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Capolupo v. Eills

United States District Court, N.D. California, Eureka Division

December 5, 2019

KRISTEN EILLS, et al., Defendants.



         Now pending before the court is Defendants' Motion (dkt. 51) seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) (dkt. 49) without further leave to amend. Plaintiff has responded (dkt. 54), and Defendants have replied (dkt. 55). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion is granted in part and denied in part.


         Proceeding pro se, Plaintiff, Carrie Capolupo, filed an original complaint against two social workers, an attorney for Humboldt County, and Humboldt County Child Protective Services, for violating her rights to privacy and to the free exercise of her religion. Compl. (dkt. 1). In lieu of an Answer, Defendants moved to dismiss (dkt. 13), which was followed by Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, naming the same two social workers and county counsel, but replacing Humboldt County Child Protective Services with Humboldt County in the caption. First Amend. Compl. (“FAC”) (dkt. 19) at 1. Defendants then moved to dismiss the FAC (dkt. 21), which the court granted without prejudice, allowing Plaintiff an opportunity to cure the lack of adequate factual allegations to support the claims in the FAC by way of another amendment (dkt. 48). The court identified four issues for Plaintiff to cure with another amended complaint. First, regarding Plaintiff's claim of interference with her religious freedom and retaliation for her religious practice, the court dismissed this claim with leave to amend such that Plaintiff could cure the insufficiency of alleging nothing more than a disagreement with a court-ordered medical examination of Plaintiff's minor child as part of a routine child welfare investigation based on what Plaintiff believes was a baseless referral from Plaintiff's own parents. See Order Dismissing FAC (dkt. 48) at 11-12 (“In amending, rather than relying on conclusory statements, Plaintiff must include actual facts that explain precisely what happened, and why it would constitute a violation of her religious beliefs and form the basis of a constitutional claim.”). Second, Plaintiff's FAC presented a Fourth Amendment claim, and the court found all but one of its supporting allegations were incapable of supporting any cognizable Fourth Amendment claim; however, the court did note that “to the extent that Plaintiff wishes to complain about the sheriff's deputies [who accompanied the social workers and] reportedly instructed her to sit on her couch and reportedly grabbed her phone, the court notes again that Plaintiff has not named any law enforcement officers in this action.” Id. at 12-13. Third, the FAC presented a Due Process claim, challenging the issuance and execution of the court order requiring a medical examination of Plaintiff's child, specifically, that there was a 1-day delay in the execution of the order beyond its 72-hour limit; the court found that Plaintiff had not alleged any prejudice stemming from the delay, and accordingly Plaintiff was granted leave to amend this claim as well. Id. at 13-14. Lastly, because Plaintiff named Humboldt County as a Defendant in the FAC but had not alleged sufficient facts to state a claim of municipal liability, the court described the standards governing claims against municipalities and granted leave to amend this claim in order to provide sufficient allegations of fact in line with those standards. Id. at 14-15.

         Plaintiff's Claims:

         Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) (dkt. 49) which is the subject of the pending motion to dismiss. The SAC consists of an introduction, a section about jurisdiction, a lengthy preamble entitled, “Claim Against Public Entity County of Humboldt, Humboldt County Department of Health Human Services / Social Services” (id. at 2-19), followed by eleven numbered claims for relief (id. at 19-27), a request for an injunction, compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorneys' fees and costs (id. at 27-28). In the preamble, Plaintiff mentions two previously unnamed persons, Connie Beck and Yvonne Winter, Humboldt County's Social Services Director and Social Services Supervisor, respectively. Id. at 4. Plaintiff denominates them as “defendants, ” but she does not allege any specific facts pertaining to them nor did she name them in any of the eleven numbered claims. Id.

         Plaintiff's first five claims each expressly name the following defendants - Humboldt County itself, an unspecified number of unidentified Sheriff's Deputies, as well as individual Defendants Deputy County Counsel Rory Kalin and social workers Kristen Ellis, Kimberly Schneider, and Juan Carlos Enriquez-Paredes. See id. at 19-22. In Claim-1, Plaintiff contends that, through instituting and conducting child welfare proceedings, Defendants collectively deprived Plaintiff of her right to freely express her religious beliefs and denied her right to privacy by subjecting her to threats, using excessive force, and maliciously prosecuting her to deter her from practicing her religion. Id. at 19. In Claim-2, Plaintiff submits that Defendants violated her right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Id. at 20. Claim-3 alleges that Defendants subjected Plaintiff to excessive force. Id. at 21. In Claim-4, Plaintiff argues that the institution of the child welfare proceedings “constituted malicious prosecution in that there was no basis for the Plaintiffs' (sic) seizure, yet Defendants continued with the prosecutions, which were resolved in Plaintiffs' (sic) favor.” Id. at 21-22. In Claim-5, Plaintiff submits that Defendants subjected her to a “deprivation of liberty without due process of law.” Id. at 22.

