United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER RE: DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS; STAYING ACTION; VACATING HEARING
MAXINE M. CHESNEY, District Judge.
Before the Court is the "Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, " filed March 4, 2015, by defendants County of Contra Costa ("the County"), City of Oakley ("the City"), David Riddle ("Riddle") and Kevin Morris ("Morris'). Plaintiff Sergio De Jesus Garcia has filed opposition, to which defendants have replied. Having read and considered the papers filed in support of and in opposition to the motion, the Court deems the matter suitable for decision on the parties' respective written submissions, VACATES the hearing scheduled for April 10, 2015, and rules as follows.
In the operative complaint, the First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), plaintiff alleges that, during the "early morning hours" of February 3, 2013, he was driving home when he was "stopped" by Riddle and Morris, each of whom, plaintiff alleges, was employed by either the County or the City. (See FAC ¶ 17.) Plaintiff alleges that during the course of the stop, and while he was "lawfully on a public street" (see FAC ¶ 18), Riddle and Morris "commenced a brutal beating of [p]laintiff's person, administering countless closed fist punches and knee kicks to his body, caused a laceration to his head and discharged several cycles from a Taser gun" (see FAC ¶ 17). According to plaintiff, "[s]uch use of force was without justification and was excessive under the circumstances" (see FAC ¶ 17), and occurred "without provocation, cause or necessity as [p]laintiff was not engaging in any illegal conduct, nor did he pose a threat or represent a danger of any nature to anyone, including [d]efendant Riddle and [d]efendant Morris" (see FAC ¶ 19). Additionally, plaintiff alleges, the County and the City, acting with "deliberate indifference" to the rights of citizens, "encourag[ed], accommodat[ed], or ratif[ied]" the acts of Riddle and Morris, and failed to adequately "supervis[e], train[ ], control[ ], assign[ ], and disciplin[e]... Riddle and Morris." (See FAC ¶ 30.)
Based on said allegations, plaintiff alleges two claims for relief, both brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The First Claim for Relief, titled "Unreasonable Search and Seizure, " is brought against Riddle and Morris, and the Second Claim for Relief, titled "Municipal Liability for Unconstitutional Customs and Practices, " is brought against the County and the City.
Defendants contend plaintiff's claims should be dismissed under the doctrine set forth in Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976), in light of a state court action plaintiff filed in 2014. When the doctrine applies, however, a district court "must stay, rather than dismiss, " the action. See Coopers & Lybrand v. Sun-Diamond Growers, 912 F.2d 1135, 1138 (9th Cir. 1990). Accordingly, the Court next considers whether a stay, rather than a dismissal, is appropriate.
"Under Colorado River, considerations of wise judicial administration, giving regard to conservation of judicial resources and comprehensive disposition of litigation, may justify a decision by the district court to stay federal proceedings pending the resolution of concurrent state court proceedings involving the same matter." Holder v. Holder, 305 F.3d 854, 867 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation and citation omitted). "[E]xact parallelism" is not required; "[i]t is enough if the two proceedings are substantially similar." See Nakash v. Marciano, 882 F.2d 1411, 1416 (9th Cir. 1989) (internal quotation and citation omitted).
Here, in his state court action, plaintiff seeks relief under state law based on the same alleged incident of excessive force as is at issue in the instant federal action. Specifically, in Garcia v. County of Contra Costa, filed March 10, 2014, in the Superior Court of California, in and for the County of Contra Costa, plaintiff alleges that in the "early morning" of February 3, 2013, he was driving home when he was stopped by two officers, identified in the state complaint as "Does" employed by either the County or the City. (See Defs.' Req. for Judicial Notice Ex. A ¶¶ 5, 7.) In said complaint, plaintiff alleges that during the course of the stop, and while he was "lawfully on a public street, " the two officers "began to strike, hit, kick and eventually use a taser against [p]laintiff, " and that "[s]uch use of force was without justification and was excessive under the circumstances, " and occurred "without provocation, cause or necessity as [p]laintiff was not engaging in any illegal conduct, nor did he pose a threat or represent a danger of any nature to anyone, including [the officers]." (See id. Ex. A ¶¶ 7-9.) Additionally, in said complaint, plaintiff alleges that the County and the City, acting with "deliberate indifference" to the rights of citizens (see id. Ex. A ¶ 6), "encouraged, assisted [and] ratified" the acts of the officers (see id.), and failed to adequately "supervise, discipline or in any way control" the officers (see id. Ex. A ¶ 21.) Based on the above-referenced allegations, plaintiff brings in the state court action a claim for battery and a claim for negligence.
In "assessing the appropriateness of a Colorado River stay, " district courts consider "eight factors, " specifically, "(1) which court first assumed jurisdiction over any property at stake; (2) the inconvenience of the federal forum; (3) the desire to avoid piecemeal litigation; (4) the order in which the forums obtained jurisdiction; (5) whether federal law or state law provides the rule of decision on the merits; (6) whether the state court proceedings can adequately protect the rights of the federal litigants; (7) the desire to avoid forum shopping; and (8) whether the state court proceedings will resolve all issues before the federal court." See R&R Street & Co. v. Transport Ins. Co., 656 F.3d 966, 978-79 (9th Cir. 2011). Here, defendants contend, each of the above-referenced factors either weighs in favor of a stay or is inapplicable.
In response, plaintiff first argues that the Court should deny the motion unless, prior to weighing the above-referenced factors, the Court finds the federal and state actions are substantially similar. Irrespective of whether, as plaintiff argues, such a finding is a threshold requirement under Colorado River, or whether the substantial similarity of the two actions is an additional factor for the court to consider, see, e.g., Nakash, 882 F.2d at 1416-17,  the Court finds plaintiff's state and federal complaints meet the test, as both actions seek relief based on the same event and are alleged against the same defendants.
The Court finds unpersuasive plaintiff's argument that the cases are not substantially similar because he seeks relief under state law in state court and under federal law in federal court. See Ollie v. Riggin, 848 F.2d 1016, 1017 (9th Cir. 1988) (characterizing as "parallel" two actions challenging defendant's termination of plaintiff's employment, where complaint in state court sought relief solely under state law and complaint in federal court sought relief solely under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; finding plaintiff did "not have the right actively to pursue parallel state and federal actions simultaneously").
The Court also finds unpersuasive plaintiff's argument that the two cases are not substantially similar because plaintiff seeks an award of attorney's fees only in the federal action. Plaintiff fails to cite any authority holding the inclusion of a prayer for attorney's fees in the federal but not state action precludes a stay under Colorado River, and, to the extent courts have considered the issue, such courts have found to the contrary. See, e.g., Smith v. Raleigh Dist. of North Carolina Conference of United Methodist Church, 1999 WL 1940001, at *4 (E.D. N.C. February 6, 1999) (finding stay under Colorado River appropriate where plaintiff's state court complaint alleged common law claims for negligence and plaintiff's federal complaint alleged Title VII claim; rejecting argument that plaintiff's inclusion of prayer for attorney's fees solely in federal action "require[d] a finding that the suits were not parallel, " given "the operative facts underlying both the state and federal suits [ ] and the issues ...