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Johnson v. Mariani

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

July 10, 2017

SCOTT JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
JACK N. MARIANI, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS

          BETH LABSON FREEMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Scott Johnson (“Johnson”) filed this public accommodations disability discrimination lawsuit against Defendants Jack N. Mariani, Megan Mariani Lombardi, Donald F. Lombardi and Does 1-10, (collectively “Defendants”). Compl. ¶¶ 2-20. Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint under Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(1). For the reasons stated below, the motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In the complaint, Johnson asserts a federal cause of action under the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”), and California state law claims under the Unruh Civil Rights Act (“UCRA”) (California Civil Code §§ 51-53). Compl. ¶¶ 21-22. Johnson alleges that he visited Defendants' Lombardi Auto Service on a number of occasions between September 2016 and January 2017. Id. ¶ 24. According to Johnson, “there were no parking spaces marked and reserved for persons with disabilities during any of plaintiff's visits.” Id. ¶ 27. Johnson further alleges that there used to be a compliant, accessible parking space in the parking lot prior to February 2016, but Defendants have allowed the spaces to fade or get paved over. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. Johnson requests injunctive relief under the ADA and UCRA and actual damages under the UCRA. Id. at 10. Johnson further seeks reasonable attorneys' fees and costs under both the ADA and UCRA. Id.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). In considering whether the complaint is sufficient to state a claim, the Court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). However, the Court need not accept as true “allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice or by exhibit” or “allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences.” In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008). While a complaint need not allege detailed factual allegations, it “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when it “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. “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.” Id. at 679.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants argue that the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the UCRA claim. Mot. 3. Specifically, Defendants contend that the UCRA claim is subject to stringent pleading requirements under California Code of Civil Procedure § 425.50. Id. at 3-4. According to Defendants, the state procedural rule requires verification of the complaint, detailed pleading on how the barriers interfered with or deterred Johnson's access, detailed pleading on the dates Johnson encountered the barriers, and a statement on whether Johnson is a high-frequency litigant. Id. at 6. Defendants further argue that since UCRA allows for a mandatory minimum damages award, Johnson's request for monetary remedies under UCRA claim is Johnson's primary motive for this case and predominates over the injunctive claim. Id. at 7. Finally, Defendants asserts that Johnson fails to establish this Court's jurisdiction. Id. at 9-10.

         In opposition, Johnson first notes that even though Defendants make references to lack of federal jurisdiction and standing, Mot. 1, they never proffer any argument or legal basis in support of a Rule 12(b)(1) ground for dismissal. Opp'n 2, ECF 17. Johnson next argues that the complaint provides sufficient allegations, including that “there is not a single parking space marked and reserved for persons with disabilities” and that “there was no accessible path of travel to the entrance of the Auto Service.” Compl. ¶¶ 30-33. As such, Johnson avers that to the extent Defendants attempt to dismiss the ADA claims on the ground that they only allege “technical violations, ” the motion should be denied. Opp'n 3-4. Johnson further contends that the complaint would meet the pleading requirements under federal rules of civil procedure as well as § 425.50. Id. at 4. Nonetheless, Johnson asserts that meeting the requirements under § 425.50 would not be necessary in this Court. Id. at 5. Finally, Johnson argues that his UCRA claim presents no complex issue and does not predominate over the ADA claim, and as such, this Court should exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his UCRA claim. Id. at 8-11.

         First, with respect to Defendants' passing reference to lack of standing and federal subject matter jurisdiction, Defendants make no arguments specifically on these points. Accordingly, the Court denies the Rule 12(b)(1) motion to the extent it is made on that ground.

         Second, the Court finds that the complaint need not meet the pleading requirements set forth in § 425.50 because those requirements are state procedural rules and are not applicable to the complaint here. Although Johnson's UCRA claim arises under state law, the allegations are subject to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Kearns v. Ford Motor Co., 567 F.3d 1120, 1125 (9th Cir. 2009) (“[T]he Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply in federal court, ‘irrespective of the source of the subject matter jurisdiction, and irrespective of whether the substantive law at issue is state or federal.' ”) (citation omitted); see also Cullen v. Netflix, Inc., 880 F.Supp.2d 1017, 1022 (N.D. Cal. 2012) (applying federal rules of civil procedure in evaluating a motion to dismiss a disability discrimination complaint); Oliver v. In-N-Out Burgers, 286 F.R.D. 475, 477 (S.D. Cal. 2012) (noting that the provisions of Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.50 conflict with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) and applying the Federal Rules). Defendants argue that UCRA's pleading requirement is not procedural and Johnson's federal court filing only serves to circumvent that requirement. Reply 1, ECF 18. Notably, despite having acknowledged that “state pleading standards do not apply in federal court, ” Mot. 7, Defendants seek to have this Court treat § 425.50 as substantive state law in evaluating the UCRA claim. However, Defendants provide no Ninth Circuit authority in support of their argument that California's procedural rule is substantive and point to no federal court in this District that has treated § 425.50 as substantive state law. Although Defendants cite several unpublished orders of dismissal in the Southern District of California that allegedly applied § 425.50 as substantive state law, Mot. 9-10, this Court declines to follow suit given the weight of authority in this District and in the Ninth Circuit.

         Lastly, the Court turns to Defendants' argument urging this Court to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the UCRA claim. A federal court's exercise of supplemental jurisdiction is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Section 1367(a) provides that “in any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Under § 1367(c), however, a district court has the discretion to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a state law claim where one or more of the following circumstances exists:

(1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law,
(2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court has ...

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