United States District Court, S.D. California
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
(DOC. NO. 28)
ANTHONY J. BATTAGLIA JUDGE
the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. No.
28.) The core question in this case is whether the access of
juvenile records by County Counsel, while acting in defense
of its client, violates that juvenile's right to privacy
and established privacy laws. This remains an underdeveloped
area of federal law, although it raises interesting questions
seemingly unanticipated by local ordinances. Nevertheless,
the Court finds the debatable holding of one case does not
establish a current constitutional right to privacy covering
juvenile records. The Court also finds the issue, which
Courts have wrangled with, was not clearly established when
Defendants Cortez and Jones accessed Plaintiffs files. Thus,
finding the individual Defendants have qualified immunity,
and that Plaintiffs' Monell claim also fails,
the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion to
dismiss. (Doc. No. 28.)
bring claims against the County and two attorneys, Jones and
Cortez, for accessing juvenile files without prior judicial
authorization during a prior case in which the defendant
attorneys defended the County on allegations of child abuse
by Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs allege they had a constitutional
right to privacy with respect to their files, and that
Defendants violated those rights when they accessed them
without getting permission. Plaintiff brings a 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 claim against Defendants and a Monell
claim against the County.
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal
sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint. See Navarro
v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). “[A]
court may dismiss a complaint as a matter of law for (1) lack
of cognizable legal theory or (2) insufficient facts under a
cognizable legal claim.” SmileCare Dental Grp. v.
Delta Dental Plan of Cal., 88 F.3d 780, 783 (9th Cir.
1996) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
However, a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss if it
contains “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). In making this
determination, a court reviews the contents of the complaint,
accepting all factual allegations as true and drawing all
reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.
See Cedars-Sinai Med. Ctr. v. Nat'l League of
Postmasters of U.S., 497 F.3d 972, 975 (9th Cir. 2007).
this deference, the reviewing court need not accept legal
conclusions as true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009). It is also improper for a court to assume
“the [plaintiff] can prove facts that [he or she] has
not alleged . . . .” Assoc. Gen. Contractors of
Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S.
519, 526 (1983). However, “[w]hen there are
well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their
veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise
to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
move to dismiss both Plaintiff's causes of action: (1)(a)
violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for invasion of
privacy and (1)(b) unauthorized access and/or inspection of
Plaintiff's records; and (2) Monell related
claims. (Doc. No. 1.)
Invasion of Privacy
maintain there is no federal right to privacy, thus no §
1983 claim can exist since the statute requires a
constitutional deprivation. (Doc. No. 28-1 at 9.)
Specifically, Defendants argue the complaint simply
“fails to identify any specific constitutional right or
federal statute underlying the section 1983 claim.”
(Id. at 10.) Defendants refute Plaintiffs'
argument that a Ninth Circuit case established such a right.
(Id.) Plaintiffs argue that Gonzalez v.
Spencer, 336 F.3d 832, 834-35 (9th Cir. 2003) holds that
“[a]n attorney representing a county agency in a civil
rights lawsuit cannot inspect or access Juvenile Case Files
or records in the course of that representation-without prior
judicial authorization.” (Doc. No. 18 at 9.) Indeed, it
appears Gonzalez does hold as such.
counter with a district court case which holds that
“the court in Gonzalez did not address the
question of whether a federal right of privacy exists
regarding juvenile records.” Rigsby v. County of
LA, CV 11-02766 SJO (PJWx), 2011 WL 3143544, at *3 (C.D.
Cal. Aug. 2, 2011). The Rigsby Court determined that
Gonzalez was relying on Plaintiff's allegations
in that case and taking them as true. Id. The Court
goes on hold that there is no right to privacy for juvenile
records guaranteed by the Constitution. Id. Another
district court case also asserts that Gonzalez did
not establish the existence of a constitutional information
privacy right. Ismail v. Fulkerson, No. SA CV
10-00901-VBF, 2014 WL 3962488, at *11 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 12,
2014). Ismail notes that Gonzalez did not
refer to any other authority, outside of state law, in
determining its conclusions. Indeed, Gonzalez only
states that the attorney's actions violated state law,
and do not specifically mention a violation of federal law.
argues that Gonzalez must have been discussing a
privacy right under § 1983 because the Court also
included a discussion of qualified immunity-which is a common
defense against § 1983 lawsuits. (Doc. No. 18 at 12.)
The Court also analyzed whether the Defendant in
Gonzalez acted under color of state law, a necessary
element of § 1983. Finally, Plaintiff notes the
Court's use of the word “also” in the
Gonzalez opinion: “[b]ecause Spencer
improperly obtained access to Gonzalez's juvenile court
file, we need not reach the question whether Spencer's
use of Gonzalez's file in depositions also
violated his constitutional rights.” (Doc. No. 18 at
despite Plaintiff's arguments, the Court finds
Gonzalez's analysis unpersuasive insofar as
finding a federal right to privacy. Rather, the Court finds
the analysis conducted in both Ismail and
Rigsby compelling. While the supporting contention
from Gonzalez was a conclusory statement, the
analysis done by the Central District dig deeply into the
Ninth Circuit's previous rulings on constitutional rights
to privacy. See Ismail, 2014 WL 3962488, at *6-11.
Only after Ismail's discussion of prior Circuit
precedents does the Court conclude that
“Gonzalez does not discuss, analyze, or cite
any United States Supreme Court or Ninth Circuit precedent
regarding the constitutional right to ...