         In Claim-6, alleging municipal liability, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Humboldt County, acting through its Department of Health and Human Services, “developed, implemented, enforced, encouraged and sanctioned de facto policies, practices, and/or customs exhibiting deliberate indifference [to] the Plaintiffs' (sic) constitutional rights which cause[d] the violation of such rights.” Id. at 23. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that these actions were willfully done with the specific intent to deprive Plaintiff of her rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Id. at 23-24. In Claim-7, Plaintiff submits that Defendants violated Article I, Section-4, of the California Constitution by “discriminating against Plaintiff[']s religious customs and in initiating [child welfare] proceeding[s] [that] were racially motivated and done without lawful justification or jurisdiction, and were designed to and did cause specific and serious psychological [damage] and suffering . . . .” Id. at 24-25. In Claim-8, Plaintiff argues that Defendants violated Article I, Section-13, of the California Constitution by subjecting Plaintiff “to unlawful search and seizure, [such that she was] coerced or forced out of her residence [which was] done without reasonable suspicion or probable cause . . . .” Id. at 25. In Claim-9, a malicious prosecution claim under the common law of California, Plaintiff submits that Defendants “maliciously commenced [j]uvenile proceedings against Plaintiff[']s children . . . falsely and without probable cause . . . [that] were terminated/dismissed/unfound (sic) in Plaintiff[']s favor.” Id. at 25-26. In Claim-10, brought under the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, Plaintiff contends that “[b]y conducting the complained of search in the manner described herein, [D]efendants interfered with [P]laintiff's federal and state constitutional and statutory rights by means of threats, intimidation, and/or coercion . . . .” Id. at 26-27. Lastly, in Claim-11, Plaintiff submits that “[b]y conducting the complained of search in the manner described, ” Defendants Schneider, Enriquez-Paredes, the unidentified Sheriff's Deputies, and the County of Humboldt, violated § 4030 of the California Penal Code. Id. at 27.

         Plaintiff's Factual Allegations:

         By way of facts, the SAC contains largely the same set of factual allegations that were pleaded in the FAC. The SAC alleges that the petition for an investigatory medical examination of Plaintiff's child was taken before a judge without prior notice to Plaintiff. SAC at 8. While the SAC offers more by way of argument and less by way of a description of those court proceedings, Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss relies upon and makes repeated references to the records of those proceedings (see Pl.'s Opp. (dkt. 54) at 8, 9, 17-18, 21), which have been filed in this court, and of which this court has already taken judicial notice. See Order (dkt. 48) at 7 n.3. Those court records constitute the application for a warrant as well as the associated findings and orders of Judge Hinrichs of the Humboldt County Superior Court, Juvenile Division. See Defs.' Mot., Exh. A (dkt. 23-1 *SEALED*) at 2-9. The facts contained within the SAC as well as the records of the child welfare proceedings are as follows.

         On August 1, 2017, child welfare officials received a referral about Plaintiff's daughter I.A. (age 1 in 2017)[1] and Plaintiff's son B.M.K (age 4 in 2017) with another father. Id. at 8. During the time period in question, the children resided in Manilla, California, with Plaintiff and R.R.'s father, Derrick Andrews. Id. Plaintiff and Mr. Andrews were reported to practice a religion that involves certain purification rituals. Id. According to the referral, “[t]he baby is bathed daily by the mother, who boils water and pours the boiling water onto the baby's pressure points and artery-fed organs, including the genitals, bottom, belly button, and over the heart and kidneys.” Id. The referral added that Plaintiff believes that this process “strengthen[ed] the child's organs.” Id.

         The following day, Child Welfare Services (“CWS”) dispatched social-worker Defendants Schneider and Enriquez-Paredes to Plaintiff's home in Manilla, accompanied by a number of Humboldt County Sheriff's Office deputies. Id. Once there, Plaintiff and Mr. Andrews would not allow the social workers or deputies to enter the home or to see the children; at which point Defendant Schneider told Plaintiff that if the parents would not allow the social workers to see the children, a warrant would be sought. Id. At this point, Plaintiff was reported to have told Defendant Schneider that the purification ritual in question involves boiling water with tea, placing rags into the hot tea, and then wrapping her infant daughter with those rags. Id. Plaintiff also alleges that she “chose to explain the customs of aborigines” to the social worker Defendants. See SAC at 7-8. During this conversation, Mr. Andrews was reported to have scaled a fence, climbed onto the rooftop of his residence, shouted “that he was going to climb a mountain to preach, ” bemoaned his displeasure with the “social worker devils, ” and complained more generally about “crimes committed against his people.” Id. This apparently caused the social workers and deputies to leave the residence. Id. Later that day, two other social workers employed by CWS conducted an interview with Robert Keating, the father of Plaintiff's son B.M.K. Id. at 9. Mr. Keating reported to CWS that he possessed audio recordings of conversations between Plaintiff and Plaintiff's mother wherein Plaintiff is heard saying that she has poured boiling water on her infant daughter's reproductive organs in order “to keep her from being promiscuous when she is older.” Id. Mr. Keating also reported to CWS that, while speaking on the phone with his son, he frequently heard Mr. Andrews yelling in the background and threatening to beat B.M.K. Id.

