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Estate of Hernandez-Rojas v. United States

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

September 24, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.


M. JAMES LORENZ, District Judge.


On May 28, 2010, Mr. Hernandez-Rojas was arrested along with his brother Pedro in the mountainous area near Otay Mesa. (Third Amended Complaint ("TAC") ¶¶ 43-44.) After Mr. Hernandez-Rojas was transported to a border patrol station, Plaintiffs allege that he suffered physical abuse and was refused medical care for his injuries. (TAC ¶¶ 64-83.) Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Hernandez-Rojas was refused access to an immigration judge and that he was brought to the border to be deported despite having refused to sign a voluntary departure form. ( Id.; TAC ¶¶ 132.) At the border, Plaintiffs allege that federal agents physically attacked Mr. Hernandez-Rojas by punching him, kicking him, hitting him with batons, tying his legs to his arms, and repeatedly electrocuting him with a "Taser" device. (TAC ¶¶ 88-117.) Mr. Hernandez-Rojas died, allegedly as a result of Defendant agents' actions. (TAC ¶ 116-17.)

Plaintiffs brought this action on March 16, 2011. [doc. #1.] Plaintiffs allege in their TAC, filed on March 13, 2012, that their father, Anastacio Hernandez-Rojas, died as a result of physical abuse by Defendant officers in their capacities as agents of Defendant United States of America. (TAC ¶ 28).

Defendant United States of America moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' sixth, seventh, eighth, and fourteenth causes of action against it pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (doc. #148.)


A. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

The court must dismiss a cause of action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). The court must accept all allegations of material fact as true and construe them in light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cedars-Sanai Med. Ctr. v. Nat'l League of Postmasters of U.S., 497 F.3d 972, 975 (9th Cir. 2007). Material allegations, even if doubtful in fact, are assumed to be true. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, the court need not "necessarily assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations." Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). In fact, the court does not need to accept any legal conclusions as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted). Instead, the allegations in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. Thus, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570). "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." Id. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law either for lack of a cognizable legal theory or for insufficient facts under a cognizable theory. Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984).

Generally, courts may not consider material outside the complaint when ruling on a motion to dismiss. Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir. 1990). However, documents specifically identified in the complaint whose authenticity is not questioned by parties may also be considered. Fecht v. Price Co., 70 F.3d 1078, 1080 n.1 (9th Cir. 1995) (superceded by statutes on other grounds). Moreover, the court may consider the full text of those documents, even when the complaint quotes only selected portions. Id. It may also consider material properly subject to judicial notice without converting the motion into one for summary judgment. Barron v. Reich, 13 F.3d 1370, 1377 (9th Cir. 1994).


A. Plaintiffs have Stated a Claim for Relief under the Bane Act.

1. The TAC Properly Identifies the Statute Underlying its Bane Act Cause of Action, and Reference to the Unruh Act Will be Stricken from the TAC.

Defendant United States notes in its motion that Plaintiffs "inexplicably [rely] on the Unruh Act in [their] fourteenth cause of action." (doc. #148-1, p.8.) In opposition, Plaintiffs concede that the Unruh Act is inapplicable to this case and that the Bane Act is the operative statute underlying their fourteenth cause of action. (doc. #224, p.9.) Even as it mislabels the operative statute as the Unruh Act rather than the Bane Act, the TAC properly identifies California Civil Code § 52.1 as the basis for Plaintiffs' fourteenth cause of action against Defendant United ...

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