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Lewis v. County of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

February 5, 2015

MICHAEL LEWIS, LAUREN TAYLOR, and minors C.L. and B.L., by and through their Guardian ad Litem, Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO; CITY OF CORONADO; CORONADO POLICE OFFICER PATRICK O'MALLEY; CORONADO POLICE OFFICE ROBERT CLINE; COUNTY AGENT IAN BAXTER; COUNTY AGENT N. QUINTEROS; COUNTY AGENT SUPERVISOR BENITA JEMISON; COUNTY AGENT ABIGAIL JOSEPH; COUNTY AGENT SUPERVISOR ANTONIA TORRES; COUNTY AGENT BROOKE GUILD; COUNTY AGENT SUPERVISOR ALFREDO GUARDADO; and DOES 1 through 50, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE [No. 24]

M. JAMES LORENZ, District Judge.

Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint (FAC") alleges federal claims under 42 U.S.C. §) 1983 and state law claims against Defendants. The City of Coronado and Coronado Police Officers Patrick O'Malley ("O'Malley") and Robert Cline ("Cline") now move to dismiss the claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The motion has been fully briefed and is decided on the papers submitted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs, Michael Lewis ("Lewis") and Lauren Taylor ("Taylor") are parents of two children, B.L. and C.L. (FAC ¶ 2.) On August 5, 2011, City of Coronado police officers received an anonymous "tip" that the family was running an illegal daycare and smoking marijuana around children. ( Id. ¶ 5.) That day, officers, whose identity is unknown, went to the Lewis family home, while Taylor and the children were absent, but Lewis allowed them enter and to take photographs. ( Id. ¶ 6.) Although the officers did not discover a "daycare facility, " they did find marijuana. ( Id. ¶¶ 6, 7.) Lewis presented the officers with his medical marijuana recommendation showing that he legally used marijuana to treat migraines upon the advice of his physician. ( Id. ¶ 7.) The officers left and wrote a report indicating the marijuana was the only purported "hazard" in the residence. ( Id. )

Three days later, on August 8, 2011, County Agents Ian Baxter ("Baxter") and N. Quinteros ("Quinteros"), working for the County of San Diego Health & Human Services Agency, arrived at the Lewis family home. (FAC ¶¶ 8, 9.) They were accompanied by Coronado Police Officers O'Malley and Cline who, upon searching the home and examining the children, found the home to be neat and clean, and the children to be in good health and appropriately dressed. ( Id. ) Baxter and Quinteros allegedly consulted with their County supervisors and with the City Police Officers, O'Malley and Cline. (FAC ¶ 11) Baxter and Quinteros then allegedly reached some form of consensus with the police officers, O'Malley and Cline, and took C.L. and B.L. from their home. ( Id. ¶ 11.) Additionally, Plaintiffs contend that O'Malley and Cline provided armed support and were "integral participants" in the removal and detention of the children. ( Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiffs further allege that the County Agents and the City police officers removed C.L. and B.L. without a warrant based on allegations of "general neglect." ( Id. ¶ 13.) According to Plaintiffs, the only allegations against Lewis and Taylor were that Lewis legally used marijuana and police found marijuana in the home. ( Id. ¶ 12.) Specifically, Plaintiffs assert there was no reasonable evidence to suggest that either child was in immediate danger of suffering severe bodily injury or death at the hands of their parents, which would have been necessary to obtain a protective custody warrant. ( Id. )

Following the removal of the children, Baxter and Quinteros took the children to the Polinsky Center - an emergency shelter for allegedly abused and neglected children in San Diego County. ( Id. ¶ 13.) The same day the children were removed from their home, the Polinksy Center confirmed the children were developmentally on target and there were no signs of physical, emotional or other abuse. ( Id. ¶ 15.) Despite evidence submitted by the parents, again on the same day, showing a clean kitchen, a lockbox for medication and a padlock where the marijuana was grown, Baxter and Quinteros continued to detain the children. ( Id. ¶¶ 16, 17.) Further, Baxter and Quinteros' supervisors, Jemison and Guardado, maintained their decision to continue the detention of the children following a detailed review of the matter. ( Id. ¶ 17.)

Baxter filed a petition with the juvenile court in the County of San Diego, on behalf of himself and the County, asserting one count against Lewis and Taylor. ( Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiffs allege that Baxter misled the court by making false statements. ( Id. ¶20.) At some point, County Agent Joseph, and his supervisor Agent Torres, replaced Baxter's role as lead agent on the case. ( Id. ¶ 24.) On February 6, 2012, the court, based on the allegedly false information provided by the County Agents, declared C.L and B.L. dependants of the juvenile court. ( Id. ¶ 24.) Lewis appealed, and on August 2, 2012, the Court of Appeal reversed the juvenile court's order. ( Id. ¶ 33.) The children remained out of their home for approximately 364 days, until the family was reunited on August 7, 2012. ( Id. ¶ 34.)

On July 31, 2013, Plaintiffs commenced an action in the Superior Court of the State of California, San Diego, against Defendants County of San Diego, City of Coronado, O'Malley, Cline, Baxter, Quinteros, and various county employees. On November 27, 2013, Defendants removed the action to federal court. Defendants City of Coronado, O'Malley, and Cline then moved to dismiss the Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). On July 15, 2014, this Court granted the motion with leave to amend. (ECF No. 12.)

On August 25, 2014, Plaintiffs filed their FAC, asserting seven causes of action: (1) deprivation of the 14th Amendment right to familial relations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) unconstitutional official policy, practice, or custom under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) battery; (4) false imprisonment; (5) negligence; (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (7) violation of the Bane Act, CAL. CIV. CODE § 52.1. On October 6, 2014, Defendants City of Coronado, O'Malley, and Cline filed the present motion to dismiss the FAC, arguing the allegations fail to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The court must dismiss a cause of action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). The court must accept all allegations of material fact as true and construe them in light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cedars-Sinai Med. Ctr. v. Nat'l League of Postmasters of U.S., 497 F.3d 972, 975 (9th Cir. 2007). Material allegations, even if doubtful in fact, are assumed to be true. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, the court need not "necessarily assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations." Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). In fact, the court does not need to accept any legal conclusions as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitlement 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 (internal citations omitted). Instead, the allegations in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. Thus, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing 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." Id. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law either for lack of a cognizable legal theory or for insufficient facts under a cognizable theory. Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiffs' Federal Claims under 42 ...


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