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Pajas v. County of Monterey

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

July 8, 2016

MARK VASQUEZ PAJAS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF MONTEREY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTIONS TO DISMISS RE: DKT. NOS. 23, 28, 32

          LUCY H. KOH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Rosemary Lopez, individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Mark Vasquez Pajas, Sr.; Yvette Pajas; Mark Pajas, Jr.; Janel Pajas; and Xavier Pajas (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), successors in interest to Mark Vasquez Pajas, Sr. ("Decedent"), allege that Defendants County of Monterey, Steve Bernal, King City, King City Police Department, Tony Sollecito, Steve Orozco, California Forensic Medical Group, and Christina Kaupp are liable under federal and state law for the death of Decedent. Before the Court are: (1) the motion to dismiss filed by Defendants County of Monterey ("County") and Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal ("Bernal") (collectively, the "County Defendants"), ECF No. 23; (2) the motion to dismiss filed by Defendants California Forensic Medical Group ("CFMG") and CFMG Nurse Christina Kaupp ("Kaupp") (collectively, the "CFMG Defendants"), ECF No. 28; and (3) the motion to dismiss filed by Defendants King City, King City Police Department, King City Police Chief Tony Sollecito ("Sollecito"), and King City Police Officer Steve Orozco ("Orozco") (collectively, the "King City Defendants"), ECF No. 32. Having considered the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and the record in this case, the Court hereby GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the County Defendants' motion to dismiss, GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the CFMG Defendants' motion to dismiss, and GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the King City Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         1. The Parties

         Plaintiffs bring this action as successors in interest to Decedent Mark Vasquez Pajas, Sr. Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 9-14. Plaintiff Rosemary Lopez is Decedent's wife and the Administrator of Decedent's Estate. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiffs Yvette Pajas and Janel Pajas are Decedent's daughters. Id. ¶¶ 11, 13. Plaintiffs Mark Pajas, Jr. and Xavier Pajas are Decedent's sons. Id. ¶¶ 12, 14.

         Defendant County of Monterey is a public entity organized and existing under the laws of the State of California. Id. ¶ 15. According to Plaintiffs, the County operates and manages Monterey County Jail. Id. Defendant Steve Bernal was the Sheriff of the County of Monterey at the time of Decedent's death. Id. ¶ 16. As sheriff, Bernal "was charged by law with the administration of the Monterey County Jail" and "was responsible for promulgation of the policies and procedures and allowance of the practices/customs" alleged in the Complaint. Id.

         The County contracts with Defendant CFMG to provide medical, mental health, and dental services for the Monterey County Jail. Id. ¶ 20. Defendant CFMG is a California corporation headquartered in Monterey, California. Id. Defendant Christina Kaupp, RN, is a nurse employed by CFMG at the Monterey County Jail. Id. ¶ 21.

         Defendant King City is a municipality organized under the laws of the State of California. Id. ¶ 17. Defendant King City Police Department is an agency of King City. Id. Plaintiffs allege that the King City Police Department was "responsible for the actions and/or inactions and the policies, procedures, and practices/customs of the King City Police Department and its respective employees and/or agents." Id. Defendant Steve Orozco is a King City police officer. Id. Plaintiffs allege in their complaint that Defendant Tony Sollecito was the Chief of the King City Police Department at all relevant times and "was responsible for the promulgation of the policies and procedures and allowance of the practices/customs" alleged in the Complaint. Id. ¶ 18. On June 24, 2016, the King City Defendants filed an affidavit of King City Police Commander Alejandrina Tirado in which Tirado states that Tirado, not Sollecito, had "the responsibilities and duties normally assigned to the Chief of Police" at the time of the incident alleged in the complaint. ECF No. 56.

         2. The Events of January 19 and 20, 2015

         On January 19, 2015, Defendant Orozco allegedly observed Decedent riding a bicycle in the opposite direction of traffic in Salinas, California. Id. ¶ 45. When Decedent refused to stop in response to a verbal command from Orozco, Orozco activated his overhead emergency lights and pursued Decedent. Id. Decedent rode his bicycle onto the sidewalk. Id. ¶ 46. Plaintiffs allege that Orozco then drove onto the sidewalk and slammed Decedent and Decedent's bicycle into a chain link fence. Id. Orozco's arrest report states that "Pajas was not hurt but he did have a medical problem which had caused his legs to swell up." Id. ¶ 49. Orozco arrested Decedent at 12:12 p.m. and transported Decedent to the King City Police Department for booking. Id. ¶ 50.

