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Vargas v. Yuba City

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 19, 2014

ELIDA JAIME VARGAS, Plaintiff,
v.
YUBA CITY, ET AL., Defendant.

ORDER

TROY L. NUNLEY, District Judge.

Defendants Yuba City, Officer Todd Wolfe, Officer Paul Hillegass and Chief of Police Robert D. Landon (collectively referred to as "Defendants") seek to dismiss Plaintiff Elida Vargas's ("Plaintiff") Complaint on the grounds that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 444 (1994) bars Plaintiff's First Claim, alleging excessive force. ( See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 8.) Additionally, Defendants assert that Plaintiff's Second Claim, alleging liability under Monell, fails to allege facts sufficient to state a claim. (ECF No. 8.) Plaintiff opposes Defendants' motion. ( See Pl.'s Opp., ECF No. 9.) The Court has carefully considered the arguments presented by the parties. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion (ECF No. 5) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. Factual Background

Plaintiff filed her Complaint against Defendants on July 30, 2013. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) The instant complaint was filed on September 25, 2013.[1] ( See First Am. Compl. ("FAC"), ECF No. 6.) The FAC alleges that on October 5, 2011, while Plaintiff was sitting with a friend in a vehicle, Defendant Officers Hillegass and Wolfe approached the vehicle and forcibly removed her through the driver's side window by pulling her hair. (ECF No. 6 at ¶ 16.) Plaintiff further alleges that Officers Wolfe and Hillegass then forced her to the ground, beat her with their batons (ECF No. 6 at ¶ 17), and that the officers' use of force caused her serious and permanent injuries. (ECF No. 6 at ¶ 20.)

Plaintiff's FAC alleges two claims stemming from the alleged incident. The first alleges that Defendants' use of force in removing her from the vehicle by pulling her hair, handcuffing her, and beating her with batons, violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures. (ECF No. 6 at ¶¶ 22-26.) Plaintiff's Second Claim alleges that Defendant City of Yuba City breached its duty to adequately train, supervise and discipline its officers in order to protect members of the public, including Plaintiff, "from being harmed by the police unnecessarily." (ECF No. 6 at ¶ 28.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Landon was the Chief of Police on the date of the incident and sues him in his official capacity only. (ECF No. 6 at ¶ 6.)

II. Standard of Law

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a pleading contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). Under notice pleading in federal court, the complaint must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim... is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotations omitted). "This simplified notice pleading standard relies on liberal discovery rules and summary judgment motions to define disputed facts and issues and to dispose of unmeritorious claims." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002).

On a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). A court is bound to give plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the "well-pleaded" allegations of the complaint. Retail Clerks Int'l Ass'n v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 753 n.6 (1963). A plaintiff need not allege "specific facts' beyond those necessary to state his claim and the grounds showing entitlement to relief." 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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).

Nevertheless, a court "need not assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." United States ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 1986). While Rule 8(a) does not require detailed factual allegations, "it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A pleading is insufficient if it offers mere "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 ("Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice."). Moreover, it is inappropriate to assume that the plaintiff "can prove facts that it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the... laws in ways that have not been alleged[.]" Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).

Ultimately, a court may not dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff has alleged "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 697 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Only where a plaintiff has failed to "nudge[] [his or her] claims... across the line from conceivable to plausible[, ]" is the complaint properly dismissed. Id. at 680. While the plausibility requirement is not akin to a probability requirement, it demands more than "a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. at 678. This plausibility inquiry is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679.

In ruling upon a motion to dismiss, the court may consider only the complaint, any exhibits thereto, and matters which may be judicially noticed pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 201. See Mir v. Little Co. of Mary Hosp., 844 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1988); Isuzu Motors Ltd. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 12 F.Supp.2d 1035, 1042 (C.D. Cal. 1998).

If a complaint fails to state a plausible claim, "[a] district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.'" Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (quoting Doe v. United States, 58 F.3d 484, 497 (9th Cir. 1995)); see also Gardner v. Marino, 563 F.3d 981, 990 (9th Cir. 2009) (finding no abuse of discretion in denying leave to amend when amendment would be futile). Although a district court should freely give leave to amend when justice so requires under Rule 15(a)(2), "the court's discretion to deny such leave is particularly broad' where the plaintiff has previously amended its complaint[.]" Ecological Rights Found. v. P. Gas & Elec. Co., 713 F.3d 502, 520 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Miller v. Yokohama Tire Corp., 358 F.3d 616, 622 (9th Cir. 2004)).

III. Analysis

Defendants contend that Plaintiff's first claim is barred by Heck because Plaintiff's arrest by Defendants resulted in her pleading nolo contendre to violating California Penal Code section 415(1), which prohibits a person from unlawfully fighting in a public place or challenging another person in a public place to fight.[2] In Defendants' reply, they clarify that their motion to dismiss only pertains to ...


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