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Arnold v. County of Alameda

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 1, 2016

COUNTY OF ALAMEDA, et al., Defendants.



         Pending before the Court is a motion for judgment on the pleadings brought by Defendants County of Alameda and Sheriff Gregory J. Ahern, individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of the County of Alameda[1] (“Defendants”). Dkt. No. 15 (“Mot.”). For the reasons articulated below, the Motion is GRANTED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 24, 2015, Plaintiff Jennifer Arnold filed this action in Alameda County Superior Court against Defendants and Does 1-25. Dkt. No. 1, Ex. A (“Compl.”). On September 8, 2015, Defendants removed the action to this Court. Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff asserts California negligence and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against Defendants for injuries that Plaintiff sustained at the hands of Elias Michael Diamond, a criminal defendant who Defendants left unguarded after transferring him to Valley Care Medical Center (“VCMC”) where Plaintiff was working as a nurse. Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, and costs. Id.

         For purposes of this motion, the Court accepts the following as true: In November 2004, Diamond was arrested on suspicion of strangling and killing his roommate in the psychiatric home where they both resided. Id. ¶ 16. On August 29, 2014, Diamond was again arrested and taken into custody in San Leandro, California for indecent exposure. Id. ¶ 17. Diamond was charged with indecent exposure and remanded to the Santa Rita Jail, which Defendant Alameda County owns and the Defendants operate. Id. ¶ 18. Sometime between September 2, 2014, and September 7, 2014, Defendants transported Diamond from Santa Rita Jail to VCMC for medical treatment. Id. ¶ 19. Subsequently, when Diamond was transferred to Plaintiff’s floor during the evening of September 7th or the morning of September 8th, Defendants did not warn the VCMC staff that Diamond was in custody or mentally unstable. Id. ¶ 22. Further, Defendants did not guard Diamond. Id. ¶ 26. After Diamond was transferred to Plaintiff’s floor, he wandered out of his room only partially clothed. Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiff discovered Diamond, who appeared disoriented, and escorted him back to his room according to VCMC custom and practice. Id. When Plaintiff and Diamond entered his room, Diamond attacked Plaintiff, began to strangle her, and attempted to force oral copulation. Id. ¶ 24. As a result of the struggle, Plaintiff suffered physical injuries and emotional distress. Id. ¶ 25.

         Plaintiff articulates four claims for relief: (1) violation of her Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants and Does 1-25; (2) supervisory liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Ahern and Does 1-25; (3) municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Alameda County; and (4) negligence against Defendants and Does 1-25.

         On December 15, 2015, Defendants filed the pending motion for judgment on the pleadings as to all claims for relief.


         Defendants articulate six main reasons that their motion should be granted: (1) the Court can take judicial notice of Diamond’s Promise to Appear, which establishes that he was not in custody at the time of Plaintiff’s attack; (2) Plaintiff fails to plead an affirmative duty that Defendants breached in support of her negligence claim; (3) Defendant Ahern has statutory immunity to Plaintiff’s negligence claim; (4) Defendant Alameda County cannot be held liable for negligence except as provided by statute; (5) Plaintiff fails to sufficiently plead a special relationship that would permit Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims; and (6) Plaintiff fails to allege a state-created danger to permit Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims.

         A. Request for Judicial Notice

         Before turning to the substance of the motion, the Court considers Defendants’ request that the Court take judicial notice of Diamond’s Promise to Appear filed in his underlying criminal case in Alameda Superior Court. Dkt. No. 16, Ex. A. Defendants argue that a Promise to Appear, which California law provides “may be signed by a misdemeanor arrestee/detainee in order to secure his or her release, per California Penal Code section 853.6, subdivision (a)(1), ” reflects that Diamond signed his name on September 5, 2014, at 4:32 p.m. Mot. at 3. Accordingly, Defendants contend that the signed Promise to Appear establishes as a matter of law that Diamond was released on September 5, 2014, at 4:32 p.m., and was not in custody when Diamond attacked Plaintiff several days later. Id.

         The doctrine of judicial notice permits a court to take as true “a fact that is not subject to reasonable dispute because it: (1) is generally known within the trial court’s territorial jurisdiction; or (2) can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed.R.Evid. 201(b). “In particular, a court may take judicial notice of its own records in other cases, as well as the records of an inferior court in other cases.” United States v. Wilson, 631 F.2d 118, 119 (9th Cir. 1980) (internal citations omitted). However, “a high degree of indisputability is the essential prerequisite to taking judicial notice of adjudicative facts and [] the tradition of taking judicial notice has been one of caution in requiring that the matter be beyond reasonable controversy.” Rivera v. Philip Morris, Inc., 395 F.3d 1142, 1151 (9th Cir. 2005) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Thus, while a court may take notice of the existence of public court documents, it may not “draw inferences or take notice of facts that might reasonably be disputed.” United States v. Corinthian Colleges, 655 F.3d 984, 999 (9th Cir. 2011); Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 689-90 (9th Cir. 2001) (district court properly took judicial notice of existence of publicly-recorded, signed extradition waiver form, but “erred by taking judicial notice of disputed matters” in concluding that signer of form in fact validly waived his rights).

         The Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants’ request to take judicial notice of Diamond’s Promise to Appear. While the Court may properly notice that the signed Promise to Appear exists, the Court cannot “beyond reasonable controversy” infer from the document’s existence when, or even if, Diamond was released. See Rivera, 395 F.3d at 1151. Indeed, as Plaintiff asserts, Diamond’s Promise to Appear reveals nothing about Defendants’ general practice following an individual’s completion of a Promise to Appear or whether such practice was followed with Diamond. See Dkt. No. 23 (“Opp’n”) at 10. At the pleading stage, the Court cannot resolve such a disputed issue based on the existence of a document that is both “subject to varying interpretations” and “reasonably [] disputed.” See Corinthian Colleges, 655 F.3d at 999; Reina-Rodriguez v. United States, 655 F.3d 1182, 1193 (9th Cir. 2011); Lee, 250 F.3d at 689-690.

         Accordingly, the Court will take judicial notice of the existence and facial content of Diamond’s Promise to Appear, but the Court will not infer Diamond’s custodial status during the relevant time period from the Promise to Appear. Rather, as required at the pleading stage, the Court will accept as true Plaintiff’s allegation that Diamond was in custody at the time of Plaintiff’s attack. See Compl. ¶ 22.

         B. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” The legal standard that governs a Rule 12(c) motion is the same as that which governs a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Chavez v. United States, 683 F.3d 1102, 1108 (9th Cir. 2012).

         “Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate only where 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). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 540, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when a 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).

         In reviewing the plausibility of a complaint, courts “accept factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe 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). Nonetheless, Courts do not “accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences.” In re Gilead Scis. Secs. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008).

         “Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure neither expressly provides for, nor bars, partial judgment on the pleadings.” Plumlee v. Pfizer, Inc., No. 13-CV-00414-LHK, 2014 WL 695024, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 21, 2014). However, courts commonly apply Rule 12(c) to individual causes of action. Id. A court has discretion to permit leave to amend in conjunction with a Rule 12(c) motion and may dismiss causes of action rather than grant judgment. Id. If a court grants a motion for judgment on the pleadings, leave to amend ...

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