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Woods v. City of Hayward

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 6, 2019

CITY OF HAYWARD, et al., Defendants.




         Plaintiff Bobbie Allen Woods, pro se, brought this action against Defendants the City of Hayward, the Hayward Police Department, Hayward Police Officer B. Tong, and Hayward Police Sergeant Polar[1] asserting claims based on a police search of Woods's home. Defendants move to dismiss. The Court found the motion suitable for resolution without oral argument and vacated the noticed hearing date. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is DENIED as to Woods's claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) against the City of Hayward and the Hayward Police Department, GRANTED with prejudice as to Woods's ADA claims against Tong and Polar, and GRANTED with leave to amend as to all other claims. If Woods wishes to pursue the claims dismissed with leave to amend, he may file an amended complaint no later than December 6, 2019.[2]


         Woods is a seventy-year-old African American man with muscular dystrophy and a disability as a result of his service in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War era. Compl. (dkt. 1) ¶¶ 9, 47.[3] Woods has used wheelchair since his retirement from the United States Postal Service in 2009. Id. Woods rents two rooms of his home in Hayward to Nashi Mixon-Alexander and her five- and fourteen-year-old sons, all of whom are also African American. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. Mixon-Alexander serves as Woods's caregiver through a home aide program. Id. ¶ 12. The complaint suggests that her fourteen-year-old son has had some degree of history with the juvenile justice system, although Woods and Mixon-Alexander “were not complicit with his activities in any manner.” See Id. ¶ 26 (alleging that Woods and Mixon-Alexander “were actively involved with Ms. Mixon-Alexander's 14-year-old child's Probation Officers, the Hayward Police Department, the Juvenile District Attorney Office and Hayward Unified School District officials to monitor his behavior”).

         On March 15, 2018, Woods awoke to a voice over a loudspeaker advising that Woods's home was surrounded and that all residents must leave the house with their hands raised. Id. ¶ 13. After the command was repeated several times, Woods heard the sound of an explosion. Id. “[E]xtremely frightened, ” Woods attempted to leave his bed, but struggled due to his disability and injured his neck and elbow in the process. Id. ¶¶ 14-15.

         As Woods, Mixon-Alexander, and her older son approached the door of the house, police officers addressed each of the four residents of the home by name and ordered them to exit the house with their hands over their heads, despite neighbors shouting to the police officers that the youngest son was only five years old. Id. ¶ 16. Mixon-Alexander and her older son exited first, while Woods and his neighbors yelled to police that he could not raise his hands because he was disabled. Id. ¶ 17. After the police shined a light on Woods, they allowed him to wheel himself out of the house without raising his hands, but aimed rifles at his head as he did so. Id. Mixon- Alexander's younger son remained sleeping in his bed, and Woods, Mixon-Alexander, and neighbors pleaded with police to allow them to go get him in order to avoid any risk that he would be shot by police searching the home, but the police did not allow them to do so. Id. ¶ 18.

         When Woods requested a jacket or blanket, and to be allowed to wait in his home, the police did not let him return to his home, but after about half an hour, the police provided him with “a yellow body tarp bag” to use as a blanket. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. The body bag, as well as the sound of the explosion that preceded the search, triggered the post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) that Woods had developed as a result of his experience in the Vietnam War. Id. ¶¶ 21-22.

         Mixon-Alexander was allowed back into the house to get her younger son and change her clothes around 6:07 AM, approximately twenty-five minutes after the first loudspeaker announcements, and Woods was allowed to return to the front room of the house nearly forty minutes after that, around 6:44 AM. Id. ¶ 24. The police officers left the house around 6:58 AM. Id. Police officers denied Woods's repeated requests to speak with the supervising officers until the search was finished and the officers were preparing to leave, at which point Defendants Tong and Polar identified themselves as having supervised the operation. Id. ¶ 23.

         The search was conducted pursuant to a warrant that was issued eight days earlier, on March 7, 2019. Id. ¶ 27. Woods contends that there was sufficient time between the issuance of the warrant and its execution for Defendants to have determined that the occupants of the house were not a threat and did not require the show of force used in the search. Id. Woods also characterizes the police officers as “disrespectful for not considering [his] disability, [his] age, and the age of the children, as well as searching female renter Ms. Mixon-Alexander by male officers while female officers were available on the scene.” Id. ¶ 25. Woods describes the use of force in the search as “excessive, ” and states his “belie[f] that if [he] were a white veteran with the same profile the warrant would not have been conducted” in the same manner. Id. ¶¶ 27-28.

         Woods's complaint includes the following claims: (1) unreasonable seizure of Woods's person in violation of the Fourth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) racial discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (4) failure to provide a reasonable accommodation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act; (5) negligence; (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (7) invasion of privacy.


         A. Legal Standard

         A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. “The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint.” N. Star Int'l v. Ariz. Corp. Comm'n, 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983). Generally, a claimant's burden at the pleading stage is relatively light. Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a “pleading which sets forth a claim for relief . . . shall contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a).

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court takes “all allegations of material fact as true and construe[s] them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Parks Sch. of Bus. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995). Dismissal may be based on a lack of a cognizable legal theory or on the absence of facts that would support a valid theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). A pleading must “contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 562 (2007) (citing Car Carriers, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 745 F.2d 1101, 1106 (7th Cir. 1984)). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “[C]ourts ‘are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Rather, the claim must be “‘plausible on its face, '” meaning that the claimant must plead sufficient factual allegations to “allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         Pro se pleadings are generally liberally construed and held to a less stringent standard. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Even post-Iqbal, courts must still liberally construe pro se filings. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338 (9th Cir. 2010). As the Ninth Circuit explained in Hebbe, “while the standard is higher, our obligation remains, where the petitioner is pro se, particularly in civil rights cases, to construe the pleadings liberally and to afford the petitioner the benefit of any doubt.” Id. at 342. Nevertheless, the Court may not “supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled.” Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

         If the Court dismisses a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), 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) (en banc) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In general, courts “should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Id.

         B. Claims ...

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