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Jones v. Town of Quartzsite

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 24, 2014

Jennifer Jones, Plaintiff,
v.
Town of Quartzsite, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

JAMES A. TEILBORG, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendants Town of Quartzsite ("Quartzsite"), et al.'s (collectively, the "Defendants"), Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Doc. 22). Plaintiff Jennifer Jones filed a Response (Doc. 31) and Defendants filed a Reply (Doc. 32). The Court now rules on the Motion.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

On June 28, 2011, Plaintiff attended a Quartzsite town council meeting. (Doc. 1 ¶ 19). The remaining six individually named defendants also attended the meeting: Joe Winslow, Quartzsite town council member; Alexandra Taft, town manager; Albert Johnson, assistant town manager; Jeffrey Gilbert, Chief of the Quartzsite Police Department; Officer Rick Paterson of the Quartzsite Police Department; and, Officer Fabiola Garcia of the Quartzsite Police Department. ( Id. ¶¶ 6-11). Mayor Foster moderated the meeting. ( Id. ¶ 25).

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Plaintiff approached the front stage and microphone. ( Id. ¶ 23-25). After being recognized by Mayor Foster, Plaintiff began to peaceably criticize the town council. ( Id. ¶¶ 25-26). Within one minute, Defendant Winslow interrupted Plaintiff and made an oral motion to have Plaintiff ejected from the meeting for an unidentified procedural violation. ( Id. ¶¶ 26-28). Over Mayor Foster's objection, Defendant Winslow then stated that a majority of the town council supported the motion and told Plaintiff "you may leave, or you may be escorted out." ( Id. ¶ 28).

Next, Defendants Chief Gilbert and Officers Garcia and Paterson approached Plaintiff and attempted to take the microphone from her. ( Id. ¶ 29). Mayor Foster continued to object to Plaintiff's removal and the officers retreated. ( Id. ). Mayor Foster told Plaintiff to continue speaking. ( Id. ¶ 31).

During this time, the town council continued voting on the motion to remove Plaintiff from the meeting. ( Id. ¶ 30). After completing the vote in favor of removing Plaintiff, Defendant Winslow stated that "the majority of this council has moved that [Plaintiff] be removed." ( Id. ¶ 31). Mayor Foster continued to object to Plaintiff's removal. ( Id. ¶ 31). During the confusion, Defendants Johnson and Taft briefly gestured acquiescence to Plaintiff's removal to the officers present. ( Id. ¶¶ 32-33).

Defendants Chief Gilbert and Officers Garcia and Paterson again approached Plaintiff, removed the microphone from her hand, and Defendant-Officers Garcia and Paterson forcibly removed Plaintiff from the room. ( Id. ¶ 34). Meanwhile, Mayor Foster, Defendant Winslow, Defendant Gilbert, and various other people were speaking to each other and calling for order. ( Id. ¶¶ 34-35).

After removing Plaintiff from the town council meeting, Defendant-Officers Garcia and Paterson arrested Plaintiff for disorderly conduct. ( Id. ¶¶ 40-41). The charge was later dismissed. ( Id. ¶ 41). In the process of Plaintiff's removal and arrest, Plaintiff suffered an injury to her left elbow. ( Id. ¶¶ 34, 39, 42-46).

Plaintiff also alleges that previously, on October 14, 2010, the Quartzsite Town Council, Mayor Foster, and Defendant Chief Gilbert underwent training about proper procedure for open town council meetings. ( Id. ¶¶ 13-17). Specifically, they were trained that Mayor Foster presides at the town meetings and determines procedures and rules for the meeting. ( Id. ).

Plaintiff further nonspecifically alleges that both prior to and after the June 28, 2011 town council meeting, Defendant Chief Gilbert had harassed various unidentified political opponents. ( Id. ¶¶ 49-54).

On June 27, 2012, Plaintiff filed the instant six-count Complaint alleging First and Fourth Amendment violations, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and municipal liability through a failure to train, supervise, and discipline Quartzsite police officers. (Doc. 1).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is "functionally identical" to a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, thus "the same standard of review applies to motions brought under either rule." Cafasso, U.S. ex rel. v. Gen. Dynamics C4 Sys., Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1055 n. 4 (9th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation omitted).

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim, a complaint must meet the requirements of Rule 8(a)(2). Rule 8(a)(2) requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " so that the defendant has "fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Also, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, which, if accepted as true, states a claim to relief that is "plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Facial plausibility exists if the pleader pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. Plausibility does not equal "probability, " but plausibility requires more than a sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully. Id. "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.'" Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

Although a complaint attacked for failure to state a claim does not need detailed factual allegations, the pleader's obligation to provide the grounds for relief requires "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted). Rule 8(a)(2) "requires a showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief. Without some factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard to see how a claimant could satisfy the requirement of providing not only fair notice' of the nature of the claim, but also grounds' on which the claim rests." Id. (citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1202, pp. 94, 95 (3d ed. 2004)). Thus, Rule 8's pleading standard demands more than "an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court must construe the facts alleged in the complaint in the light most favorable to the drafter of the complaint and must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true. Shwarz, 234 F.3d at 435; Cafasso, 637 F.3d 1053 ("[w]hen considering a Rule 12(c) dismissal, we must accept the facts as pled by the non-movant"). Nonetheless, the Court does not have to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation. Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).

III. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 1) alleges four causes of action against all Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Counts I and III, First Amendment violations of free speech, press, and assembly rights, and retaliation ( id. at 21-23); and Counts II and IV, Fourth Amendment violations via false arrest and malicious prosecution ( id. at 22-24). Plaintiff also alleges in Count V a § 1983 failure to train, supervise, and discipline cause of action against Quartzsite only. ( Id. at 24-25). Finally, Plaintiff alleges in Count VI an Arizona state law cause of action against all Defendants for intentional infliction of emotional distress. ( Id. at 25-26).

A. Counts I & III: First Amendment Claims

Plaintiff alleges in Counts I and III of her Complaint (Doc. 1 at 21-23, ¶¶ 65-69, 72-74) that all Defendants: (1) violated Plaintiff's "right to free speech;" and (2) subjected Plaintiff to a retaliatory arrest because of her speech (Doc. 31 at 4-7).

1. Count I: First Amendment Free Speech

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants ejected her from the June 28, 2011 town council meeting in an effort to suppress her speech critical of the town council. Defendants, however, argue that Plaintiff's Complaint actually alleges that Defendants merely enforced the town council's rules of procedure when ejecting Plaintiff. (Doc. 22 at 7-10; Doc. 32 at 3-4).

Under Ninth Circuit law, city council meetings, "once opened, have been regarded as public forums, albeit limited ones." White v. City of Norwalk, 900 F.2d 1421, 1425 (9th Cir. 1990) (en banc). "A council can regulate not only the time, place, and manner of speech in a limited public forum, but also the content of speech-as long as content-based regulations are viewpoint neutral and enforced that way." Norse v. City of Santa Cruz, 629 F.3d 966, 975 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc). However, rules of decorum are constitutional if they "only permit[ ] a presiding officer to eject an attendee for actually disturbing or impeding a meeting." Acosta v. City of Costa Mesa, 718 F.3d 800, 811 (2013) (quoting Norse, 629 F.3d at 976).

Although the standard for disruption is relatively low, a disruption must in fact have occurred. "Actual disruption means actual disruption. It does not mean constructive disruption, technical disruption, virtual disruption, nunc pro tunc disruption, or imaginary disruption. The City cannot define disruption so as to include non-disruption to invoke the aid of Norwalk. " Norse, 629 F.3d at 976. "The Supreme Court long ago explained that in our system, undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression.'" Id. at 979 (Kozinski, J. concurring) (quoting Tinker v. De Moines Ind. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 508 (1969)). At a minimum, the disturbance must be something more than the bare violation of a rule. Dowd v. City of Los Angeles, CV 09-06731 DDP SSX, 2013 WL 4039043, at *17 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 7, 2013).

Here, the factual allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint contend that Plaintiff spoke during the public comment portion of the town council meeting. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 23, 25). Plaintiff contends that she did not begin speaking until Mayor Foster (who presided over the meeting) duly recognized Plaintiff. ( Id. ¶ 25). Plaintiff further contends that, once recognized and handed the microphone, Plaintiff began to peaceably criticize the town council. ( Id. ¶¶ 25-26). Plaintiff further contends that, within one minute, Defendant Winslow interrupted Plaintiff and made an oral motion to have Plaintiff ejected from the meeting for an unidentified procedural violation. ( Id. ¶¶ 26-28). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Winslow then stated that a majority of the town council supported the motion and told Plaintiff "you may leave, or you may be escorted out." ( Id. ¶ 28). Plaintiff alleges that after being told to continue by Mayor Foster, Defendant Winslow apparently completed the town council vote and claimed a majority supported the motion, and then Defendant-Officers Garcia and Paterson removed Plaintiff from the town council meeting. ( Id. ¶¶ 30-34).

If true, Plaintiff's non-conclusory factual assertions support her claim that she was not acting disruptively at the time Defendants interrupted her speech and removed her from the town council meeting. Furthermore, Defendant Winslow's invocation of an unspecified procedural rule immediately followed Plaintiff's attempt to speak critically of the town council. Thus, the Court reasonably infers that Plaintiff alleges viewpoint discrimination in Defendants' restriction of her speech. However, even if Defendants acted solely to cure Plaintiff's unidentified procedural violation, Defendants' actions may have run afoul of applicable law because Plaintiff alleges that she was speaking peacefully about a matter of town-importance after being duly recognized to speak by the moderator of the meeting ( i.e. she was not acting disruptively). See Norse, ...


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