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Smith v. County of Los Angeles

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 19, 2015

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES; LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT; Does 1 through 10, both their personal and official capacities, Defendants.


DEAN D. PREGERSON, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendant Barbara Fryer's motion to dismiss claims in Plaintiff's Fourth Amended Complaint ("FAC") as to her. Having heard oral arguments and considered the parties' submissions, the Court adopts the following order.


The facts of this case have been laid out in several previous orders and need not be recited in detail. (See, e.g., Dkt. No 136.) Briefly, in 1991, Robert Lee Cooks was convicted of sexual battery under the name "Reggie Lamar Smith"; he then failed to appear for sentencing. (FAC, ¶¶ 45-46.) A bench warrant was issued against him using identifiers (name, birth date, and general physical description) actually belonging to Plaintiff Reginald Lenard Smith. (Id. at ¶ 47.) Plaintiff has subsequently been detained twice on Cooks' warrant; he brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged constitutional violations by the entity defendants and, now, Ms. Fryer.

Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Fryer contributed to the constitutional violations because she investigated the case and generated the identifiers - Plaintiff's identifiers - that were added to the Cooks warrant. (Id. at ¶¶ 41, 47.) Plaintiff alleges that Fryer "knew or should have known" at the time that "there was no credible evidence that Plaintiff's identifiers belonged to, or had been used by, the suspect Cook." (Id. at ¶ 42.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Fryer (1) "knew" the victim who provided the name "Reggie Smith" during the investigation was "not credible, " (2) "knew or should have known" that Plaintiff had completed a background investigation as part of an LASD hiring process a few months prior to the investigation, and that background check "established" that Plaintiff was not the black male who was the subject of the investigation, and (3) Fryer "probably knew" that the identifiers she discovered in a computer search "actually belonged to another person knew was not the suspect." (Id.)

Plaintiff further alleges that Fryer learned in 1995 that "the very limited name and incorrect birth date information LASD had used to describe the subject of" the warrant had been insufficient to identify Cooks when law enforcement officials ran a warrant check on him. (Id. at ¶ 51.) Fryer allegedly took no steps in 1995 to revise the outstanding warrant to more accurately identify Cooks as the true subject of the warrant.


In order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a complaint need only include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 55 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint must include "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 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must "accept as true all allegations of material fact and must construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000).


A. Quasi-Judicial Immunity

Defendant argues that she has absolute "quasi-judicial immunity" from suit for her acts or omissions in this matter, because Plaintiff's arrests were made under a bench warrant issued by the Superior Court and because Plaintiff has not "allege[d] any meaningful causal link between" Fryer's acts or omissions and the judge's decision to issue the warrant with the incorrect identifiers. (Mot. Dismiss at 4, 6-7.)

Quasi-judicial immunity is an absolute immunity from suit for court officials like grand jurors and prosecutors who "exercise a discretionary judgment on the basis of evidence presented to them." Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 423 n.20 (1976). It may also extend to subordinates of a judge, like clerks, "when they perform tasks that are an integral part of the judicial process." Mullis v. U.S. Bankr. Court for Dist. of Nevada, 828 F.2d 1385, 1390 (9th Cir. 1987). Defendant cites to no authority, nor is the court aware of any, extending absolute immunity to law enforcement officials who, in the course of their investigative duties, provide information to the court. On the contrary, it is well-established that an officer seeking a warrant from the court has only qualified immunity and is not equivalent to a quasi-judicial figure like a prosecutor. Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 342-43 (1986). A fortiori, an investigator who merely provides information to the court on which a warrant is based, and is therefore performing a function even less "integral" to the judicial process, enjoys only qualified immunity for her actions.

B. Qualified Immunity

Under the doctrine of "qualified immunity, " "government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). To hold an official liable for a constitutional violation, the court must conclude both that there was a constitutional violation and that the right violated was clearly established. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). The court may address either prong first if one element or the other is clearly not satisfied, but ordinarily the court will determine the question of the constitutional violation ...

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