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Collins v. Guerin

United States District Court, S.D. California

December 17, 2014



CYNTHIA BASHANT, District Judge.

On March 11, 2014, Plaintiff Michael A. Collins ("Plaintiff") commenced this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action against Defendants William Guerin and the City of El Cajon (collectively "Defendants"). Count One alleges that during a search warrant, Defendant Guerin stole jewels belonging to the Plaintiff, which deprived him of his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, to due process of law, to the use of his property, and to be free from the taking of his property without just compensation, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Count Two alleges unlawful custom and practice against the City of El Cajon in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the City's failure to enact a protocol for searching valuable items, like safes, and failure to properly investigate and discipline employees and to take adequate precautions resulted in the claimed theft.

Defendants now move to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure claiming: (1) the statute of limitations bars this action; (2) there can be no due process claim since the alleged deprivation was random and unauthorized under Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981); and (3) the claim against the City must fail in the absence of any official policy, decision or custom that violates Plaintiff's rights.

The Court finds this motion suitable for determination on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See Civ. L.R. 7.1(d)(1). For the reasons set forth below, this Court DENIES IN PART and GRANTS IN PART Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.


On February 1, 2011, Defendant Guerin, a police officer employed by Defendant City of El Cajon, executed a search warrant at a jewelry store in El Cajon owned by Plaintiff. ((ECF No. 1 ("Compl.").) at ¶¶ 8, 13-16.) Plaintiff alleges that "upon locating a safe in the back room of the jewelry store, Guerin ordered Collins to open the safe and to then leave the room with the cover officer, thereby leaving Guerin alone in the back room with the open safe." ( Id. at ¶ 17.) Plaintiff then alleges that, despite neither being seized during the execution of the search warrant nor referenced in the "Receipt and Inventory" listing the items officially seized during the search warrant, he discovered the next morning that a 5.05 carat Thai ruby and 69 ounces of gold were missing from the safe. ( Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.) Plaintiff alleges "that said ruby (with a value of $60, 000) together with said gold (with a value of $224, 000) was taken, and converted, by Guerin under color of law and pursuant to the authority reposed in him as a police officer for Defendant City of El Cajon." ( Id. at ¶ 23.)

On March 1, 2011, Plaintiff was arrested "for offenses... which arose from the foregoing search, and such proceedings were pending against him, thereby tolling any applicable statutes of limitation, from that time until September 25, 2012." ( Id. at ¶ 24).

Plaintiff filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants on March 11, 2014. The Complaint alleges Defendant Guerin seized Plaintiff's property "thereby depriving Plaintiff of his property without due process of law, and also of the rights, privileges and immunities as guaranteed Plaintiff by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States." ( Id. at ¶ 1.)

The Complaint further alleges Defendant City of El Cajon "at no time took any effective action to prevent its police personnel from engaging in [this alleged] misconduct including, but not necessarily limited to, simply enacting a protocol for the search of valuable items (like safes) only with a witness present, or otherwise discouraging such theft and unlawful abuses of authority as are [alleged in the Complaint]." ( Id. at ¶ 37). Plaintiff also alleges Defendant City of El Cajon not only failed to enact an appropriate protocol for searching valuable items, such as safes, but also (1) failed "to properly investigate, discipline, restrict and control employees" like Guerin, (2) failed "to take adequate precautions in hiring, retention, and promotion of police personnel, " (3) failed "to forward to the Office of the District Attorney for San Diego County evidence of criminal acts committed by police personnel;" and (4) failed "to establish or assure the functioning of a bona fide and meaningful departmental system for dealing with complaints of police misconduct, but instead responding to such complaints with bureaucratic power and official denials calculated to mislead the public and discourage the public from making such complaints." ( Id. at ¶ 38).


A. Rule 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of the claims asserted in the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). The court must accept all factual allegations pleaded in the complaint as true and must construe them and draw all reasonable inferences from them in favor of the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). To avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, rather, it must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotations omitted).

"[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] 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 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (alteration in original)). A court need not accept "legal conclusions" as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Despite the deference the court must pay to the plaintiff's allegations, it is not proper for the court to assume that "the [plaintiff] can prove facts that [he or she] has not alleged or that 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).

Generally, courts may not consider material outside the complaint when ruling on a motion to dismiss. Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir. 1990); Branch v. Tunnell, 14 F.3d 449, 453 (9th Cir. 1994) (overruled on other grounds by Galbraith v. Cnty of Santa Clara, 307 F.3d 1119, 1121 (9th Cir. 2002)). "However, material which is properly submitted as part of the complaint may be considered." Hal Roach Studios, Inc., 896 F.2d at 1542, n. 19. Documents specifically identified in the complaint whose authenticity is not questioned by the parties may also be considered. Fecht v. Price Co., 70 F.3d 1078, 1080 n.1 (9th Cir. 1995) (superseded by statute on other grounds); see also Branch, 14 F.3d at 453-54. Such documents may be considered, so long as they are referenced in the complaint, even if they are not physically attached to the pleading. Branch, 14 F.3d at 453-54; see also Parrino v. FHP, Inc., 146 F.3d 699, 706 (9th Cir. 1998) (extending rule to documents upon which the plaintiff's complaint "necessarily relies" but which are not explicitly incorporated in the ...

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