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Inman v. Anderson

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

February 27, 2018

BRUCE INMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
S. ANDERSON, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART COUNTY DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS; GRANTING CITY DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS; AND DENYING CITY DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR A MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT RE: DKT. NOS. 43, 45

          LUCY H. KOH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Bruce Inman (“Plaintiff”) filed an amended civil rights complaint against Defendants S. Anderson (“Officer Anderson”), Guillermo Vasquez (“Officer Vasquez”), Dana Rannals (“Officer Rannals”), Pedro Zamora (“Officer Zamora”), Leo Moreno (“Officer Moreno”), the City of Capitola, Steven J. Moore (“ADA Moore”), and the County of Santa Cruz (collectively, “Defendants”). In his amended complaint, Plaintiff asserts five causes of action arising out of his arrest, investigation, and prosecution for allegedly annoying or molesting a child in violation of California Penal Code § 647.6(a). On November 17, 2017, ADA Moore and the County of Santa Cruz (collectively, the “County Defendants”) filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. ECF No. 43 (“County Mot.”). On the same day, Officer Anderson, Officer Vasquez, Officer Zamora, Officer Moreno (collectively, the “City Officers”), along with the City of Capitola (collectively, the “City Defendants”) moved (1) to dismiss the amended complaint; and (2) for a more definite statement.[1] ECF No. 45 (“City Mot.”). Having considered the submissions of the parties, the relevant law, and the record in this case, the Court hereby (1) GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the County Defendants' motion to dismiss; (2) GRANTS the City Defendants' motion to dismiss; and (3) DENIES the City Defendants' motion for a more definite statement.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff is a resident of the County of Santa Cruz (the “County”). ECF No. 24 (“FAC”) ¶ 3. At all times relevant to the instant case, Officers Anderson, Vasquez, Rannals, Zamora, and Moreno were police officers employed by the City of Capitola (the “City”), and ADA Moore was an Assistant District Attorney employed by the County. See Id. ¶¶ 4-5.

         Plaintiff alleges that on August 9, 2015, Plaintiff was taking photographs in and around the beach of Capitola” when he was “approached in an extremely belligerent manner” by Officers Vasquez and Zamora. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. Plaintiff states that, despite not having a search warrant, Officers Vasquez and Zamora demanded Plaintiff to “turn over his camera to them.” Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff further alleges that after Plaintiff “reluctantly” gave the officers his camera, the officers “arrested [P]laintiff for allegedly taking photographs of a minor without her permission.” Id. ¶¶ 8-9. Specifically, Officers Vasquez and Zamora handcuffed Plaintiff and transported Plaintiff to the County jail, where Plaintiff “was booked, fingerprinted, forced to pose for mug shots and incarcerated.” Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff alleges that Officers Anderson, Vasquez, Rannals, Zamora, and Moreno “were all involved in the false arrest and incarceration of [P]laintiff.” Id.

         Plaintiff states that he “later discovered that he had been arrested for a violation of [California Penal Code §] 647.6(a).” Id. Specifically, Plaintiff states that “[a]s it turns out, one of the subjects of [P]laintiff's photographs was a minor who was at the beach that day posing for photographs.” Id. Further, when the minor was approached by Officers Vasquez and Zamora, the minor “told them that she was totally unaware of [P]laintiff or his taking photographs of her.” Id. Moreover, sometime “[a]fter [P]laintiff's arrest, the alleged victim was shown a photo lineup of 6 individuals including [P]laintiff, ” but was “unable to identify anyone.” Id. ¶ 14.

         After Plaintiff posted bail and was released, ADA Moore “continued to prosecute [P]laintiff for some 9 months . . . even though there was no evidence upon which to prosecute [P]laintiff.” Id. ¶¶ 11, 13. Plaintiff states that he “is informed and believes and alleges thereon that” the City Officers “conspired with [ADA] Moore to present false incriminating evidence to the court.” Id. 13. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that after the alleged victim failed to identify anyone from the photo lineup, Officers Anderson, Vasquez, Rannals, Zamora, and Moreno and ADA Moore “presented a false and misleading probable cause statement to a judge requesting a search warrant for [P]laintiff's home.” Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff further alleges that his computer and “other supposed possible incriminating evidence” was seized pursuant to the search warrant, but that “no incriminating evidence whatsoever” was found. Id.

