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Williams v. Yuma Police Department

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 27, 2019

Toby Bolden Williams, Plaintiff,
Yuma Police Department, et al., Defendants.



         On March 19, 2018, Plaintiff Toby Bolden Williams, who is currently confined in the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye, Arizona, filed a pro se civil rights Complaint and paid the filing and administrative fees. In a May 1, 2018 Order, the Court ordered Plaintiff to serve Defendants and ordered Defendants to answer or otherwise respond to the Complaint.[1]

         Pending before the Court are six Motions to Dismiss, which were filed by Yuma County, Smith, and Lackie (the “Yuma County Defendants”) (Doc. 46); Defendants City of Yuma, Preciado, Skaggs, and Lekan (the “First City of Yuma Defendants”) (Doc. 47); Defendants City of Somerton and Juarez (the “City of Somerton Defendants”) (Doc. 52); Defendant Alston (Doc. 62); Defendant Yuma County Risk Management (Doc. 118); and Defendants City of Yuma Risk Management, Yuma Police Department, and Rodriguez (the “Second City of Yuma Defendants”) (Doc. 121). Also pending is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 57). The Court will grant the Motions to Dismiss, deny the Motion for Summary Judgment, and order Plaintiff to show cause why Defendants Binuya and Villa should not be dismissed for failure to serve.[2]

         I. Plaintiff's Complaint

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, attorneys' fees, and court costs from the following Defendants: the City of Yuma, City of Yuma Risk Management, City of Yuma Police Chief John Lekan, Officer M. Preciado, Detective James Skaggs, and Laboratory Technician Adrian Rodriguez; the City of Somerton, City of Somerton Risk Management/Ralph Villa, City of Somerton Police Officer J. Binuya, and Police Detective A. Juarez; Yuma County, Yuma County Risk Management, Yuma County Jail Captain J. Lackie; Yuma County County Attorney Jon R. Smith; and Office of Justice Programs/US Civil Rights Director Michael Alston.[3]

         Plaintiff contends that on April 6, 2014, he was stopped during a routine traffic stop, searched, and arrested. (Doc. 1 at 10, 11.)[4] He claims Defendant Preciado brought him to the City of Yuma Police Department for further questioning, read him his Miranda [5] rights, and asked Plaintiff if he wanted to talk. (Id. at 11.) Plaintiff asserts that although he “did not respond in the affirmative, ” Defendant Preciado “ignored the [P]laintiff's wishes” and interrogated him for more than thirty minutes. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges Defendant Preciado “inherently coerced him to continue with the questioning” and, after Plaintiff “answer[ed]

         questions after initially declining, ” Defendant Preciado had the duty to Mirandize Plaintiff again before using his statements. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts this conduct violated his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges Defendant Preciado also coerced Plaintiff's co-defendants when he went into the interrogation room and told them, “Before you tell me anything[, ] we are going to say [Plaintiff] had everything.” (Id.) Plaintiff asserts Defendant Preciado “coached the witnesses with malicious intent to complete an arrest.” (Id.) Plaintiff claims this violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that on April 15, 2014, Defendant Skaggs told a grand jury he did not know who owned the vehicle that was stopped, although he met with Plaintiff's co-defendants during an interview on April 9, 2014, and stated, “you are from the traffic stop the other night with [Plaintiff].” (Id. at 8, 10.) Plaintiff also claims Defendant Preciado, during the course of the criminal case, “falsi[fi]ed police reports and claimed they had more suspected contraband than they had in order to detail the [P]laintiff in order to take his finger[]prints.” (Id. at 11.) Plaintiff contends he has an Arizona police laboratory report “where the items that were sent in for this case do not match the claimed amounts.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges Defendant Preciado's actions resulted from a lack of proper training and improper supervision. (Id.) Alternatively, he claims Defendant Preciado's actions point “to a de facto policy of non-compliance with the requirements for protection of civil rights” by Defendant City of Yuma Police Department. (Id.)

         Next, Plaintiff alleges Defendant Yuma County Attorney's Office and Smith maliciously prosecuted him and “ignored evide[]nce that was derived from third[-]party investigative serv[i]ces that showed Dete[ct]ives in this case were l[y]ing.” (Id.) He claims Defendant Smith acted “willfully, knowingly, and purposefully and/or [with] deliberate indifference” to deprive Plaintiff of his constitutional rights. (Id.)

         Plaintiff claims Defendant Juarez gave false testimony during a hearing that took place on April 15 and 29, 2015, in Yuma County Superior Court, case numbers S1400CR201400411 and S1400CR201400419. (Id. at 10.) He contends Defendant Juarez lied to the court and violated multiple Defendant City of Somerton policies when he took “the alleged cup home on the night of the incident” and “tur[ned] in a blank evidence bag to [Defendant] Rodriguez the next day.” (Id.) Plaintiff also takes issue with Defendant Binuya's June 15, 2015 testimony. (Id.)

