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Doe v. County of Sonoma

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 18, 2019

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
COUNTY OF SONOMA, et al., Defendants.



         Pro se plaintiff John Doe, who is suing under a pseudonym, has alleged a number of civil rights violations related to an involuntary detention in a psychiatric hospital under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5000 et seq. (the “LPS Act”). Dkt. No. 1. This order resolves defendants’ motions to dismiss under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Dkt. Nos. 49, 56. The Court found the motions suitable for decision on the papers pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b). Dkt. No. 62. The complaint is dismissed.


         The LPS Act governs California’s involuntary commitment procedures. A designated facility may detain a person for up to 72 hours for “treatment and evaluation” if there is “probable cause” to believe that the person, “as a result of mental disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled.” Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 5150. The detention may be extended for up to fourteen days for “intensive treatment” upon a subsequent evaluation and certification. Id. § 5250. A patient can challenge an involuntary commitment in a certification review hearing, and then in court on a writ of habeas corpus. Id. §§ 5256, 5275; see generally People v. Triplett, 144 Cal.App.3d 283, 286 (Ct. App. 1983).

         In the complaint, Doe acknowledges that he was involuntarily hospitalized in December 2015 under the LPS Act in response to reports that he suffered from schizophrenia and had threatened “suicide by cop.” Dkt. No 1 ¶¶ 2-8. Doe says the reports were anonymous “hearsay” and did not amount to “probable cause” or other grounds for commitment. Id. Doe asked for and got a certification hearing, and the hearing officer found probable cause. Id. ¶ 5. Doe then asked for judicial review in a habeas proceeding and was provided with the forms needed to start that process. Id. ¶ 6. Doe gave a completed form to a hospital employee, who logged it in his medical chart and advised the Sonoma County Patient Advocate’s Office of Doe’s habeas request. Id. Doe says the writ form was never filed in California superior court, which denied him his right to judicial review. Id. ¶ 7. Doe was discharged from the hospital after approximately eight days of commitment.

         Doe has alleged a number of state and federal claims arising from these events against the County of Sonoma, and its employees and Department of Health Services, the State of California, and the California Department of Justice and Attorney General. The federal claims are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and essentially allege that the involuntary commitment deprived Doe of his Fourth Amendment right to be free of an unreasonable seizure and his Fifth Amendment right to due process. He seeks damages, injunctive relief, and a declaration that the LPS Act is unconstitutional. Doe also mentions a limitation on his ability to possess firearms, but has not alleged a specific claim for relief on that circumstance.

         After Doe filed this case, he brought another lawsuit over the same incident against Danielle Santos, who Doe says was in charge of the medical facility where he was evaluated. Doe v. Santos, No. 3:17-cv-06945, Dkt. No. 1 (“Santos Complaint”). Doe alleges three claims against Santos for negligence, false imprisonment, and an unspecified constitutional violation under Section 1983, and a claim against Sonoma County for failing to properly train Santos. Id. ¶ 8. In effect, Doe has simply added another defendant to this case, and another claim against the county. In light of Doe’s pro se status, the Court will treat the Santos complaint as an amendment of the complaint here. The Santos case will be closed administratively for that reason. Doe and the other parties are directed not to file any pleadings or other documents in the Santos case.


         To satisfy the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a) and Rule 12(b)(6), a claim must provide “a short and plain statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), including “enough facts to state a claim . . . that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible on its face if, accepting all factual allegations as true and construing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court can reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The Court will not treat as fact or accept as true allegations that are bare legal conclusions, recitations of elements or unwarranted deductions. Id. The plausibility analysis is “context-specific” and not only invites but “requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679. Review is limited to the contents of the complaint. Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752, 754 (9th Cir. 1994). The Court liberally construes Doe’s pleadings as a pro se plaintiff. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010).



         For the California state defendants, including the Attorney General, who is sued in his official capacity, the Eleventh Amendment bars Doe’s claims for monetary damages under Section 1983. Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 65-66, 71 (1989). In addition, these defendants are not “persons” within the meaning of Section 1983, except when sued for prospective injunctive relief. Doe v. Lawrence Livermore Nat’l Lab., 131 F.3d 836, 839 (9th Cir. 1997). This small window does not save the claims against the state entities because Doe sued over an eight-day event that began and ended in 2015, and has not plausibly alleged facts indicating that prospective injunctive relief may be appropriate. The complaint also does not allege any facts showing that the Attorney General or any other state actor was meaningfully connected to the claims and events alleged in the complaint. See Ass’n des Eleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Quebec v. Harris, 729 F.3d 937, 943 (9th Cir. 2013). Consequently, the California state defendants are dismissed with prejudice as no amendment would surmount these barriers.


         The claims against the Sonoma County defendants are also dismissed. These local government defendants, which again include individuals sued in their official capacities, may be liable under Section 1983 only “when execution of a government’s policy or custom . . . inflicts the injury.” Los Angeles Cty., Cal. v. Humphries,562 U.S. 29, 452 (2010) (quoting Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). See also Doe v. Sempervirens Mental Health Facility, No. 14-CV-00816-JD, 2015 WL 4238242, at *3 (N.D. Cal. July 13, 2015), aff’d, 697 Fed.Appx. 515 (9th Cir. 2017). The key concept here is the presentation of facts sufficient to plausibly allege the existence of ...

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