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Aguilar v. City of South Gate

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

August 7, 2013

ROSEANNE AGUILAR, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SOUTH GATE, EDWARD BOLAR, MARCELO BEDETTI, SANDRA DAHLIA, DAVID SCOTT, ROBERT TAIT, and DOES 1-50, inclusive, Defendants.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT OFFICERS DAVID SCOTT'S, ROBERT TAIT'S, AND SANDRA DAHLIA'S MOTION TO DISMISS [39, 40, 41] AND DENYING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [56]

OTIS D. WRIGHT, II, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Christopher Coronel was shot to death by South Gate police officers on May 25, 2011. Coronel's mother, Plaintiff Roseanne Aguilar, brought this action alleging wrongful death, negligence, assault and battery, and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California's Tom Bane Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 52.1. Defendants David Scott, Robert Tait, and Sandra Dahlia-all South Gate police officers who did not fire the fatal shots-move to dismiss the various claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). After considering 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 GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' Motion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This case arises out of an encounter between South Gate police officers and Coronel, Aguilar's son, on May 25, 2011. (FAC ¶ 9.) South Gate police came to Coronel's home after he called 911 and made suicidal remarks. ( Id. ) Police were purportedly informed that Coronel was very "despondent" and "agitated" and that he suffered from serious mental and emotional problems. ( Id. ) Despite this information, Aguilar contends that police arrived in an aggressive and confrontational manner, targeting Coronel with a laser sight from a taser gun when he opened the front door holding a knife he had apparently used on himself. (FAC ¶¶ 9-10.) Coronel reacted by fleeing out the back door, and police gave chase. (FAC ¶¶ 10-11.) Though he did not threaten anyone, Coronel was cornered in a small courtyard behind a home down the street. (FAC ¶ 11.) At that time, Officer Tait attempted to hit Coronel with a taser but missed. ( Id. ) Officer Dahlia then hit Coronel with several rounds from a bean-bag shotgun. ( Id. ) According to the officers, Coronel was about 6 to 10 feet away when he subsequently "lunged" forward with the knife. ( Id. ) Two officers collided with each other and fell, at which point officers Bedetti and Bolar allegedly shot Coronel 15 times. The shots hit Coronel's 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. (FAC ¶ 12.) She alleges "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." (FAC ¶ 13.) Further, she contends that the officers' use of force was unjustified, unreasonable, and excessive. (FAC ¶ 15.)

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. (ECF No. 1, Ex. A.) The City removed the case to this Court on federal-question grounds. ( Id. ) On May 10, 2013, Aguilar filed a First Amended Complaint, adding Officers Edward Bolar, Marcelo Bedetti, Sandra Dahlia, David Scott, and Robert Tait to the list of defendants. (ECF No. 28.) On May 29, 2013, Scott, Tait, and Dahlia each filed Motions to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). (ECF Nos. 39, 40, 41.) The Court now decides these Motions together.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

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 doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts" supporting plaintiff's claim for relief. Morley v. Walker, 175 F.3d 756, 759 (9th Cir. 1999).

III. DISCUSSION

Aguilar asserts claims for wrongful death, negligence, assault and battery, violation of the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act, and violation of 42 ...


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