         Decedent was initially placed in a holding cell at the King City Police Department. Id. ¶ 51. Approximately four hours after Decedent's arrest, Orozco took Decedent to the Natividad Medical Center ("Natividad"). Id. ¶ 52. At Natividad, Decedent was evaluated by Dr. Daniel Wasserman. Id. Decedent informed Dr. Wasserman and a triage nurse that Decedent was addicted to heroin and that Decedent "would need help for the withdrawal symptoms he expected during his incarceration." Id. Dr. Wasserman diagnosed Decedent with cellulitis, leg swelling, and shortness of breath, and noted that Decedent suffered "Congestive heart failure with not elevated BNP." Id. Dr. Wasserman medically cleared Decedent for jail at 6:30 p.m. with the instruction that if Decedent "develop[s] chest pain or shortness of breath return to the ER immediately." Id.

         Orozco then took Decedent to the Monterey County Jail. Id. ¶ 53. During the "Intake Health Screening" performed by the Monterey County Sheriff's Office at 6:55 p.m., Decedent reported that he had used heroin earlier that day. Id. ¶ 54. During the "Intake Triage Assessment" performed by Defendant CFMG at 7 p.m., Decedent again reported that Decedent had used "‘a lot' of heroin ‘earlier today' and stated, ‘he is coming down and needs meds to help him.'" Id. ¶ 55. CFMG staff noted that Decedent should be placed on "opiate detox, " with a specified series of medications to be taken throughout the following days and with instructions to check Decedent's vital signs throughout the day. Id. Notwithstanding the note that Decedent was to be placed on "opiate detox, " Plaintiffs allege that CFMG does not have a separate treatment protocol for opiate withdrawal but instead uses a protocol for alcohol detoxification. Id. ¶ 56. Plaintiffs allege that, pursuant to CFMG's alcohol detoxification protocol, Decedent was not seen by a doctor at the jail but was instead to have a "Sick Call in 72 hours for re-evaluation." Id. ¶ 57.

         CFMG placed Decedent in a sobering cell at 4:17 a.m. on January 20, 2016. Id. ¶ 58. At 4:45 a.m., CFMG nursing staff assessed Decedent and reported that Decedent had vomited in his cell but did not take Decedent's vitals. Id. ¶ 59. CFMG nursing staff next checked on Decedent at 8:30 a.m. and found that Decedent was "laying on the cell floor" and "wants Gatorade." Id. CFMG nursing staff did not take Decedent's vitals in the 8:30 a.m. check. Id. The next check-in by CFMG nursing staff was at 1 p.m. when Defendant Kaupp checked on Decedent. Id. ¶ 60. Kaupp noted that Decedent was still lying on the floor and "stated he can't move, " but Kaupp did not believe Decedent because several unidentified deputies had "witnessed [Decedent] walking around cell moments prior." Id. Kaupp did not take Decedent's vitals. Id.

         A little over an hour later, at 2:12 p.m., two Monterey County Sheriff's Office deputies went to place a second inmate in Decedent's sobering cell and found Decedent "face down and unconscious in a pool of his own vomit." Id. ¶ 62. The deputies first escorted the second inmate to a separate sobering cell while calling out to Decedent to solicit a response. Id. ¶¶ 63-64. At 2:16 p.m., another deputy arrived at Decedent's cell and attempted to provide emergency aid to Decedent. Id. ¶ 65. Emergency medical personnel arrived at 2:21 p.m. Id.

         At 2:37 p.m., Decedent was transported in "grave condition" to Natividad. Id. ¶ 66. At 2:53 p.m., Decedent was pronounced dead. Id. Plaintiffs allege that "[a]s a result of Defendants' actions and omissions, [Decedent] died a wholly preventable death." Id. ¶ 68.

         3. Allegations against the County and CFMG

         Plaintiffs further allege that the County and CFMG "have a policy and practice of failing to provide adequate medical care to inmates at Monterey County Jail, and are deliberately indifferent to the fact that their failure to do so subjects inmates to substantial risk of unnecessary suffering, serious injury and death." Id. ¶ 32. Plaintiffs allege that the County and CFMG "have been on notice that their provision of medical care to inmates is inadequate and results in needless harm since at least 2007, when the Monterey County Sheriff's Office and the Monterey County Board of Supervisors hired an outside consulting firm to perform a needs assessment" for the Monterey County Jail. Id. ¶ 33. Plaintiffs allege that the needs assessment was updated in December 2011. Id. ¶ 34 & Ex. 1. The needs assessment found that the Monterey County Jail was chronically understaffed, and that chronic understaffing hinders the ability to provide adequate medical care. Id. ¶ 35. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the "available health care staff [at the Monterey County Jail] is insufficient to provide medical evaluations, monitoring, and follow-up care to inmates who are suffering from serious and chronic illnesses, or to treat inmates on an emergency basis." Id. ¶ 36.

