at ¶ 78. At the meeting, Leticia accused Fox of making prior false accusations against the fathers of Fox's other children. Id. at ¶ 79. In addition, Leticia told Fox that she had more power than any judge and threatened to take C.M.R. away from her. Id. at ¶¶ 79-80.

On December 4, 2008, Leticia and Soto sought to file a petition in Juvenile Court to remove C.M.R. From Fox. Id. at ¶ 83. Leticia and Soto began conducting an investigation. Id. at ¶ 84. On December 8, 2008, Soto interviewed Fox's daughter, J.E. Id. J.E. stated that C.M.R. would exhibit signs of sexual abuse after she returned from visiting Rogers. Id. Furthermore, J.E. told Soto that she was told to sleep in Rogers' bed when he babysat the children. Id. at ¶ 85. CWS did nothing to protect C.M.R. during this investigation and failed to investigate the allegations of abuse. Id. at ¶¶ 85, 160.

Leticia and Soto recommended to Lourdes Dawson ("Dawson"), Family Court mediator, that Rogers have physical custody of C.M.R. Id. at ¶¶ 96-98, 160. Soto explained to Dawson that "the mother has a history of making sexual abuse allegations towards Father, Mr. Rogers, which have been unfounded by TCSD." Id. at ¶ 98.

On May 12, 2009, a trial was held in the Family Law Court. Id. at ΒΆ 99. The hearing resulted in no findings of sexual abuse and no findings that Fox had made false allegations against Rogers. Id. Fox was granted limited visitation without restriction and Rogers was granted primary physical ...


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