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Claraty v. Hall-Mills

United States District Court, N.D. California

January 2, 2020

LINDA HALL-MILLS, et al., Defendants.


          JOSEPH C. SPERO Chief Magistrate Judge


         Plaintiff Noe-Marie Claraty, pro se, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) based on her temporary loss of custody of two minor children. Claraty names as Defendants Contra Costa County (the “County”) and Linda Hall-Mills, a social worker employed by the County. The Court previously granted Defendants' motion to dismiss Claraty's first amended complaint based on the statute of limitations, and Claraty filed a second amended complaint asserting equitable tolling. Defendants move once again to dismiss. The Court held a hearing on May 31, 2019. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED, and Claraty's complaint is DISMISSED with prejudice. The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of Defendants.[1]


         Claraty asserts a claim under § 1983 and a claim under the FTCA based on her temporary loss of custody of her young children, allegedly as a result of a purportedly false report prepared by Hall-Mills and other alleged efforts by Hall-Mills to deprive Claraty of custody. Claraty alleges that police officers removed her three-week-old child NBG from her care in June of 2015 based on Hall-Mills's report, and that Claraty and the father of her second child, CMG, stipulated to the father assuming custody based on Hall-Mills's threat that CMG would be placed in foster care if they did not do so. 2d Am. Compl. (“SAC, ” dkt. 3) at 3-4. Claraty regained shared custody of CMG on March 7, 2016 and of NBG on September 1, 2016. Id. at 4. Claraty was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) in May of 2018, and filed this action on November 13, 2018. Id. at 4-5.[2]

         In response to Defendants' motion to dismiss her previous complaint, which alleged similar facts but asserted a claim only under § 1983, Claraty argued that her diagnosis with PTSD was the relevant point from which to measure the two-year statute of limitations for her claim. The Court held that the statute of limitations instead began at the time that Claraty lost custody, which was itself a cognizable injury, not when she became aware of further manifestations of harm, such as PTSD, arising from that original injury. Order Dismissing 1st Am. Compl. (dkt. 29)[3] at 4-6 (citing, e.g., Knox v. Davis, 260 F.3d 1009, 1013 (9th Cir. 2001) (“[T]his court has repeatedly held that a ‘mere continuing impact from past violations is not actionable.'” (citation omitted)); Belinda K. v. County of Alameda, No. 10-CV-05797-LHK, 2011 WL 2690356, at *6 (N.D. Cal. July 8, 2011) (“[C]ivil rights claims based on child removal accrue . . . when the child is removed from the parent.”)).[4] Because “Claraty's claim under § 1983 accrued when she lost custody of her children in 2015, more than two years before she brought this action, ” the Court dismissed her complaint with leave to amend if Claraty could allege facts sufficient to toll the statute of limitations. Id. at 6.

         Claraty's second amended complaint adds her claim under the FTCA and reasserts her argument that the statute of limitations, at least for the newly-added FTCA claim, should run from the date of her PTSD diagnosis. See SAC at 7-15. Claraty also asserts that the statute of limitations for her claim under § 1983 should be extended based on the doctrine of equitable tolling, because the requirements set by the family court for her to regain custody, among other responsibilities, were overwhelming, and she could not have filed a complaint before May of 2017. Id. at 16-21.

         Defendants now move to dismiss the second amended complaint, arguing that Claraty cannot state a claim under the FTCA-which provides for claims against the United States- against a local government or its employee, and that Claraty is not entitled to equitable tolling or any other relief from the statute of limitations for her claim under § 1983. See generally Mot. (dkt. 31).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard

         A complaint may be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. “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 plaintiff'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 analyzes the complaint and 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 complaint “‘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) (quoting 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) (alteration in original). Rather, the claim must be “‘plausible on its face, '” meaning that the plaintiff 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).

         Where the complaint has been filed by a pro se plaintiff, as is the case here, courts must “construe the pleadings liberally . . . to afford the petitioner the benefit of any doubt.” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). “A district court should not dismiss a pro se complaint without leave to amend unless ‘it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by amendment.'” Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Schucker v. Rockwood, 846 F.2d 1202, 1203-04 (9th Cir. 1988) (per curiam)). Further, when it dismisses the complaint of a pro se litigant with leave to amend, “‘the district court must provide the litigant with notice of the deficiencies in his complaint in order to ensure that the litigant uses the opportunity to amend effectively.'” Id. (quoting Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992)). “‘Without the benefit of a statement of deficiencies, the pro se litigant will likely repeat previous errors.'” Karim-Panahi v. L.A. Police Dep't, 839 F.2d 621, 624 (9th Cir. 1988) (quoting Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987)).

         B. Claraty Cannot State a Claim Under the FTCA ...

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