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Murphy v. County of Mendocino

United States District Court, N.D. California, Eureka Division

June 29, 2016

COUNTY OF MENDOCINO, et al., Defendants.


          NANDOR J. VADAS United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Julian Murphy, a minor, by and through Steven Murphy, the duly appointed Guardian of the person and estate of Julian Murphy, (“Plaintiff”) filed his First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) against County of Mendocino (“County”), City of Fort Bragg, Officers McLaughlin and Brandon, California Forensic Medical Group (“CFMG”) and Dr. Taylor Fithian, alleging ten causes of action for the custodial suicide of Plaintiff's father, Shane Allen Murphy (“Shane Murphy”). (Doc. 31) Subsequently, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed Defendants City of Fort Bragg and Officers McLaughlin and Brandon. (Doc. 36). CFMG have answered the FAC, while the County filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 39). Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), the court took the matter under submission and for the reasons that follow the Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part. In addition, Plaintiff will be allowed amendment.


         The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to test the legal sufficiency of the claims stated in the complaint. A motion to dismiss may be brought under Rule 12(b)(6) when the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         A complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). While Rule 8 “does not require 'detailed factual allegations, '” a complaint “must contain 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1955 (2007)). Facial plausibility is established “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. Thus, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, the nonmoving party must allege facts that are “enough to raise a right to above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Dismissal of a complaint can be based on either the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the lack of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). In considering whether the complaint is sufficient to state a claim, the court will take all material allegations as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. NL Indus., Inc. v. Kaplan, 792 F.2d 896, 898 (9th Cir. 1986).


         Legal framework for §1983 Claims against the County

         Plaintiff's first six causes of action are his federal causes of action and are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, as to the County, the court analyzes Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Monell. “In Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), [the Supreme] Court held that civil rights plaintiffs suing a municipal entity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must show that their injury was caused by a municipal policy or custom.” Los Angeles Cty., Cal. v. Humphries, 562 U.S. 29, 30-31 (2010). This is because there is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983. Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981).

         The First, Fifth and Sixth Causes of Action

         This first cause of action is titled as a claim for failure to provide medical care under § 1983. The fifth cause of action is titled as “Violation of Decedent's Right to Personal Safety.” The sixth cause of action is for the “Violation of Plaintiff's Rights to Enjoy Continued Family Relationships.” None of these causes of action allege that Plaintiff's injury was “was caused by a municipal policy or custom.” Humphries, 562 U.S. at 31. Thus, the first, fifth, and sixth causes of action against the County are dismissed.

         The Second, Third, and Fourth Causes of Action

         As to the second, third, and fourth causes of action, the County asserts that the FAC is insufficient to state a Monell claim because “because Plaintiff merely alleges that a policy existed and alleges that the policy was the moving force behind [Shane] Murphy's death.” Def.'s Mot. (Doc. 39) at 10. Further, the County argues that “Plaintiff does not explain the nexus between each alleged policy and Murphy's death.” Id. The County makes broad accusations regarding the generality of Plaintiff's allegations, but only specifically challenges two portions of the FAC here.

         First, the County points the court to the fourth cause of action wherein Plaintiff alleges that “defendants maintained a policy, custom, or practice of failing to ensure that lifesaving equipment was available, maintained, and in good working order, ” and argues that “there is not a single allegation in Plaintiff's FAC related that would connect this alleged policy with [Shane] Murphy's death.” Id. Indeed, the first time lifesaving equipment is mentioned in the FAC is within the first cause of action. The next mention of the life-saving equipment occurs here in the fourth. Nowhere within the FAC does it allege that the maintenance of lifesaving equipment has anything to do with Shane Murphy's death.

         Second, the County points to the allegations in the third cause of action and states that “Plaintiff makes allegations regarding policies of understaffing and states that these policies were the moving force behind the alleged constitutional violations. However, then Plaintiff goes on to make other allegations of Defendants' failures but does not connect those allegations to the policies.” Id. at 11. The court does not agree. Plaintiff's claims in the third cause of action are for failure to train. The “understaffing” to which the FAC refers is to “sufficiently trained ...

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