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Scooter's Pals Rescue v. County of Placer; Mark Starr

October 19, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland E. Burrell, Jr. Senior United States District Judge


Defendants Mark Starr DVM, Anthony La Bouff (the "individual Defendants"), and the County of Placer (collectively "Defendants") move for an order dismissing with prejudice Plaintiff Scooter's Pals Rescue's civil rights Complaint. The dismissal motion is sought under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rules") 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Each individual Defendant also seeks dismissal based on his qualified immunity defense.*fn1 Defendants attach three declarations and eight exhibits in support of their dismissal motion ("Mot."). Plaintiff Scooter's Pals Rescue ("Scooter's") opposes the motion and attaches five declarations and twenty-one exhibits in support of its opposition ("Opp'n").


This case concerns a dog named Charlie. Charlie was a Labrador Retriever mix whose elderly owners relinquished him to the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals after they became unable to care for him. (Compl. ¶ 9.) Charlie was then fostered by Pam Fox for four months. (Id. at ¶ 10.) Fox found Charlie "to be a loving dog who needed some socialization given his size and because he had lived outside with minimal human interaction." (Id.) Charlie "did not engage in any physically threatening behavior" while with Fox, and Fox eventually requested to adopt Charlie. (Id.)

"For four months . . . Fox fostered Charlie through [a] rescue organization . . . " (Id. at ¶ 10.) "However, while being fostered another individual stepped forward, requested and adopted Charlie. When placing Charlie, the rescue imposed conditions on the adoption of Charlie including Charlie could not be placed in a home with children under ten years old given his size and lack of socialization. The adopter represented no children of that young age lived in the home." (Id. at ¶ 11.) However, she had a young daughter and other young children living in her home. (Id. at ¶ 12.) "Charlie was adopted on June 16, 2011." (Id. at ¶ 11.) "On June 27, 2011, Charlie bit the adopter's young daughter requiring medical treatment including numerous stitches." (Id. at 12.) Charlie was provoked by the adopter's children. (Id. at ¶ 13.) "On or about June 28, 2011, Charlie was impounded after the adopter was told she must turn over ownership of Charlie to the County" of Placer ("County"). (Id. at ¶ 12.)

When Scooter's learned of Charlie's impoundment, on July 6, 2011, Scooter's "contacted the Defendant Shelter Director Winters and employee T. Goffe with Placer County informing Defendant [that] Scooter's wanted to rescue Charlie under the conditions determined by any hearing officer if the dog were to be deemed vicious," and that Scooter's "agreed to a release of liability for the County." (Id. at ¶

14.) Scooter's is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation that provides foster homes and permanent homes for abandoned and abused dogs. (Id. at ¶ 4.) "On July 26, 2011[,] the previous adopter of Charlie notified Defendants she rescinded the contract to turn over ownership" of Charlie to the County, entered into on June 28, 2011, and "reconveyed ownership to Scooter's." (Id. at ¶ 16.) "As a result, [Scooter's] requested [Charlie's] immediate release or in the alternative" a due process hearing in accordance with Placer County Ordinance 6.08.040 so that it could be determined whether Charlie was vicious.(Id.) "In response to the notice of rescission, rather than returning Charlie to [Scooter's], or having a vicious animal hearing pursuant to state and county statutes, Defendants County and Starr [former Director of the County's Health and Human Services Department] ordered Charlie to be euthanized." (Id. at ¶ 17.) "On July 27, 2011, [Scooter's] filed a notice of appeal of said order with the Placer County Superior Court" under California "Food and Agriculture Code § 31621." (Id. at ¶ 18.) On July 29, 2011, "Starr and La Bouff [County Counsel] conveyed the order to the Shelter Director who euthanized Charlie." (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 34.) No hearing ever took place to determine whether Charlie was vicious. (Id. at ¶ 15.)

Scooter's subsequently filed the instant federal lawsuit against Defendants in which it asserts federal claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985(c), and state claims. (Id. at ¶¶ 2, 26, 28, 30.) Each Defendant challenges the sufficiency of Plaintiff's jurisdictional and substantive allegations.


Defendants' motion includes their request that the Court take judicial notice of the following matters: (1) on July 27, 2011, Scooter's filed a Notice of Appeal of County Counsel's letter scheduling Charlie's euthanasia with Placer County Superior Court and attached the Declaration of Rebecca Clark thereto; and (2) on January 10, 2012, a Placer County Superior Court Referee entered a two sentence judgment dismissing Plaintiff's Notice of Appeal as moot since "the subject dog (Charlie) has been euthanized." (ECF No. 9-5, 2:18-3:8.)

"As a general rule, a district court may not consider any material beyond the pleadings in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). However, when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal motion, judicial notice of another court's opinion, may be taken "not for the truth of the facts recited therein, but for the existence of the opinion, which is not subject to reasonable dispute over its authenticity." Lee, 250 F.3d at 690 (citation omitted). Therefore, judicial notice is taken of the following matter: Plaintiff's state court action was filed and subsequently dismissed as moot since "the subject dog (Charlie) has been euthanized." (Holt Decl., Ex. B.)


A. Rule 12(b)(1)

Rule 12(b)(1) challenges to a court's subject matter jurisdiction "can be either facial or factual." White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 2000). Facial challenges attack the pleadings as insufficient to invoke federal jurisdiction; factual challenges contest the truth of the jurisdictional pleadings. Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). In a factual attack on jurisdiction, a court "may look beyond the complaint" to evaluate jurisdictional facts that are not intertwined with the merits of the action without converting the motion into a motion for summary judgment. White, 227 F.3d at 1242; Trentacosta v. Frontier Pac. Aircraft Indus., 813 F.2d 1553, 1558 (9th Cir. 1987) (collecting cases). However, "[a] court may not resolve genuinely disputed facts where 'the question of jurisdiction is dependent on the resolution of factual issues going to the merits.'" Roberts v. Corrothers, 812 F.2d 1173, 1177 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Augustine v. United States, 704 F.2d 1074, 1077 (9th Cir. 1983)).

1. Standing

Defendants argue Scooter's lacks standing to assert its claims because Charlie's owner was Rebecca Clark, Charlie's previous adopter, not Scooter's. (Mot. 3:19-4:23.) Defendants rely on extrinsic evidence in support of this argument, including a First Amended Declaration from Rebecca Clark ("Am. Clark Decl."). Defendants rely on the Amended Clark Declaration as support for their contention that the original Rebecca Clark Declaration ("Clark Decl.") is not authentic. In the original Clark Declaration she "rescind[ed] [her] contract turning over ownership and requesting euthanasia of Charlie" and "conveyed [her] ownership of Charlie to Scooter's Pals, a 501(c)(3) rescue organization." (Clark Decl. ¶¶ 2-3.) Clark avers in the Amended Clark Declaration: she "ha[s] no recollection of signing [the original declaration], and [she] wouldn't have signed the document." (Am. Clark Decl. ¶ 12.) Scooter's submits extrinsic evidence supporting the authenticity of Clark's original declaration, including Clark's e-mails in which Clark states she "do[es] not want Charlie to be put down" (ECF No. 10-2); ...

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