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Wilson v. City of Bakersfield

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 25, 2016

MONTE WILSON, et al. Plaintiffs,
CITY OF BAKERSFIELD, et al. Defendants.



         Plaintiffs assert Defendants are liable for violations of their rights arising under the Constitution of the United States and California law. Defendants seek dismissal of several causes of action in the First Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 22) Because the Court concludes Plaintiffs fails to provide sufficient factual allegations to support the claims challenged by Defendants, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

         I. Background and Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff Monte Wilson asserts that he and his children, who are the minor plaintiffs identified as “MW, M.W and M.W., ” “are of African American heritage.” (Doc. 21 at 5, ¶ 7) Mr. Wilson reports he “graduated from California State University Bakersfield, does not have a criminal record, has not been associated with any street gang or illegal association, and is… gainfully employed as a camera man for a local news organization.” (Id., ¶ 8)

         According to Plaintiffs, Mr. Wilson was “hired by a local record company to photograph individuals for a music album cover… around the front yard of 831 ‘R’ Street in Bakersfield, California.” (Doc. 21 at 7-8, ¶¶ 19-20) In addition, Mr. Wilson “intended to shoot a short portion of a film at the location where the music album cover was to be photographed.” (Id. at 7, ¶ 19)

         Plaintiffs allege that around 5:30 p.m. on July 23, 2015, Mr. Wilson prepared his photography equipment in the presence of other individuals, including the person who hired Mr. Wilson and those who were to be in the photos. (Doc. 21 at 8, ¶ 20) Plaintiffs assert Bakersfield Police Officer James Montgomery and unidentified “Doe” officers “opened the gate surrounding the front yard, and refused to allow [Mr. Wilson] to leave the yard without a reasonable suspicion or probable cause.” (Id., ¶ 21)

         Plaintiffs assert Mr. Wilson began filming the officers “when at least one of the officers pointed a taser weapon at individuals in the front yard.” (Doc. 21 at 7, ¶ 22) Plaintiffs allege that after the officers noticed Mr. Wilson filming, Officer Montgomery “and/or DOES 1 through 100 inclusive, pointed at [Mr. Wilson] and instructed another officer to ‘take him.’” (Id.) According to Plaintiffs, Mr. Wilson “was then detained, handcuffed, restrained, and arrested without a reasonable suspicion or probable cause … and without a warrant.” (Id., ¶ 23) Plaintiffs contend the officers “harassed, threatened, intimidated, pressured, unlawfully touched, and/or assaulted those present in the front yard, ” including Mr. Wilson. (Id. at 9, ¶ 24)

         Plaintiffs contend the officers questioned Mr. Wilson “about his association with the other individuals, ” to which he “responded that he was not a part of any street gang, had been hired to take photographs and video, and was at the location to do so.” (Doc. 21 at 9, ¶ 25) The officers “took possession” of the camera and photography equipment and Mr. Wilson was “placed … in the back of a police vehicle” and transported to the police station. (Id. 9-10, ¶¶ 26, 31)

         Plaintiffs report that the officers charged Mr. Wilson “with PC 25850(c)(3) gang member in possession of a firearm, PC 186.22(d) gang participation, PC 182(a)(l) conspiracy, and PC 496(a) possession of stolen property without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.” (Doc. 21 at 9, 27) Plaintiffs contend Officer Montgomery and the “Doe” officers “knew said charges against [Mr. Wilson] were false. (Id., ¶ 28) In addition, Plaintiffs report the Kern County District Attorney’s office “refused to file a complaint and/or prosecute Plaintiff Monte Wilson for any of the alleged crimes for which Defendants arrested [him].” (Id. at 10, ¶ 30) (emphasis omitted) Mr. Wilson’s bail was set at $55, 000, and he “suffered economic damage to be released.” (Id. at 9, ¶ 29)

         According to Plaintiffs, the next day, “Defendants DOES 1 through 100, inclusive, arrived at Plaintiffs’ residence…. [and] informed [Mr. Wilson] that his vehicle had been broken into.” (Doc. 21 at 10, ¶¶ 32-33) Plaintiffs report Mr. Wilson “walked to his vehicle and determined that it in fact had not been broken into, contrary to statements made by [the officers].” (Id., ¶ 33) Plaintiffs allege the officers then served Mr. Wilson with a search warrant. (Id., ¶ 34)

         Plaintiffs allege Mr. Wilson was “restrained” while the officers searched his vehicle and apartment. (Doc. 21 at 10, ¶ 34) In addition, “Plaintiffs MW, M.W, and M.W., were present at the residence and witnessed Defendants DOES 1 through 100, inclusive, restrain their father, the search of the vehicle, and the search of the apartment.” (Id.) The officers “took possession of property . . . including but not limited to laptops, tablet computers, and audio and video recording equipment.” (Id. at 10-11, ¶ 35) Plaintiffs contend the photography equipment and items taken the next day were not returned in “a timely fashion.” (Id., ¶¶ 31, 35)

         Plaintiffs assert the Bakersfield Police Department; the City of Bakersfield; “and their employees, agents, supervisors, managers and/or representatives… ratified or acquiesced in the constitutional deprivation, or were deliberately indifferent, reckless, negligence, and/or careless with respect to hiring, training, supervising disciplining and retaining” Officer Montgomery and Does 1 through 50, inclusive. (Doc. 21 at 11, ¶ 36)

         Based upon the foregoing allegations, Plaintiffs identify the following causes of action in the First Amended Complaint: (1) excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment by Montgomery and the City, (2) excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment by the “Doe” officers and the City, (3) unlawful seizure by Montgomery and the City, (4) unlawful seizure by the “Doe” officers and the City, (5) violation of the Ralph Civil Rights Act, (6) violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, (7) violation of the Bane Civil Rights Act, (8) assault, (9) battery, (10) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (11) unlawful arrest in violation f California law, (12) false imprisonment, (13) general negligence, (14) trespass to chattels, (15) conversion, (16) civil conspiracy, and (17) negligent infliction of emotional distress. (See generally Doc. 21)

         II. Pleading Requirements

         General rules for pleading complaints are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A complaint must include a statement affirming the court’s jurisdiction, “a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief; and . . . a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). The Federal Rules adopt a flexible pleading policy, and pro se pleadings are held to “less stringent standards” than those drafted by attorneys. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521-21 (1972).

         A complaint must state the elements of the plaintiff’s claim in a plain and succinct manner. Jones v. Cmty Redevelopment Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). The purpose of a complaint is to give the defendant fair notice of the claims against him, and the grounds upon which the complaint stands. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002). The Supreme Court noted,

Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         III. Motions to Dismiss

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion “tests the legal sufficiency of a claim.” Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate when “the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory.” Mendiondo v. Centinela Hosp. Med. Ctr., 521 F.3d 1097, 1104 (9th Cir. 2008). Thus, under Rule 12(b)(6), “review is limited to the complaint alone.” Cervantes v. City of San Diego, 5 F.3d 1273, 1274 (9th Cir. 1993).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The Supreme Court explained,

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. 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. Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant’s liability, it ...

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