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Vargas v. County of Yolo

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 19, 2016

MARIA VARGAS, MARTIN VARGAS, ANGELICA VARGAS, AUGUSTIN VARGAS, ARNULFO BERMUDEZ, JORGE VARGAS, AND PEDRO GARCIA, Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF YOLO, YOLO COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE, EDWARD PRIETO, HECTOR BAUTISTA, REIKO MATSUMURA, AND GARY HALLENBECK, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Troy L. Nunley United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs Maria Vargas, Martin Vargas, Angelica Vargas, Augustin Vargas, Arnulfo Bermudez, Jorge Vargas, and Pedro Garcia’s (hereinafter referred to as “Plaintiffs”) Motion to Strike Defendants County of Yolo, Yolo County Sheriffs Office, Edward Prieto, Hector Bautista, Reiko Matsumura, and Gary Hallenbeck’s (“Defendants”) Answer. (Pl.’s Mot. to Strike, ECF No. 16.) Defendants oppose the motion. (Def’s Opp’n, ECF No. 18.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs’ Motion to Strike is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         All named Plaintiffs are private residents of Yolo County in the State of California, who at the time of the incident were present at the Vargas family home located in the town of Esparto. (Pl.’s Comp., ECF No. 1 at ¶¶5-11; ECF No. 1 at ¶¶20-21.) Defendants County of Yolo and Yolo County Sheriff’s Office are “public entities” within the definition of California Government Code Section 945. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶12-13.) Defendant Prieto is the Sherriff of Yolo County, Defendant Bautista is a sergeant, and Defendants Matsumura and Hallenbeck are sheriff’s deputies. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶14-17.)

         Numerous Plaintiffs and Defendants were involved in separate altercations while Defendant officers were attempting to locate one of the Vargas family members on the night of the incident detailed below. It is unclear from the parties’ briefs whether Defendants did in fact have a search warrant in connection with the incident at the Vargas home. Although confusing, the Court attempts to separate out the altercations that happened between each Plaintiff and Defendant below.

         On March 8, 2015, while Plaintiffs were at the Vargas family home, Defendants Bautista, Matsumura, and Hallenbeck approached the home with tasers drawn, and began asking Plaintiffs the location of one of their family members. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶22-24.) Defendants Bautista and Hallenbeck handcuffed Plaintiff Arnulfo Bermudez and entered the Vargas home through the garage. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶27-28.)

         In the garage, Defendant Matsumura demanded that Plaintiff Angelica Vargas put out her cigarette which Plaintiffs claim she did not understand due to a language barrier. (ECF No. 1 at ¶29.) Defendant Matsumura then patted Angelica Vargas down, put her in a “wrist lock, ” and used a knee to force Angelica Vargas onto the ground. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶30-35.) Defendant Matsumura applied a taser in “drive-stun” mode to Angelica Vargas as she lay on the ground. Id. Defendant Matsumura then arrested Angelica Vargas’s husband Martin Vargas as he protested his wife’s arrest. (ECF No. 1 at ¶36.)

         Defendant Bautista attempted to enter the Vargas residence from inside the garage but was stopped by Plaintiff Maria Vargas. (ECF No. 1 at ¶38.) When Maria Vargas asked for a warrant and refused to move out of the doorway to the residence without one, Defendant Bautista forced Maria Vargas to the ground, and applied handcuffs. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶39-40.)

         Defendant Hallenbeck approached Plaintiff Jorge Vargas and ordered him to get on the ground. Jorge refused, and Defendant Hallenbeck shot Jorge Vargas with his taser in “probe” mode twice as Jorge ran to the backyard of the home. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶41-43.) Defendant Hallenbeck then subdued Jorge Vargas with his baton and demanded him to “crawl” back to the garage to be handcuffed. (ECF No. 1 at ¶44.)

         At some point during the altercation, Plaintiff Augustine Vargas asked the Defendants why his family was being detained and stated that he was going to video tape the detention, whereupon Defendant Matsumura responded with a threat to tase him. (ECF No. 1 at ¶48.) Defendant Bautista then handcuffed Augustine Vargas. Defendants Bautista and Hallenbeck then drew their weapons and searched the Vargas home. (ECF No. 1 at ¶50.)

         Plaintiff Pedro Garcia asked the deputies if he was under arrest or being detained to which Defendants answered “no” and then handcuffed him. (ECF No. 1 at ¶51.)

         Following these events, Plaintiffs were transported to jail, booked, and released the following day. Plaintiffs Angelica and Jorge Vargas were transported to the hospital before being transported to the jail. (ECF No. 1 at ¶52.) The Yolo County District Attorney initially declined to file criminal charges against Plaintiffs in connection with the March 8, 2015 incident. (ECF No. 1 at ¶53.)

