United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART
DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AND DENYING DEFENDANTS'
MOTION TO STRIKE
L. NuRley United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
and Motion to Strike. (ECF Nos. 8, 9) Plaintiffs Denise
Huskins (“Huskins”) and Aaron Quinn
(“Quinn”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”)
oppose the motions. (ECF Nos. 11, 12.) Having reviewed the
briefings, and for the reasons detailed below, the Court
GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' motion to
dismiss and DENIES Defendants' motion to strike.
Factual and Procedural Background
set forth details of a home invasion, in which an intruder
entered Aaron Quinn's Vallejo home early on March 23,
2015, assaulted Plaintiffs, held them captive, and kidnapped
Huskins, ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 12-14, 32, and of the
subsequent police investigation of the crime.
Aaron Quinn's Allegations
details the intruder's demands for information about
Quinn's finances, account and email passwords, and
personal history. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 13.) The intruder
informed Quinn that he would kidnap Denise Huskins for ransom
and ordered Quinn to wait for further communication by cell
phone and through Quinn's own email account. (ECF No. 1
at ¶ 14.) The intruder then ordered Quinn to remain on a
couch within an area marked off by tape. (ECF No. 1 at ¶
14.) The intruder threatened to harm Huskins and Quinn's
family if Quinn moved and told Quinn that he would be
monitored by surveillance cameras to ensure his compliance.
(ECF No. 1 at ¶ 14.)
spent several hours uncertain about how to proceed to ensure
Huskins's safety, received multiple communications
demanding ransom for Huskins, and decided about 1:50 p.m. on
March 23 to contact the Vallejo Police Department
(“VPD”). (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 15-17.)
alleges that VPD officers quickly focused on him as a suspect
in Huskins's disappearance and ignored evidence that the
intruder left behind. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 17-18.)
Quinn provided blood and DNA samples to VPD. (ECF No. 1 at
¶ 19.) He alleges that VPD took his clothing and, in
exchange, provided him with a dirty t-shirt and pants marked
“Solano Prison” down the side. (ECF No. 1 at
¶ 19.) Quinn was interrogated for 18 hours by VPD, led
by VPD Detective Mathew Mustard. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶
20-21.) Quinn states he asked to speak with his family and
was told, inaccurately, that they were not at the station.
(ECF No. 1 at ¶ 24.)
alleges that when VPD released him on March 24, VPD tried to
secure more media coverage by forcing Quinn to exit the front
of the station, where media congregated, while sleep deprived
and wearing pants marked “Solano Prison.” (ECF
No. 1 at ¶ 31.) Quinn states that a lawyer his brother
hired that morning arranged a more discrete exit. (ECF No. 1
at ¶¶ 30-31.
Denise Huskins's Allegations
this time, Huskins was forced into the trunk of Quinn's
car, which the intruder drove, and then transferred to the
trunk of a second car. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 32.) In the trunk
of the second car, she lost consciousness from a sedative.
(ECF No. 1 at ¶ 32.) Huskins was driven to an unknown
home, tied to a bed with zip ties and a bicycle lock, forced
to wear blacked out swim goggles as a blindfold, and forced
to record a proof of life tape. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶
captive she was raped twice by the intruder, who told her
that he was part of a gang and was filming the rapes to use
against her if she reported the rapes to the police. (ECF No.
1 at ¶¶ 34, 36, 37.) After the second rape, the
intruder told Huskins that she would be released, he then
threatened, drugged, and blindfolded her again, and drove her
for hours. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 37, 38.) Huskins was
released on March 25, near her parents' homes in
Huntington Beach, and contacted her father and Huntington
Beach Police Department (“HBPD”). (ECF No. 1 at
states HBPD arrived and she spoke with officers for an hour.
(ECF No. 1 at ¶ 43.) She provided details of the
intrusion, kidnapping, and her release, but denied the rapes
for fear of retaliation from the intruder. (ECF No. 1 at
¶¶ 43, 45.) Huskins aunt and cousin, an attorney,
arrived and her cousin spoke with Mustard for Huskins. (ECF
No. 1 at ¶¶ 48, 50-51.)
travelled back to Vallejo by commercial air rather than by
VPD provided jet. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 46, 55.) Huskins
alleges she did so because she was frightened of the
intruder, the media, and police, who she had been told were
skeptical of the crime and were offering her immunity. (ECF
No. 1 at ¶¶ 51, 55.) She states that when she
returned to Vallejo she requested a sexual assault exam and
spent two full days speaking with VPD. (ECF No. 1 at
¶¶ 67, 69.)
Plaintiffs' Allegations Regarding VPD's Public
allege VPD issued press releases and held press conferences
led by Park. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 49, 53, 58, 60.) They
also allege that VPD's statements included allegations
that Plaintiffs were responsible for Huskins's
disappearance and owed the city an apology for plundering
resources on the investigation. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶
58, 60.) Further, Plaintiffs contend that VPD's strong
public statements caused those statements to be widely
disseminated in the media. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 64.)
Plaintiffs claim that Defendants' actions caused
Plaintiffs emotional and physical distress and financial
loss. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 92, 94, 95.)
assert several federal and state law claims against
Defendants. Plaintiffs assert a Fourteenth Amendment claim
for defamation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a state law
defamation claim, a Fourteenth Amendment claim unreasonable
seizure of Quinn and a state law claim for false arrest of
Quinn, and state law claims for both Plaintiffs for
intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent
infliction of emotional distress. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶
Standards of Law
Motion to Dismiss
Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a pleading contain
“a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief.” On a motion to
dismiss, the factual allegations of the complaint are assumed
to be true. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972).
A court is bound to give the plaintiff the benefit of every
reasonable inference to be drawn from the well-pleaded
allegations of the complaint. Retail Clerks Int'l
Ass'n v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 753 n.6 (1963).
