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Flemming v. County of Alameda

United States District Court, N.D. California

February 25, 2015

COUNTY OF ALAMEDA, et al., Defendants.



This matter is before the Court on County Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. The Court has carefully considered the arguments of the parties in the papers submitted, and finds this matter suitable for resolution without oral argument, pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b). County Defendants' motion to dismiss is hereby GRANTED, for the reasons set forth below.


In his First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), Plaintiff Richard Flemming asserts eleven causes of action against the City of Oakland and Chief Sean Whent ("City Defendants"), as well as the County of Alameda and Sheriff Gregory Ahern ("County Defendants"). (Docket No. 1). Plaintiff claims that he was twice arrested by Oakland Police officers, both times pursuant to warrants issued by the Superior Court for the County of Alameda, ostensibly because he was a homicide witness that failed to comply with a subpoena for his testimony at the case's preliminary hearing. FAC ¶¶ 1, 16, 20. Plaintiff alleges that the warrants were unconstitutional and contrary to state law. Id. ¶ 15-17. He further alleges that he was denied due process because he was not provided with a timely hearing regarding his detention, and that he was mistreated by the Alameda County Sherriff's Department during his incarceration. Id. ¶¶ 17, 21-22.

To the Court's knowledge, City Defendants have not been served with the FAC, and have made no appearances in this case. While the State of California was initially a Defendant in this case, it was voluntarily dismissed on February 3, 2015. (Docket No. 22). County Defendants are therefore the only active defendants in this case, and filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's FAC on December 30, 2014. (Docket No. 10). Plaintiff failed to timely respond, but was granted leave to file an out-of-time opposition on January 26, 2015. (Docket Nos. 18, 19). County Defendants timely replied on February 6, 2015. (Docket No. 23).


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) requires dismissal when a plaintiff's allegations fail "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Plausibility does not equate to probability, but it does require "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). "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. Additionally, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper where there is a "lack of a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court must "accept all material allegations of fact as true and construe the complaint in a light most favorable to the non-moving party." Vasquez v. Los Angeles County, 487 F.3d 1246, 1249 (9th Cir. 2007). Courts are not, however, "bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A court may consider the pleadings, along with any exhibits properly attached thereto. Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner and Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir. 1989).

"[I]f a complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, leave to amend may be denied, even if prior to a responsive pleading, if amendment of the complaint would be futile." Albrecht v. Lund, 845 F.2d 193, 195 (9th Cir. 1988).


I. Plaintiff's First Cause of Action

Plaintiff's first cause of action is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. FAC ¶¶ 26-27. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that County Defendants "did violate Plaintiff's rights to be free of unreasonable or unlawful searches and seizures, including arrest and imprisonment, and/or arbitrary or excessive force as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution." Id. ¶ 27.

To state a claim under § 1983, the complaint must show: "(1) that a person acting under color of state law committed the conduct at issue, and (2) that the conduct deprived the claimant of some right, privilege, or immunity protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 632-33 (9th Cir. 1988).

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, including the use of excessive force during arrest. Cnty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 842 (1997); Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 388 (1989). However, it is clear from the face of the FAC that it was the Oakland Police Department, and not County Defendants, that executed the arrest of Plaintiff. FAC ¶ 16. The Court is aware of no authority that "establishes that a non-arresting official (or the entity employing that official) can be liable for an unreasonable arrest under the Fourth Amendment." Rivera v. Cnty. of Los Angeles, No. 10-1861-PSG, 2011 WL 2650006, at *8 (C.D. Cal. July 5, 2011), aff'd, 745 F.3d 384 (9th Cir. 2014). Because liability does not attach under § 1983 "unless the individual defendant caused or participated in a constitutional deprivation, " Plaintiff cannot bring a cognizable § 1983 action against County Defendants for an arrest action undertaken by another entity. Vance v. Peters, 97 F.3d 987, 991 (9th Cir. 1996).

Alternatively, the FAC could be liberally construed to assert a Fourth Amendment violation for Plaintiff's mistreatment by County Defendants after his arrest, following the transfer of his custody from the Oakland Police Department to the County of Alameda. The Supreme Court has left open the question of how to analyze a claim concerning the use of excessive force by law enforcement "beyond the point at which arrest ends and pretrial detention begins." Graham, 490 U.S. at 395 n. 10. However, the Ninth Circuit has provided clear boundaries for the application of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the different phases of custody, depending upon the nature of the arrest. Where an individual is arrested without an arrest warrant, the Ninth Circuit has held that the Fourth Amendment continues to govern his detention until he appears before a neutral magistrate for arraignment or for a probable cause hearing. Pierce v. Multnomah Cnty., 76 F.3d 1032, 1042-43 (9th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1006 (1996); Robins v. Harum, 773 F.2d 1004, 1010 (9th Cir. 1985). Conversely, where an individual is arrested pursuant to an arrest warrant, the Fourth Amendment only applies until he leaves the joint or sole custody of the arresting officers, after which point his detention falls within the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment's guaranty of substantive due process. Id. Because Plaintiff was admittedly arrested pursuant to two warrants, he moved out of the purview of the Fourth Amendment as soon as he left the custody of the Oakland Police Department. Consequently, Plaintiff cannot assert a cognizable Fourth Amendment claim against County Defendants where they were not the arresting party.

Plaintiff also cannot assert a Fourth Amendment violation against County Defendants because of the actions of the District Attorney in securing a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest. The law is clear that a district attorney acts on behalf of the state, not the county, when conducting prosecutions. Goldstein v. City of Long Beach, 715 F.3d 750, 759 (9th Cir. 2013). Furthermore, district attorneys are generally protected by absolute immunity for the preparation and filing of a request for an arrest warrant. Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 128-29 (1997).

A Fourth Amendment analysis does not apply to Plaintiff's allegations against County Defendants. This defect cannot be cured through amendment. Accordingly, Plaintiff's first cause of action against County Defendants is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

II. Plaintiff's Second Cause of Action

A. Fifth Amendment Claim

Plaintiff's second cause of action fails to state a claim under the Fifth Amendment. "The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the equal protection component thereof apply only to actions of the federal government - not those of state or local governments." Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 687 (9th Cir. 2001). Because Plaintiff does not - and cannot - allege that any ...

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