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James Huling v. City of Los Banos

January 24, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lawrence J. O'Neill United States District Judge



Plaintiff, James Huling, brings this lawsuit against the City of Los Banos ("City"), its Chief of Police, Gary Brizzee, and City Police Officer Eddie Dolzadelli. The complaint alleges the following causes of action against all defendants: state law claims for (1) invasion of privacy, (2) defamation, (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (4) intentional interference with advantageous relationships, and (5) negligence; and (6) a federal civil rights claim, which invokes 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983 and 1988. Defendants move to dismiss the civil rights claim, which forms the basis for federal jurisdiction, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Doc. 10-1. Plaintiff opposes dismissal. Doc. 12. Defendants replied. Doc. 13. The motion was originally set for hearing on January 23, 2012, but the hearing was vacated and the matter submitted for decision on the papers. Doc. 15.


The factual backdrop for Plaintiff's claims is difficult to discern from the Complaint. To provide some context for the discussion that follows, the Court relies upon Plaintiff's opposition to the motion to dismiss, which explains that Plaintiff was employed as a school teacher in Los Banos Unified School District. See Doc. 12 at 2. Plaintiff took medical leave in January 2011 related to a psychiatric condition, and later experienced a psychiatric breakdown at Los Banos Memorial Hospital. Id. Because of Plaintiff's "bizarre" behavior, Officer Dolzadelli of the City of Los Banos Police Department responded to the hospital. Id.

Plaintiff alleges he was illegally detained by Dolzadelli and that Dolzadelli disclosed to Plaintiff's employer and other members of the general public confidential information about Plaintiff's medical condition. See Compl., Doc. 1 at ¶ 6. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants "conducted a search without probable cause of Plaintiff's home which included threats to Plaintiff's spouse." Id. at ¶ 8. Plaintiff also alleges that the City, through its Police Department, and Chief Brizzee "willfully, wantonly, negligently, and carelessly hired, trained, supervised and controlled" officer Dolzadelli. Id. at ¶ 6.


Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate where the complaint lacks sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir.1990). To sufficiently state a claim to relief and survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the pleading "does not need detailed factual allegations" but the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Mere "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. Rather, there must be "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. In other words, the "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The Ninth Circuit has summarized the governing standard, in light of Twombly and Iqbal, as follows: "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. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). Apart from factual insufficiency, a complaint is also subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) where it lacks a cognizable legal theory, Balistreri, 901 F.2d at 699, or where the allegations on their face "show that relief is barred" for some legal reason, Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007).

In deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all "well-pleaded factual allegations" in the pleading under attack. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. A court is not, however, "required to accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences." Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001).


Plaintiff asserts federal question jurisdiction exists in this case, citing the following statutory provisions: 42 U.S.C. §§ 1320d-1320d-9; Sections 261-262, 264(a)(b)(c) of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA"); 42 U.S.C. §§ 17931-17939; 42 U.S.C. § 2000ff-5; 42 U.S.C. § 299b-22; 42 U.S.D. § 1981, 1983, and 1988; 45 C.F.R. § 160, 164; and 45 C.F.R. § 162.502(a). In addition, Plaintiff alleges that this Court "is the proper venue for this action under HIPAA §§ 262-62, 264(a)(b)(c); and 42 U.S.C. §§ 17931 through 17939; [and] U.S. Cons. 1st[,] 4th[,] and 14th Amendment in that the illegally disclosed confidential medical information of plaintiff's confinement in Los Banos Memorial Hospital to plaintiff's employer; the search without cause of plaintiff's home; the threats to plaintiff's spouse and other acts alleged herein where committed within this Court's judicial district." Compl. at ¶ 1.

It appears Plaintiff is asserting: (1) several state law causes of action grounded upon violations of the HIPAA and/or its implementing regulations; and (2) a civil rights claim arising under either § 1981 and/or 1983, based upon alleged First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment violations.

A.Federal Civil Rights Claims.

The sixth cause of action alleges that all Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and/or § 1983 based on an alleged deprivation of Plaintiff's First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

1.Federal Civil Rights Claims Against the City.

Defendants move to dismiss the federal civil rights claims against the City, arguing that Plaintiff has failed to satisfy the requirements of Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978), which provides that a municipality cannot be liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory (i.e., simply because it employs someone who deprives another of constitutional rights). Rather, liability only attaches where the municipality itself causes the constitutional violation through a "policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy." Id. at 694. Therefore, municipal liability in a § 1983 case may be premised upon: (1) an official policy; (2) a "longstanding practice or custom which constitutes the standard operating procedure of the local government entity;" (3) the act of an "official whose acts fairly represent official policy such that the challenged action constituted official policy"; or (4) where "an official with final policy-making authority delegated that authority to, or ratified the decision of, a subordinate." Price v. Sery, 513 F.3d 962, 966 (9th Cir. 2008). Although Monell concerned § 1983, the Supreme Court has extended Monell to cases arising under § 1981. Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 735-36 (1989).

Plaintiff cites paragraphs 8, 14, 17, 25, 26, 34, 42 from the complaint, without any explanation or elaboration, asserting that these allegations satisfy Monell. They most certainly do not. The Court, unlike counsel, carefully reviewed the cited paragraphs, which provide as follows:

8. City, its' Police Department including Chief of Police, Gary Brizzee, officer Eddie Dolzadelli and others whose identity are not presently known in connection with an illegal detention of plaintiff, conducted a search without probable cause of plaintiffs home which included threats to plaintiffs spouse, interference with plaintiffs employment, defamation of plaintiff, which conduct was willfully, wanton, negligent, careless, intrusive, and was personal and embarrassing to plaintiff and was as a result of ill will, retaliation, and misconduct of City and its employees or agents which subjected plaintiff to hatred, contempt or ridicule and caused him to be shunned and avoided. The City and its' Police Department, Chief Brizzee, officer Dolzadelli and others engaged in other acts and conduct against plaintiff, acts now unknown to plaintiff but plaintiff is informed and believes those acts included officer Dolzadelli who knew or should have known that oral and written disclosure of confidential medical information to plaintiffs employer was a direct violation of the laws of the State of California and subject to suit under the provisions of [HIPAA]. This is the proper venue for this action under HIPAA []; U.S. Cons. 1st. 4th and 14th Amendment, but nevertheless made such disclosures to the Los Banos Unified School District which resulted in plaintiffs termination of his long term teaching position.

14. The disclosure by defendants was a public disclosure to a large number of people in that defendants circulated an Incident Report and other writings and restated orally its contents to plaintiffs Superiors at the Los Banos Unified School District; to plaintiffs wife (who subsequently filed a divorce against plaintiff based on such disclosures) as a basis and excuse to conduct an illegal ...

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