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Wright v. City of Santa Cruz

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

January 26, 2015

HALEY WRIGHT, et al., Plaintiffs,
CITY OF SANTA CRUZ, et al., Defendants.



Defendants Joshua Singleton ("Singleton"), Anthony Parker ("Parker"), Brendan Omori ("Omori"), and John Fernandez ("Fernandez") (collectively, "the Agents") move to dismiss the second amended complaint ("SAC") under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). After reviewing the motion, opposition, and reply, the Court vacated the hearing and submitted the motion without oral argument. See Order of Jan. 16, 2015, ECF 98. For the reasons discussed below, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.


The facts giving rise to this action are well-known to the parties and the Court and need not be set forth in full here. In brief, the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") was involved in a joint operation with the Santa Cruz Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies for the purpose of investigating a Mexican drug cartel. During the investigation, an arrest warrant issued for Plaintiff Haley Wright following her indictment by a grand jury. On September 12, 2011, a SWAT team approached Haley's home, entered, and executed the warrant. Haley's father, her sisters, and her sisters' infant children were in the home at the time. Haley was booked and held in jail for approximately one month, at which time her bail was reduced to an amount that enabled her family to obtain her release. The charges against Haley were dropped approximately one month after her release on bail.

After several rounds of pleading, the only defendants remaining in the action are the City of Santa Cruz and the Agents.[1] The SAC asserts the following claims on behalf of Haley and her two sisters, Emily Wright and Jessica Wright: (1) a § 1983[2] claim for excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) a Bivens [3] claim for unlawful search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (3) a Bivens claim for deprivation of due process (liberty interest) in violation of the Fifth Amendment; (4) a Bivens claim for deprivation of the right to freedom of association in violation of the First Amendment; and (5) a claim for violation of California's Bane Act.[4] The Agents seek dismissal of all claims against them on the bases that they are entitled to qualified immunity and that the SAC fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.


A. Qualified Immunity

"The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages unless a plaintiff pleads facts showing (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct.'" Wood v. Moss, 134 S.Ct. 2056, 2066-67 (2014) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2080 (2011)). Under the applicable pleading standard, the plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to make out a plausible claim that it would have been clear to the defendant officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted. Id. at 2067. "Because qualified immunity is an affirmative defense from suit, not merely from liability, [u]nless the plaintiff's allegations state a claim of violation of clearly established law, a defendant pleading qualified immunity is entitled to dismissal before the commencement of discovery.'" Doe By and Through Doe v. Petaluma City School Dist., 54 F.3d 1447, 1449-50 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)).

B. Failure to State a Claim

"A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted tests the legal sufficiency of a claim.'" Conservation Force v. Salazar, 646 F.3d 1240, 1241-42 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001)). When determining whether a claim has been stated, the Court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Reese v. BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., 643 F.3d 681, 690 (9th Cir. 2011). However, the Court need not "accept as true allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice" or "allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences." In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when it "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.


A. Emily and Jessica

The Agents argue, and the opposition concedes, that the SAC does not allege facts sufficient to state any claim by Emily or Jessica against the Agents. See Pls.' Opp. at 10, ECF 95. Accordingly, the motion is GRANTED as to all claims asserted by Emily and Jessica. The remainder of this order addresses Haley's claims against the Agents, specifically, Claims 2-5 of the SAC.[5]

B. Official Capacity Allegations

Claims 2, 3 and 4 assert violations of Haley's federal constitutional rights under Bivens. "[A] Bivens action can be maintained against a defendant in his or her individual capacity only, and not in his or her official capacity." Daly-Murphy v. Winston, 837 F.2d 348, 355 (9th Cir. 1987). While the earlier-filed first amended complaint alleged that the Agents acted in their individual capacities and/or their official capacities, see FAC ¶ 11, ECF 11, the operative SAC alleges that the Agents acted at all times "within the scope of their federal employment and pursuant to federal law and the statutes, ordinances, regulations, customs and ...

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