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Fanaro v. County of Contra Costa

United States District Court, N.D. California

October 15, 2019

COUNTY OF CONTRA COSTA, et al., Defendants.


          William H. Orrick United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jearhamel Fanaro seeks to hold the County of Contra Costa, the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff David O. Livingston, and various other individuals responsible for an attack that allegedly took place while he was incarcerated in the County's Martinez Detention Facility. Fanaro alleges that five inmates brutally attacked him, that four Doe deputies of the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office took steps that enabled the attack to happen, and that the County and Sheriff have acted and failed to act in ways that caused his attack. Before me is a motion to dismiss by the County, the Sheriff's Office, and Livingston (“the County defendants”), along with Fanaro's motion to strike the answer of Thomas Leon, one of his alleged inmate attackers. For the reasons set forth below, I will GRANT IN PART defendants' motion to dismiss but grant Fanaro leave to amend some claims, and I will DENY Fanaro's motion to strike.


         Fanaro is a Filipino-American who was a convicted inmate at the Martinez Detention Facility between May 8 and August 17, 2018. Complaint (“Compl.”) [Dkt. No. 1] ¶ 6. The Martinez Detention Facility is a maximum-security jail and serves as the point of intake for arrestees booked in Contra Costa County. Id. ¶ 22. Fanaro's allegations stem from a series of events that took place on May 15, 2018, when he was brutally attacked by five fellow inmates.

         According to the complaint, the County divides the Martinez Facility into modules and assigns inmates to a particular module based on various criteria, including gang affiliation. Compl. ¶ 23. Fanaro was housed on A Module, which is the gang unit. Id. ¶ 24. Some of the inmates housed in the A Module are members of Norteño, “a violent criminal organization whose primary activities include murder, attempted murder, and violent assaults.” Id. ¶ 25. If an inmate wishes to withdraw from the gang and be moved to a different housing module, he must participate in an interview with County staff and share everything he knows about the gang. Id. ¶ 27. The County Sheriff's Office collects information about the gang in various ways, and it trains employees on how to recognize signs that an individual is in a gang, including the Norteño gang. Id. ¶¶ 26, 28.

         Fanaro alleges that the Sheriff's office “supports the power structure within the gang” in various ways. Id. ¶¶ 29-31. It houses the gang leaders, or “shot callers, ” in the same cell, which “allows gang activities to flourish.” Id. ¶ 29. It allows gang “ambassadors” to haze new inmates in A Module by escorting them “orient[ing] [them] to the gang's policies and procedures within the Module.” Id. ¶ 30. The hazing involves a denial of certain privileges, like television and commissary shoes, during a “freeze” period that can last up to several weeks. Id. ¶ 30. Deputies also allow gang members to respond when inmates push call buttons inside their cells. Id. ¶¶ 34-35. These buttons are used when there is a medical emergency or when an inmate wants to debrief about exiting from a gang. Id.

         According to the complaint, Martinez jail is insufficiently staffed, with a ratio of 25 inmates to 2 deputies when inmates are out of their cells during free time. Id. ¶ 32. Fanaro asserts that the County defendants have received complaints from employees about such insufficient staffing. Id. Employees of the mail have also complained that the camera in the courtyard of Module A does not rotate and has large blind spots. Id. The County has denied four Public Records Act requests from Fanaro seeking information on these problems. Id. ¶ 63.

         When Fanaro arrived at the Martinez jail on May 8, 2018, the Doe deputies “knowingly handed [him over] to two Norteño ranking members with intention of subjecting him to a ‘freeze.'” Id. ¶ 33. Fanaro pushed the call button in his cell in order to inform the deputy Does that he wished to withdraw from the gang, but Norteños entered his cell rather than the deputies. Id. ¶¶ 36-38. When the Norteños asked why Fanaro had pushed the call button, he said that he was sick. Id. ¶ 38. The Norteños turned off the call button, and no deputies never followed up with Fanaro about it; instead Norteño members began escorting him at all times. Id. ¶¶ 39-40. As a result, Fanaro “never had the chance to explicitly inform [Livingston] of his intention to withdraw.” Id. ¶ 40.

         On May 15, 2018, defendant inmate Leon gave Fanaro a pair of shoes, “falsely signaling the end of the ‘freeze.'” Id. ¶ 43. Norteño members then lured Fanaro to an area of the courtyard located in the camera's blind spot in order to attack him. Id. ¶¶ 43-45. Inmates Leon, Francisco Ramirez, and Francisco Vargas then attacked Fanaro. Id. ¶ 46. When Fanaro attempted to get up and walk back inside, Leon, Ramirez, and Vargas attacked him again, this time with the help of two Doe inmates. Id. ¶¶ 46-47. In total, the attack was between 15 and 25 minutes long, and it left a 10' by 6' blood stain on the ground. Id. ¶ 48.

