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Hutchinson v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

October 8, 2013

KNOLTS HUTCHINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MORRISON C. ENGLAND, Jr., Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Knolts Hutchinson ("Plaintiff"), an inmate housed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"), initiated this action against the CDCR, the State of California, and two state officials, Vimal Singh (a warden) and M. Scott (a correctional officer), alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the Rehabilitation Act and both California's Unruh Civil Rights Act ("Unruh Act") and its Disabled Persons Act ("CDPA"). Defendants have now moved to dismiss Plaintiff's state claims arguing that Plaintiff failed to file a claim under California's Government Claims Act ("GCA") and that Defendants are immune under the Eleventh Amendment in any event. For the following reasons, Defendants Motion is granted with leave to amend.[1]

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair. Given his physical limitations, Plaintiff is entitled to a lower bunk of the first floor of his institution, to wheelchair-accessible paths of travel, and to an elevator pass. According to Plaintiff's Complaint, prison officials removed an ADA-compliant locker during his incarceration and failed to properly secure the replacement locker they provided. Plaintiff alleges that, among other things, when he attempted to use his non-compliant locker, it tumbled over, fell on top of him and trapped him beneath his wheelchair and the locker for over an hour. Plaintiff thus initiated this action seeking damages from the State, one of its departments and two individual state officials in their official capacities. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's state claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)[2] on the basis that Defendants are entitled to sovereign immunity. Defendants further contend that dismissal is also proper under Rule 12(b)(6) because Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted given his failure to comply with the GCA.

STANDARD

A. Dismissal for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1)

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and are presumptively without jurisdiction over civil actions. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am. , 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). The burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction. Id . Because subject matter jurisdiction involves a court's power to hear a case, it can never be forfeited or waived. United States v. Cotton , 535 U.S. 625, 630 (2002). Accordingly, lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised by either party at any point during the litigation, through a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp. , 546 U.S. 500, 506 (2006); see also Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs v. Cnty. of Plumas , 559 F.3d 1041, 1043-44 (9th Cir. 2009). Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may also be raised by the district court sua sponte. Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co. , 526 U.S. 574, 583 (1999). Indeed, "courts... have an independent obligation to determine whether subject matter jurisdiction exists, even in the absence of a challenge from any party." Arbaugh , 546 U.S. at 514; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3) (requiring the court to dismiss the action if subject matter jurisdiction is lacking).

There are two types of motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction: a facial attack and a factual attack. Thornhill Publ'g Co. v. Gen. Tel. & Elec. Corp. , 594 F.2d 730, 733 (9th Cir. 1979). Thus, a party may either make an attack on the allegations of jurisdiction contained in the nonmoving party's complaint, or may challenge the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, despite the formal sufficiency of the pleadings. Id . In the case of a factual attack, "no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations." Id . (internal citation omitted). The party opposing the motion has the burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction does exist, and must present any necessary evidence to satisfy this burden. St. Clair v. City of Chico , 880 F.2d 199, 201 (9th Cir. 1989). If the plaintiff's allegations of jurisdictional facts are challenged by the adversary in the appropriate manner, "the plaintiff cannot rest on the mere assertion that factual issues can exist.'" Trentacosta v. Frontier P. Aircraft Ind., Inc. , 813 F.2d 1553, 1558 (9th Cir. 1987) (quoting Exch. Nat'l Bank of Chi. v. Touche Ross & Co. , 544 F.2d 1126, 1131 (2d Cir. 1976)). Furthermore, the district court may review any evidence necessary, including affidavits and testimony, in order to determine whether subject matter jurisdiction exists. McCarthy v. United States , 850 F.2d 558, 560 (9th Cir. 1988); Thornhill , 594 F.2d at 733. If the nonmoving party fails to meet its burden and the court determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).

When a party makes a facial attack on a complaint, the attack is unaccompanied by supporting evidence, and it challenges jurisdiction based solely on the pleadings. Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer , 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). If the motion to dismiss constitutes a facial attack, the court must consider the factual allegations of the complaint to be true, and determine whether they establish subject matter jurisdiction. Savage v. Glendale High Union Sch. Dist. No. 205 , 343 F.3d 1036, 1039 n.1 (9th Cir. 2003). In the case of a facial attack, the motion to dismiss is granted only if the nonmoving party fails to allege an element necessary for subject matter jurisdiction. Id . However, in the case of a facial attack, district courts "may review evidence beyond the complaint without converting the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment." Safe Air for Everyone , 373 F.3d at 1039.

B. Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim Under Rule 12(b)(6)

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), all allegations of material fact must be accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. , 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). Rule 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not require detailed factual allegations. However, "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." Id . (internal citations and quotations omitted). A court is not required "to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216 (3d ed. 2004) (stating that the pleading must contain something more than "a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.")).

Furthermore, "Rule 8(a)(2)... requires a showing, rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Id. at 556 n.3 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Thus, "[w]ithout some factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard to see how a claimant could satisfy the requirements of providing not only fair notice' of the nature of the claim, but also grounds' on which the claim rests." Id . (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, supra, at § 1202). A pleading must contain "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. If the "plaintiffs... have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, their complaint must be dismissed." Id . However, "[a] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'" Id. at 556 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes , 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

C. Leave to Amend

A court granting a motion to dismiss a complaint must then decide whether to grant leave to amend. Leave to amend should be "freely given" where there is no "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, ... undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment...." Foman v. Davis , 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc. , 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) (listing the Foman factors as those to be considered when deciding whether to grant leave to amend). Not all of these factors merit equal weight. Rather, "the consideration of prejudice to the opposing party... carries the greatest weight." Eminence Capital , 316 F.3d at 1052 (citing DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton , 833 F.2d 183, 185 (9th Cir. 1987)). Dismissal without leave to amend is proper only if it is clear that "the complaint could not be saved by any amendment." Intri-Plex Techs. v. Crest Group, Inc. , 499 F.3d 1048, 1056 (9th Cir. ...


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