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Allen v. County of Lake

United States District Court, N.D. California

February 2, 2015

MONA ALLEN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF LAKE, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT

THELTON E. HENDERSON, District Judge.

Defendants County of Lake, Francisco Rivero, Chris Macedo, Richard Coel, Dennis Kiethly, Joe Dutra, Steve Herdt, Michael Lockett, and Frank Walsh (collectively "County Defendants"), as well as Loren Freeman, separately ("State Defendant") (collectively "Defendants"), have moved to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint of Plaintiffs Mona Allen, Paul Ray Harris, Shaun Jones, Scott Outhout, Elvin Sikes, Nina Faye Sikes, Nicole Van Schiack, Preston Warren, and the California Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (collectively "Plaintiffs") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Docket Nos. 70, 71). Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), the Court finds these motions suitable for resolution without oral argument. After carefully considering the arguments of the parties in the papers submitted, the Court hereby GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' motions to dismiss for the reasons set forth below.

BACKGROUND

On November 4, 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which is codified as the "Compassionate Use Act" at California Health & Safety Code section 11362.5, allowing "seriously ill" Californians to "obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes." Cal. Health & Safety Code § 11362.5(b)(1). On September 10, 2003, the California Legislature enacted Senate Bill 420, allowing qualified patients and their primary caregivers to cultivate and possess sufficient quantities of marijuana as are reasonably related to their personal medical needs.

In June of 2014, after a popular vote, the Lake County Board of Supervisors enacted Lake County Ordinance No. 2997 ("Measure N" or "Ordinance"), which imposes a number of restrictions on the cultivation of marijuana within the County based upon factors including the size and location of the property, the size and number of marijuana plants, and the use of locked gates controlling access to the plants. Ordinance No. 2997 § 72.5(g). The Ordinance further provides that "any violation of this ordinance shall constitute a public nuisance and shall be subject to abatement as provided" by the Ordinance. Id. § 72.7(a). The process for that abatement is described in sections 72.9 and 72.10, which provide notice and an opportunity to achieve compliance with the Ordinance before any abatement action. However, the Ordinance also allows the summary abatement of marijuana cultivation that violates a limited number of specific provisions within the Ordinance, declaring that such growth "constitutes an immediate threat or danger to the health, safety and welfare of the public and may, therefore, be summarily abated in accordance with Government Code Section 25845...." Id. § 72.8.

The ten named individual Plaintiffs identify themselves as residents of Lake County, California, and qualified medical marijuana patients that filed suit against Defendants on August 29, 2014, alleging that their marijuana plants were summarily abated by Defendants in accordance with the Ordinance but in violation of certain constitutional and statutory rights. The individual Plaintiffs are joined by the California Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws ("CA NORML"), a non-profit corporation that advocates for the rights of adults to use medical marijuana. Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint on September 1, 2014, and sought a temporary restraining order against Defendants, which was denied by the Court on September 4, 2014. (Docket No. 26). Plaintiffs thereafter sought a preliminary injunction, which was granted by the Court on October 14, 2014. (Docket No. 59). After seeking leave to amend, Plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") on December 1, 2014. (Docket No. 69). On December 18, 2014, County Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the SAC. (Docket No. 70). Defendant Freeman filed a separate motion to dismiss six days later. (Docket No. 73).

LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal where a plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dismissal for failure to state a claim is a question of law. Parks School of Business, Inc. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1483 (9th Cir. 1995). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff must make a "short and plain statement" providing "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554-55, 570 (2007) (quoting in part Rule 8(a)(2)). The statement must include "enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest" a right to relief that rises "above a speculative level." Id. at 555-56. Additionally, a motion to dismiss is appropriate where a plaintiff discloses some absolute defense or bar to recovery in their pleading. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Quiller v. Barclays American Credit Inc., 727 F.2d 1067, 1069 (5th Cir. 1984) ("The claim may be adequately stated, as it is here, but in addition to the claim the complaint may include matters of avoidance that preclude the pleader's ability to recover.").

In evaluating a motion to dismiss, a court must treat all factual allegations as true, and must construe them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Symington, 51 F.3d at 1484. However, "conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are not sufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss." Pareto v. FDIC, 139 F.3d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1998).

DISCUSSION

County Defendants allege thirteen arguments in their motion to dismiss. Defendant Freeman reasserts one of these arguments and adds one additional argument for the Court's consideration. The Court now addresses each of these arguments below.

I. Plaintiffs sufficiently allege standing.

In their Reply, County Defendants withdrew their standing argument with the understanding that they may raise it at a later time. Cnty. Defs.' Reply at 2 (Docket No. 86). The Court has already rejected Defendants' standing argument, and will not repeat that analysis here. See Oct. 14, 2014 Order at 11-12 (Docket No. 59).

II. Plaintiffs allege sufficient facts regarding the Individual Defendants' respective involvement.

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a connection between the actions of the named defendants and the alleged deprivations. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). "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).

This Court has previously expressed doubt about the sufficiency of the allegations against the individually named defendants. See Oct. 14, 2014 Order at 10-11 (Docket No. 59). However, Plaintiffs' SAC appropriately addressed these concerns by adding specific allegations regarding the roles of the individual defendants in causing the constitutional violations alleged. See SAC ¶¶ 41-56. Defendant Sheriff Rivero is alleged to have been active in drafting the Ordinance, and publicly stating that it would be a good tool for abating medical marijuana in the County. Id . ¶¶ 42-43. Defendant Rivero is also alleged to have appointed Defendant Macedo as the Undersheriff to the County on April 30, 2014, making him responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Sheriff's Department. Id. ¶ 44. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Macedo was also present during at least one of the abatement actions. Id. ¶ 54. Defendant Coel is alleged to have drafted the Summary Abatement Notice form that was used to summarily abate the marijuana of "[a]ll, or nearly all of the plaintiffs[.]" Id. ¶¶ 45-47. These factual allegations constitute a viable claim that Defendants Rivero and Coel participated in the creation of a policy that was implemented under the supervision of Defendant Macedo, resulting in the constitutional violations alleged in the SAC.

Additionally, the SAC alleges that Defendants Kiethly, Dutra, Herdt, and Freeman were "personally involved" in the abatement actions at issue, including actions on July 19 and August 1, 2014, involving the property of Plaintiffs Holt, Jones, Sikes, and Van Schiack. Id. ¶¶ 49-53. These allegations of affirmative acts and personal involvement decidedly satisfy the requirements of § 1983.

Further, despite the scant factual allegations against Defendant Lockett, namely that he was "present" at several of the abatement actions, Id. ¶ 25, it nonetheless is "plausible, " within the context of the SAC as a whole, that a County employee who is present at an official action, undertaken in the remote locations here at issue, in fact held a participatory role in the activities alleged. Consequently, the allegations against Defendant Lockett narrowly survive the post- Twombly "plausible" pleading standard. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

Finally, the Court finds that the allegation that Defendant Walsh, a Deputy with the Lake County Sheriff's Office, "supervised and was present" at the abatement actions is sufficient. Id. at ¶ 26; see Larez v. City of Los Angeles, 946 F.2d 630, 646 (9th Cir. 1991) (finding individual-capacity liability for supervisory role in constitutional deprivations).

For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss the individual-capacity suits is DENIED.

III. Plaintiffs' official capacity suits are redundant, and are ...


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