         In addition, Plaintiff asserts that while he was incarcerated in the Yuma County Jail, he was denied proper medical care for anxiety, “ADD/ADHD, ” “ODD, ” and physical injuries “su[]stained at the time of incar[c]eration.” (Id. at 11-12.) He also claims he was denied education classes, rehabilitation programs, and religious classes, and was confined in solitary confinement. (Id.) He alleges this was done at Defendant Lackie's instruction and Defendant Lackie “directed” Plaintiff's requests for services to be routed to him. (Id. at 11.) He also contends Defendant Lackie “became in [an] instant [the] principal of the education services at the jail” so he could review Plaintiff's “confident[i]al IEP repor[t]s, ” which had confidential medical records attached to them. (Id.)

         Finally, Plaintiff claims Defendant Alston had a duty to investigate the complaint Plaintiff submitted to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and to “act when civil rights and related laws were broken and presented to him, ” but he “turned a blind eye to police misconduct, ” “justified police misconduct, ” and concluded “there was no racial motive in this case.” (Id. at 7, 10, 11.) He contends Defendant Alston concluded that Plaintiff, who was “the only African American in this case, ” was not treated differently and stated that Defendant Preciado had given Plaintiff the same chances he gave Plaintiff's co-defendants. (Id. at 10, 11.) Plaintiff alleges this conclusion was based on a transcript of the traffic stop interview, but Plaintiff claims Defendant Preciado's statements in the interview do not support a conclusion that Plaintiff was given the same chances given to his co-defendants. (Id.)

         II. Motions to Dismiss

         A. Legal Standards

         1. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         A motion filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “tests the legal sufficiency of a claim” and “[d]ismissal is proper only where there is no cognizable legal theory or an absence of sufficient facts alleged to support a cognizable legal theory.” Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court construes all allegations of material fact in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Marcus v. Holder, 574 F.3d 1182, 1184 (9th Cir. 2009). The court will “‘presume that general allegations embrace those specific facts that are necessary to support the claim.'” Nat'l Org. for Women, Inc. v. Scheidler, 510 U.S. 249, 256 (1994) (citation omitted). However, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Moreover, although the court must construe a pro se plaintiff's pleadings “liberally and . . . afford the petitioner the benefit of any doubt, ” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010), “[v]ague and conclusory allegations are not sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss.” Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

         When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court generally looks only to the face of the complaint and documents attached thereto. Van Buskirk v. Cable News Network, Inc., 284 F.3d 977, 980 (9th Cir. 2002); Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir. 1990). If a court considers evidence outside the pleading, it must convert the Rule 12(b)(6) motion into a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment. United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 907 (9th Cir. 2003). A court may, however, consider documents incorporated by reference in the complaint or matters of judicial notice without converting the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 908. A court “may take judicial notice of ‘matters of public record' without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment.” Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 689 (9th Cir. 2001).

         2. Statute of Limitations

          “The purpose of a statute of limitation is ‘to prevent assertion of stale claims against a defendant.'” Azer v. Connell, 306 F.3d 930, 936 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Davidton v. Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., 241 F.3d 1131, 1136 (9th Cir. 2001)). The applicable statute of limitations in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is the forum state's statute of limitations for personal injury actions. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276 (1985). The Arizona statute of limitations for personal injury actions is two years. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-542(1).

         Accrual of § 1983 claims is governed by federal law. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 388 (2007). Under federal law, a claim accrues when the plaintiff “knows or has reason to know of the injury that is the basis of the action.” Pouncil v. Tilton, 704 F.3d 568, 574 (9th Cir. 2012); Cabrera v. City of Huntington Park, 159 F.3d 374, 381 (9th Cir. 1998). To be timely, Plaintiff's claims must have accrued on or after March 19, 2016, two years before his Complaint was filed. Claims that accrued before March 19, 2016, are untimely.

         B. Yuma County Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         In their June 7, 2018 Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 46), the Yuma County Defendants contend Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Lackie and Smith are barred by the statute of limitations, Defendant Yuma County cannot be sued under the doctrine of respondeat superior, and Plaintiff has failed to identify any Yuma County policy or custom that caused his injuries. The Yuma County Defendants also assert Plaintiff's claim against Defendant Lackie regarding the denial of educational benefits is precluded under res judicata and his other claims against Defendant Lackie must be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to allege any factual content to support them. In addition, the Yuma County Defendants argue Defendant Smith is entitled to absolute immunity and Plaintiff cannot assert a claim of malicious prosecution because the criminal proceedings did not terminate in Plaintiff's favor.

