The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court
(1) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART COUNTY DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS [Doc. No. 21]
(2) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART SUPERIOR TO DISMISS COURT DEFENDANTS' MOTION [Doc. No. 20]
Presently before the Court is a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' first
amended complaint ("FAC") filed by the County Defendants*fn2
and a motion to dismiss the FAC filed by the
SuperiorCourt Defendants.*fn3 [Doc. Nos. 20, 21.] For the
reasons below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the County
Defendants' motion to dismiss and GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART
the Superior Court Defendants' motion to dismiss.
This action arises out of the removal of Plaintiffs' child N. by county officials and the related juvenile dependency proceedings. The following allegations are taken from the complaint. Plaintiffs gave birth to their daughter N. in August 2008 and shortly thereafter sent her away to live with relatives in Virginia. [FAC ¶ 43.] At the time, Plaintiffs were going through custody proceedings related to their other children. [Id. ¶ 46-47.] On September 23, 2008, a petition was filed in state juvenile court claiming that Plaintiffs' child was at risk of suffering sexual and physical abuse. [Id. ¶ 52.] The county officials attempted to locate N., but had difficulty doing so due to her living in Virginia. [Id. ¶¶ 75, 79-80.] In January 2009, Judge Campos, one of the judges presiding over the dependency proceedings, issued an order requesting to physically see Plaintiffs' child N. to check on her status and medical condition. [Id. ¶ 80.]
On February 4, 2009, Plaintiff Percy Anderson was stopped by El Cajon police officers and told that he was being stopped for the possible kidnapping of his daughter N. [FAC ¶ 81.] Plaintiffs state that they were then taken to the Health and Human Service Agency office for questioning by district attorneys from the child abduction unit, specifically, Jill Lindberg, Kathy O'Connell, and Carol Snyder. [Id. ¶¶ 82-84.] Plaintiffs were told that they were only being detained and not arrested, but they were also told that they could not leave and that were not entitled to an attorney. [Id. ¶ 83.] Plaintiffs were interrogated for an hour without an attorney, and at some point, the attorneys searched their property. [Id. ¶¶ 85, 89.] Eventually, Plaintiffs were handcuffed and placed under arrest for kidnapping without being given their Miranda rights. [Id. ¶ 86, 89.]
Plaintiffs state that their daughter N. was detained by county officials on February 4, 2009, and a petition was filed on her on March 19, 2009. [FAC ¶ 105.] Plaintiffs also state that in May 2009, their daughter was taken for a medical examination without Plaintiffs' consent, authorization, or permission. [Id. ¶ 107.] Plaintiffs further allege that at various time during the dependency proceedings related to N., they were subjected to bias, racial discrimination, false reports, perjury, false transcripts, ex parte hearings without notice, and conspiracies against them. [See id. at 2-30.]
On January 11, 2011, Plaintiffs filed a complaint in state court against the Defendants alleging various claims related to the juvenile dependency proceedings and their detention and arrest by the district attorneys from the child abduction unit. [Doc. No. 1-3, Compl.] On March 22, 2011, Defendants removed the action to this Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. [Doc. No. 1, Notice of Removal.] On July 28, 2011, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs' original complaint for failure to comply with the pleading requirements of Rule 8 and gave Plaintiffs leave to file an amended complaint. [Doc. No. 13.]
On August 30, 2011, Plaintiffs filed an 111-page first amended complaint against Defendants alleging 20 causes of action for: (1) assault; (2) battery; (3) false imprisonment; (4) unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (5) violation of their rights under the Fifth Amendment; (6) violation of their equal protection and due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment; (7) unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (8) violation of their right to privacy; (9) violation of their rights under the Sixth Amendment; (10) civil conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1985; (11) negligence in preventing a conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1986; (12-13) Municipal civil rights liability under Monell; (14) violation of California Civil Code sections 43, 49, 51, and 52.1; (15) defamation; (16) violation of the Unruh Civil Right Act; (17) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (18) negligent infliction of emotional distress; (19) violation of their due process rights under the Fifth Amendment; and (20) injunctive relief. [Doc. No. 18, FAC.]