         Then, after “9 months of persecution, ” “the charge against [P]laintiff was dismissed by a Superior Court Judge.” Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff alleges that the judge ordered ADA Moore to “return all of [P]laintiff's possessions that had been seized.” Id. ¶ 17. However, Plaintiff states that ADA Moore “refused to return [P]laintiff's camera and computer, and told [P]laintiff that if he was going to return the camera, he was going to destroy the photos, thereby eliminating the evidence [P]laintiff would require in order to hold the defendants[] responsible for their unlawful acts.” Id.

         Plaintiff says that “Defendants have still not returned [P]laintiff's camera and other seized items.” Id. ¶ 18.

         B. Procedural History

         On August 6, 2017, Plaintiff filed his original complaint along with an application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”). ECF Nos. 1 & 2. Plaintiff's original complaint asserted five causes of action, including (1) “unlawful search, seizure, arrest” in violation of the Fourth Amendment, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (asserted against all Defendants); (2) “conspiracy to seize the person and deny substantive due process” in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (asserted against all Defendants); (3) a Monell claim against the County based on ADA Moore's investigative policies, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (4) a Monell claim against the City, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (5) violation of the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act (“Bane Act”), Cal. Civ. Code § 52.1 (asserted against all Defendants). See ECF No. 1.

         On September 18, 2017, United States Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins granted Plaintiff's IFP application. ECF No. 13. Then, on September 20, 2017, Judge Cousins conducted a sua sponte review of Plaintiff's original complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and dismissed Plaintiff's fourth cause of action for Monell liability against the City with leave to amend. ECF No. 22. On October 4, 2017, Plaintiff filed a first amended complaint (“FAC”). See FAC. Plaintiff's FAC asserts the same five causes of action as Plaintiff's original complaint. See id.

         Then, on October 4, 2017, the County declined magistrate judge jurisdiction. ECF No. 26. As a result, this case was reassigned to the undersigned judge. ECF No. 28.

         On November 17, 2017, the County Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's FAC, see County Mot., and the City Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's FAC and for a more definite statement. See City Mot. On December 22, 2017, Plaintiff opposed both motions. See ECF No. 47 (“Opp. County”); ECF No. 48 (“Opp. City”). Then, on January 11, 2018, both the County Defendants and the City Defendants replied. See ECF No. 49 (“County Reply”); ECF No. 50 (“City Reply”).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

         Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a complaint to include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” A complaint that fails to meet this standard may be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The United States Supreme Court has held that Rule 8(a) requires a plaintiff to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that 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). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). For purposes of ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court “accept[s] factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe[s] the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008).

         The Court, however, need not accept as true allegations contradicted by judicially noticeable facts, see Schwarz v. United States, 234 F.3d 428, 435 (9th Cir. 2000), and it “may look beyond the plaintiff's complaint to matters of public record” without converting the Rule 12(b)(6) motion into a motion for summary judgment, Shaw v. Hahn, 56 F.3d 1128, 1129 n.1 (9th Cir. 1995). Nor must the Court “assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations.” Fayer v. Vaughn, 649 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). Mere “conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss.” Adams v. Johnson, 355 F.3d 1179, 1183 (9th Cir. 2004).

         B. Leave to Amend

         If the Court determines that a complaint should be dismissed, it must then decide whether to grant leave to amend. Under Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, leave to amend “shall be freely given when justice so requires, ” bearing in mind “the underlying purpose of Rule 15 to facilitate decisions on the merits, rather than on the pleadings or technicalities.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted). When dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim, “a district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.” Id. at 1130 (internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, leave to amend generally shall be denied only if allowing amendment would unduly prejudice the opposing party, cause undue delay, or be futile, or if the moving party has acted in bad faith. Leadsinger, Inc. v. BMG Music Publ'g, 512 F.3d 522, 532 (9th Cir. 2008).

         C. Motion for a More Definite Statement Under Rule 12(e)

         Under Rule 12(e), a party may move for a more definite statement with respect to a complaint that “is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” Fed. R. Civ.P. 12(e); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002) (stating that, “[i]f a pleading fails to specify the allegations in a manner that provides sufficient notice, a defendant can move for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e) before responding”). A Rule 12(e) motion may be granted, for example, “where the complaint is so general that ambiguity arises in determining the nature of the claim.” Sagan v. Apple Computer, Inc., 874 F.Supp. 1072, 1077 (C.D. Cal.1994). The Ninth Circuit has expressly held that, “even though a complaint is not defective for failure to designate the statute or other provision of law violated, [a court] may in [its] discretion, in response to a motion for more definite statement under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e), require such detail as may be appropriate in the particular case, and may dismiss the complaint if [its] order is violated.” McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1179 (9th Cir. 1996). Motions pursuant to Rule 12(e) are generally “viewed with disfavor and are rarely granted[.]” E.E.O.C. v. Alia Corp., 842 F.Supp.2d 1243, 1250 (E.D. Cal. 2012).

