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Francisco Ibarra v. City of Watsonville et al

February 15, 2013


United States District Court For the Northern District of California


Presently before the court are Defendants City of Watsonville ("the City"), Manny Solano ("Solano"), Terence Medina ("Medina"), Carlos Palacios ("Palacios") and Belcher, Ehle, Median 24 & Associates' ("BEMA") (collectively, "Defendants") Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff's First 25 Amended Complaint ("FAC") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and Motions 26 for a More Definite Statement pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f). Defendant 27 BEMA has moved for such relief separately. The court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The court found this matter suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant 2 to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b) and previously vacated the hearing. Having reviewed the parties' 3 briefing, the court GRANTS Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, and GRANTS in part Defendants 4 the City, Solano, Medina, and Palacios' Motion for a More Definite Statement. 5

7 termination from the Watsonville Police Department ("the Department"). Plaintiff became a police 8 officer in the Department on March 27, 1995 and remained employed there until his termination on 9

Medina and Deputy Chief Solano came to dislike Plaintiff and sought "any excuse or reason to terminate him." FAC ¶ 41. Plaintiff points to a number of incidents allegedly leading to Medina and Solano's distaste for him and evidencing their threats against him. For convenience, the court 13 will group these allegations on-the-job incidents, internal complaints, and union activities. 14

15 years after joining the Department, Plaintiff was disciplined for his involvement in an incident in 16 which carjack suspects were tased. FAC ¶ 20-25. Plaintiff refused to sign an agreement accepting 17 the proposed punishment for this incident and consulted his union attorney regarding his rights, 18 behavior which Plaintiff alleges caused then-Chief of Police Medina and then-Deputy Chief Solano 19 to become "irate" and prompted them to intimidate and threaten him. FAC ¶ 24-25. Later, 20 Plaintiff cited the Mayor of Watsonville for a violation of the vehicle code, which caused Medina 21 to "express[] great anger towards [Plaintiff]." FAC ¶ 31. Following that incident, an excessive 22 force complaint was filed against Plaintiff, which Plaintiff contends "was the perfect 'vehicle' for 23 [Medina and Solano] to seize upon to fire Plaintiff" despite the fact that he was "cleared of any 24 wrongdoing." FAC ¶¶ 38-39. Most recently, Plaintiff withdrew his gun during a traffic stop of a 25 speeding car, and though none of the defendants complained, Medina and Solano "claimed 26

Plaintiff had committed some sort of violation in some unknown manner." FAC ¶ 40. 27 28


This retaliatory termination case arises out of Plaintiff Francisco Ibarra's ("Plaintiff") May 10, 2010. FAC ¶¶ 3, 14, 47, Dkt. No. 9. The FAC essentially alleges that Chief of Police

First, Plaintiff points to a number of incidents occurring on-the-job. Approximately thirteen three written memoranda regarding a female officer, the wife of a lieutenant, whom he described "as not adequately backing up officers in dangerous situations." FAC ¶ 30. However, these 4 complaints "fell on deaf ears" and caused him to "suffer[] further harassment and persecution." Id. 5 incident allowed him "to become aware of the importance of a strong union" and he thereafter 7 became "very active in the union." FAC ¶ 26. "His efforts were fruitless" because the union 8 president and Medina were "close personal friends and frequently played golf together." FAC ¶ 27. 9

Next Plaintiff points to internal complaints that he filed. He alleges that he prepared two or

Finally Plaintiff points to his union activities. Plaintiff alleges that the handling of the taser

So Plaintiff ran for President of the union, making campaign promises that "big changes" were in 10 store and that the union "would go to bat for its officers." FAC ¶ 28. Plaintiff won this election.

[Plaintiff]." FAC ¶ 29. In his capacity as union President, Plaintiff refused, despite pressure from 14

Solano, to support a certain candidate for the California State Assembly. FAC ¶ 32. Also in his 15 capacity as President, Plaintiff advised an officer regarding his rights during a 2008 internal 16 investigation following that officer's arrest for driving under the influence. FAC ¶¶ 33-35, 37. 17

Plaintiff refused to falsely testify during this investigation that he had witnessed this officer being 18 intoxicated. FAC ¶ 36. Plaintiff learned that Medina was angry over Plaintiff's behavior during the 19 investigation. FAC ¶ 35, 37. 20

Id. After Plaintiff became President, he spoke out on Medina and Solano's "corruption, wrongdoing and misconduct," causing Medina to "indicat[e] that he was determined to get rid of 13

Shortly after the traffic stop incident, Plaintiff was placed into a temporary office position.

Plaintiff alleges that at that time he was informed that Medina and Solano had initiated a "full 22 investigation.into his past." FAC ¶ 42. At some point after Plaintiff had been assigned the office 23 position, Medina retired and informed Plaintiff that "he (plaintiff) would very soon be made an 24 example for all of the department to see." FAC ¶ 43. Solano assumed the position of Chief of 25

Police, and allegedly immediately hired BEMA, Medina's private investigation firm, to conduct an 26 investigation into Plaintiff. Id. On February 10, 2010, after returning from a sick leave, Plaintiff 27 28

was escorted out of the office and had his gun and badge removed. FAC ¶ 45. Then on May 10, 2 2010 Plaintiff was terminated. FAC ¶ 47.

Plaintiff filed an appeal of his termination, but soon thereafter suffered a stroke. FAC ¶ 52.

After recovering most of his physical abilities, his appeal was heard by a panel of commissioners 5 appointed by members of the City Council. FAC ¶ 53. On November 13, 2011, the panel found in 6 favor of the Plaintiff. FAC ¶ 54. The City took the panel's decision under advisement, but 7 ultimately City Manager Palacios rejected it, upholding the original termination. FAC ¶ 55. 8

Plaintiff then filed this suit against Defendants the City, Palacios (the City Manager), Solano (the Deputy Chief, and later the Chief of Police), Medina (Chief of Police), and BEMA 10 violation of his constitutional rights, the California's Police Officer Bill of Rights ("POBR"), Cal. Gov. Code. §§ 3300-3313 and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). 13 (Medina's private investigation firm) on May 4, 2012, bringing claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Compl., Dkt. No. 1. On August 27, 2012 Plaintiff filed the FAC, which dropped the RICO cause 14 of action. Dkt. No. 9. Defendants the City, Palacios, Medina and Solano filed their Motion to 15 2012. The court now turns to the substance of these motions. 17

19 complaint with sufficient specificity to "give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and 20 the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic ...

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