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Adame v. City of Surprise

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 29, 2018

Maria Adame, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
City of Surprise, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motions to Dismiss. (Docs. 10, 31). The Court denies the first motion to dismiss (Doc. 10) as moot. The Court grants the second motion to dismiss (Doc. 31) in part and denies it in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's decedent Derek Adame was sleeping in his vehicle at about 1:00 a.m. on November 26, 2016 when Defendant Joseph Gruver, a police officer for Defendant City of Surprise, drove past him in response to a report of a suspicious vehicle. Defendant Gruver parked his vehicle behind Mr. Adame's. He processed the vehicle's license plate number and found that it had been reported as stolen. Defendant Gruver then turned on his police vehicle's extremely bright “takedown” lights. He exited his vehicle and called in the license plate number over the radio to confirm that it was stolen. Dispatch confirmed that the car was stolen, and Defendant Gruver drew his firearm and slowly approached Mr. Adame's vehicle. Another City of Surprise police officer, Shaun McGonigle, started traveling to the location of Mr. Adame's vehicle. Seemingly, Defendant Gruver did not know that Officer McGonigle was coming to the scene. Officer McGonigle later stated that he did not answer Defendant Gruver's question about whether the vehicle was stolen because he did not want to “freak him out” and he “had a weird feeling that something might go down.” (Doc. 26 ¶ 29).

         After approaching Mr. Adame's vehicle, Defendant Gruver knocked on the passenger window, and when there was no response, he opened the passenger door and pointed his firearm at Adame. Defendant Gruver identified himself as a police officer and instructed Mr. Adame to raise his hands, place them on the steering wheel, and not move. Mr. Adame complied with Officer Gruver's instructions. Defendant Gruver kept his firearm pointed at Mr. Adame and continued to yell at him to keep his hands up. Although Defendant Gruver was apparently unaware that Officer McGonigle was approaching, Officer McGonigle came within sight of the vehicle moments before the shooting, and he confirmed that Mr. Adame's hands were on the steering wheel prior to the shooting. Eventually, Defendant Gruver quickly entered the vehicle, kneeled on the passenger seat, and shot Mr. Adame twice. Defendant Gruver claimed that he shot Mr. Adame because there were a lot of unknowns; he thought he was by himself; and Mr. Adame's hands were moving. Mr. Adame's upper body fell on the center console as the vehicle sped away, and Defendant Gruver fell out of the vehicle. Mr. Adame's vehicle crashed into a truck parked in a neighboring driveway.

         In compliance with policy, Defendant City of Surprise placed Defendant Gruver on administrative leave while it investigated his use of deadly force. Eventually, the City of Surprise reinstated Defendant Gruver without discipline. The Plaintiffs allege that in its investigation the City of Surprise determined that Defendant Gruver's actions were consistent with departmental policies and procedures

         Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) (doc. 26) alleges the above facts and includes five claims for relief. Count I claims that Defendant Gruver and Defendant City of Surprise are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unconstitutional use of excessive force. Count II claims that Defendant City of Surprise is liable under § 1983 for failing to train and supervise its employees. Count III claims that Defendant City of Surprise is liable under a theory of § 1983 municipal liability. Count IV claims that Defendant Gruver and Defendant City of Surprise are liable under Arizona state law for the wrongful death of Mr. Adame. Count V claims that Defendant Gruver and Defendant City of Surprise are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for discrimination. The FAC requests both compensatory and punitive damages.[1]

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard

         “A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficiency of a claim.” Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). “In deciding such a motion, all material allegations of the complaint are accepted as true, as well as all reasonable inferences to be drawn from them.” Id. However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain more than “labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action”; it must contain factual allegations sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “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.” Id. “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.” 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. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “In evaluating whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief, we rely on ‘judicial experience and common sense' to determine whether the factual allegations, which are assumed to be true, ‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Landers v. Quality Communications, Inc., 771 F.3d 638, 641 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         II. Analysis

         A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Municipality Liability

         Counts I, II, and III of the FAC state that Defendant City of Surprise is liable for Derek Adame's death pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 26). Under § 1983, “local governments are responsible only for ‘their own illegal acts' . . . and are not vicariously liable under § 1983 for their employee's actions.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 60 (2011) (quoting Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479 (1986)) (emphasis omitted). A plaintiff can sue a local government under § 1983 for relief when “the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers.” Monell ...


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