         The deputy defendants allegedly facilitated and endorsed the attack in several ways. Their training and experience should have allowed them to discern that Norteño members were planning an attack on Fanaro. Id. ¶ 41. But they did nothing to prevent the attack because they treated Fanaro, a Filipino American, more poorly than Latino inmates. Id. ¶ 42. The attack occurred in a blind spot in the courtyard camera, meaning that the deputies in the control center did not see it and “were unable to send additional sheriff's deputies to intervene.” Id. ¶ 50. The attackers were aware of the camera's blind spot because of information they received from the deputies. Id. Deputies failed to perform security rounds on the roof, where they would have seen the attack taking place. Id. ¶ 45. Fanaro's assailants should have returned to their cells when free time ended, but the Doe deputies allowed them to remain in the courtyard and continue the attack. Id. ¶ 48.

         According to the complaint, several facts show the deputies were aware the attack was occurring. Norteño members “signaled Defendants Does 1 to 2 by their words, by making eye contact with them, and by openly guarding [Fanaro].” Id. ¶ 52. The deputies could see the other inmates watching the attack. Id. In addition, they could hear Fanaro's screams, cries, and grunts. Id. They also served as lookouts for the attackers themselves. Id. After the attack ended, Fanaro went inside and asked deputies for help, at which point he was transported to John Muir Medical Center. Id. ¶ 54. Fanaro's injuries included several broken bones. Id. ¶ 55.

         Fanaro allege that the County, the Sheriff's Office, and Livingston knew that their employees were inadequately trained, supervised, or disciplined.[1] Id. ¶ 59. They knew there was a group of deputies at the Martinez jail who “conspired with the inmates to permit them to ‘control' A Module, ” and yet the County actors allowed them to continue their work, thus putting Fanaro and other inmates in harm's way. Id. ¶ 61. The County actors were aware of the limited camera views and insufficient staffing and yet failed to act, which allowed the inmates to exploit the gaps in security.[2] Id. ¶ 62. Specifically, Livingston is aware from reports and briefings he has received in various forms. Id. ¶ 66. Despite an “epidemic of violent attacks, ” there has been no discipline. Id. ¶ 64. Fanaro makes these allegations on information and belief because without discovery, “access to the existence or absence of internal policies[, ] customs, or practices . . . is necessarily limited.” Id. ¶ 67.

         Fanaro filed this case on June 10, 2019. Defendant Leon answered on August 1, 2019. Leon Answer [Dkt. No. 9]. The County, the Sheriff's Office, and Livingston moved to dismiss on August 13, 2019 and then refiled their motion on August 16 after the case was reassigned to me. Motion to Dismiss (“MTD”) [Dkt. No. 16]. On August 22, Fanaro moved to strike Leon's Answer. Motion to Strike (“MTS”) [Dkt. No. 23].[3] I heard argument on September 25, 2019, and on October 8, 2019, Fanaro filed a first amended complaint naming two of the Doe deputies. Dkt. No. 33.



         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a district court must dismiss a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that “allow 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) (citation omitted). There must be “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. While courts do not require “heightened fact pleading of specifics, ” a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570.

         In deciding whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court accepts the plaintiff's allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Usher v. City of Los Angeles, 828 F.2d 556, 561 (9th Cir. 1987). However, the court is not required to accept as true “allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences.” In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008). If the court dismisses the complaint, it “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).


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) allows the Court to “strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). “The function of a 12(f) motion to strike is to avoid the expenditure of time and money that must arise from litigating spurious issues by dispensing with those issues prior to trial.” Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co., 618 F.3d 970, 973 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation and alteration omitted). Motions to strike “are generally disfavored [by courts] because the motions may be used as delaying tactics and because of the strong policy favoring resolution on the merits.” Barnes v. AT & T Pension Ben. Plan-Nonbargained Program, 718 F.Supp.2d 1167, 1170 (N.D. Cal. 2010) (citation omitted). Such motions should only be granted if “the matter has no logical connection to the controversy at issue and may prejudice one or more of the parties to the suit.” New York City Employees' Ret. Sys. v. Berry, 667 F.Supp.2d 1121, 1128 (N.D. Cal. 2009). “Where the moving party cannot adequately demonstrate such prejudice, courts frequently deny motions to strike even though the offending matter literally was within one or more of the categories set forth in Rule 12(f).” Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         In resolving a motion to strike, the pleadings must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Platte Anchor Bolt, Inc. v. IHI, Inc., 352 F.Supp.2d 1048, 1057 (N.D. Cal. 2004). “Ultimately, whether to grant a motion to strike lies within the sound discretion of the district court.” Cruz v. Bank of New York Mellon, No. 12-CV-00846-LHK, 2012 WL 2838957, at *2 (N.D. Cal. July 10, 2012) (citing Whittlestone, 618 F.3d at 973).



         Fanaro brings a total of fifteen claims against the various defendants in this case. The County, the Sheriff's Office, and Livingston move to dismiss all nine of the claims against them, four of which are state law claims and five of which are federal law claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.

         A. ...

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