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Austen v. County of Los Angeles

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 16, 2017

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, et al., Defendants.



         Presently before the court is Defendan t Deanco Healthcare, LLC, d/b/a Mission Community Hospital (“MCH”)'s Motion to Strike portions of Plaintiff Donald Austen's Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”) pursuan t to Rule 12(f) and Motion to Dismiss Monell claims in the first and second causes of action in the TAC pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Having considered the parties' submissions, the court adopts the following Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Donald Austen is the president and founder of the non-profit Thursday's Child, a “national charity for endangered children.” (TAC ¶ 3.) On February 2, Austen contacted the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services (“DPSS”) to inquire about mental health grants for Thursday's Child. (Id. ¶ 18.) The next day, Austen and Jessica Cruz, an employee of the Mental Health Services division of DPSS spoke by phone. (Id. ¶ 19.) Although the parties dispute the specific details of the conversation, they do not dispute that Cruz called 911 afterwards. (Id. ¶ 25.) Cruz informed the 911 operator that Austen had purportedly made suicidal statements and threats towards others, including Ms. Cruz and the police. (Id. ¶¶ 27-32.) Austen denies making any of these statements. (Id.) In response to the call, the Los Angeles Police Department dispatched officers to Plaintiff's house. (Id. ¶¶ 33-34.) One of the units sent was a team focused on mental health responses and was comprised of Officer Alfredo Morales and his partner, Sandra Holguin, a registered psychiatric nurse employed by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. (Id. ¶ 38.) After an encounter with Plaintiff at his residence, Morales and Holguin took Plaintiff into custody to perform a psychiatric evaluation. (Id. ¶¶ 38-44.) Plaintiff was then detained under Welfare and Institutions Code Section 5150, which provides that

[w]hen a person, as a result of a mental health disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled, a peace officer, professional person in charge of a facility designated by the county for evaluation and treatment, member of the attending staff . . . or professional person designated by the county may, upon probable cause, take, or cause to be taken, the person into custody for a period of up to 72 hours for assessment, evaluation, and crisis intervention, or placement for evaluation and treatment in a facility designated by the county for evaluation and treatment and approved by the State Department of Health Care Services.

Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 5150(a). Plaintiff was then transferred to Mission Community Hospital where he was held for seventy-two hours for evaluation and observation. Plaintiff's care was handled by Dr. Hassan Farrag and Plaintiff was ultimately released on February 7, 2015. (Id. ¶¶ 44, 60-62, 87.)

         Plaintiff brought suit alleging that his detention was not justified by probable cause, as required by section 5150. Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) asserted eleven causes of action against the County of Los Angeles, Jessica Cruz, and Sandra Holguin (the “County Defendants”); City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Police Department, and Alfredo Morales (the “City Defendants”); and Denaco Healthcare (d/b/a MCH). Plaintiff alleges, inter alia, violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, multiple violations of WIC § 5150, false arrest and imprisonment, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. (See FAC.) The gravamen of Plaintiff's case is that Cruz intentionally made false statements to the police so that Plaintiff would be detained under section 5150, and that the officers, nurses, and doctors who interacted with Plaintiff during this incident failed to meet their various obligations by giving undue weight to Cruz's statements while ignoring their own observations that Plaintiff presented no threat to himself or others.

         In the FAC, Plaintiff makes a number of references to individual defendants acting in accordance with the “policies and practices” of their respective departments. (See FAC ¶¶ 22, 24, 26, 31, 71 (alleging that Cruz's initial decision to call the police was in accordance with County policies and practice); id. ¶ 47 (alleging that Officer Morales followed police practices and polices when deciding whether to detain Plaintiff); id. ¶¶ 49, 54, 58 (alleging that MCH's admittance and evaluation of Plaintiff was conducted in accordance with policies and practices).) Plaintiff also names several municipal defendants in the FAC. Plaintiff does not, however, expressly articulate a claim for municipal liability or invoke Monell v. Dept of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 701 (1978), in the FAC.

         On February 28, 2017, Plaintiff moved for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint to specifically allege Monell claims. The court granted the motion in part, allowing Plaintiff “to file a Second Amended Complaint for the sole purpose of alleging a claim for Monell liability against Defendant MCH on the ground specified in this Order.” (Dkt. 107 at 12.) That ground, as explained in the Order, was the contention that “MCH's policies for handling section 5150 hold applications are inconsistent with the legal requirement that an individual be afforded an in-person assessment prior to a seventy-two hour admission for evaluation and treatment.” (Id. at 9.) Plaintiff was not granted leave to add Monell claims against other City and County Defendants.

         On April 17, 2017, Plaintiff timely filed a Second Amended Complaint. (Dkt. 111.) Counsel for Plaintiff and MCH then engaged in a telephonic meet and confer where they discussed the possibility of MCH filing a motion to dismiss the Monell claims. (Def. MCH Mot. Strike (“MTS”) at 7; Pl. Opp'n Mot. Strike (MTS Opp'n) at 1.) Rather than file an unnecessary motion, the parties stipulated to allow Plaintiff to file “a Third Amended Complaint on or before May 8, 2017, so as to plead a Monell claim against MCH.” (Dkt. 116.) The court approved the stipulation, and Plaintiff filed the instant Third Amended Complaint. (Dkts. 117, 118.)

         Defendant MCH now moves to strike specific portions of the TAC and to dismiss Plaintiff's Monell claims against MCH in the first and second causes of action of the TAC.


         A. Motion to Strike

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), the “Court may strike from a pleading . . . any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Immaterial matter is that which has no bearing on the claims for relief or the defenses being pled. Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co., 618 F.3d 970, 974 (9th Cir. 2010). Impertinent matter consists of statements that do not pertain and are not necessary to the issues in question. Id. The court has the discretion to strike an entire pleading or portions thereof. MGA Entm't, Inc. v. Mattel, Inc., No. CV 05-2727 NM (RNBx), 2005 WL 5894689, at *4 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 26, 2005). Generally, motions to strike are “disfavored, ” and “courts are reluctant to determine disputed or substantial questions of law on a motion to strike.” Whittlestone, 618 F.3d at 1165-66; see also Miller v. Fuhu, Inc., No. 2:14-cv-06119-CAS (ASx), 2014 WL 4748299, at *1, (C.D. Cal. Sept. 22, 2014). In considering a motion to strike, the court views the pleadings in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See In re Secs. Litig., 114 F.Supp.2d 955, 965 (C.D. Cal. 2000)). Grounds for a motion to strike must be readily apparent from the face of the pleadings or from materials that may be judicially noticed. Fantasy, Inc. v. Fogerty, 984 F.2d 1524, 1528 (9th Cir. 1993) rev'd on other grounds, 510 U.S. 517 (1994).

         B. Motion to Dismiss

         A complaint will survive a motion to dismiss when it contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must “accept as true all allegations of material fact and must construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000). Although a complaint need not include “detailed factual allegations, ” it must offer “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Conclusory allegations or allegations that are no more than a statement of a legal conclusion “are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. at 679. In other words, a pleading that merely offers “labels and conclusions, ” a “formulaic recitation of the elements, ” or “naked assertions” will not be sufficient to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Id. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement of relief.” Id. at 679. Plaintiff must allege “plausible grounds to infer” that their claims rise “above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief” is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.


         A. ...

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