This case is related to two other case before this Court, Anderson v. City of Lemon Grove, 10-cv-689 (S.D. Cal., filed Apr. 1, 2010) and Anderson v. County of San Diego, 10-cv-705 (S.D. Cal., filed Apr. 2, 2010). Those two cases involve the physical removal of Plaintiffs' other children by county officials. See Anderson, 10-cv-689 [Doc. No. 41]; Anderson, 10-cv-705 [Doc. No. 55].
I. Legal Standards for a Motion to Dismiss
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of the claims asserted in the complaint. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6);Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 731 (9th Cir. 2001). The court must accept all factual allegations pled in the complaint as true, and must construe them and draw all reasonable inferences from them in favor of the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). To avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, rather, it must plead "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) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
However, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). A court need not accept "legal conclusions" as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.
In addition, factual allegations asserted by pro se plaintiffs, "however inartfully pleaded," are held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519-20 (1972). Thus, where a plaintiff appears in propria persona in a civil rights case, the Court must construe the pleadings liberally and afford plaintiff any benefit of the doubt.See Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dept., 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988).
Nevertheless, and in spite of the deference the court is bound to pay to any factual allegations made, it is not proper for the court to assume that "the [plaintiff] can prove facts which [he or she] has not alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). Nor must the court "accept as true allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice or by exhibit" or those which are "merely conclusory," require "unwarranted deductions" or "unreasonable inferences." Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir.) (citation omitted), amended on other grounds, 275 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir.2001); see alsoIleto v. Glock Inc., 349 F.3d 1191, 1200 (9th Cir. 2003) (court need not accept as true unreasonable inferences or conclusions of law cast in the form of factual allegations).
II. Affirmative Defenses to the FAC
The Superior Court Defendants argue that the FAC should be dismissed on abstention grounds. [Doc. No. 20-1 at 10.] It is well settled that federal courts should abstain from adjudicating domestic relations cases. See Peterson v. Babbitt, 708 F.2d 465, 466 (9th Cir.1983) (per curiam). Even if the case raises constitutional issues, abstention is proper if the case, at its core, is a domestic relations or child custody dispute. See Coats v. Woods, 819 F.2d 236, 237 (9th Cir. 1987); see, e.g., H.C. v. Koppel, 203 F.3d 610, 613 (9th Cir. 2000) (explaining that a civil rights action alleging that a state court violated plaintiff's due process rights in a custody proceeding "is precisely the type of case suited to Younger abstention").
Because Plaintiffs seek to challenge the removal of their child N. and the related state court juvenile dependency proceedings, abstention would appear to bar many of their claims. See id. at 613; Peterson, 708 F.2d at 466. However, abstention generally only applies to actions for injunctive and declaratory relief. See Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 718-19 (1996). A court may not dismiss an action for damages on abstention grounds. See id. at 721. Plaintiffs seek both injunctive relief and damages in the FAC. [FAC at 111.] Therefore, abstention can only bar Plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief related to the dependency proceedings. See Quackenbush, 517 U.S. at 718-19. Accordingly, the Court DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE Plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief related to the state court dependency proceedings on the grounds of abstention.
B. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
The Defendants argue that the FAC should be dismissed because to Court lacks jurisdiction to review state court judgments under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. [Doc. No. 20-1 at 9-10; Doc. No. 21-1 at 7-8.] "The Rooker-Feldman doctrine recognizes that federal district courts generally lack subject matter jurisdiction to review state court judgments." Fontana Empire Ctr., LLC v. City of Fontana, 307 F.3d 987, 992 (2002). Under this doctrine, a federal district court does not have jurisdiction to hear a direct or de facto appeal from a final state court judgment. SeeNoel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1154, 1158 (9th Cir. 2003). The doctrine applies in cases "brought by state court losers complaining of injuries caused by state court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005).
Defendants have not pointed to any state court judgment that was ever entered by the state court that Plaintiffs are purportedly attempting to challenge in this action. Defendants only mention orders that were issued by the juvenile dependency court. [Doc. No. 21-1 at 7; Doc. No. 20-1 at 10.] The Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply to orders; it only applies to final state court judgments. See R.R. St. & Co. v. Transp. Ins. Co., 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 18298, at *13-14 (9th Cir. Sept. 2, 2011); Vacation Vill., Inc. v. Clark Cnty, 497 F.3d 902, 911 (9th Cir. 2007). Moreover, Defendants admitted at the hearing that Plaintiffs' dependency proceedings are ongoing. Therefore, it is clear that the proceedings have not reached final judgment, and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply. See Exxon, 544 U.S. at 284.
