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Raiser v. San Diego County

United States District Court, S.D. California

October 25, 2019

AARON RAISER, Plaintiff,



         Pending before the Court is Defendant County of San Diego's (“Defendant”) motion to dismiss Plaintiff Aaron Raiser's (“Plaintiff”) first three causes of action (the “§ 1983 claims”) in his first amended complaint (“FAC”). This case presents three issues: (1) whether the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the § 1983 claims; (2) whether Plaintiff's § 1983 claims fail on a theory of respondeat superior; and (3) whether Plaintiff adequately alleges claims under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). The Court GRANTS Defendant's motion to dismiss the § 1983 claims, FINDS the jurisdictional issue moot, and GRANTS Plaintiff leave to amend the complaint.

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed his initial complaint against Defendant County on April 23, 2019. ECF No. 1. On June 28, 2019, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's initial complaint. ECF No. 7. On July 9, 2019, Plaintiff filed the FAC, which rendered Defendant's initial motion to dismiss moot. ECF No. 9.

         Plaintiff's FAC raises five claims against Defendant: (1) that Plaintiff was unlawfully detained on or about April 30, 2017 by one of Defendant's employee officers (“Doe 1”); (2) that Plaintiff was unlawfully detained on or about August 7, 2017 by one of Defendant's employee officers (“Doe 2”); (3) that Plaintiff was unlawfully detained on or about March 29, 2018 by one of Defendant's employee officers (“Doe 3”); (4) that Plaintiff was falsely imprisoned by Doe 3 on or about March 29, 2018; and (5) that Defendant violated the Bane Act when Doe 3 made “threats of violence against Plaintiff” for asserting his right to be free from unreasonable seizures on March 29, 2018. FAC at ¶¶ 16-61. Plaintiff incorporates two transcripts of recordings he made during the April 30, 2017 and March 29, 2018 detentions into the FAC by reference. See FAC at pp. 10- 16 (containing, as Exhibit 1, a transcript of Plaintiff's audio recording made during the April 30, 2017 detention); FAC at pp. 17-19 (containing, as Exhibit 2, a transcript of Plaintiff's audio recording made during the March 29, 2018 detention).

         Plaintiff's FAC does not include a separate cause of action under Monell. Instead, Plaintiff alleges elsewhere in the FAC that Defendant has “a custom, policy and/or pattern of unlawfully detaining citizens without legal basis.” FAC at ¶ 24. Likewise, Plaintiff alleges that “all Defendants' managing agents, officers and directors, had advanced knowledge of and/or ratified” Defendant's unlawful detentions. Id. at ¶ 12.

         On July 24, 2019, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's first, second, and third causes of action. ECF No. 12 at 3-4. On October 3, 2019, Plaintiff filed a response, and, on October 11, 2019, Defendant filed a reply. ECF Nos. 21, 22.[1] On September 25, 2019, the Court granted Plaintiff permission to engage in expedited discovery limited to learning the identities of the DOE defendants in Plaintiff's FAC. ECF No. 19 at 3-4.

         II. Factual Allegations

         In the General Allegations section of the FAC, Plaintiff alleges that “[i]n each cause of action under 42 USC 1983 San Diego County is responsible for the deputies (sic) unlawful conduct under Monell.” FAC at ¶ 23. To show the existence of a custom, policy, or pattern to establish Monell liability, Plaintiff relies on his prior interactions with sheriff deputies, his observations, and research. FAC at ¶ 24. According to Plaintiff, County sheriff deputies have “detained unlawfully at least 50 other citizens similar to Plaintiff in the past 5 year . . .” Id.

         Plaintiff also describes five unlawful stops effected by officers employed by the San Diego County Sherriff's Department. FAC at ¶¶ 26-61. These stops took place on or about (1) September 28, 2012, (2) December 20, 2014, (3) April 30, 2017, (4) August 7, 2017, and (5) March 29, 2018, see FAC at ¶¶ 19, 21, 27, 34, 42, and incorporate the following alleged facts.

         First Stop. At 3 a.m., on or about September 26, 2012, a San Diego sheriff patrol car approached Plaintiff as he walked along Vista California's downtown district. FAC at ¶ 19. Plaintiff was detained for several minutes before the officer drove away. FAC at ¶¶ 19-20. Plaintiff alleges the stop was conducted “without legal basis.” FAC at ¶ 19.

