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Brown v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. California, Eureka Division

June 20, 2017

ALICE BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTIONS TO DISMISS RE: DKT. 24, 27 & 28

          NANDOR J. VADAS United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the court are three Motions to Dismiss. The first was filed by Defendant Deana Freeman (“Ranger Freeman”). (Doc. 24). The second was filed by the Department of the Interior (“DOI”), Redwood National and State Parks Department (“RNP”), and the United States. (Doc. 27). The third was filed by Chief Ranger Marshall Neeck, Retired, National Park Ranger David Keltner, National Park Ranger Gregory Morse, National Park Ranger Joel Leachman, and National Park Ranger Robert Toler (“Ranger Defendants”). (Doc. 28). Plaintiff has responded to each Motion, (Docs. 32, 27, & 38), to which Defendants have replied. (Docs. 33, 39, & 34). For the reasons stated below the court grants all three Motions to Dismiss.

         FACTS AS ALLEGED IN THE COMPLAINT

         Alice Brown alleges that on the morning of December 21, 2014, she was sleeping in her van at the Hiouchi Visitor Center, off Highway 199 in Del Norte County, California. At around 7:00 a.m. Defendant National Park Ranger Joel Leachman knocked on Plaintiff's van and told her the parking lot did not permit overnight camping. Compl. at 8. Ranger Leachman conversed with Plaintiff for several minutes, asking her to open a window or come outside, so the Ranger could see to whom he was talking. Id. at 8-10. Plaintiff remained in the van and did not come out for several more minutes. Id. She eventually exited the van's side door and opened the driver door. Id. at 11. At that point Ranger Leachman threw Plaintiff to the ground and arrested her. Id. Four sheriff's deputies and two other rangers arrived on the scene and witnessed the arrest. Id. Plaintiff screamed for help and told the officers she was disabled and had chronic pain. Id. at 13. Ranger Leachman pried the vehicle keys from Plaintiff's hand and gave them to a sheriff's deputy who then conducted a search of the van despite Plaintiff's protests. Id.

         Ranger Leachman then conducted a body search of Plaintiff, pulling the elastic out of her pants, viewing her bare buttocks, and touching her groin. Id. at 15. This was all done in front of the other officers who did nothing to stop it. Id. at 16. Plaintiff was then taken to a police station and her van was impounded. Id. at 17-18.

         CLAIMS

         Plaintiff brings six claims against state and federal parties. Claim 1 is a Bivens action against United States, DOI, RNP, National Park Ranger Joel Leachman, Chief Ranger Marshall Neeck, Retired, National Park Ranger David Keltner, National Park Ranger Robert Toler, National Park Ranger Gregory Morse, and National Park Ranger Deana Freeman, “in their official and individual capacities” for deprivation of Plaintiff's Fourth, Fourteenth, and Eighth Amendment rights. Claim 2 is against National Park Ranger Joel Leachman in his official and individual capacities for excessive force. Claim 3 is against United States, DOI, RNP, National Park Ranger Joel Leachman, Chief Ranger Marshall Neeck, Retired, National Park Ranger David Keltner, National Park Ranger Robert Toler, National Park Ranger Gregory Morse, and National Park Ranger Deana Freeman, “in their official and individual capacities” for failing to follow proper procedure in the search and seizure of Plaintiff's person and property. Claim 4 is a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the County of Del Norte and its Sheriff and deputies and is not a part of these motions. Claim 5 is a claim against National Park Ranger Deana Freeman for being in possession of and returning Plaintiff's personal items. Claim 6 is a Monell claim against the County of Del Norte and its Sheriff and deputies and is not a part of these motions.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, is to test the legal sufficiency of the claims stated in the complaint. A motion to dismiss may be brought under Rule 12(b)(6) when the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         A complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). While Rule 8 “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, '” a complaint “must contain 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1955 (2007)). Facial plausibility is established “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Thus, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, the nonmoving party must allege facts that are “enough to raise a right to above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Dismissal of a complaint can be based on either the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the lack of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). In considering whether the complaint is sufficient to state a claim, the court will take all material allegations as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. NL Indus., Inc. v. Kaplan, 792 F.2d 896, 898 (9th Cir. 1986).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Ranger Freeman

         Ranger Freeman moves for dismissal of the claims against her in her official capacity based on the Eleventh Amendment and the prohibition to official capacity suits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff responds by ...


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