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Cardenas v. County of Alameda

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 2, 2017

RITA CARDENAS, an individual, L.V., by and through her guardian ad litem Ruby Cardenas, L.M., by and through her guardian ad litem Ruby Cardenas, and DAVID ORTIZ, an individual, Plaintiffs,
COUNTY OF ALAMEDA, a municipal corporation; COLBY STAYSA, MATTHEW FARRUGGIA, MICHAEL BUCKHOUT, VICTOR FOX, RAMSEY JACKSON, JAMES MCGRAIL, VICTOR RAMIREZ, and DOES 1-25, individually and in their official capacities, Defendants.




         In this civil rights action, plaintiffs claim constitutional violations arising out of a police search of their home. The County and defendant officers move to dismiss for failure to state a claim for relief. For the reasons below, the motion is Granted.


         On February 26, 2015, plaintiff Rita Cardenas was awakened by a loud commotion in front of her house. A voice over a loud speaker ordered Cardenas, her brother, and her brother's roommate to exit their home with their hands up to clear the way for a police search of the premises. As Cardenas, her brother, and her brother's roommate walked outside, they found their residence surrounded by several County officers (all named as defendants herein) with their guns drawn. The officers handcuffed, then separated them. Cardenas' two minor daughters, plaintiffs L.V. and L.M., who are both represented by the same guardian ad litem, awoke due to the noise and came to the front door (Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 19-21).

         The officers interrogated all five residents separately and demanded to know the location of the “man with long hair” who was the subject of a warrant to search their home. The officers also showed our plaintiffs a photograph of the subject. Plaintiffs replied that they did not recognize the “man with the long hair, ” but the officers ignored them. The officers continued to aggressively try to coerce information from each of the five individuals, including Cardenas' two minor daughters (id. ¶¶ 22-23, 34).

         Officers patted down Cardenas and her daughters then escorted them to the police van whereupon the officers shot multiple cans of tear gas through the windows. During the subsequent search, the officers seized five ounces of marijuana (for which the brother's roommate proffered his medical marijuana license). No items listed in the search warrant were found (id. ¶¶ 24-25).

         Throughout the search, Cardenas requested to see a search warrant, but the officers denied her request. It turned out that the search warrant, signed by Judge Robert McGuiness and based on the affidavit of Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy Victor Ramirez, contained “inaccuracies, ” and the residents of Cardenas' house were not the true subjects of the warrant (id. ¶ 28).

         After the search, the residents could not return to their home because the house was still contaminated from the toxic residue of the tear gas. The next day, plaintiffs found their windows broken, holes in the ceiling, and some of their personal property damaged from the search. Moreover, Cardenas' eldest daughter suffered a severe reaction to the tear gas, which caused her eyes and skin to burn and her nose to run (id. ¶¶ 26-27).

         On September 9, 2016, plaintiffs commenced this action in federal court here in San Francisco, asserting claims under Section 1983 and violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment, among others.

         Originally, plaintiffs brought this action against the County, the City of Oakland, and Oakland police officers (Dkt. No. 6). The County moved for dismissal of the complaint on the grounds that the complaint failed to state facts to state a claim against the County other than vague references to a warrant that was issued based on “inaccurate” statements made by a County deputy (Dkt. No. 9). Plaintiffs did not append the warrant affidavit to their initial complaint nor did they provide any further discussion or facts illustrating the alleged inaccuracies (Compl. ¶ 28). Pursuant to the notice requesting defendant County to provide the warrant, the warrant was submitted to the Court at oral argument. At the hearing on the motion to dismiss, plaintiffs indicated that they intended to amend their complaint to substitute County individuals as defendants. Accordingly, the Court denied as moot the motion to dismiss, allowed plaintiffs to file an amended complaint, and granted defendants the option to file a motion to dismiss or answer the amended complaint (Dkt. No. 25).

         Plaintiffs amended their complaint alleging claims for constitutional violations, violations of the California Civil Code, negligence, assault and battery, and false imprisonment against the County and County officers (Dkt. No. 29). The County and County officers now move to dismiss the claims for constitutional violations, the tort claims, as well as the claim for punitive damages against them with prejudice. At the hearing on April 27, 2017, which plaintiffs' counsel failed to attend, the Court directed defense counsel to provide it with a copy of the documents, including the police report, provided to plaintiffs' counsel in compliance with the prior order (Dkt. No. 26). This order follows full briefing and oral argument.


         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. A court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a ...

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