         In addition to the needs assessment, Plaintiffs allege that "the County of Monterey was again specifically put on notice of serious problems with detoxification and sobering treatment in the jail" via a class action lawsuit, Hernandez v. Cnty. of Monterey, No. 5:13-cv-2354-BLF (N.D. Cal.), filed against the County of Monterey in 2013. Id. ¶ 37. Plaintiffs allege that class counsel in Hernandez "specifically objected to the fact that defendants' agents and staff were employing a dangerous and punitive ‘detox protocol, ' refusing medications to inmates who then suffered from intense, untreated pain as well as powerful, dangerous and unnecessary withdrawal symptoms." Id. ¶ 37. Then, in 2014 and 2015, the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury undertook an audit of the Monterey County Jail. Id. ¶ 38. In January 2015-the same month in which Decedent died- the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury's audit found that "inmate health and welfare (safety checks) are frequently missed or skipped or not adequately documented." Id. ¶ 38.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs filed their complaint on February 25, 2016. ECF No. 1. The complaint alleges eleven causes of action against the Defendants as follows:

County of Monterey

Steve Bernal

King City

King City Police Department

Tony Sollecito

Steve Orozco

California Forensic Medical Group

Christina Kaupp

Claim 1: 42 U.S.C. §1983-excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment

X

X

X

Claim 2: 42 U.S.C. §1983-deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment

X

X

X

X

Claim 3: 42 U.S.C. §1983-failure to protect in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Claim 4: 42 U.S.C. §1983-deprivation of substantive due process rights in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Claim 5: Medical Malpractice

X

X

X

Claim 6: Failure to SummonMedical Care in violation of Cal. Gov't Code §845.6

X

X

X

X

X

X

Claim 7: Negligent Supervision, Training, Hiring, and Retention

X

X

X

X

X

Claim 8: Violation of Cal.

X

X

X

Civil Code § 52.1

Claim 9: Battery

X

X

X

Claim 10: Wrongful Death

X

X

X

Claim 11: Negligence

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

         The County Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on April 5, 2016. ECF No. 23 ("County Mot."). Plaintiffs filed an opposition on April 19, 2016. ECF No. 30 ("County Opp."). The County Defendants filed a reply on April 26, 2016. ECF No. 33 ("County Reply").

         The CFMG Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on April 13, 2016. ECF No. 28 ("CFMG Mot."). Plaintiffs filed an opposition on April 27, 2016. ECF No. 34. The CFMG Defendants filed a reply on May 4, 2016. ECF No. 35.

         The King City Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on April 21, 2016. ECF No. 32 ("King City Mot."). Plaintiffs filed an opposition on May 5, 2016. ECF No. 36 ("King City Opp."). The King City Defendants filed a reply on May 12, 2016. ECF No. 46 ("King City Reply").

         II.LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

         Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a complaint to include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." A complaint that fails to meet this standard may be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The U.S. Supreme Court has held that Rule 8(a) requires a plaintiff to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "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. (internal quotation marks omitted). For purposes of ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court "accept[s] factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe[s] the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008).

         However, a court need not accept as true allegations contradicted by judicially noticeable facts, Shwarz v. United States, 234 F.3d 428, 435 (9th Cir. 2000), and the "[C]ourt may look beyond the plaintiff's complaint to matters of public record" without converting the Rule 12(b)(6) motion into one for summary judgment, Shaw v. Hahn, 56 F.3d 1128, 1129 n.1 (9th Cir. 1995). Nor is the court required to "‘assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations.'" Fayer v. Vaughn, 649 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (quoting W. Mining Council v. Watt, 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981)). Mere "conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss." Adams v. Johnson, 355 F.3d 1179, 1183 (9th Cir. 2004); accord Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Furthermore, "a plaintiff may plead herself out of court" if she "plead[s] facts which establish that [s]he cannot prevail on h[er] . . . claim." Weisbuch v. Cnty. of L.A., 119 F.3d 778, 783 n.1 (9th Cir. 1997).

         B. Leave to Amend

         If the Court determines that the complaint should be dismissed, it must then decide whether to grant leave to amend. Under Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, leave to amend "should be freely granted when justice so requires, " bearing in mind that "the underlying purpose of Rule 15 . . . [is] to facilitate decision on the merits, rather than on the pleadings or technicalities." Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). When dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim, "a district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts." Id. at 1130 (quoting Doe v. United States, 58 F.3d 494, 497 (9th Cir. 1995)). Nonetheless, a court "may exercise its discretion to deny leave to amend due to ‘undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party. . ., [and] futility of amendment.'" Carvalho v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 629 F.3d 876, 892-93 (9th Cir. 2010) (alterations in original) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The County Defendants move to dismiss Claims 2, 3, and 4 (42 U.S.C. § 1983 causes of action against the County Defendants) as to Steve Bernal; Claim 6 (failure to summon medical care) as to both County Defendants; Claim 7 (negligent supervision, training, hiring, and retention) as to both County Defendants; Claim 10 (wrongful death) as to both County Defendants; and Claim 11 (negligence) as to both County Defendants. See County Mot.

