United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART
DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT
RE: DKT. NOS. 22, 26
HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are two motions to dismiss Plaintiff Huedell
Freeman's first amended complaint: the first, filed by
Defendant Brandon “Jacy” Tatum and joined by
Defendant Joseph Huffaker, see Dkt. Nos. 22 and 25
(“Tatum Mot.”); and the second, filed by the City
of Rohnert Park (the “City”); Rohnert Park
Department of Public Safety (“RPDPS”); David
Sutter; and Brian Masterson, see Dkt. No. 26
(“City Mot.”). The Court held a hearing on the
motions and took them under submission on August 22, 2019.
See Dkt. No. 50. Having carefully considered the
parties' arguments, the Court GRANTS IN
PART and DENIES IN PART
Defendants' motions to dismiss.
alleges that Defendants Tatum and Huffaker, both employees of
the City, used their position as Rohnert Park Department of
Public Safety Officers to conduct unlawful traffic stops and
to seize marijuana being lawfully transported to dispensaries
pursuant to California Health & Safety Code §§
11357 et seq. See Dkt. No. 17 (“First Amended
Complaint” or “FAC”).
to the First Amended Complaint, in December 2016, Plaintiff
was driving a rental car to deliver approximately 47 lbs. of
marijuana, stored in several charcoal-lined duffel bags, to a
dispensary in Southern California. FAC ¶ 17. Defendants
Tatum and Huffaker were in a marked RPDPS patrol vehicle on
Highway 101 near Cloverdale, California, when they initiated
a traffic stop of Plaintiff for purportedly touching the fog
line twice, and thus failing to maintain his lane under
California Vehicle Code § 21658(a). Id.
¶¶ 19-20. Plaintiff alleges that the officers were
far outside the City's jurisdiction at the time. See
Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff further alleges that his tires
did not touch the fog line, and that this was simply a
pretext to stop Plaintiff and conduct a marijuana
informed the officers that he was transporting marijuana to a
dispensary, and Plaintiff further alleges that he showed the
officers “all necessary paperwork that existed at that
time to show he was transporting marijuana lawfully under
state law, ” including the lawful origin and
destination for the marijuana. Id. ¶ 21. During
the stop, Defendant Huffaker contacted the dispensary, which
confirmed it was expecting a delivery of marijuana from
Plaintiff in the next few days. Id. ¶ 22.
Defendant Huffaker also contacted Plaintiff's lawyer, who
confirmed Plaintiff was a licensed marijuana cultivator in
Mendocino County. Id.; see also FAC, Ex. D.
Defendants Tatum and Huffaker nevertheless searched
Plaintiff's vehicle and seized the duffel bags containing
marijuana in the trunk. Id. ¶ 23. Defendants
Tatum and Huffaker issued Plaintiff a citation for possession
of marijuana, but no criminal charges were filed.
Id. ¶ 24. And in response to a letter from
Plaintiff's lawyer requesting that RPDPS return the
marijuana, Plaintiff was informed it had already been
destroyed. Id. ¶ 25.
alleges that the City, RPDPS, and Defendants Masterson and
Sutter were aware of and condoned such pretextual stops
because of the revenue generated from civil asset forfeitures
of marijuana and U.S. currency. Id. ¶ 28.
Plaintiff further alleges that RPDPS rewarded officers for
such tactics by promoting them based on the amount of revenue
generated from the civil asset forfeitures. Id.
on these alleged facts, Plaintiff brings causes of action
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for (1) unlawful detention; (2)
unlawful search; (3) violation of Plaintiff's due process
right under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; (4)
violation of Plaintiff's substantive due process right
under the Fourteenth Amendment; (5) municipal liability due
to a pattern, policy or custom permitting abuse of police
power, ratification of such policies, and inadequate
training; and causes of action under (6) Article I, Section
13 of the California Constitution; and (7) California Civil
Code § 52.1. Defendants contend that only the first
cause of action is sufficiently pled against Defendants Tatum
and Huffaker. See Tatum Mot. at 6; see also
Dkt. No. 35 (“Opp.”) at 5.
Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint
contain “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A defendant may move to dismiss a
complaint for failing to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted under Rule 12(b)(6). “Dismissal under Rule
12(b)(6) is appropriate only where the complaint lacks a
cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts to support a
cognizable legal theory.” Mendiondo v. Centinela
Hosp. Med. Ctr., 521 F.3d 1097, 1104 (9th Cir. 2008). To
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff must plead
“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). A claim is facially
plausible when a plaintiff pleads “factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
reviewing the plausibility of a complaint, courts
“accept factual allegations in the complaint as true
and construe the pleadings in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party.” Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire &
Marine Ins. Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008).
Nevertheless, courts do not “accept as true allegations
that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact,
or unreasonable inferences.” In re Gilead Scis.
Secs. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008)
(quoting Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d
979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001)).
court concludes that a 12(b)(6) motion should be granted, the
“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,
1127 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (quotation omitted).
initial matter, Plaintiff concedes that the Rohnert Park
Department of Public Safety is not a distinct legal entity,
but rather an agency of the City. See Opp. at 1. The
Court therefore GRANTS the motion to dismiss
Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety as a defendant.
Unlawful Search Claim (Tatum and
state a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must show: (1) a
deprivation of a constitutional or federal statutory right;
and (2) that the defendant acted under color of state law.
See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Here,
Plaintiff asserts a violation of his Fourth Amendment right
to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The
Supreme Court has held that police may conduct a warrantless
search of a vehicle if they have probable cause to believe
that the vehicle contains contraband. Carroll v. United
States, 267 U.S. 132, 162 (1925). “Probable cause
to search is evaluated in light of the totality of the
circumstances.” United States v. Brooks, 610
F.3d 1186, 1193 (9th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).
Sufficiency of Facts
alleges that Defendant Tatum and Huffaker lacked probable
cause to search his vehicle for marijuana in light of all the
surrounding circumstances, namely that he provided paperwork
about the lawful origin and destination of the marijuana in
his possession; the officers confirmed with the dispensary
that it was expecting a delivery from Plaintiff; and the
officers spoke with Plaintiff's lawyer who confirmed he
was a legal cultivator in Mendocino County. See Opp.
at 3, 6-7; see also FAC ¶¶ 21-22.
Defendants Tatum and Huffaker nevertheless move to dismiss
this cause of action, citing the incident report attached to
the complaint, which states that the officers smelled a
strong odor indicative of a large amount of marijuana and
Plaintiff initially said he did not know how much marijuana
he was transporting. See Dkt. No. 37 at 1; Dkt. No.
25; FAC, Ex. C at 2-3.
time of the events in this case, California's
Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”) had decriminalized
possession and cultivation of marijuana for medical use,
see Cal. Health & Safety Code § 11362.5,
and California's Medical Marijuana Program
(“MMP”) permitted qualified patients to form
collectives for the cultivation and distribution of medical
marijuana. Id. §§ 11362.7-11362.9. When
evaluating whether officers had probable cause to search, the
fact that a person may lawfully possess marijuana under state
law may be considered part of the “totality of the
circumstances.” See, e.g., Allen v.
Kumagai, 356 Fed.Appx. 8, 9 ...