         Plaintiff filed a Response (Doc. 51). Plaintiff does not address most of the issues raised in the Motion, but does provide statements regarding Defendant Lackie's refusal to provide medical care and other services, Plaintiff's placement in solitary confinement, Defendant Lackie's review of Plaintiff's confidential school records, and the Yuma County Defendants' use of confidential documents that were part of an “IEP Administrative [H]earing.” Plaintiff seeks sanctions for “any violations” the Yuma County Defendants may have committed by submitting confidential documents. Plaintiff claims the Yuma County Defendants did not “admit[] one way or the other” the allegations in the Complaint and are “simply saying[, ‘]even if we did it, it is too late because you are tardy.[']” Plaintiff contends the Yuma County Defendants filed their Motion “in bad faith and with dirty hands, ” asserting that they have “unlimited resources and the skills of multipl[e] lawyers and yet in their documents they don't deny the [P]laintiff's claim.” Plaintiff also claims the Yuma County Defendants “withheld information from federal officials during a federal investigation and that include[ed] misleading or failing to come forward with the truth.”[6]

         Defendants filed a Reply (Doc. 58), reiterating their arguments that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations and should be dismissed because he failed to plead any factual content to support them. Defendants also contend that some of the exhibits attached to Plaintiff's Response should be struck as immaterial and impertinent.

         Plaintiff subsequently filed a Response (Doc. 60), claiming the Yuma County Attorney's Office is unconcerned about a detective lying to the grand jury because they sent him a letter saying that Plaintiff should have filed the grand jury transcript under seal. He asserts that the Yuma County Defendants should have been shocked by the detective's conduct and condemned it.[7]

         1. Defendant Lackie

         Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Lackie relate to his confinement in the Yuma County Jail. The Court notes that Plaintiff was transferred to the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections on October 14, 2015. See Doc. 46-1 at 4. At that point, Plaintiff knew or should have known of his injuries. Indeed, the Court notes that Plaintiff filed a June 9, 2014 complaint in this Court in Williams v. Yuma County Sheriff Department, CV 14-01272-PHX-DGC (DKD), regarding the alleged failure to provide him with medical care and his placement on lockdown and in an isolation cell, but voluntarily dismissed that case. See Docs. 1, 5-6 in CV 14-01272. He also filed a September 29, 2014 due process complaint with the Arizona Office of Administrative Hearings regarding the Yuma County Sheriff's failure to provide him with a free appropriate public education. See Doc. 46-15.[8]

         Because Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Lackie accrued more than two years before Plaintiff filed his Complaint, his claims are untimely and will be dismissed as barred by the statute of limitations.

         2. Defendant Smith[9]

         Although malicious prosecution claims can be brought against prosecutors and “other persons who have wrongfully caused the charges to be filed, ” Awabdy v. City of Adelanto, 368 F.3d 1062, 1066 (9th Cir. 2004), “[o]ne element that must be alleged and proved in a malicious prosecution action is termination of the prior criminal proceeding in favor of the accused.” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 484. “An individual seeking to bring a malicious prosecution claim must generally establish that the prior proceedings terminated in such a manner as to indicate his innocence.” Awabdy, 368 F.3d at 1068; Frey v. Stoneman, 722 P.2d 274, 278 (Ariz. 1986) (“When a termination or dismissal indicates in some fashion that the accused is innocent of wrongdoing it is a favorable termination.”). Plaintiff has failed to state a malicious prosecution claim because his criminal charges were not resolved in his favor.

         Moreover, as to Plaintiff's claim that Defendant Smith ignored evidence that detectives were lying, prosecutors are absolutely immune from liability for damages under § 1983 for their conduct in “initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State's case” insofar as that conduct is “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.” Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 270 (1993) (quoting Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430-31 (1976)). Immunity even extends to prosecutors for “eliciting false or defamatory testimony from witnesses or for making false or defamatory statements during, and related to, judicial proceedings.” Buckley, 509 U.S. at 270; see also Broam v. Bogan, 320 F.3d 1023, 1029-30 (9th Cir. 2003) (prosecutor absolutely immune from liability for failure to investigate the accusations against a defendant before filing charges; for knowingly using false testimony at trial; and for deciding not to preserve or turn over exculpatory material before trial, during trial, or after conviction); Roe v. City & County of San Francisco, 109 F.3d 578, 583-84 (9th Cir. 1997) (absolute immunity for decision to prosecute or not to prosecute and for professional evaluation of a witness and evidence assembled by the police).

         Because Defendant Smith is protected by absolute immunity and because Plaintiff has failed to state a malicious prosecution claim, the Court will dismiss ...

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