A plaintiff need not allege “‘specific facts'
beyond those necessary to state his claim and the grounds
showing entitlement to relief.” Bell Atlantic v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (citing
Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514
(2009)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the
pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at
a court “need not assume the truth of legal conclusions
cast in the form of factual allegations.” United
States ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2
(9th Cir. 1986). While Rule 8(a) does not require detailed
factual allegations, “it demands more than an
unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me
accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A
pleading is insufficient if it offers mere “labels and
conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.”). Additionally, it is inappropriate to assume
that the plaintiff “can prove facts that it has not
alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws
in ways that have not been alleged.” Associated
Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of
Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).
a court may not dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff
has alleged “enough facts to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
While the plausibility requirement is not akin to a
probability requirement, it demands more than “a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
Id. at 678. This plausibility inquiry is “a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”
Id. at 679.
ruling upon a motion to dismiss, the court may consider only
the complaint, any exhibits thereto, and matters which may be
judicially noticed pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 201.
See Mir v. Little Co. of Mary Hosp., 844 F.2d 646,
649 (9th Cir. 1988); Isuzu Motors Ltd. v. Consumers Union
of United States, Inc., 12 F.Supp.2d 1035, 1042 (C.D.
Motion to Strike
California Civil Code provides for the pre-trial dismissal of
certain actions, known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public
Participation, or SLAPP. Makaeff v. Trump Univ.,
LLC, 715 F.3d 254, 261 (9th Cir. 2013). The purpose of a
SLAPP suit is to use litigation or the threat of litigation
to prevent or deter people from “exercising their
political or legal rights or to punish them for doing
so.” Id. The purpose of California Civil Code
§ 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute, is to identify and
dismiss meritless SLAPP suits at an early stage, before the
parties or courts have expended too many resources on those
suits. Sonoma Foods, Inc. v. Sonoma Cheese Factory,
LLC, 634 F.Supp.2d 1009, 1015 (N.D. Cal. 2007); Cal.
Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16(f)-(g).
prevail on an anti-SLAPP motion, the moving party must show
that the underlying suit is a SLAPP suit and the underlying
suit must be meritless. Courts, therefore, employ a two prong
analysis in evaluating anti-SLAPP motions. Roberts v.
McAfee, Inc., 660 F.3d 1156, 1163 (9th Cir. 2011).
First, the defendant must make a prima facie showing
that the suit arises from the defendant's exercise of its
political or legal rights, such as rights of petition or free
speech. Id. Second, if the defendant makes this
showing, then the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that
its claim is not meritless by demonstrating a reasonable
probability of prevailing on the merits. Id.
the anti-SLAPP context, “probability” is a low
bar.” Roberts v. McAfee, 660 F.3d at 1163. The
plaintiff can demonstrate a probability of prevailing on its
claim by showing that “the complaint is both legally
sufficient and supported by a sufficient prima facie
showing of facts to sustain a favorable judgment.”
Id.; Wilson v. Parker, Covert &
Chidester, 28 Cal.4th 811, 821 (2002).
Analysis - Motion to Dismiss
moves to dismiss all claims against him for failure to state
a claim. (ECF No. 8-1 at 6.) Vallejo and Mustard move to
dismiss the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Causes of Action against
them for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 8-1 at 6.)
Immunity Pursuant to California Government Code
§§ 821.6 and 845
argue that they have absolute immunity from liability for
defamation, IIED, and NIED, pursuant to California Government
Code § 821.6. (ECF No. 8-1 at 11, 14, 16.) Section 821.6
provides that “[a] public employee is not liable for
injury caused by his instituting or prosecuting any judicial
or administrative proceeding within the scope of his
employment, even if he acts maliciously and without probable
cause.” Cal. Gov't Code § 821.6.
Ninth Circuit precedent holds that § 821.6 confers
immunity only against claims for malicious prosecution.
Garmon v. City of Los Angeles, 828 F.3d 837, 847
(9th Cir. 2016). Plaintiffs do not assert a malicious
prosecution claim. Accordingly, the Court concludes that
Defendants' do not have immunity from liability from
Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to § 821.6.
also argue that they have immunity from liability for IIED
and NIED pursuant to California Government Code § 845.
(ECF No. 8-1 at 14-15, 17.) Section 845 provides that
“[n]either a public entity nor a public employee is
liable for failure to establish a police department or
otherwise to provide police protection service or, if police
protection service is provided, for failure to provide
sufficient police protection service.” Cal. Gov't
Code § 845.
do not assert any claim based on Defendants' failure to
provide sufficient police protective service or “not
freeing Huskins from her captor sooner.” (ECF No. 11 at
24.) Rather, Plaintiffs rely on different theories to support
their IIED and NIED claims. (ECF No. 11 at 22- 24, 24-26.)
Accordingly, the Court concludes that Defendants do not have
immunity from liability from these IIED and NIED claims
pursuant to § 845.
First Cause of Action: Stigma-Plus Defamation
assert a Fourteenth Amendment claim for defamation against
Park pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1 at
¶¶ 84-97.) “Damage to reputation alone is not
actionable under § 1983, ” but a claim may lie if
Plaintiffs were “stigmatized in connection with the
denial of a ‘more tangible' interest. ”
Hart v. Parks,450 F.3d 1059, 1069-70 (9th Cir. 2006)
(citing Paul v. Davis,424 U.S. 693, 701-02; 711-12
(1976)). “This is known as the ‘stigma-plus'
test, and [it] can be satisfied in two ways.”
Id. at 1070. First, Plaintiffs may satisfy the test
by alleging “that the injury to reputation caused
the denial of a federal protected right.”
Id. (emphasis in original). ...