         III. DISCUSSION

         As explained above, the County Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's FAC, see County Mot., and the City Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's FAC and for a more definite statement. See City Mot. The Court addresses each motion in turn.

         A. County Defendants' Motion

         In their motion, the County Defendants move to dismiss every cause of action asserted against either ADA Moore or the County. Thus, both County Defendants move to dismiss (1) the first cause of action, which is for “unlawful search, seizure, arrest” in violation of the Fourth Amendment, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) the second cause of action, which is for “conspiracy to seize the person and deny substantive due process” in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (3) the fifth cause of action, which is for violation of the Bane Act. County Mot. at 5-14, 16. Further, the County moves to dismiss the third cause of action, which is Plaintiff's Monell claim against the County. Id. at 6, 14-16.

         The Court first addresses Plaintiff's first and second causes of action for “unlawful search seizure, arrest” and “conspiracy to seize the person and deny substantive due process” as they pertain to the County Defendants. Then, the Court addresses Plaintiff's Monell claim against the County. Finally, the Court addresses Plaintiff's Bane Act claim as it pertains to the County Defendants.

         1. Plaintiff's First and Second Causes of Action Against the County Defendants

         Although Plaintiff's FAC states that his first cause of action is for “unlawful search, seizure, arrest” in violation of the Fourth Amendment, FAC at 5, and that his second cause of action is for “conspiracy to seize the person and deny substantive due process” in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, id., the Court notes that the FAC does not specify which of the County Defendants' actions amount to “unlawful search, seizure, [and] arrest, ” and which of the County Defendants' actions amount to “conspiracy to seize the person and deny substantive due process.” However, construing the allegations in the FAC that are “common to all claims” in Plaintiff's favor, id. at 3, the Court deduces that Plaintiff's first cause of action against the County Defendants can be based on at most two aspects of ADA Moore's alleged conduct: (1) ADA Moore's continued prosecution of Plaintiff “for some 9 months . . . even though there was no evidence upon which to prosecute [P]laintiff, ” id. ¶ 13; and (2) ADA Moore's alleged refusal to return Plaintiff's camera and computer after a judge dismissed the criminal charge against Plaintiff and ordered ADA Moore to “return all of [P]laintiff's possessions that had been seized.” Id. ¶ 17. Further, the Court surmises that Plaintiff's second cause of action for “conspiracy to seize the person and deny substantive due process” against the County Defendants must be based on ADA Moore's alleged participation in a conspiracy with the City Officers “to present false incriminating evidence to the court, ” in the form of a “false and misleading probable cause statement . . . requesting a search warrant for [P]laintiff's home.” Id. ¶¶ 13, 15.

         The Court first addresses Plaintiff's first cause of action as it pertains to ADA Moore. Second, the Court addresses Plaintiff's second cause of action as it pertains to ADA Moore. Third and finally, the Court addresses Plaintiff's first and second causes of action as they pertain to the County.

         a. First Cause of Action Against ADA Moore

         As explained above, Plaintiff's first cause of action appears to assert that ADA Moore violated Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights by (1) continuing to prosecute Plaintiff for 9 months “even though there was no evidence” to support the prosecution, id. ¶ 13; and (2) failing to return property seized from Plaintiff after the criminal charge against Plaintiff was dismissed and the judge ordered ADA Moore to return the property to Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 17. In the County Defendants' motion to dismiss, ADA Moore argues that Plaintiff's first cause of action is barred by prosecutorial immunity. See County Mot. 5-8. ADA Moore further argues that, to the extent Plaintiff's first cause of action is based on ADA Moore's prosecution of Plaintiff without sufficient evidence, it is both insufficiently pled and barred by qualified immunity. Id. at 13, 16.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that ADA Moore is only half correct. Specifically, to the extent that Plaintiff's first cause of action is based on ADA Moore's prosecution of Plaintiff without sufficient evidence, it is barred by prosecutorial immunity. However, prosecutorial immunity does not bar the portion of Plaintiff's first cause of action that is based on ADA Moore's failure to return Plaintiff's property.

