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Manuel A. Ramirez, et al v. Escondido Unified School District et al

February 29, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Dana M. Sabraw United States District Judge


In this civil rights and tort action by a parent against a school district, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs opposed the motion and Defendants replied. For the reasons which follow, Defendants' motion is DENIED.

According to the Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Manuel Ramirez is Plaintiff Enrique Ramirez Cano's ("Enrique") father. Enrique lived with Mr. Ramirez in his care, custody and control. He was a student at Farr Avenue Elementary School, and was taken to school and picked up by Mr. Ramirez. Plaintiffs allege Defendants knew Enrique's mother was no longer residing in the United States at the relevant time. On or about December 6, 2010, Defendants allegedly received an international call indicating Enrique would be picked up in the middle of the school day for a non-emergency doctor's appointment. Defendants did not seek Mr. Ramirez' permission or inform him of the request, but released Enrique to a person who was not a relative and was not authorized to pick him up from school. Mr. Ramirez has not seen Enrique since then, and believes he is being secreted in Mexico.

Mr. Ramirez on his own behalf and as Enrique's guardian ad litem filed this action alleging violation of their constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Escondido Unified School District, Angel Gotay, the principal of Farr Avenue Elementary School, Graciela Mineroa Murguia, the school's office manager, and Patricia Acosta, its office clerk. The Court has federal question jurisdiction over the civil rights claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1367.

Defendants argue Plaintiffs cannot state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) for any of their causes of action. A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). Dismissal is warranted where the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory. Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Serv., Inc., 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989) ("Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law"). Alternatively, a complaint may be dismissed where it presents a cognizable legal theory yet fails to plead essential facts under that theory. Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc.,749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984); see also Shroyer, 622 F.3d at 1041. Defendants seek dismissal of all claims based on both grounds.

Violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983

To state a claim for violation of constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, a plaintiff has to allege two elements: (1) that a person acting under color of state law committed the conduct at issue, and (2) that the conduct deprived the claimant of some right, privilege or immunity conferred by the Constitution or the laws of the United States. 42 U.S.C. §1983; Kirtley v. Rainey, 326 F.3d 1088, 1092 (9th Cir. 2003). This claim is asserted by both Plaintiffs against individual Defendants only.

Defendants initially suggest they were not state actors, however, public school officials have been repeatedly found to be state actors. See, e.g., New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 336 (1985); The People v. William G., 40 Cal.3d 550, 559-61 (1985).

Defendants further argue in general terms that the complaint does not state a claim for a constitutional violation. The Court disagrees.

The substantive due process right to family integrity or to familial association is well established. A parent has a fundamental liberty interest in companionship with his or her child. A state may not interfere with this liberty interest, and indeed the violation of the right to family integrity is subject to remedy under § 1983. To amount to a violation of substantive due process, however, the harmful conduct must shock the conscience or offend the community's sense of fair play and decency.

Rosenbaum v. Washoe County, 663 F.3d 1071, 1079 (9th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks, brackets and citations omitted); see also Kelson v. City of Springfield, 767 F.2d 651 (9th Cir. 1985). Defendants' argument is twofold. First, they maintain the constitutional claim is not alleged with sufficient specificity, and second, that the facts as alleged do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." In this regard, factual allegations in the complaint must provide fair notice of the nature of the claim and grounds on which the claim rests. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 n.3 (2007). "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to state a facially plausible claim to relief." Shroyer, 622 F.3d at 1041, citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, __, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). "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." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949, citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. However, the complaint need not include the facts necessary to carry the plaintiff's burden, Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft, 580 F.3d 949, 977 (9th Cir. 2009), rev'd on other grounds, __ U.S. __, 131 S. Ct. 2074 (2011), or detailed factual allegations, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

As alleged in the complaint, Defendants ignored the school's procedures for releasing students to authorized persons. On or about December 6, 2010, they improperly identified an out-of-country caller to give permission to deliver Enrique to someone for a non-emergency doctor's appointment.*fn1

None of the Defendants verified whether Enrique had a doctor's appointment or asked the caller for the doctor's name. Ms. Murguia instructed Enrique's teacher to deliver him to the office to be picked up. Defendants then turned Enrique over to a felon who was not included in the list of persons authorized to pick him up from school and who was not a relative. Prior to turning Enrique over to the unauthorized person, Mses. Murguia and Acosta did not seek Mr. Ramirez' consent and did not notify him at any time, even after Enrique was not returned to school. Mr. Gotay failed to supervise Mses. Murguia and Acosta, and failed to enforce the school's procedures. After Enrique was not returned to ...

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