         Second Stop. At 8:30 p.m., on or about December 20, 2014, a San Diego County Sheriff's officer approached Plaintiff's car in Fallbrook, CA. FAC at ¶ 21. Plaintiff was sitting in his car and had recently used a coin laundry nearby. Id. The officer detained Plaintiff for about eight minutes. FAC at ¶ 22. A prior court found on summary judgment that, with respect to this incident, San Diego County Sheriff Deputy Jeremy Banks approached Plaintiff's car without reasonable suspicion, engaged in an unlawful frisk, and prolonged the detention for no investigatory purpose, all in violation of the Fourth Amendment. See ECF 59, Raiser v. Vista, City of et al, 14-cv-02263-CAB-WVG, at 5, 9, 10 (S.D. Cal. June 29, 2016).

         Third Stop. At about 3 p.m., on or about April 30, 2017, two San Diego County sheriff's deputies (one of which is Doe 1)[2] approached Plaintiff as he sat in his car near Exit 51 (Mission Avenue) on California Highway 15. FAC at ¶ 27. The officers detained Plaintiff for more than ten minutes. Id.; see also FAC at pp. 10-16.

         While detaining Plaintiff, “Deputy 1” informed Plaintiff that it was “suspicious” for him to be there because there is “alot (sic) of drug activity” in the area. FAC at p. 10. The Deputy accused Plaintiff of “loitering” and asked for Plaintiff's name. FAC at pp. 10-11. Plaintiff volunteered his identification card. Id. When asked what he was doing in the area, Plaintiff informed the officer, “I'm just looking for someplace to hang out. Do some work.” FAC at p. 11. Deputy 1 then explained he “want[ed] to make sure the car [was] not stolen.” FAC at p. 12. Plaintiff asked the officer multiple times to conduct a background check and let him go. FAC at pp. 10-13. Eventually, Deputy 1 walked away from Plaintiff and his car, telling him to “hang tight for just a minute.” FAC at p. 13.

         As Plaintiff waited, a second officer, “Deputy 2, ” engaged Plaintiff in a conversation. FAC at pp. 13-15. After approximately three minutes according to the transcript's time stamps, Deputy 1 returned. FAC at p. 15. Deputy 1 informed Plaintiff that he approached Plaintiff to “see what [he was] up to” because “people . . . do drugs and steal avocados” in the area. Id. Deputy 1 also told Plaintiff that this was “not a rest area.” Id. The officers subsequently left Plaintiff without issuing a ticket or arresting him. Id. Plaintiff alleges that the officers had no basis to approach his car and excessively prolonged his detention. FAC at ¶ 27.

         Fourth Stop. At about 10 a.m., on or about August 7, 2017, a San Diego county sheriff deputy (Doe 2) stopped Plaintiff as he was preparing to turn left onto California Highway 15. FAC at ¶¶ 34-35. Doe 2 “activated his flashing police lights and detained Plaintiff saying someone in the area . . . complained about Plaintiff not belonging in the area.” FAC at ¶ 35. Plaintiff was detained for eleven minutes and alleges that the officers has no legal basis to do so. FAC ¶¶ 35-36.

         Before being pulled over, Plaintiff alleges that he had driven along a two-mile street lined with intermittent houses and avocado orchards in the hopes of finding a good place to hike while the traffic on highway 15 diminished. FAC at ¶ 34. Plaintiff returned to the highway after failing to find a place to hike. FAC at ¶ 35.

         Fifth Stop. On or about March 29, 2018, another San Diego county sheriff officer (Doe 3) pulled up behind Plaintiff's car parked off California Highway 15, approached the car on foot, and said to Plaintiff, “Don't go anywhere.” FAC at ¶ 42; see also FAC at pp. 17-19. Officer Doe 3 stood outside Plaintiff's car door and detained Plaintiff for two minutes. FAC at ¶¶ 44, 51, 52. Officer Doe 3 repeated that Plaintiff could not leave and informed Plaintiff that he was making sure Plaintiff's car wasn't stolen. FAC at pp. 17- 18. Plaintiff then showed the officer his ID, confirmed his date of birth, and asked the officer to run a background check so that he could be on his way. FAC at pp. 17-18. Shortly thereafter, the Officer let Plaintiff leave. FAC at p. 18. During this interaction, Plaintiff felt he was not “free to go about his business.” FAC at ¶ 42.

         Plaintiff alleges that the Doe 3 detained him without a legal basis. FAC at ¶ 43. Plaintiff further alleges that the officer “made threats of violence” which led Plaintiff to think the officer ...

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