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Weymouth v. County of Maricopa

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 4, 2019

Brian Weymouth, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
County of Maricopa, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Honorable Susan M. Brnovich United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Maricopa County's Partial Motion To Dismiss For Failure to State A Claim Upon Which Relief May Be Granted (Doc. 42). Oral argument was held on February 1, 2019. The Court has now considered the Motion (Doc. 42, Mot.), Response (Doc. 45, Resp.), and Reply (Doc. 50, Reply) along with arguments of counsel and relevant case law.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises from Plaintiffs Brian and Andrea Weymouth's Complaint, originally filed on January 25, 2018, in the Maricopa County Superior Court, and removed to this Court by Defendants on May 1, 2018. Plaintiffs then filed a First Amended Complaint (Doc. 38, “FAC”) on July 25, 2018. In the FAC, Plaintiffs bring claims against Maricopa County, Brian Mackiewicz, Brian and Shawn O'Connor, and multiple unnamed defendants. The claims stem from Plaintiffs' allegations that Plaintiffs' property was seized and impounded by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and then retrieved by Defendant Brian O'Connor, without permission from the Plaintiffs and without a court order. (FAC ¶¶ 27-28, 34-37). In regard to Defendant Maricopa County (“Defendant County”), Plaintiffs bring Count Sixteen for “Unconstitutional Policies, Practices and Customs/42 U.S.C. § 1983” and Count Seventeen for “Failure to Train/42 U.S.C. § 1983.” (FAC ¶¶ 194-215). Defendant County now moves to dismiss Count Seventeen of Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         DISCUSSION

         I. LEGAL STANDARDS

         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)). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) “can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988). A complaint that sets forth a cognizable legal theory will survive a motion to dismiss if it contains 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) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Facial plausibility exists if the pleader sets forth “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the well-pled factual allegations are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cousins v. Lockyer, 568 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2009). However, legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are not given a presumption of truthfulness, and “conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are not sufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss.” Pareto v. FDIC, 139 F.3d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1998).

         II. ANALYSIS

         a. Municipal Liability

         “Neither state officials nor municipalities are vicariously liable for the deprivation of constitutional rights by employees.” Flores v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 758 F.3d 1154, 1158-59 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)). A municipality may, however, be liable under § 1983 if a plaintiff shows “that a policy or custom led to the plaintiff's injury, ” and “that the policy or custom . . . reflects deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of its inhabitants.” Castro v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1073 (9th Cir. 2016) (citations and quotation marks omitted). A municipality may only be held liable for the inadequacy of police training if Plaintiff shows “(1) he was deprived of a constitutional right, (2) the [municipality] had a training policy that amounts to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of the persons with whom its police officers are likely to come into contact; and (3) his constitutional injury would have been avoided had the [municipality] properly trained those officers.” Blankenhorn v. City of Orange, 485 F.3d 463, 484 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks, brackets, and citations omitted); see also City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989) (municipality may only be held liable for the inadequacy of police training “where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact, ” and the policy was “the moving force [behind] the constitutional violation”) (quotation marks omitted). However, a “municipality's culpability for a deprivation of rights is at its most tenuous where a claim turns on a failure to train.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61 (2011).

         “‘[D]eliberate indifference' is a stringent standard of fault, requiring proof that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action.” Id. (quoting Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cty., Okl. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 410 (1997)). “[T]he need for more or different training [must be] so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need.” Castro, 833 F.3d at 1076 (9th Cir. 2016) (quoting Canton, 489 U.S. at 390). “A pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is ‘ordinarily necessary' to demonstrate deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train.” Connick, 563 U.S. at 62 (quoting Bryan Cty., 520 U.S. at 409). “After all, ‘[w]ithout notice that a course of training is deficient in a particular respect, decisionmakers can hardly be said to have deliberately chosen a training program that will cause violations of constitutional rights.'” Hein v. City of Chandler, No. CV-15-01162-PHX-DJH, 2016 WL 11530432, at *6 (D. Ariz. Sept. 16, 2016) (quoting Connick, 563 U.S. at 62). Although a pattern is ordinarily necessary, “there exists a ‘narrow range of circumstances [in which] a pattern of similar violations might not be necessary to show deliberate indifference.'” Flores, 758 F.3d at 1159 (quoting Connick, 563 U.S. at 63) (alterations in original).

         Here, Defendant County first argues that Plaintiffs have not alleged a “pattern” of similar constitutional violations. In response, Plaintiffs contend that they have “specified two distinct events, one occurring in 2011 and the other in 2015, where the Property Clerks permitted Plaintiffs' personal property to be distributed to Defendant O'Connor without Plaintiffs' permission or authority from the Maricopa County Superior Court, ” and that “the Property Clerks demonstrated consistency in their denial of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights having distribut[ed] Plaintiff's property to a stranger on two occasions.” (Resp. at 5) (emphasis in original). Plaintiffs further assert that the Defendant County may be liable even with “one” isolated event. (Resp. at 8).

         This Court has continuously recognized that complaints lacked allegations of a “pattern” when plaintiffs alleged only a single incident. See, e.g., Ericson v. City of Phoenix, No. CV-14-01942-PHX-JAT, 2016 WL 6522805, at *21 and n.13 (D. Ariz. Nov. 3, 2016) (noting that plaintiff must proceed on a single incident theory because plaintiff cited “to no incident besides the one in this case”); Hein, 2016 WL 11530432, at *7 (“[T]he FAC does not allege a pattern of similar violations, namely, of other officers citing and arresting people to discourage them from filing lawsuits against the City.”). But alleging more than one incident does not automatically create a “pattern.” The Ninth Circuit has affirmed a district court's granting of a motion to dismiss a claim for failure to train when plaintiff alleged that the defendants were on notice of the lack of proper training following another officer's conviction approximately five years earlier. Flores, 758 F.3d at 1159 (“The isolated incidents of criminal wrongdoing by one deputy other than [the Deputy ...


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