         On August 3, 2017, social worker Defendant Kristin Ellis appeared before Judge Hinrichs to petition for a warrant. Id. at 6, 8-9. Consequently, a case was opened in the Juvenile Division of the Humboldt County Superior Court, styled, In the matter of: I.A. and B.M.K. Id. at 6. The petition was filed by Defendant Kalin (acting in an official capacity as Deputy County Counsel), seeking an order permitting entry into Plaintiff's home, an interview with both of Plaintiff's children, and a medical examination for Plaintiff's infant daughter. Id. at 6, 9. Judge Hinrichs found that: (1) that there was reasonable cause to believe that the children involved come within the description of the California Welfare and Institutions Code § 300 (bringing within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court those matters where it can be shown that a child has suffered, or there is a substantial risk that the child will suffer, serious physical, emotional, or other harm); (2) that the circumstances require a medical examination of Plaintiff's daughter by a licensed medical practitioner with specialized training in diagnosing and treating child abuse in order to determine whether there has been any such abuse; and (3) that entry into the Plaintiff's home by CWS and or law enforcement investigators was required pursuant to California Welfare and Institutions Code § 328 for investigators to speak with the children and to inspect the safety of the home in order to determine whether further proceedings in juvenile court may be warranted. Id. at 6-7. Based on these findings, Judge Hinrichs issued an order authorizing CWS to obtain a suitable medical examination for Plaintiff's daughter in order to determine whether the child had been abused or neglected, adding that the examination shall take place within 72 hours unless the child were to need protective custody, in which case it was to take place with 72 hours of the effectuation of the protective custody. Id. at 7. Judge Hinrichs's order further provided that “[t]he child's parent, guardian, or caretaker shall immediately permit Child Welfare Services and/or Law Enforcement investigators to enter the child's home so they can see and speak with the child and inspect the safety of the home in order to determine whether child welfare services should be offered to the family and to determine whether juvenile court proceedings should be commenced.” Id.

         In any event, the SAC goes on to contend that, because Plaintiff's daughter is named R.R. rather than I.A., Defendants' “intrusive behavior” violated Plaintiff's right to privacy, which once asserted, caused Defendants to retaliate. See SAC (dkt. 49) at 8. Plaintiff then goes on to enumerate a list of reasons as to why, in Plaintiff's view, Judge Hinrichs's order was invalid. See id. at 8-9. First, Plaintiff argues that order was invalid because it identified Plaintiff's daughter as I.A. rather than R.R. Id. at 8. Second, Plaintiff submits that, before the case was taken to Judge Hinrich, Plaintiff told Defendants Schneider and Enriquez-Paredes the following: that her children have conventional doctors; that Mr. Andrews is not hostile; that the source or sources of the original referral harbored racial animosity towards Plaintiff or Mr. Andrews; and, that Plaintiff and Mr. Andrews “are members/initiate of a federal[ly] recognized international non-profit organization called The Earth Center of Mannu (sic), inc, who[se] mission is to inspire, research and support education into the original ancestor culture of humanity for the health [and] well-being of all people.” Id. at 8-9. Plaintiff also alleges that she told the social-worker Defendants on August 2, 2017 that the customs of this organization do not injure or damage her infant daughter in any way, that “the customs of the Healing Baths [] stop when the child begins to walk, ” and that her daughter had been walking since April of 2017. Id. at 9. In addition to arguing that these alleged statements rendered Judge Hinrichs's order invalid, Plaintiff also contends that, based on her refusal to permit the social workers to see her infant daughter on August 2, 2017, the social workers and deputies “retaliated by returning to [] [her] residence on August 7, 2017 with an investigative warrant due to [] [Plaintiff] establishing her right to privacy . . . on August 2, 2017.” Id. at 9.

         The SAC then alleges that when the above-mentioned Defendants visited Plaintiff on August 7, 2019, to effectuate Judge Hinrichs's order for a medical examination, insisting that Plaintiff and her children accompany them to the emergency room, that “[P]laintiff was coerced into going to the emergency room by being prevented from engaging in her religious customs such as Healing showers followed by chants, ” as well as from breast-feeding her daughter. Id. at 10. The SAC goes on to allege that upon examination of Plaintiff's children, medical staff at the emergency room were unable to identify any signs of abuse or neglect. Id. at 22.

