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AG. G. v. City of Hayward

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 8, 2019

AG. G., a minor, by and through his guardian ad litem, JESSICA AQUINO; AR. G., a minor, by and through her guardian ad litem, JESSICA AQUINO; KARLA GONSALEZ, individually; and AGUSTIN GONSALEZ, JR., individually; Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF HAYWARD, a municipal corporation; MARK KOLLER, individually; PHILLIP WOOLEY, individually; MICHAEL CLARK, individually; TASHA DECOSTA, individually; and DOES 1-100, inclusive, Defendants. Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART, AND GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT RE: DKT. NO. 11

          DONNA M. RYU JUDGE.

         Defendants City of Hayward, Chief of Police Mark Koller, Officer Phillip Wooley, Officer Michael Clark, and Sergeant Tasha DeCosta move to dismiss the First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) filed by Plaintiffs AG. G. and AR. G., by and through their guardian ad litem, Jessica Aquino, Karla Gonsalez, and Agustin Gonsalez, Jr. (collectively “Plaintiffs”). Defendants also move for a more definite statement pursuant to Rule 12(e). The court held a hearing on June 27, 2019. Having considered the parties' submissions and oral argument, the court grants the motion to dismiss in part and denies it in part, and grants the motion for a more definite statement.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiffs make the following allegations in the FAC, all of which are taken as true for purposes of this motion.[1] On November 15, 2018, Agustin Gonsalez was at the residence of his former girlfriend, Christina Rodriguez, who was with her sister, Deanna Rubio. [Docket No. 9 (FAC) ¶ 15.] Gonsalez was “in the midst of a mental health crisis, ” was acting erratically, and had threatened to hurt himself with a razor blade. Id. At some point in the evening, Gonsalez got into a verbal fight with a neighbor, which escalated into a physical altercation. Id. ¶ 16. The neighbor called 911 and reported that Gonsalez had a knife, was threatening him, and was “crazy.” Id. In fact, Gonsalez did not have a knife; he had a razor blade that was 1.54 inches long. Id. ¶¶ 16, 17.

         Defendants DeCosta, Wooley, and Clark answered the 911 call. Id. ¶ 17. Gonsalez made several expletive statements. Id. As they exited the patrol car, DeCosta, a Sergeant and therefore the ranking officer on scene, told Wooley and Clark “Hold on, he's threatening.” Id. According to Plaintiffs, DeCosta “made this statement to caution [] Wooley and Clark from approaching Mr. Gonsalez.” Id. However, Wooley and Clark disregarded DeCosta's warning, drew their guns, and proceeded towards Gonsalez. Id. Gonsalez was walking towards Rodriguez and away from the officers. Id. ¶ 18.

         Gonsalez then said, “you can't shoot me, ” “rounded the front of a parked vehicle, and walked slowly toward[s] [] Wooley and Clark, facing them as they continued to approach him.” Id. Wooley and Clark ordered Gonsalez to drop the knife. Id. Gonsalez had no knife to drop; instead, he kept his hands at or below his waist in front of him, while holding on to the razor blade. Id. Wooley and Clark never reached for their tasers; instead, they fired thirteen shots at Gonsalez, striking him ten times. Id. Although she was the supervising officer at the scene, DeCosta failed to intervene and failed to prevent Wooley and Clark from shooting Gonsalez. Id. ¶ 23. Gonsalez was subsequently handcuffed and transported to a hospital where he passed away later that night. Id. ¶ 21.

         Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on February 7, 2019. On April 12, 2019, they filed the FAC with the following claims: (1) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for wrongful death asserted by AR. G. and AG. G. against Wooley, Clark, and DeCosta; (2) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of familial relationship rights asserted by all Plaintiffs against Wooley and Clark; (3) a Monell violation asserted by AR. G. and AG. G. against the City of Hayward and Koller; (4) a survival action pursuant to section 1983 asserted by AR. G. and AG. G.; (5) wrongful death negligence asserted by AR. G. and AG. G. against Wooley, Clark, and DeCosta; (6) violation of the Bane Act, California Civil Code § 52.1, asserted by AR. G. and AG. G. against Wooley, Clark, DeCosta, and the City of Hayward; and (7) battery asserted by AR. G. and AG. G. against Clark, Wooley, and the City of Hayward. See FAC.

         Defendants move to dismiss the FAC on the following grounds: (1) minors AR. G. and AG. G. lack standing because the FAC fails to allege that a guardian ad litem was appointed by the court; (2) the minors' survivor claims are also defective because AG. G. and AR. G. have not complied with the requirements of California Code of Civil Procedure section 377.32 and therefore cannot proceed as successors-in-interest on behalf of Gonsalez; and (3) the FAC does not allege sufficient facts to support claims against Koller and DeCosta. Defendants also move for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e), asserting that the FAC does not specify which Defendants are named in the fourth claim, which is the section 1983 survival action.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

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

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claims alleged in the complaint. See Parks Sch. of Bus., Inc. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995). When reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court must “accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, ” Erickson, 551 U.S at 94, and may dismiss a claim “only where there is no cognizable legal theory” or there is an absence of “sufficient factual matter to state a facially plausible claim to relief.” Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc., 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001)) (quotation marks omitted). A claim has facial plausibility when a plaintiff “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). In other words, the facts alleged must demonstrate “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)); see Lee v. City of L.A., 250 F.3d 668, 679 (9th Cir. 2001), overruled on other grounds by Galbraith v. Cnty of Santa Clara, 307 F.3d 1119 (9th Cir. 2002).

         B. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e) provides that “a party may move for a more definite statement of a pleading . . . which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” Motions for a more definite statement are “viewed with disfavor” and rarely granted. Cellars v. Pacific Coast Packaging, Inc., 189 F.R.D. 575, 578 (N.D. Cal. 1999). However, courts may require a more definite statement “when the pleading is so vague or ambiguous that the opposing party cannot respond, even with a simple denial, in good faith or without prejudice to himself.” Id. (quotation and citation omitted).

         III. ...


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