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Neylon v. County of Inyo

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 14, 2017

MELISSA M. NEYLON and SHAWN P. NEYLON, Plaintiffs
v.
COUNTY OF INYO, WILLIAM R. LUTZE, RALPH DOUGLAS RICHARDS, MICHAEL DURBIN, and DOES 2 to 50, Defendants

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC., 35)

         This case stems from the erroneous arrest by Inyo County Sheriff's deputies of Plaintiff Melissa Neylon (“Neylon”), pursuant to an outstanding warrant from Indiana for a Melissa Chapman (“Chapman”). Defendants now move under Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss the third cause of action in the Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”), which is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for malicious prosecution against Defendant Ralph Richards. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion will be granted.

         LEGAL FRAMEWORK

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a claim may be dismissed because of the plaintiff's “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or on the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. See Mollett v. Netflix, Inc., 795 F.3d 1062, 1065 (9th Cir. 2015). In reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), all well-pleaded allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Faulkner v. ADT Sec. Servs., 706 F.3d 1017, 1019 (9th Cir. 2013). However, complaints that offer no more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of action will not do.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Johnson v. Federal Home Loan Mortg. Corp., 793 F.3d 1005, 1008 (9th Cir. 2015). The Court is “not required to accept as true allegations that contradict exhibits attached to the Complaint or matters properly subject to judicial notice, or allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences.” Seven Arts Filmed Entm't, Ltd. v. Content Media Corp. PLC, 733 F.3d 1251, 1254 (9th Cir. 2013). To avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, “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; Mollett, 795 F.3d at 1065. “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Somers v. Apple, Inc., 729 F.3d 953, 959 (9th Cir. 2013). “Plausibility” means “more than a sheer possibility, ” but less than a probability, and facts that are “merely consistent” with liability fall short of “plausibility.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Somers, 729 F.3d at 960. The Ninth Circuit has distilled the following principles for Rule 12(b)(6) motions: (1) to be entitled to the presumption of truth, allegations in a complaint or counterclaim may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively; (2) the factual allegations that are taken as true must plausibly suggest entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation. Levitt v. Yelp! Inc., 765 F.3d 1123, 1135 (9th Cir. 2014). In assessing a motion to dismiss, courts may consider documents attached to the complaint, documents incorporated by reference in the complaint, or matters of judicial notice. In re NVIDIA Corp. Sec. Litig., 768 F.3d 1046, 1051 (9th Cir. 2014). If a motion to dismiss is granted, “[the] district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made . . . .” Henry A. v. Willden, 678 F.3d 991, 1005 (9th Cir. 2012). However, leave to amend need not be granted if amendment would be futile or the plaintiff has failed to cure deficiencies despite repeated opportunities. Garmon v. County of L.A., 828 F.3d 837, 842 (9th Cir. 2016.)

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         From the SAC, Neylon attempted to enter the Inyo County Jail in connection with her employment on December 4, 2015. At the Jail, Neylon was arrested and imprisoned based on an outstanding felony warrant from Indiana for a “Melissa Chapman.” Neylon's association with the Indiana warrant was solely based on an alleged hit on one of Neylon's former legal name, after the former legal name appeared on a database. Defendant Ralph Richards (“Richards”), a Sergeant with the Inyo County Sheriff's Office, mistakenly identified Neylon as Chapman. Neylon alleges that the name-matching “hit” did not provide a sufficient basis to arrest her. After Neylon's arrest, Richards received additional identifying information regarding Chapman, but Neylon alleges that the information about Chapman was not conclusive and not sufficiently similar to Neylon. Neylon also supplied Richards with exonerating information, including a denial that Neylon had ever been to Indiana, a denial that she had an ankle tattoo, and an offer to show Richards a tattoo on her back. Richards also “misconstrued” the results of a Live Scan fingerprinting process to indicate a fingerprint match between Neylon and Chapman, when in fact there was no match.

         Under the third cause of action, Neylon alleges that Richards recklessly or knowingly interfered with the prosecutor's judgment by omitting relevant and material information and supplying false information that Neylon was Chapman. Richards's actions resulted in the filing of a felony complaint against Neylon that was not supported by probable cause. The complaint was later dismissed. Richards acted with reckless or callous indifference to her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, or his acts were wantonly and oppressively done.

         DEFENDANTS' MOTION

         Defendant's Argument

         Defendants argue that there are insufficient factual allegations to state a viable claim for malicious prosecution. First, the SAC does not identify the specific constitutional right that Richards intended to deny Neylon, nor does it explain why Richards would want to cause Neylon's prosecution. Second, the SAC appears to allege that Richards was negligent, but a malicious prosecution claim would require that Richards acted with the intent to deny Neylon a constitutional right. Finally, the decision to file a criminal complaint is presumed to result from an independent determination on the part of the prosecutor. The SAC contains no factual allegations that would rebut this presumption. Although the SAC alleges that Richards omitted relevant and material information and provided false information, the SAC does not actually identify what information was omitted and what false information was provided.

         In reply, Defendants contend that intent is integral to a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim. Reliance on recklessness and negligence are insufficient to state a viable claim. Because Neylon has filed multiple complaints and still fails to allege a viable claim, the third cause of action should be dismissed without leave to amend.

         In response to a sur-reply, Defendants argue that Neylon has misconstrued the law and the Ninth Circuit cases that she relies upon. Malicious prosecution under § 1983 requires intent.

         Plaintiff's Opposition

         Neylon argues that Richards's arguments are without merit.

         First, the SAC identifies three constitutional rights that were violated. On pages 10 and 11, the SAC alleges that Richards deprived Neylon of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from arrest and imprisonment without probable cause. On pages 4 and 12, the SAC alleges that Richards deprived Neylon of her Fourteenth Amendment right to an adequate investigation where there were significant differences between her and Chapman. Finally, on pages 6 and 7, the SAC alleges that Richards deprived Neylon of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to familial association with her spouse.

         Second, the Court has already determined that a claim for false arrest has been adequately pled. Richards did not have probable cause to make an arrest, yet he did so anyway. Richards was not merely negligent, rather he was actively instrumental in causing the Neylon's prosecution and recklessly disregarded the truth that Neylon was not Chapman. Richards had no probable cause to arrest or pursue a prosecution in the face of significant differences between Neylon and Chapman, exonerating information that confirmed Neylon was not Chapman (e.g. Neylon denying that she had ever been to Indiana, denying that she had an ankle tattoo, and offering to show Richards her back tattoo), and a Live Scan fingerprint result that showed Neylon was not Chapman.

         Third, the motion's characterization of the SAC as only alleging that Richards merely stated Neylon was Chapman is inaccurate. The SAC alleges that Richards said that Neylon was Chapman, and this is not a generic fact. Richards disregarded significant differences between Neylon and Chapman, disregarded exonerating information, and ...


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