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Rong Dong Li v. Akal Security

January 17, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorablelarryalanburns United States District Judge


On April 3, 2011, the Court dismissed with prejudice most of Li's claims against Akal Security. One claim, for the negligent infliction of emotional distress, survived. The Court found that Li hadn't stated adequate facts to support that claim, but it allowed him the opportunity to do so in amended complaint. Now before the Court is Akal's motion to dismiss Li's First Amended Complaint. In addition to alleging the negligent infliction of emotional distress, Li also alleges basic negligence.

I. Introduction

Li, an illegal immigrant and detainee at the El Centro Service Processing Center ("Detention Center"), alleges that Akal Security is liable for personal injuries he sustained when two other detainees attacked him in a bathroom. Akal is a private security company that provided security for the Center pursuant to a contract with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Li's story is straightforward. He entered the men's restroom at the Detention Center and saw two men fighting. He alerted guards, who came quickly, broke up the fight, and escorted the two men from the restroom. As he was washing his hands, after using the restroom himself, one of the men who had been fighting, joined by another man, entered the restroom and attacked Li. The attack lasted for three to four minutes, leaving Li bloody with injuries to his face and body.

II. Legal Standard

A rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). In considering such a motion, the Court accepts all allegations of material fact as true and construes them in the light most favorable to Li, the non-moving party. Cedars-Sinai Med. Ctr. v. Nat'l League of Postmasters of U.S., 497 F.3d 972, 975 (9th Cir. 2007). To defeat a 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint's factual allegations needn't be detailed, they must simply be sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . ." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, "some threshold of plausibility must be crossed at the outset" before a case can go forward. Id. at 558 (internal quotations omitted). 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). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

While the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in Li's favor, it need not "necessarily assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations." Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotations omitted). In fact, the Court does not need to accept any legal conclusions as true. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. A complaint does not suffice "if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement" (id. (internal quotations omitted)), nor if it contains a merely formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action (Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 555).

III. Discussion

Li's grievance, in essence, is that Akal Security failed to protect him from the aggressions of fellow detainees at the Detention Center. Typically, this is a civil rights claim brought by prisoners under the Eighth Amendment, and it requires that prison officials demonstrate "deliberate indifference" to "conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm." Clem v. Lomelli, 566 F.3d 1177, 1181 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)). Li doesn't allege, though, that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated by Akal. He simply accuses Akal of negligence: (1) for failing to station guards outside of the restroom to respond to emergencies therein; (2) for its employees'failure to respond to Li's cries for help from within the restroom; (3) for its employees' failure to segregate or detain the man Li had seen fighting, and who subsequently attacked Li; and (4) for failing to investigate the original fight. (Compl. ¶ 37.)

A negligence claim is not implausible. "Tort law . . . imposes a duty of care on jailers or prison employees to protect the life and health of prisoners in their custody and protect the prisoners from foreseeable harm or unreasonable risk of physical harm." See Pollard v. GEO Group, 607 F.3d 583, 609 (9th Cir. 2010), overruled on other grounds by Minneci v. Pollard, 2012 WL 43511 (Jan. 10, 2012). Akal acknowledges this principle, but attempts to distinguish itself on the ground that it is a private security company at a detention center, and thus had no duty of care to protect Li in the first instance:

Here, Plaintiff has failed to allege how he has a "special relationship" with an unidentified Akal employee. Specifically, Plaintiff has failed to allege how unidentified employees of Akal, a private security company, owe a duty of care to protect an illegal immigrant from harm at a detention center, such that Akal can be held vicariously liable for negligence . . . . Akal's counsel is not aware of any published California case extending the "special relationship" rule such that unidentified employees of a private security company owe a duty of care to an illegal immigrant detainee." (Br. at 7.)

It is reasonable of Akal to question whether, as a private security company, it had a duty to protect Li. In the Court's judgment, this turns on the exact nature of Akal's contract with the United States-and probably with Immigration and Customs Enforcement-at the Detention Center. On the one hand, Li alleges that Akal has a contract to "provide security services." (Compl. ¶ 2.) This could mean anything. It could mean that private security officers simply oversee the grounds and the parking garage (as at the federal courthouse in San Diego), in which case they can't be considered to have the same duties of care as actual jailors or prison employees. On the other hand, it could mean that Akal basically runs the Detention Center. Li alleges the latter, more or less:

Akal had the physical custody of the detainees and had a duty to assure the safety and security of detainees such as Plaintiff while they were detained at the Center. Plaintiff believes and thus alleges that twenty-four hours a day detainees at the Center were under close monitoring and supervision by Akal's employees including the men's bathroom where Plaintiff was brutally attacked. (Compl. ¶ 36.) Assuming these to be the facts, as the Court must in ruling on a motion to dismiss, Akal is no different from any private company with a contract to run a correctional facility, and that may be held liable for violations of inmate's constitutional or common-law rights.*fn1 The Court ...

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