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Lefiell v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 2, 2018



          SUSAN ILLSTON United States District Judge

         Currently before the Court is defendant City of Martinez's motion to dismiss plaintiff Barbara Lefiell's complaint. Dkt. No. 11. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion. Dkt. No. 31. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint. Any amended complaint must be filed not later than May 18, 2018.


         Plaintiff filed the instant complaint on January 24, 2018. Dkt. No. 1. According to Ms. Lefiell, on March 28, 2017, she was “struck and severely injured” by an Amtrak train while waiting at a railroad crossing in Martinez, California. Compl. ¶ 1. In her most specific iteration, plaintiff claims that while waiting on a platform near the Amtrak station, she was “struck by Amtrak's train…operating on tracks and property owned and controlled by Defendant.” Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff alleges that defendant was responsible for the design, supervision, operation, and evaluation of the platform, sidewalk, and general area where the accident occurred. Id. According to Ms. Lefiell, defendant was negligent in overseeing and maintaining the accident site, thereby creating a dangerous condition. The alleged negligence includes “negligent and careless maintenance, design, construction, management, repair, inspection, fencing, railing, approaching sidewalks, placing and allowing a platform and sidewalk to be placed too close to the railroad tracks…or that the accident site had no warnings, warning signs, barriers, and/or flashing lights and other signals alerting the public…and plaintiff of the dangerous condition.” Id. ¶ 20. Ms. Lefiell alleges that defendant was aware of this dangerous condition because “other members of the public have been struck by moving railroad equipment at and near the accident site.” Id. ¶ 22.

         Plaintiff's complaint alleges two causes of action: (1) violation of Government Code sections 835, 815.2(A), 815.6, 835.2, and 840.4 against defendants City of Martinez, State of California, County of Contra Costa, and Does 1-50; and (2) negligence against defendants Union Pacific, Amtrak, Brian Smith, and Does 51-100. Essentially, Ms. Lefiell seeks to hold the City liable for (1) dangerous condition of public property; and (2) public employee negligence.

         Defendant City of Martinez filed a motion to dismiss on February 22, 2018. Dkt. No. 11. Defendant argues plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed because plaintiff's single cause of action against the City conflates separate theories of liability that are either inapplicable or inapposite. As a result, defendant argues plaintiff's complaint fails to conform to F.R.C.P. 8. (Defendant concedes plaintiff has pled an appropriate cause of action under Government Code section 835, but argues that plaintiff otherwise fails to state a claim.) Plaintiff filed an opposition on March 7, 2018. Dkt. No. 31.


         1. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a district court must dismiss a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege “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). This “facial plausibility” standard requires the plaintiff to allege facts that add up to “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While courts do not require “heightened fact pleading of specifics, ” a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570.

         In deciding whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court must assume that the plaintiff's allegations are true and must draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Usher v. City of Los Angeles, 828 F.2d 556, 561 (9th Cir. 1987). However, the court is not required to accept as true “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).

         If the Court dismisses the complaint, it must then decide whether to grant leave to amend. The Ninth Circuit has “repeatedly held that 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.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Dismissal of a pro se complaint without leave to amend is proper only if it is “absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by amendment.” Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987)(quoting Broughton v. Cutter Labs., 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir. 1980)); see also Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012).

         2. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, plaintiffs must “plead a short and plain statement of the elements of his or her claim.” Bautista v. Los Angeles County, 216 F.3d 837, 840 (9th Cir. 2000). “Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1). Dismissal is appropriate under Rule 8 where a complaint is “argumentative, prolix, replete with redundancy and largely irrelevant.” McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177, 1178-79 (9th Cir. 1996); see also Nevijel v. North Coast Life Ins. Co., 651 F.2d 671, 673-74 (9th Cir. 1981) (affirming dismissal of complaint that was “verbose, confusing and conclusory”). “Something labeled a complaint but ... prolix in evidentiary detail, yet without simplicity, conciseness and clarity as to whom plaintiffs are suing for what wrongs, fails to perform the essential functions of a complaint.” McHenry, 84 F.3d at 1180. Such a complaint only serves to “impose ...

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