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Capp v. County of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

April 19, 2017

JONATHAN C. CAPP, On Behalf Of Himself; N.C., A Minor By And Through Their Guardian Ad Litem; J.C., A Minor By And Through Their Guardian Ad Litem, Plaintiffs,


          Hon. Anthony J. Battaglia United States District Judge

         Presently before the Court are two motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the first filed by Defendants Johanna Firth (“Firth”), Bob Prokesch (“Prokesch”), and the County of San Diego (“County”), and the second filed by Defendant Kathy Jackson (“Jackson”) (collectively, “Defendants”). (Doc. Nos. 5, 13.) Plaintiffs Jonathan C. Capp (“Capp”), N.C., and J.C. (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) oppose the motions. (Doc. Nos. 10, 16.) Having reviewed the parties' moving papers and controlling legal authority, the Court finds the matter suitable for decision on the papers and without oral argument pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7.1.d.1. Accordingly, the motion hearing date currently set for April 27, 2017, at 2:00 p.m. is hereby VACATED. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motions.


         This dispute arises from allegations that Capp emotionally abused his children, had a substance abuse problem, and drove his car with his children in it while under the influence of alcohol. The County Health and Human Services Agency (“Agency”) received these allegations from an anonymous third party, but Capp suggests his ex-wife's parents reported these allegations to the County. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶16-17, 20, 33, 36.)

         Upon receiving these allegations, the County sent social worker Firth to interview N.C. and J.C. at school without Capp's consent. (Id. ¶ 18.) Firth also interviewed Capp at his home on August 26, 2015. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 19.) On August 28, 2015, Capp's ex-wife's attorney informed Capp that his ex-wife was seeking full custody of N.C. and J.C., and that Firth recommended the ex-wife create a written agreement that she would file an emergency custody order because the children felt unsafe in his care. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) Capp's ex-wife filed an ex parte motion on August 31, 2015, based on Firth's recommendation, but the family court denied the motion on September 2, 2015, and dismissed her motion to modify custody in her favor. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28; see Doc. No. 1-3.)

         After receiving the ex parte application, Capp contacted Jackson, an Agency supervisor, who assured Capp that procedures would be followed and the case against him closed. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 30.) On September 8, 2015, social worker Prokesch interviewed Capp regarding the allegations. (Id. ¶ 32.)

         During the span of this investigation, N.C. and J.C.'s maternal grandparents kept Capp from seeing N.C. and J.C. and physically prevented him from picking them up from school. (Id. ¶¶ 35, 37.) On September 24, 2015, the family court prohibited the maternal grandparents from seeing the children and nearly revoked the ex-wife's custody. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40.) The family court also confirmed that the Agency determined the emotional abuse allegations against Capp were inconclusive, which Jackson, Prokesch, and Firth had confirmed on September 18, 2015. (Id. ¶¶ 41-42.) On October 15, 2015, Capp received a notification from Firth that the child abuse investigation against him was officially closed, but that he had been subsequently placed on the Child Abuse Central Index (“CACI”).[1] (Id. ¶¶ 43-44; Doc. No. 1-6.)

         Capp called the Agency to protest his CACI listing, and Ana Daugherty (“Daugherty”), a policy analyst with Child Protective Services (“CPS”), informed Capp she was investigating his complaint. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 47, 49.) On October 30, 2015, Daugherty informed Capp that she would recommend he be taken off the CACI. (Id. ¶ 51.) On November 23, 2015, Daugherty told Capp the allegations against him were downgraded to “unfounded” with the exception of the emotional abuse allegation against N.C., which was determined inconclusive. (Id. ¶¶ 52-53; see Doc. No. 1-9.) Daugherty also informed Capp that he was never actually placed on the CACI and that the mistake was due to a clerical error, of which he received written confirmation on February 2, 2016. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 54-55.)

         Plaintiffs instituted this action by filing the operative complaint on November 22, 2016, alleging a violation of their First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Firth, Prokesch, and Jackson. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 71-77.) Plaintiffs also allege municipal liability pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), against the County. (Id. ¶¶ 78-83.) Firth, Prokesch, and the County filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)[2] on January 11, 2017. (Doc. No. 5.) On February 16, 2017, Jackson also filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. (Doc. No. 13.) The motions have been fully briefed. (Doc. Nos. 10, 12, 16, 17.) This order follows.

         Legal Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). A pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Plaintiffs must also plead, however, “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). The plausibility standard thus demands more than a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action or naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Instead, the complaint “must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011).

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must assume the truth of all factual allegations and must construe them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). The court need not take legal conclusions as true “merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations.” Roberts v. Corrothers, 812 F.2d 1173, 1177 (9th Cir. 1987) (quoting W. Mining Council v. Watt, 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981)). Similarly, “conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are not sufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss.” Pareto v. Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp., 139 F.3d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1998).

         Where dismissal is appropriate, a court should grant leave to amend unless the plaintiff could not possibly cure the defects in the pleading. Knappenberger v. City of Phoenix, 566 F.3d 936, 942 (9th Cir. 2009).


         I. Violation of Civil Rights Claim: 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Qualified Immunity

         Defendants move for dismissal on the basis that Plaintiffs state no violation of their First, Fourth, or Fourteenth Amendment rights on which to hinge a § 1983 action, and even if they did, Defendants are immune from such claims. (Doc. No. 5-1 ...

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