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Saint Onge Orchids, LLC v. County of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

May 30, 2017



          Hon. Gonzalo P. Curiel United States District Judge

         On March 29, 2017, Plaintiff Saint Onge Orchids, LLC (“St. Onge”) filed a complaint against Defendant County of San Diego for destroying St. Onge's orchid plants in order to control a fungus. Dkt. No. 1-2.[1] The complaint asserts claims of negligence under Cal. Gov. Code § 815.2 and Fourteenth Amendment violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Dkt. No. 1-2. Defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings on April 5, 2017, arguing failure to exhaust and state a claim on which relief can be granted. Dkt. No. 4. The motion has been fully briefed.

         For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion for failure to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 with leave to amend.


         St. Onge operates two Cymbidium Orchid nurseries in San Marcos, California. Compl. ¶ 10. In July 2015, the County of San Diego conducted inspections of Plaintiff's nurseries and took samples of their orchids. Id. ¶ 11. The subsequent testing of St. Onge's orchids revealed that plants in both nurseries contained the fungal infection Colletotrichum Cymbidiicola (“C. Cymbidiicola”). Id.

         In response to the infection, the County's Department of Agriculture, Weights, and Measures (“Department”) instructed St. Onge to fumigate the plants held in the nurseries. The Department directed Plaintiff to spray the plants with “Pageant” fungicide in week one, “Torque” fungicide in week 2, “Pageant” fungicide again in week 3, and “Torque” again in week 4. Id. ¶ 12. When re-inspections showed that the spraying had not eliminated the fungus, the Department ordered that the entire collection of plants at both locations be destroyed. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. An estimated 5, 000 plants were affected by this order and their cumulative lost value was $500, 000. Id.

         Plaintiff asserts that other nurseries in the County have similarly failed to eliminate C. Cymbidiicola using the “Pageant” and “Torque” rotation prescribed by the Department. Id. ¶ 15. At least one grower, however, was able to eliminate the infection with a third fungicide. Id. Yet despite knowing that this alternative fungicide had successfully eliminated C. Cymbidiicola at another nursery, the Department did not inform Plaintiff of the treatment's existence before taking action against St. Onge's orchids. Id.

         From 2014 to 2016, a number of other Cymbidium orchid nurseries in San Diego County became infected with C. Cymbidiicola. Compl. ¶ 16, 38. The complaint alleges, however, that the Department responded differently to the fungal infections at these similarly situated nurseries because it only ordered that the infected plants be destroyed, not the entire collection of orchids. Id.

         The complaint contains four causes of action. The first three assert different theories of state law negligence. The fourth cause of action, and sole federal cause of action, asserts that Defendant is liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for discriminating against Plaintiff in violation of its Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection and Substantive Due Process rights. Id. ¶¶ 38-39.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(c), “[a]fter the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c).

         The principal difference between motions filed pursuant to Rule 12(b) and Rule 12(c) is the time of filing - a motion for judgment on the pleadings is typically brought after an answer has been filed whereas a motion to dismiss is typically brought before an answer has been filed. See Dworkin v. Hustler Magazine Inc., 867 F.2d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 1989). Because the motions are functionally identical, the same standard of review applicable to a Rule 12(b) motion applies to its Rule 12(c) analog. Id.; see also Chavez v. United States, 683 F.3d 1102, 1108 (9th Cir. 2012) (“Analysis under Rule 12(c) is ‘substantially identical' to analysis under Rule 12(b)(6), because, under both rules, a court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint, taken as true, entitle the plaintiff to a legal remedy.”) (internal quotations and citation omitted). Thus, when deciding a Rule 12(c) motion, “the allegations of the non-moving party must be accepted as true, while the allegations of the moving party which have been denied are assumed to be false.” Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1989) (citing Doleman v. Meiji Mut. Life Ins. Co., 727 F.2d 1480, 1482 (9th Cir. 1984); Austad v. United States, 386 F.2d 147, 149 (9th Cir. 1967)).

         The Court construes all material allegations in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Deveraturda v. Globe Aviation Sec. Servs., 454 F.3d 1043, 1046 (9th Cir. 2006). “Judgment on the pleadings is proper when the moving party clearly establishes on the face of the pleadings that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Hal Roach Studios, 896 F.2d at 1550. As such, judgment on the pleadings in favor of a defendant is not appropriate if the complaint raises issues of fact that, if proved, would support the ...

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