Defendants argue that the FAC should be dismissed because it is subject to claim preclusion (res judicata). [Doc. No. 20-1 at 7-8; Doc. No. 21-1 at 5-6.] Claim preclusion and issue preclusion are governed by state law. 28 U.S.C. § 1738; Marrese v. Am. Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 470 U.S. 373, 380 (1985); Ayers v. City of Richmond, 895 F.2d 1267, 1270 (9th Cir. 1990). Claim preclusion bars a second lawsuit between the same parties on the same cause of action. People v. Barragan, 32 Cal. 4th 235, 252 (2004).
In their motions to dismiss, Defendants do not identify which of the present Defendants were also parties to the first action. See Mycogen Corp. v. Monsanto Co., 28 Cal. 4th 888, 896 (2002) (explaining claim preclusion applies to actions "between the same parties"). Nor do the Defendants identify which, if any, of Plaintiffs' claims could have been asserted in the prior action in juvenile court. See Hulsey v. Koehler, 218 Cal. App. 3d 1150, 1157 (1990) (explaining that claim preclusion applies to "every matter which was urged, and every matter which might have been urged"). Accordingly, Defendants have not established their claim preclusion defense.
Defendants also argue that the FAC should be dismissed on the grounds of issue preclusion. [Doc. No. 20-1 at 7-8; Doc. No. 21-1 at 5-6.] Issue preclusion, or collateral estoppel, precludes the relitigation of issues that were actually tried and litigated in prior proceedings. Lucido v. Superior Court, 51 Cal. 3d 335, 341 (1990). The doctrine applies if these requirements are met: "(1) the issue to be precluded must be identical to that decided in the prior proceeding, (2) the issue must have been actually litigated at that time, (3) the issue must have been necessarily decided, (4) the decision in the prior proceeding must be final and on the merits, and (5) the party against whom preclusion is sought must be in privity with the party to the former proceeding." People v. Garcia, 39 Cal. 4th 1070, 1077 (2006).
Defendants do not state what issues raised by Plaintiffs they seek to be dismissed on preclusion grounds. Defendants also do not cite to the state court proceedings and show that the issues in this action were previously litigated and decided by the state juvenile court. See id. ("(2) the issue must have been actually litigated at that time, [and] (3) the issue must have been necessarily decided"). Accordingly, Defendants have not established their issue preclusion defense.
The Defendants argue that the FAC should be dismissed because the claims are barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). [Doc. No. 20-1 at 11-12; Doc. No. 21-1 at 15-17.] In Heck v. Humphrey, the Supreme Court held that when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. 512 U.S. at 487. Although Heck involved a criminal judgment, Defendants cite to case law where the principle was applied to civil commitment proceedings. [Doc. No. 20-1 at 12; Doc. No. 21-1 at 16.] See, e.g., Huftile v. Miccio-Fonseca, 410 F.3d 1136, 1138-41 (9th Cir. 2005); Levy v. California, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13326, at *12-20 (N.D. Cal., Feb. 1, 2011). Defendants argue, therefore, that the principle of Heck should be applied to the present case and bar Plaintiffs' claims because they have not shown that the dependency proceedings were terminated in their favor. [Doc. No. 20-1 at 12; Doc. No. 21-1 at 16.]
Heck is not applicable to Plaintiffs' lawsuit. In extending Heck to cover civil commitment proceedings, the Ninth Circuit explained that "Heck's favorable termination rule was intended to prevent a person in custody from using § 1983 to circumvent the more stringent requirements for habeas corpus." Huftile, 410 F.3d at 1139. The Ninth Circuit went on to explain that habeas relief is not limited to "prisoners," and detainees under an involuntary civil commitment scheme can use habeas to challenge a term of confinement. Id. at 1139-40. Therefore, it appears that Heck can only be applied to civil proceedings where the plaintiff is detained or was previously detained and entitled to habeas relief. See id. at 1139-40. Heck does not apply to challenges to dependency proceedings brought by a parent because California juvenile dependency proceedings focus on the status of the child not the prosecution and confinement of the parents. See Doe v. Mann, 415 F.3d 1038, 1059 (9th Cir. 2005) ("At the heart of the dependency proceedings is a dispute about the status of the child . . . ."); id. at 1056 n.25 ("child dependency proceedings in California may be ...