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Mallory v. Vacaville Police Department

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 8, 2014



CAROLYN K. DELANEY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff is proceeding in this action pro se and in forma pauperis. Plaintiff has filed a first amended complaint.

The federal in forma pauperis statute authorizes federal courts to dismiss a case if the action is legally "frivolous or malicious, " fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy , 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke , 490 U.S. at 327.

In order to avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim a complaint must contain more than "naked assertions, " "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555-557 (2007). In other words, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Furthermore, a claim upon which the court can grant relief has facial plausibility. 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 , 129 S.Ct. at 1949. When considering whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court must accept the allegations as true, Erickson v. Pardus , 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007), and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Scheuer v. Rhodes , 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). After reviewing the amended complaint, the court concludes that plaintiff's amended complaint should be dismissed. The court will, however, grant one final opportunity to amend the complaint.

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of [state law]... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution... shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Servs. , 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode , 423 U.S. 362 (1976). "A person subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy , 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

In this action, plaintiff alleges claims arising out of his arrest for use of pepper spray during an altercation at a dance club in Vacaville, California. Plaintiff alleges he was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned for three days. Plaintiff further alleges that the felony charge of use of tear gas was reduced to a misdemeanor and ultimately dismissed for lack of evidence. To prevail on a claim for false arrest under section 1983, plaintiff must demonstrate that there was no probable cause to arrest him. See Cabrera v. City of Huntington Park , 159 F.3d 374, 380 (9th Cir.1998) ("To prevail on his § 1983 claim for false arrest..., [plaintiff] would have to demonstrate that there was no probable cause to arrest him."). The allegations as set forth in plaintiff's amended complaint are insufficient to state a claim under section 1983. "Probable cause to arrest exists when officers have knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to lead a person of reasonable caution to believe that an offense has been or is being committed by the person being arrested." United States v. Lopez , 482 F.3d 1067, 1072 (9th Cir. 2007) (defining probable cause and explaining that it is an objective standard). "Probable cause does not require the same type of specific evidence of each element of the offense as would be needed to support a conviction." Adams v. Williams , 407 U.S. 143, 149 (1972); see also Henry v. United States , 361 U.S. 98, 102 (1959) (evidence required to establish guilt not necessary for probable cause).

The exhibits attached to plaintiff's amended complaint demonstrate that the arresting officer knew that several people were treated at the scene by paramedics for exposure to oleoresin capsicum spray, that one victim was transported by ambulance for shortness of breath from being sprayed, that plaintiff was observed by at least one witness spraying something at a group of people, and that several people reported to the arresting officer that plaintiff had assaulted them with pepper spray inside the bar. Under these circumstances, the arresting officer had probable cause to arrest plaintiff for felony misuse of tear gas.[1]

Plaintiff also names as defendants the City of Vacaville. In order to hold the City liable on a section 1983 claim, plaintiff must show that his rights were violated pursuant to a municipal custom or policy. Monell v. Department of Social Servs. , 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). Plaintiff, however, has failed to identify any policy or custom of the City underlying the arrest of plaintiff.

In addition, plaintiff seeks expungement of his arrest record under California Penal Code § 851.8 and alleges that his civil rights have been violated in connection with defendants' failure to remove his arrest record from the criminal database. In this case, an accusatory pleading was filed against plaintiff after his arrest but no conviction occurred. As such, under California Penal Code § 851.8(c), plaintiff may petition the court that dismissed the action for a finding that plaintiff is factually innocent of the charges for which the arrest was made. This court, however, does not have the authority to grant the relief plaintiff seeks.

Plaintiff also alleges a claim predicated on violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1510. That statute is a federal criminal statute addressing obstruction of criminal investigations and does not give rise to a private right of action.

Plaintiff is informed that the court cannot refer to a prior pleading in order to make plaintiff's amended complaint complete. Local Rule 15-220 requires that an amended complaint be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. This is because, as a general rule, an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. See Loux v. Rhay , 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Once plaintiff files an amended complaint, the original pleading no longer serves any function in the case. Therefore, in an amended complaint, as in an original complaint, each claim and the involvement of each defendant must be sufficiently alleged.

In accordance with the above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's first amended complaint is dismissed; and

2. Plaintiff is granted thirty days from the date of service of this order to file a second amended complaint that complies with the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Local Rules of Practice; the second amended complaint must bear the docket number assigned this case and must be labeled "Second Amended Complaint"; plaintiff must file an original and two copies of the second amended complaint; failure to file a second amended complaint in accordance with this order will result in a recommendation that this action be dismissed.

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