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Wilson v. Town of Danville

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 30, 2017

TOWN OF DANVILLE, et al., Defendants.


         Defendants Town of Danville and Danville Police Officer Tyler Nelson (“Nelson”) (collectively “Defendants”) move to dismiss Plaintiff John Wilson III's third cause of action against the Town of Danville alleging municipal liability under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978) (“Monell claim”). Motion to Dismiss (“MTD”) [Docket No. 10]. Plaintiff opposes. [Docket No. 13]. The court finds this matter appropriate for resolution without oral argument. See Civ. L.R. 7-1(b). Having considered the parties submissions, and for the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.


         Plaintiff makes the following allegations in his complaint, all of which are taken as true for purposes of this motion.[1] On the morning of February 13, 2015, Plaintiff was sitting inside a parked car in the parking lot of the Best Western Motel located at 803 Camino Ramon, Danville, California. Complaint [Docket No. 1] (“Compl.”), ¶ 9. Nelson approached Plaintiff and asked him why he was sitting in the parking lot. Plaintiff responded that he was a guest at the motel and was waiting for his girlfriend to unlock the door to their room. Id., ¶ 10. Plaintiff asked Nelson why he stopped him. Nelson replied that Plaintiff looked suspicious. Id. When Plaintiff lifted the console inside the car to show Nelson his identification, Nelson noticed a small amount of cannabis inside the console. Id. Nelson questioned Plaintiff about the cannabis, and Plaintiff responded that the cannabis did not belong to him. Id. Nelson then called for back-up, at which point approximately 10 police officers including K9 officer[2] Rony arrived on scene. Id., ¶ 11. Without cause or provocation, the officers began violently beating Plaintiff. Id. One officer aggressively pulled Plaintiff's dreadlocks, and another repeatedly punched Plaintiff in the face. Id. Nelson then released Rony on Plaintiff. Id. The officers watched as Rony bit Plaintiff's abdomen, arms, and thighs. Id. As a result of the incident, Plaintiff suffered multiple injuries to his left arm, right forearm, stomach, chest, left thigh, and face. Id., ¶ 13.

         Plaintiff thereafter filed this civil rights action against Defendants alleging seven federal and state law claims including: 1) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unlawful search and seizure claim based on the Fourth Amendment; 2) a section 1983 excessive force claim based on the Fourth Amendment; 3) a section 1983 claim for municipal liability under Monell ; 4) violation of California's Bane Act, California Civil Code section 52.1; 5) negligence; 6) battery; and 7) intentional infliction of emotional distress. All but the Monell claim are alleged solely against Nelson.

         Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiff's Monell claim against the Town of Danville.


         A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claims alleged in the complaint. See Parks Sch. of Bus., Inc. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995). When reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court must “accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, ” Erickson, 551 U.S at 94, and may dismiss a claim “only where there is no cognizable legal theory” or there is an absence of “sufficient factual matter to state a facially plausible claim to relief.” Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc., 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001)) (quotation marks omitted). A claim has facial plausibility when a 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 (citation omitted). In other words, the facts alleged must demonstrate “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)); see Lee v. City of L.A., 250 F.3d 668, 679 (9th Cir. 2001), overruled on other grounds by Galbraith v. Cty. of Santa Clara, 307 F.3d 1119 (9th Cir. 2002).

         B. Monell Claim

         “A government entity may not be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, unless a policy, practice, or custom of the entity can be shown to be a moving force behind a violation of constitutional rights.” Dougherty v. City of Covina, 654 F.3d 892, 900 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694). Under section 1983, “local governments are responsible only for ‘their own illegal acts' . . . and are not vicariously liable under § 1983 for their employee's actions.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 60 (2011) (quoting Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479 (1986)) (emphasis omitted).

         In order to establish liability under Monell, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) the plaintiff “possessed a constitutional right of which [s]he was deprived;” (2) that the municipality had a policy, custom and/or practice; (3) that the policy, custom and/or practice “amounts to deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's constitutional right;” and (4) the municipal policy, custom and/or practice was “the moving force behind the constitutional violation.” Dougherty, 654 F.3d at 900.

         In Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011), the Ninth Circuit set forth the following pleading standard to be applied to Monell claims:

First, 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. Second, the factual allegations that are taken as true must plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subject to the expense of discovery and continued litigation.

Id.; see also AE ex rel. Hernandez v. County of Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 636 (9th Cir. 2012) (reasserting Starr pleading standard for Monell claims); Galindo v. City of San Mateo, No. 16-CV-03651-EMC, 2016 WL 7116927, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 7, 2016) (explaining that “Monell allegations must be [pled] with specificity”); La v. San Mateo Cty. Transit Dist., No. 14-CV-01768-WHO, 2014 WL 4632224, at *7 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 16, 2014) (same); Bagley ...

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