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Hampton v. County of San Joaqui

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 29, 2017

COUNTY OF SAN JOAQUIN, et al., Defendants.



         Through the present lawsuit, Plaintiff Delilah Marie Hampton seeks damages from Defendants San Joaquin County and fourteen individually-named San Joaquin County Sheriff's deputies, claiming that she was unreasonably restrained by the deputies, and subsequently arrested, after she reportedly caused a scene in a Superior Court courtroom. Plaintiff Hampton claims violations of her constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and further asserts various state law claims for false arrest, imprisonment and battery. She also contends that Defendant County is liable for the wrongdoing she alleges by failing to adequately train, supervise and discipline its deputies. In addition, Plaintiff Jamila Breeler asserts her own claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress as a result of contemporaneously observing the injuries sustained by her sister, Plaintiff Hampton. Defendants County and thirteen of the individually named deputies[1] now move to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on grounds that it fails to allege any specific violations against any of the allegedly involved deputies, and consequently fails to state any claim upon which relief can be granted.[2] As set forth below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.[3]


         On March 10, 2016, Plaintiff Hampton visited San Joaquin County Superior Court's facilities in Stockton, California, to observe a scheduled court proceeding. After a short time inside the courtroom, Plaintiff alleges she was told to leave by Defendant San Joaquin Sheriff's Department Deputy Steve Head. Once outside, Plaintiff claims that Deputy Head threw her against a wall and attempted to place her under arrest without probable cause or legal justification. FAC, ¶¶ 12-14. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff Hampton claims she “was thrown to the ground and subjected by all DEFENDANTS to unreasonable and excessive force while PLAINTIFF was handcuffed.” Id. at ¶ 15. Aside from the allegations levied against Deputy Head described above, the FAC contains no further charging allegations against any of the thirteen other deputies claimed by Plaintiff Hampton to have acted improperly.

         With regard to Plaintiff Breeler, the FAC states that she was “in close proximity” to her sister and consequently observed the injuries inflicted on her sister, causing Breeler “to suffer severe emotional distress.” Id. at ¶ 16.

         Finally, in contending that the County bears responsibility for its deputies' alleged misconduct, Plaintiffs state only in conclusory fashion that the County has “a duty to adequately train, supervise, and discipline their deputy Sheriffs in order to protect members of the public, including PLAINTIFF[S], from being harmed by such deputies unnecessarily.” Id. at ¶ 40.

         Aside from these cursory allegations, the FAC contains no other factual detail with respect to moving Defendants' claimed wrongdoing.


         On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), all allegations of material fact must be accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). Rule 8(a)(2) “requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not require detailed factual allegations. However, “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted). A court is not required to accept as true a “legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216 (3d ed. 2004) (stating that the pleading must contain something more than “a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action”)).

         Furthermore, “Rule 8(a)(2) . . . requires a showing, rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Thus, “[w]ithout some factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard to see how a claimant could satisfy the requirements of providing not only ‘fair notice' of the nature of the claim, but also ‘grounds' on which the claim rests.” Id. (citing Wright & Miller, supra, at 94, 95). A pleading must contain “only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. If the “plaintiffs . . . have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, their complaint must be dismissed.” Id. However, “[a] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and ‘that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'” Id. at 556 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

         A court granting a motion to dismiss a complaint must then decide whether to grant leave to amend. Leave to amend should be “freely given” where there is no “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, . . . undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment . . . .” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) (listing the Foman factors as those to be considered when deciding whether to grant leave to amend). Not all of these factors merit equal weight. Rather, “the consideration of prejudice to the opposing party . . . carries the greatest weight.” Id. (citing DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton, 833 F.2d 183, 185 (9th Cir. 1987)). Dismissal without leave to amend is proper only if it is clear that “the complaint could not be saved by any amendment.” Intri-Plex Techs. v. Crest Group, Inc., 499 F.3d 1048, 1056 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing In re Daou Sys., Inc., 411 F.3d 1006, 1013 (9th Cir. 2005); Ascon Props., Inc. v. Mobil Oil Co., 866 F.2d 1149, 1160 (9th Cir. 1989) (“Leave need not be granted where the amendment of the complaint . . . constitutes an exercise in futility . . . .”)).


         Except for Deputy Steve Head, Plaintiffs fail to identify with any particularity whatsoever the role the remaining thirteen deputies played in the events underlying Plaintiffs' alleged injuries. Without any additional factual specificity, Plaintiffs have failed to make any showing that the deputies' use of force was either objectively unreasonable or excessive so as to support either Plaintiff Hampton's claims founded thereon.

         Simply alleging that the deputies acted “unlawfully and unreasonably [in] using force against [Plaintiff Hampton] which was excessive and/or unnecessary under the totality of the circumstances” is nothing more than a conclusory legal allegation that fails to provide sufficient facts to enable the thirteen deputies to meaningfully respond to Plaintiffs' FAC. See FAC, ¶ 21. While the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff and accept as true the factual allegations contained in her complaint, that rule does not apply to a legal conclusion couched as a fact. Johnson v. Shasta County, 83 F.Supp.3d 918, 925 (E. D. Cal. 2015). Because this dearth of any factual specificity imbues each of the causes of action pled against the thirteen deputies by ...

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