         With one exception, the remainder of the contents of the SAC constitute either argument or conclusory statements rather than allegations of fact. For example, the SAC complains that the original referrals that triggered the child welfare investigation and proceedings were rooted in “harassment and discriminatory allegations by Plaintiff's ex-boyfriend and parents who believe themselves to be White Christians.” Id. at 9. Likewise, the SAC argues, at length, that the provisions of California law that govern child welfare proceedings were unconstitutional as applied to her but without any comprehensible explanation as to why or how. Id. at 11-14. Other portions of the SAC are both repetitive and difficult to understand, such as Plaintiff's contention to the following effect: “The investigative warrant was invalid. The investigative as applied gave Leverage/discretion” to social-worker Defendants Schneider and Enriquez-Paredes “to subject plaintiff to threats, duress, and coercion to have a medical exam since probable cause for the removal was absent.” Id. at 14. First, Plaintiff has not alleged that her child was ever “removed” from her custody; second, since Judge Hinrichs had ordered the medical examination of Plaintiff's daughter, it appears that Plaintiff is once again imputing the coercive nature of a court order onto the child welfare officers tasked with effectuating that order. See Order Dismissing FAC (dkt. 48) at 13 (“Plaintiff found the choice [between complying with Judge Hinrichs's order or facing further proceedings] to be coercive - however, such is the nature of court orders, compliance is not optional.”). Otherwise, the SAC presents a great many conclusory statements, such as the statement that Defendants acted “for purposes not related to the health, safety, and welfare” of her children, but with “malicious intent, gross recklessness, and deliberate indifference to [Plaintiff's] familial rights.” Id. at 6.

         However, the court will note that while shy on details, Plaintiff has also alleged that during the execution of Judge Hinrichs's order deputies “seized” Plaintiff and forced her to sit on a couch in her residence. Id. at 10. Plaintiff had included slightly greater detail in the First Amended Complaint, alleging that during the execution of Judge Hinrichs's order, in addition to being “commanded to sit on the couch . . . one sheriff grabbed her phone out of her hand and said Plaintiff could not use her phone.” See FAC (dkt. 19) at 12. The omission of the alleged seizure of Plaintiff's phone aside, the Second Amended Complaint goes no further by way of factual allegation in this regard than to simply say that Plaintiff was seized by one or more deputies and forced to sit on a couch for an unspecified amount of time while social workers spoke with her children in another room. See generally SAC (dkt. 49) at 1-28. Additionally, it also appears that Plaintiff may be alleging that she considered herself to have been seized at the emergency room as well due to someone reportedly asking her not to leave while her child was being examined. Id. at 11-12.

         By way of relief, Plaintiff seeks a declaration that Defendants' conduct violated her rights under the provisions enumerated in her eleven claims. Id. at 27. An injunction requiring “that Defendants DHHS possessing any information arising from the actions complained of herein shall collect and deliver to the Plaintiff[] all such records and expunge or delete all such information from their records.” Id. at 28. Plaintiff also seeks an injunction prohibiting Defendants from interfering in Plaintiff's constitutionally protected activities, especially when it involves “reports from Plaintiff[']s [p]arents or relatives and ex boyfriends from again [causing] similar discriminatory harassment.” Id. Additionally, Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys' fees, costs of suit, as well as any other relief the court may deem appropriate. Id.


         A plaintiff may bring an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to redress violations of “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and [federal] laws, ” that were perpetrated by a person or entity, including a municipality, acting under the color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see also Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-95 (1978). In the present context, in order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must allege facts that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); thus, the “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While “all well-pleaded allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, ” Wyler Summit Partnership v. Turner Broad. Sys. Inc., 135 F.3d 658, 661 (9th Cir. 1998), the court is not required to accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences. Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001). Thus, mere recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, are insufficient. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Further, because Plaintiff is unrepresented, this court will construe her pleadings and arguments liberally, interpreting them to raise the strongest arguments they suggest. See Bernhardt v. Los Angeles County, 339 F.3d 920, 925 (9th Cir. 2003) (“[c]ourts have a duty to construe pro se pleadings liberally, including pro se motions”); cf. Wilwording v. Swenson, 404 U.S. 249, 251 (1971) (per curiam) (habeas corpus petition that presents claims cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 should be construed to that extent as a complaint under § 1983); with, Franklin v. State of Oregon, 662 F.2d 1337, 1347-48 & n.13 (9th Cir. 1981) (courts should construe pro se pleadings liberally; construing § 1983 complaint as a habeas corpus petition).

         Dismissal for failure to state a claim is appropriate only where it appears, beyond doubt, that the plaintiff can prove no set of pleaded facts that would entitle her or him to relief. Morley v. Walker, 175 F.3d 756, 759 (9th Cir. 1999). In short, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory factual content, and reasonable inferences from that content, must plausibly suggest a ...

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