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Quintana v. Otte

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 26, 2019




         This case arises from Plaintiff Rachel Quintana's arrest by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office in August 2015. Mot. to Dismiss (“Mot.”) (Dkt. 39) at 1. Plaintiff claims that she was singled out due to Plaintiff's complaints to unnamed Sheriff's Deputies on two occasions. Id. Plaintiff asserts four claims for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) Retaliatory and false arrest; (2) Excessive use of force; (3) Retaliation in prosecution; and (4) Retaliation. Id.; First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) ¶¶ 101-145 (Dkt. 38). Defendants seek to dismiss each claim. Mot. at 1. The Court hereby GRANTS Defendants' motion to dismiss Claims I, III, and IV with prejudice. The Court hereby DENIES Defendants' motion to dismiss Claim II.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges the following. Her older brother, “O”, was once “stopped by San Mateo County Sheriff's Deputies, arrested, and brought to the local substation.” First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) ¶ 21. The arrest was “without reasonable suspicion and without probable cause, ” and O was released without charges. Id. Plaintiff “went to the substation and complained to the sheriffs that there was no reason for them stopping O or taking O in.” Id. Plaintiff's younger brother, “Y”, and his friends had also been stopped by San Mateo County Sheriff's Deputies “on multiple occasions, ” and, on one occasion, deputies “forced the two friends to be handcuffed and to sit down on the public street for questioning, ” subsequently releasing one friend and taking the other to the substation. Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiff upon observing this “warrantless and unwarranted seizure complained to the deputies that there was no basis or reason for stopping, detaining, or taking the young men in.” Id.

         Plaintiff's family home was “in early 2015 the subject of a threatened citation” by Code Enforcement Officer Patty Camacho. Id. ¶ 16. Camacho said that the County “would cite and prosecute her for having older vehicles” in the yard and “for having a fence that was higher than 4 feet, ” even though other properties in the area “were in essentially the same condition.” Id. Plaintiff's complaints to the deputies regarding the treatment of her brothers “immediately pre-dated the 2015 threatened citation and prosecution, ” and Plaintiff believes that the threats were “at least in part” due to Plaintiff exercising her constitutional rights” by commenting on the actions taken by the sheriffs. Id. ¶¶ 23, 24.

         On August 28, 2015, Defendants “interviewed Plaintiff Rachel Quintana's longtime partner and alleged complaining witness, Enrique Puluc.” Id. ¶ 25. Puluc's police complaint to Defendants concerned “an event that had happened the prior evening.” Id. ¶ 26. The FAC alleges that Puluc was a “complaining witness” and was interviewed in creating a Felony Report. Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff's FAC does not explain what, specifically, Puluc's complaint alleged. See id. It states only that:

Defendants knew when they took this report that Mr. Puluc specifically said that Rachel Quintana would say that he, Mr. Puluc hit her. Defendants knew when they took this report that the event that Mr. Puluc spoke to them about was an event that had happened the prior evening. Defendants knew when they took this report that Mr. Puluc specifically said that he did not want to prosecute any criminal charge against Plaintiff Rachel Quintana.

Id. ¶ 26. Plaintiff states that “from what [Defendants] had been told by Mr. Puluc, there was no reasonable or viable basis for finding any criminal violation by [Plaintiff].” Id. ¶ 27. Additionally, though the FAC does not so allege, Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss states that “the complaining witness hit Plaintiff.” Opp. at 3.

         After receiving Puluc's complaint, Defendants went to Plaintiff's home on August 28 at about 11:00 AM “with the intent to arrest Plaintiff.” FAC ¶¶ 29, 30. Plaintiff alleges that a “substantial motivating factor in the Defendants' intent to arrest Plaintiff was in retaliation for the exercise by Plaintiff of her constitutional rights and the Defendants' association of Plaintiff with” her brothers. Id. ¶31. She also alleges that Defendant Otte “knew at the time that he arrived [at Plaintiff's home] that he did not have probable cause to arrest Plaintiff, that he had not applied for and would not have been able to obtain a warrant to arrest Plaintiff.” Id. ¶ 32.

         Plaintiff answered the door wearing a shirt and sweatpants. Id. ¶ 42. She alleges it was obvious to the Defendants that “she was not armed and did not have with her anything that could be used as a weapon.” Id. Plaintiff “did not at any time threaten the defendants, ” nor did she “flee or attempt to flee.” Id. ¶¶ 43, 44. Plaintiff was “standing at the front door, partially inside the door, with her back turned to the officers, when she was suddenly and unexpectedly forcefully grabbed by two officers by her upper arms and back.” Id. ¶ 49. She “was violently pulled back and out of the door of her home” and was handcuffed. Id. ¶¶ 50, 52. Plaintiff then “fell to the ground, ending up sitting cross legged.” Id. ¶ 53. The officers “then acted in concert to forcefully push Plaintiff over, ” where Defendant Kostielney “pulled her from the other direction” while Defendant Velasquez “pushed Plaintiff.” Id. ¶ 55. The force of this “unexpected push and pull of Plaintiff caused her feet to be jammed against the cement porch floor and her legs and knees, particularly and especially her left knee, were unnaturally twisted, causing a sprain and stretching of ligaments and cartilage in her left knee.” Id. ¶ 57.

         On February 2, 2016, Plaintiff was charged with violations of California Penal Code § 273.5 (willful infliction of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant), § 243(e)(1) (battery committed against a spouse), § 243(b) (battery against a peace officer), and § 148(a)(1) (resisting, delaying, or obstructing a peace officer). Id. ¶ 65. A supplemental report after the arrest by Defendant Kostielney stated that “no cellular telephones possessed any video footage of the incident.” Id. ¶ 72. Plaintiff requested all video and audio recordings, but none were provided to Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 71. Plaintiff subsequently filed a Trombetta motion[1] based on the “failure to preserve, destruction of, or withholding of a video-recording made by Sergeant Otte via a cellular telephone, as documented in a recording captured by Plaintiff's brother.” Id. ¶ 73. On January 5, 2017, a San Mateo Superior Court Judge granted Plaintiff's motion to dismiss the alleged charge of battery on a peace officer, finding that “[Otte] misrepresented under oath that he recorded a video.” Id. ¶¶ 82, 84. On April 20, 2018, prosecutors then dismissed “the remaining charges against Plaintiff” on the basis of the prosecution's “motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence.” Id. ¶ 91.

         Plaintiff subsequently brought the present action. Plaintiff asserts four claims: (1) retaliatory and false arrest (FAC ¶¶ 101-111); (2) excessive force (FAC ¶¶ 112-121); (3) retaliation in prosecution (FAC ¶¶ 122-137); and (4) retaliation (FAC ¶¶ 138-145). While retaliatory arrest and false arrest are two distinct claims, Plaintiff combines both into Claim I.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must ask whether the complaint “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, 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)). All factual inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. Western Reserve Oil & Gas Co., 765 F.2d at 1430. But courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).


         Plaintiff contends in Claims I, III, and IV both that her arrest and prosecution were unlawful and that the Defendants acted in retaliation for commenting on the actions taken by unnamed sheriffs. See generally FAC. She further contends in Claim II that the Defendants used excessive force in effectuating her arrest. Id. at ¶¶ 112-21. While Claims I, III, and IV fail as a matter of law, Plaintiff's excessive force claim, Claim II, is sufficiently pled and survives Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         A. Claim I: ...

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