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White v. Stiers

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

August 1, 2013

PATRICK WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID M. STIERS, et al., Defendants. Re: Motion at docket 6

ORDER AND OPINION

JOHN W. SEDWICK, District Judge.

I. MOTION PRESENTED

At docket 6 defendants David M. Stiers ("Stiers"), Frank Milstead ("Milstead"), and the City of Mesa ("City") (collectively "Defendants") move to dismiss the Amended Complaint filed by plaintiff Patrick White ("White") pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). White responds at docket 7, and Defendants reply at docket 10. Oral argument was heard on July 10, 2013.

II. BACKGROUND

According to White's Amended Complaint, during the summer of 2010 another man exposed himself in front of four different women on a total of six occasions in the vicinity of the La Costa Apartment Complex at Dobson Ranch ("La Costa"). Stiers, who was employed as a police detective by the City, was placed in charge of the City's investigation. Providing information separately, all four women described the perpetrator as an athletic looking man about 6 feet tall, weighing 165 to 200 pounds with a balding head of blondish hair of an age in his 30's or 40's who had exposed himself between 5:30 and 6:30 AM in the vicinity of La Costa. The similar descriptions supported a conclusion that the same man was involved in each incident. White was a little over 6 feet tall, weighed more than 220 pounds, lacked an athletic build, and had a full head of black hair with some gray on the sides of his head. After listing numerous questionable actions and failures to act by Stiers, the Amended Complaint alleges that Stiers wrongfully arrested White at his law office on January 14, 2011, for exposing himself to the women. The City's prosecutor then filed three misdemeanor charges against White connected to the incidents at La Costa. All charges against White were dismissed by the prosecutor on November 10, 2011, after being advised of Stiers' conduct and other information uncovered by White's lawyer.

The Amended Complaint alleges four counts brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The first seeks compensatory damages from Stiers in both his official and his individual capacities and punitive damages from Stiers in his individual capacity for arresting White in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The second seeks compensatory damages from Stiers in both his official and individual capacities and punitive damages from Stiers in his individual capacity based on a denial of substantive due process arising from Stiers' knowing and intentional provision of false information to the city prosecutors and his knowing and intentional concealment of exculpatory evidence. The third count is a stand alone demand for punitive damages against Stiers in his individual capacity. The fourth count seeks compensatory damages from the City and Chief of Police Milstead acting in his official capacity for violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments arising from policies which resulted in a failure to adequately train and supervise Stiers and encouraged his conduct.

White's original Complaint was filed on February 25, 2013. The Amended Complaint was filed on March 4, 2013. In addition to his claims for compensatory and punitive damages, White seeks an award of costs and attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a plaintiff's claims. In reviewing such a motion, "[a]ll" allegations of material fact in the complaint are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party."[1] Dismissal for failure to state a claim can be based on either "the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory."[2] "Conclusory allegations of law... are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss."[3]

To avoid dismissal, a plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."[4] "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."[5] "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully."[6] "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent' with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'"[7] "In sum, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory factual content, ' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief."[8]

IV. DISCUSSION

White does not oppose dismissal of his third count, nor does he oppose dismissal of the official capacity claims. The only claim against Milstead was pled as an official capacity claim, so the complaint will be dismissed as to Milstead. White opposes dismissal of the individual capacity claims against Stiers in the first and second counts, and the claim against the City in the fourth count.

Defendants' first argument for dismissal is that the claims are time barred, because the complaint was filed more than two years after White's arrest on January 14, 2011. The parties agree that the applicable statute of limitation is the two-year Arizona limitation on tort actions for personal injuries. Defendants contend that White's claims necessarily accrued on the day he was arrested. White maintains that his claims did not accrue until November 7, 2011. On that date, White asserts he first learned of the facts giving rise to his claim that "a constitutionally deficient investigation [which relied] on information that was clearly and demonstrably false [to support White's] arrest"[9] resulted in an unreasonable seizure of his person.

While the statute of limitation for claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is borrowed from state law, the time when a claim accrues is decided under federal law as explained by the Supreme Court in Wallace v. Kato.[10] In Wallace, the Supreme Court also said that the statute of limitation for a claim of false arrest would normally run from the date of the arrest, because the plaintiff could file suit at that time. However, the court found that the particular claim before it was better characterized as a claim for false imprisonment, a claim that "is subject to a distinctive rule-dictated, perhaps, by the reality that the victim may not be ...


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