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Raiser v. San Diego County

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 25, 2019

AARON RAISER, Plaintiff,
v.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING EX PARTE APPLICATIONS FOR EXPEDITED DISCOVERY [DOC. NOS. 13, 15, 16.]

          Hon. Karen S. Crawford, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Aaron Raiser, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this action pursuant to Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983, alleging that San Diego deputy sheriffs violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches, because they detained him on several occasions while he was in his car or walking on the side of a street with no reason to believe he was breaking any laws. [Doc. No. 9, at pp. 4-8.] Plaintiff also alleges that he believes San Diego deputy sheriffs have a custom or policy of unlawfully detaining citizens. [Doc. No. 9, at p. 4.]

         On July 31, 2019, plaintiff filed an Ex Parte Application for Order (1) Allowing Extension of Time to Serve Doe Defendants and (2) Expedited Discovery to Identify Doe Defendants. [Doc. No. 13.] On September 5, 2019 and September 7, 2019, plaintiff filed two more Ex Parte Applications that are almost identical to his first Ex Parte Application. These newer Ex Parte Applications seek the same relief as the original Ex Parte Application. [Doc. Nos. 15, 16.]

         Background

         In separate incidents at different locations on April 30, 2017, August 7, 2017, and March 29, 2018, plaintiff alleges he was unlawfully detained by deputy sheriffs in violation of the Fourth Amendment. All three incidents allegedly took place in San Diego County. Plaintiff does not know the identities of the deputy sheriffs, so he named the County of San Diego as a defendant, along with "DOES 1-20." [Doc. No. 9, at pp. 1, 4-8.]

         Discussion

         I. Request for Expedited Discovery.

         In his Ex Parte Applications, plaintiff seeks leave to serve discovery limited to learning the identities of the DOE defendants on an expedited basis, so he can serve each of them with a summons and the First Amended Complaint. [Doc. 16-1, at pp. 2-3; Doc. Nos. 13, 15.] Generally, discovery is not permitted without a court order before the parties have conferred pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(f). Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(d)(1). In the Ninth Circuit, exceptions to requests for early discovery have generally been disfavored. Gillespie v. Civiletti, 629F.2d637, 642 (9th Cir. 1980.) "However, situations arise, such as the present, where the identity of alleged defendants will not be known prior to the filing of a complaint. In such circumstances, the plaintiff should be given an opportunity through discovery to identify the unknown defendants, unless it is clear that discovery would not uncover the identities, or that the complaint would be dismissed on other grounds." Id. at p. 642. See also Wakefield v. Thompson, 177F.3d 1160, 1163 (9th Cir. 1999).

         Courts in the Ninth Circuit have also permitted expedited discovery prior to the Rule 26(f) conference "upon a showing of good cause." American LegalNet, Inc. v. Davis, 673 F.Supp.2d (CD. Cal. 2009). However, courts have indicated that "some limiting principals should apply to the determination of whether discovery to uncover the identity of a defendant is warranted." Columbia Ins. Co. v. seescandy.com, 185 F.R.D. 573, 578 (N.D. Cal. 1999). Early discovery should be limited to "ensure that this unusual procedure will only be employed in cases where the plaintiff has in good faith exhausted traditional avenues for identifying a civil defendant pre-service and will prevent use of this method to harass or intimidate." Id.

         "First, the plaintiff should identify the missing party with sufficient specificity such that the Court can determine that defendant is a real person or entity who could be sued in federal court." Id. In support of his Ex Parte Application, plaintiff submitted a Declaration stating he is aware from prior litigation that the San Diego County Sheriff keeps a record whenever a deputy sheriff runs a background check on an individual. Because the First Amended Complaint identifies the times, dates, and locations for the alleged unlawful stops, plaintiff believes the San Diego County Sheriff can readily identify the deputy sheriffs involved in each incident. [Doc. No. 16-2, at pp. 2-3.] The First Amended Complaint also alleges that all three incidents that serve as the basis for this action took place in San Diego County. [Doc. No. 9, at pp. 5-8.] Accordingly, the Court finds that plaintiff has sufficiently and specifically identified the DOE defendants.

         "Second, the party should identify all previous steps taken to locate the elusive defendant. This element is aimed at ensuring that plaintiffs make a good faith effort to comply with the requirements of service of process and specifically identifying defendants." Columbia, 185 F.R.D. at 578. Prior to filing his Ex Parte Application, plaintiff states in his Declaration that he contacted counsel for the County of San Diego by phone and e-mail and attempted to arrange a stipulation for the parties to complete initial disclosures prior to the usual deadlines so that he could discover the names of the DOE defendants, but he was unsuccessful. [Doc. No. 16-2, at p. 2.] Plaintiff also contacted a clerk in the Records Department for the San Diego County Sheriff and spoke with a person familiar with the Sheriffs policies on public records requests. He was advised by the clerk that he would not be able to obtain any records relating to the incidents alleged in this litigation through the Records Department. [Doc. No. 16-2, at p. 2.] Therefore, plaintiff represents that he has "exhausted all known means to obtain the identities" of the DOE defendants "short of discovery." [Doc. No. 16-2, at p. 2.]

         "Third, plaintiff should establish to the Court's satisfaction that plaintiffs suit against defendant could withstand a motion to dismiss." Columbia, 185 F.R.D. at 578. "Thus, plaintiff must make some showing that an act giving rise to civil liability actually occurred and that the discovery is aimed at revealing specific identifying features of the person or entity who committed that act." Id. at 580. Although liberally construed, plaintiffs allegations against the DOE defendants have already survived initial screening by the District Court. [Doc. No. 5, at p. 5.]

         Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that plaintiff submitted enough information to establish good cause for an order allowing him to proceed with expedited discovery limited to learning the identities of the DOE defendants. Therefore, plaintiffs request for an order permitting expedited discovery to learn the identities of the DOE defendants is GRANTED. [Doc. Nos. 13, 15, 16.]

         II. Request for Extension of Time to Serve ...


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