         The CFMG Defendants move to dismiss all claims brought against the CFMG Defendants (Claims 2, 3, and 4 brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Claim 5 for medical malpractice; Claim 6 for failure to summon medical care; Claim 7 for negligent supervision, training, hiring, and retention; Claim 10 for wrongful death; and Claim 11 for negligence). See CFMG Mot.

         The King City Defendants move to dismiss all claims brought against the King City Police Department (Claims 1 and 4 brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983) and Tony Sollecito (Claims 1, 3, and 4 brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Claim 7 for negligent supervision, training, hiring, and retention; Claim 8 for violation of Cal. Civil Code § 52.1; Claim 9 for battery; and Claim 11 for negligence). See King City Mot. The King City Defendants additionally move to dismiss Claim 6 (failure to summon medical care) as to Steve Orozco. Id.

         On June 30, 2016, the Court granted the parties' stipulation to dismiss Tony Sollecito with prejudice. ECF No. 59. Accordingly, the Court DENIES AS MOOT the King City Defendants' motion to dismiss Tony Sollecito.

         As to the remaining Defendants, because of the overlap in relevant substantive law, the Court addresses the three motions to dismiss together. The Court begins by analyzing the merits of the motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' Claims 1-4, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court then addresses the motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' state law causes of action.

         A. Section 1983 Claims

         Plaintiffs bring three survival claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Claim 1 for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment against Defendants King City Police Department, Tony Sollecito, and Steve Orozco; Claim 2 for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment against the County of Monterey, Steve Bernal, CFMG, and Christina Kaupp; and Claim 3 for failure to protect in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment against the County of Monterey, Steve Bernal, King City, Tony Sollecito, Steve Orozco, CFMG, and Christina Kaupp. Plaintiffs additionally bring a claim, Claim 4, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of the parent-child relationship in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pursuant to the parties' stipulation, the Court has already dismissed with prejudice all claims against Tony Sollecito. See ECF No. 59.

         1. Governing Law for 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims

         Claims for excessive force are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989); accord Young v. Cty. of L.A., 655 F.3d 1156, 1161 (9th Cir. 2011). To state an excessive force claim, a plaintiff must allege facts showing that the officer's conduct was "objectively unreasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them." Graham, 490 U.S. at 397 (internal quotation marks omitted). In determining whether an officer's conduct is objectively unreasonable, the Court must "balance the gravity of the intrusion on the individual against the government's need for that intrusion to determine whether it was constitutionally reasonable." Miller v. Clark Cty., 340 F.3d 959, 964 (9th Cir. 2003).

         Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs violates the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976); McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds by WMX Technologies, Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133, 1136 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc).[1] Likewise, prison officials have an affirmative duty to "ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). Prison officials violate their affirmative duty by "acting or failing to act with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to a prisoner." Id. at 836.

         A determination of "deliberate indifference" involves an examination of two elements: the seriousness of the prisoner's medical need and the nature of the defendant's response to that need. See McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1059. A prison official is deliberately indifferent if she or he knows that a prisoner faces a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable steps to abate it. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. at 837. The prison official must not only "be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, " but he or she "must also draw the inference." Id. "Prison officials are deliberately indifferent to a prisoner's serious medical needs when they deny, delay, or intentionally interfere with medical treatment. . . . Mere negligence in diagnosing or treating a medical condition, without more, does not violate a prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights." Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1131 (9th Cir.2000) (citation omitted); see Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835-36 & n.4, 114 S.Ct. 1970 (recognizing that neither negligence nor gross negligence will constitute deliberate indifference).

         A plaintiff may state a claim under § 1983 against a supervisor for deliberate indifference. Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1205 (9th Cir. 2011). "A defendant may be held liable as a supervisor under § 1983 if there exists either (1) his or her personal involvement in the constitutional deprivation, or (2) a sufficient causal connection between the supervisor's wrongful conduct and the constitutional violation." Id. at 1207 (citation omitted). "A supervisor can be liable in his individual capacity for his own culpable action or inaction in the training, supervision, or control of his subordinates; for his acquiescence in the constitutional deprivation; or for conduct that showed a reckless or callous indifference to the rights of others." Id. at 1208 (quoting Watkins v. City of Oakland, 145 F.3d 1087, 1093 (9th Cir. 1998)). Additionally, "[s]upervisory liability exists even without overt personal participation in the offensive act if supervisory officials implement a policy so deficient that the ...


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