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Micah Godfrey v. Tony Ross

November 30, 2011



Plaintiff Micah Godfrey brought this action against defendants Tony Ross, City of Tulelake (the "City"), Dan Silva, Siskiyou County (the "County"), Travis Hall, Terry Harris, Laura Bellasalma, United States of America, Erin Martin, and Ross Market arising out of defendants' allegedly wrongful violation of plaintiff's Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Presently before the court are the County's motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b), (Docket No. 7), and Ross and the City's joint motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b), to strike portions of the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(f), and for a more definitive statement pursuant to Rule 12(e), (Docket No. 17).

I. Factual and Procedural Background

On January 21, 2010, plaintiff alleges that he was shopping at Jock's Market when Martin pulled a gun on him. Plaintiff alleges that Martin was angry at him for not shopping at the grocery store owned by Ross, Martin's step-father, and because plaintiff is bisexual, part Native-American, and bipolar. (Compl. ¶¶ 29, 30.)

On March 11, 2010, plaintiff was arrested at the Lava Beds National Park on gun charges. (Id. ¶ 37.) Plaintiff was subsequently taken to the Tulelake City jail. (Id.)

Plaintiff alleges that while he was held in jail, defendants committed rape, sodomy, sexual assault, assault, and battery against plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 38, 45, 104.) Plaintiff further alleges that Silva zapped him with a Taser at least 15 times, (id. ¶ 41), and repeatedly punched, kicked, and hit him with a baton (Id. ¶ 50). Plaintiff alleges that Ross was motivated to harm him because of plaintiff's prior encounter with Martin, Ross's step-daughter, and because he is bisexual, part Native American, a user of medical marijuana, bipolar, and watches television shows that are adverse to authority figures, and that the other defendants knew of this motivation and "joined in." (Id. ¶ 51.) Plaintiff claims that these actions were in violation of his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

(Id. ¶¶ 25, 26, 57, 58, 64, 66, 76.)

In December 2010, plaintiff submitted two petitions pursuant to California Government Code section 911.4 to the County of Siskiyou and City of Tulelake, asking to file an untimely Notice of Claims. (Id. ¶ 15; County's Mot. to Dismiss at 6:25-27.) The petitions were denied. (Compl. ¶ 15.) During 2011, pursuant to California Government Code section 946.6, plaintiff filed a petition with the Siskiyou County Superior Court for relief from the government claims notice requirements as to the County and City. (Id. ¶ 17.) The petition was denied. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.)

Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this case on August 30, 2011, alleging seven claims for relief. The County, City, and Ross are named in the third and fourth claims: a state law tort claim of sexual assault, rape, sodomy, and battery; and a state law tort claim of assault with a deadly weapon and hands and feet. (Id. ¶¶ 86, 92.) Ross is also named in the first claim for violations of the Federal Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. ¶ 24.)

III. Discussion

A. Motions to Dismiss

On a motion to dismiss, the court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984); Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead "only 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). This "plausibility standard," however, "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully," Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, ------, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009), and "[w]here a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

If a person wishes to bring a cause of action for damages against a public entity or its employee under California law, he or she must first file a claim with that public entity pursuant to the California Tort Claims Act ("CTCA"), Cal. Gov't Code §§ 810-978.8. California courts have reasoned that the purpose of the claim presentment requirements "is not to establish a needless formality, but to permit the public entity to avoid litigation by enabling it to conduct an early investigation and consider the benefits of settling a claim." Alliance Fin. v. City & Cnty. of San Francisco, 64 Cal. App. 4th 635, 647 (1st Dist. 1998). The timely filing of a claim is an essential element of the cause of action against a public entity. State v. Superior Court, 32 Cal. 4th 1234, 1240-41 (2004); see also Willis v. Reddin, 418 F.2d 702, 704 (9th Cir. 1969). The failure to do so bars the plaintiff from bringing a suit against the public entity, Cal. Gov't Code § 945.4; State, 32 Cal. 4th at 1239, or its employee, Cal. Gov't Code § 950.2.

Under California Government Code section 911.2, a plaintiff must file a claim for money or damages with the relevant public entity within six months of the accrual of the cause of action. Cal. Gov't Code § 911.2. Parties wishing to file a claim after the six month deadline are permitted to petition the public entity for leave to present a late claim under section 911.4. Id. § 911.4. Where a party's application for leave to present a late claim is denied or deemed denied pursuant to section 911.6, the party may petition the court under section 946.6 for relief from the requirements of section 945.4 to present a written claim to the public entity. Id. § 946.6. The petition must be made to a court that would be a competent trial court on the cause of action to which the claim relates. Id. Compliance with section 946.6 is mandatory unless excused on the basis of equitable estoppel. McLaughlin v. Superior Court, 29 Cal. App. 3d 35, 38 (1st Dist. 1972) (holding that defendants were estopped from asserting plaintiff's non-compliance with section 946.6 because defendants misled plaintiff as to the procedural and time requirements of the claims statute).

It is undisputed that plaintiff's causes of action against defendants accrued on March 11, 2010. Under section 911.2, plaintiff was required to file claims with the County and City within six months of March 11, 2010. By filing petitions under section 911.4 in December 2010, (Compl. ΒΆ 15), plaintiff implicitly admits that he failed to comply with the CTCA's timely filing requirement. Judicial relief pursuant to section 946.6 was plaintiff's only available method of compliance. See Hernandez v. McClanahan, 996 F. Supp. 975, 979 (N.D. Cal. 1998). The state court denied plaintiff's petition to provide him with such relief, and plaintiff failed to appeal the decision. Therefore, plaintiff has ...

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