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Roseanne Aguilar v. City of South Gate and Does 1-50

January 25, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Otis D. Wright, II United States District Judge



Christopher Coronel was allegedly shot to death by South Gate police officers on May 25, 2011. In response to his passing, his mother, Plaintiff Roseanne Aguilar, brought this action alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California's Tom Bane Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 52.1. The City moves to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing three different pleading-sufficiency and interpretational grounds. After considering each of these bases and the parties' respective arguments, the Court deems the matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; L.R. 7-15. For the reasons discussed below, the Court DENIES the City's Motion in its entirety.


This case arises out of an encounter between South Gate police officers and Coronel, Aguilar's son, on May 25, 2011. (Compl. ¶ 8.) Aguilar alleges that South Gate police were called to Coronel's home because of reports that he was possibly going to commit suicide. (Id.) Police were purportedly informed that Coronel was very "despondent" and "agitated" and that he suffered from serious mental and emotional problems. (Compl. ¶ 9.) Despite this information, Aguilar contends that police arrived in an aggressive and confrontational manner, threatening to seize Coronel as they aggressively stormed into his house. (Id.) Coronel reacted by fleeing from the house, and police gave chase. (Id.) Though he did not threaten anyone, Coronel was cornered in a small courtyard behind a home down the street. (Id.) At that time, police allegedly assaulted and battered Coronel and shot him 15 times in his front and back, resulting in his death. (Id.)

Following her son's death, Aguilar asserts that South Gate police covered up the shooting and failed to discipline the officers involved. (Id.) She alleges that "this incident is representative of police officers who were not adequately prepared nor trained to deal with this situation particularly involving an acutely distressed person with clear mental health and or intoxication issues, including a possible threat of self injury or suicide." (Compl. ¶ 10.) Further, she contends that the officers' use of force was unjustified, unreasonable, and excessive. (Compl. ¶ 12.)

Aguilar, as the mother and sole heir of Coronel, filed a Complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court against the City of South Gate on November 5, 2012, alleging causes of action for wrongful death; negligence; assault and battery; violation of the Bane Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 52.1; and violation of civil rights, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1, Ex. A.)

The City removed the case to this Court. On December 20, 2012, the City filed this Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 7.)

That Motion is now before the Court for decision.*fn1


Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) can be based on "the lack of a cognizable legal theory" or "the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). A complaint need only satisfy the minimal notice pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2)-a short and plain statement-to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Porter v. Jones, 319 F.3d 483, 494 (9th Cir. 2003); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). For a complaint to sufficiently state a claim, its "[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). While specific facts are not necessary so long as the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which the claim rests, a complaint must nevertheless "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, 678 (2009).

Iqbal's plausibility standard "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully," but does not go so far as to impose a "probability requirement." Id. Rule 8 demands more than a complaint that is merely consistent with a defendant's liability-labels and conclusions, or formulaic recitals of the elements of a cause of action do not suffice. Id. Instead, the complaint must allege sufficient underlying facts to provide fair notice and enable the defendant to defend itself effectively. Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011).

The determination whether a complaint satisfies the plausibility standard is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court is generally limited to the pleadings and must construe "[a]ll factual allegations set forth in the complaint . . . as true and . . . in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff]." Lee v. City of L.A., 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001). Conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of fact, and unreasonable inferences need not be blindly accepted as true by the court. Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001). Yet, a complaint should be dismissed only if "it appears beyond ...

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