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Theis v. Yuba County Sheriff's Department

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 9, 2019

ROBIN THEIS and TAYLOR THEIS, Plaintiffs,
v.
YUBA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT dba YUBA COUNTY ANIMAL CARE SERVICES; DENEEN BARNHILL in her official and individual capacities; and DOES 1 through 10, inclusive, Defendants.

          ORDER

         This case arises from the euthanization of a beloved cat, named Pizza, brought to Yuba County Animal Control Services. Plaintiffs Robin Theis and Taylor Theis bring federal and state law claims against defendants Yuba County Sheriff's Department, doing business as Yuba County Animal Care Services, and Deneen Barnhill, alleging defendants engaged in a pattern of blatant disregard for California law pertaining to the care and treatment of animals impounded in animal shelters. See generally First Am. Compl. (“FAC”), ECF No. 8. Defendants move to dismiss plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Mot., ECF No. 10; Mem., ECF No. 10-1. Plaintiffs have opposed, ECF No. 13, and defendants have replied, ECF No. 16. The court held a hearing on the matter on March 8, 2019, at which Maria Minney appeared for plaintiffs and Derek Haynes appeared for defendants. As explained below, the court GRANTS defendants' motion with leave to amend.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiffs allege their cat, named Pizza, was unlawfully euthanized at a Yuba County Animal Care Services shelter in Olivehurst, California, on or about February 9, 2018. FAC ¶¶ 1, 4. Defendant Yuba County Sheriff's Department owns and operates the shelter. Id. ¶ 2. Defendant Barnhill was the shelter's Supervising Animal Care Services Officer. Id. ¶ 3.

         Plaintiffs allege Pizza went missing on or about February 9, 2018. Id. ¶ 12. Later that day, plaintiffs learned the cat had been found by a neighbor and brought to the Yuba County animal shelter. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiffs attempted to contact the shelter, but it had already closed for the evening. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiffs further allege when they arrived at the shelter around 9:30 a.m. the following morning, February 10, 2018, they learned the shelter had euthanized Pizza as early as 5:00 p.m. the night before. Id. ¶ 15. Finally, plaintiffs allege Barnhill informed them Pizza had been injured, presumably by a car, yet the neighbor who brought the cat to the shelter without knowing it was plaintiffs' described Pizza as appearing healthy. Id. ¶ 17-18. Plaintiffs also claim surveillance video from the shelter confirms Pizza was not injured or in distress prior to euthanization, as does a necropsy report. Id. ¶¶ 18-19. Therefore, plaintiffs allege Barnhill knew her statements were false when she made them. Id. ¶ 18.

         Plaintiffs contend Pizza's euthanization falls within an ongoing pattern and practice of abuse and failure to follow state and federal law at the Yuba County animal shelter. Id. at 2. Plaintiffs seek general and punitive damages for Pizza's death and a writ of mandate requiring defendants to cease their continuing violations of state laws pertaining to the care and treatment of impounded animals. Id. at 10-11.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs filed their original complaint in Yuba County Superior Court on October 1, 2018. Notice of Removal (“NOR”), ECF No. 1 at 2. Defendants removed the case to federal court, asserting federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because plaintiffs brought a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. NOR at 2. Defendants then moved to dismiss the complaint on January 4, 2019. ECF No. 6. While defendants' motion was pending, on January 25, 2019, plaintiffs filed the operative First Amended Complaint. ECF No. 8. In the First Amended Complaint, plaintiffs assert four claims against defendants: (1) failure to perform mandatory duties in violation of California Government Code section 815.6, (2) petition for a writ of mandate under California Code of Civil Procedure section 1085, (3) violation of plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment substantive and due process rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and (4) negligence under California common law. FAC ¶¶ 22-45.

         On February 8, 2019, defendants filed the pending motion to dismiss. ECF No. 10. Plaintiffs filed their opposition on February 22, 2019, ECF No. 13, and defendants replied on March 1, 2019, ECF No. 16.

         II. REQUESTS FOR JUDICIAL NOTICE

         Concurrent with the instant motion, both parties seek judicial notice. Defendants request the court take judicial notice of a Yuba County Superior Court ruling in O'Hagan v. Yuba County Sheriff's Department, Case No. CV 17-0000923, granting defendants' demurrer to plaintiffs' fourth amended complaint in that case. Defs.' Req. for Judicial Notice (“DRJN”), ECF No. 16-1; DRJN Ex. A, ECF No. 16-1. Plaintiffs request the court take judicial notice of the following: (1) California Senate Bill 1785, enacted in a statutory scheme referred to as the Hayden Act; (2) the Statement of Decision from the California Commission on Public Mandates, adopted January 25, 2001; and (3) an article written and posted online by UCLA Professor Taimie Bryant, one of the key drafters of the Hayden Act. Pls.' Req. for Judicial Notice (“PRJN”), ECF No. 13-1; PRJN Exs. A-C, ECF No. 13-1. The entirety of defendants' request, and plaintiffs' request as to Senate Bill 1785 and the Statement of Decision from the California Commission on Public Mandates, are unopposed. Defendants object, however, to plaintiffs' request for judicial notice of the article by Professor Bryant. Obj. to PRJN, ECF No. 16-2.

         The court may judicially notice a fact not subject to reasonable dispute because it “(1) is generally known within the trial court's territorial jurisdiction; or (2) can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed.R.Evid. 201(b). Judicial notice is proper for public records whose accuracy is not in dispute. See Anderson v. Holder, 673 F.3d 1089, 1094 n.1 (9th Cir. 2012) (“[A court] may take judicial notice of records and reports of administrative bodies.” (internal quotation marks omitted)); United States v. Black, 482 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2007) (“[Courts] may take notice of proceedings in other courts, both within and without the federal judicial system, if those proceedings have a direct relation to matters at issue.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). Additionally, courts may take judicial notice of state statutes and their legislative history. See Anderson, 673 F.3d at 1094 n.1 (“Legislative history is properly a subject of judicial notice.”). Therefore, the court GRANTS defendants' request and GRANTS plaintiffs' request as to Senate Bill 1785 and the Statement of Decision from the California Commission on Public Mandates.

         Regarding the article for which plaintiffs seek judicial notice, courts generally take judicial notice of articles to “indicate what was in the public realm at the time, not whether the contents of those articles were in fact true.” Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 592 F.3d 954, 960 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Premier Growth Fund v. All. Capital Mgmt., 435 F.3d 396, 401 n.15 (3d Cir. 2006)). Plaintiffs appear to seek judicial notice of the truth of the facts stated in Professor Bryant's article, namely her opinions about the purpose of the Hayden Act. The court DENIES plaintiffs' request as to Professor Bryant's article. See Castaneda v. Saxon Mortg. Servs. Inc., 687 F.Supp.2d 1191, 1196 (E.D. Cal. 2009) (denying request for judicial notice of unpublished article “which expresse[d] opinions of the author that may reasonably be questioned”); Ekdahl v. Ayers, No. C 07-3642 SBA (PR), 2008 WL 4344314, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 22, 2008) (denying request for judicial notice of two articles containing opinions regarding policy).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” A court may dismiss “based on the lack of cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990) (citing Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 533-34 (9th Cir. 1984)).

         Although a complaint need contain only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), to survive a motion to dismiss, this short and plain statement “must contain sufficient factual matter . . . to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint must include something more than “an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation” or “‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Determining whether a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial ...


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