         On April 24, 2015 Plaintiffs filed a “Citizen’s Complaint Form” with the Defendant Yolo County Sheriffs Department. (ECF No. 1 at ¶54.) After what they perceived as a “threatening” email from Lt. Torres, Plaintiffs declined to participate in interviews, and proceeded on the basis of their Complaint Form. (ECF No. 1 at ¶56.) Lt. Pires eventually issued a statement that the Plaintiffs’ Complaint Form had been unfounded/not sustained and therefore the Complaint Form was subsequently closed. (ECF No. 1 at ¶58.)

         On June 15, 2015, despite the April 9, 2015 declination to file charges, the Yolo County District Attorney executed a criminal complaint against Plaintiffs Maria Vargas for “Resisting or Obstructing a Peace Officer” and Jorge Vargas for “Resisting an Executive Officer by Means of Threats, Force, or Violence” and “Battery on a Peace Officer.” (ECF No. 1 at ¶57.)

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs assert a variety of federal and state claims against the named Defendants arising out of the incidents occurring at the Vargas home on March 8, 2015. On December 8, 2015, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint under the Federal Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §1983 (hereafter, “§1983”) alleging violations of their First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (See generally ECF No. 1.) Specifically, the federal claims include Excessive Force, False Arrest, Unlawful Suppression/ Prior Restraint, Failure to Intervene, Inadequate Customs/ Policies/ Practices, and Inadequate Training/Supervision/Discipline. Plaintiffs also bring claims under California State Law. The state claims include Battery, False Arrest, Unlawful Suppression/Prior Restraint, Negligence, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, and violations of the Bane Act. Id. Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs seek compensatory, general, and special damages against all Defendants as well as punitive damages against Defendants Prieto, Bautista, Matsumura, and Hallenbeck. (ECF No. 1 at 8.) Plaintiffs are also seeking attorney fees and litigation costs. (ECF No. 1 at 8.)

         On January 28, 2016, Defendants filed their Answer to Plaintiffs’ Complaint, asserting eleven affirmative defenses. (Def.’s Ans., ECF No. 12.) Plaintiffs now move this Court, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), to strike all eleven of those affirmative defenses. (See generally ECF No. 16.)

         In Defendants’ Opposition, Defendants concede that Defenses One, Two, Eight and Eleven are not proper defenses, but oppose striking the remaining defenses. (ECF No. 18 at 5: 28; ECF No. 18 at 6:9; ECF No. 18 at 9:4; ECF No. 18 at 11:22.) Specifically, Defendants oppose Plaintiffs’ Motion to Strike Affirmative Defenses Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Nine, and Ten. (ECF No. 18.) Accordingly, because Defendants do not oppose the dismissal of Affirmative Defenses One, Two, Eight and Eleven, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs’ Motion to Strike with respect to those Affirmative Defenses.

         As such, the Court turns to whether Affirmative Defenses Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Nine, and Ten should be stricken, and if so, whether Defendants should be granted leave to amend these defenses.

         III. STANDARD OF LAW

         A. Motion to Strike

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), a court “may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(f). “[T]he function of a 12(f) motion to strike is to avoid the expenditure of time and money that must arise from litigating spurious issues by dispensing with those issues prior to trial.” Sidney-Vinstein v. A H. Robins Co., 697 F.2d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 1983). However, 12(f) motions are “generally regarded with disfavor because of the limited importance of pleading in federal practice, and because they are often used as a delaying tactic.” Neilson v. Union Bank of Cal, N.A., 290 F.Supp.2d 1101, 1152 (CD. Cal. 2003). “Ultimately, whether to grant a motion to strike lies within the sound discretion of the district court.” Id. Unless it would prejudice the opposing party, courts freely grant leave to amend stricken pleadings. Wyshak v. City Nat 'l Bank, 607 F.2d 824, 826 (9th Cir. 1979); see also Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 15(a)(2). If the court is in doubt as to whether the challenged matter may raise an issue of fact or law, the motion to strike should be denied, leaving an assessment of the sufficiency of the allegations for adjudication on the merits. See generally Whittlestone, Inc. v. HandiCraft Co., 618 F.3d 970, 974-75 (9th Cir. 2010).

         B. Affirmative Defense Pleading Standard

         Rule 8(c) provides, in pertinent part, that “a party must affirmatively state any avoidance or affirmative defense.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(c). The Ninth Circuit has held that “[t]he key to determining the sufficiency of pleading an affirmative defense is whether it gives plaintiff fair notice of the defense.” Wyshak, 607 F.2d at 827 (citing Conley v. Gibson,355 U.S. 41, 47-48 (1957)); accord Simmons v. Navajo,609 F.3d 1011, 1023 (9th Cir. 2010); Schutte & Koerting,Inc. v. Swett & Crawford, 298 Fed.Appx. 613, 615 (9th Cir. 2008). “Fair notice generally requires that the defendant state the nature and grounds for the affirmative defense.” Kohler v. Islands Restaurants, LP.,280 F.R.D. 560, 564 (S.D. Cal. 2012) (citing Conley, 355 U.S. at 47). “On the other hand, an affirmative defense is legally ...


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