         Claims for monetary damages against prosecutors pursuant to § 1983 may be barred by absolute prosecutorial immunity. Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430-31 (1976). This immunity applies to conduct “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process, ” and protects prosecutors when they perform traditional activities related to the initiation and presentation of criminal prosecutions. Id.; accord Botello v. Gammick, 413 F.3d 971, 976 (9th Cir. 2005). Thus, prosecutorial immunity bars allegations for, among other things, malicious prosecution and conspiracy in connection with criminal prosecutions. See, e.g., Milstein v. Cooley, 257 F.3d 1004, 1008-09 (9th Cir. 2001) (prosecutorial immunity bars claim of malicious prosecution); Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072, 1075-78 (9th Cir. 1986) (prosecutorial immunity bars claim against prosecutor alleging that prosecutor conspired with the judge to predetermine the outcome of a trial). However, prosecutorial immunity does not extend to “[a] prosecutor's administrative duties and those investigatory functions that do not relate to an advocate's preparation for the initiation of a prosecution or for judicial proceedings.” Buckley v. Fitzimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993). As a result, whether a prosecutor is entitled to prosecutorial immunity for particular conduct turns on whether the prosecutor was “functioning as [an] ‘advocate[]'” while engaging in that conduct. Id. at 274.

         ADA Moore's decision to initiate a criminal prosecution against Plaintiff, and his alleged insistence on continuing that prosecution for 9 months “even though there was no evidence” to support the prosecution, FAC ¶ 13, fall squarely into the category of conduct that is “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.” Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430. Such alleged conduct is clearly intertwined with the presentation of the state's case against Plaintiff. See Id. at 431 (“[I]n initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State's case, the prosecutor is immune from a civil suit for damages under § 1983.”). In other words, ADA Moore was undisputedly “functioning as [an] ‘advocate[]'” for the state when he continued to prosecute Plaintiff in the face of allegedly insufficient evidence to justify the prosecution. Buckley, 509 U.S. at 273. As a result, Plaintiff's first cause of action against ADA Moore, to the extent that it is based on ADA Moore's alleged prosecution of Plaintiff without sufficient evidence, is barred by prosecutorial immunity. Indeed, Plaintiff's challenge to ADA Moore's continued prosecution of Plaintiff without sufficient evidence is akin to a malicious prosecution claim, and it is well-established that malicious prosecution claims against a prosecutor pursuant to § 1983 are barred by prosecutorial immunity. Milstein, 257 F.3d at 1008-09; see Zendejas v. Cty. of L.A., 2010 WL 4537090, *5 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 1, 2010) (“[F]or a malicious prosecution claim under the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must prove prosecution without probable cause.”).

         In contrast, ADA Moore's alleged failure to return Plaintiff's property after the criminal charge against Plaintiff was dismissed does not appear to amount to conduct that is “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.” Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430. Instead, once the criminal charges against a defendant are dismissed, “disposal of property held as evidence during the pendency of [the prosecution] is clearly an administrative function of prosecutors for which absolute immunity does not lie.” Bushouse v. Kalamazoo Cty., 93 F.R.D. 881, 884 (W.D. Mich. 1982). Indeed, Plaintiff's allegation that the state court judge ordered ADA Moore to return Plaintiff's property to Plaintiff-which the Court must accept as true for purposes of the instant motion-further reinforces the conclusion that ADA Moore's failure to return Plaintiff's property appears to have been unrelated to any ongoing criminal proceedings against Plaintiff. See Imbler, 424 U.S. at 431. Although ADA Moore may eventually be able to demonstrate that he is entitled to prosecutorial immunity for his retention of Plaintiff's property because he was “functioning as [an] ‘advocate[]'” in retaining Plaintiff's property, Buckley, 509 U.S. at 274, at this stage of the proceedings, and in light of Plaintiff's allegations, the Court cannot conclude that ADA Moore is entitled to prosecutorial immunity for this portion of Plaintiff's first cause of action.

         Because prosecutorial immunity bars the portion of Plaintiff's first cause of action that is based on ADA Moore's continued prosecution of Plaintiff without sufficient evidence, the Court GRANTS ADA Moore's motion to dismiss that portion of Plaintiff's first cause of action. Moreover, where prosecutorial immunity bars a plaintiff's claim, the deficiencies in that claim cannot be cured by amendment. See Dei Gratia v. Stafford, 2015 WL 332633, *8 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 23, 2015) (“Moreover where, as here, prosecutorial and judicial immunity bar a plaintiff's claims, those deficiencies cannot be cured by ...


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