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Roberson v. County of Cochise

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 9, 2019

James Roberson, Plaintiff,
County of Cochise, et al., Defendants.


          Honorable Raner C. Collins Senior United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Defendants Juan C. Hoke and Cochise County's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. (Doc. 19.) Plaintiff filed a response (Doc. 20), and Defendants a reply (Doc. 21). The matter is fully briefed, and the Court finds that oral argument is not necessary for a fair adjudication. LRCiv 7.2(f). Because Defendant Hoke is entitled to qualified immunity, the Court will grant the Motion to Dismiss.

         I. Factual Allegations in Second Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff alleges that on a Friday night in October 2017, he was at the Doc Holliday's Saloon in Tombstone with his wife. He had checked two guns at the bar. Plaintiff encountered an argument, exchanged words with some patrons, and took out a folding knife -though he claims he never opened it. (Doc. 16 at ¶VI, ¶VII(6).) The bartender then asked him to leave and returned Plaintiff's guns. But, while still inside the bar, Plaintiff put one gun in his holster, and “began to put the cylinder back into the blackpowder pistol, [when] the bartender sa[id] she told him not to load his gun in the bar.” Id. at ¶VII, 5. At that point, another patron pushed past a security guard, grabbed the .45 caliber from Plaintiff's holster, and struck Plaintiff with the butt of the gun while other patrons joined in, beating and kicking Plaintiff. Id. at ¶VI, VII. To defend himself, Plaintiff fired the second pistol towards the ceiling; attempting to fire a warning shot. He then fired another shot that hit one of the assailants in the calf. Id. at ¶ VI, VII.

         Plaintiff was arrested and detained in relation to the incident.

         Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint raises claims against lead Detective Hoke in his personal and official capacity and Cochise County for False Imprisonment, False Arrest, Negligence, Negligent Failure to Supervise, and a §1983 claim in conjunction with his arrest and detention as a result of this incident. (Doc. 16.)

         II. Standard of Review

         A motion under 12(b)(6) must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). While Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible “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 complaint must contain more than “a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.” Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 555. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context- specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. So, although a plaintiff's specific factual allegations may be consistent with a constitutional claim, a court must assess whether there are other “more likely explanations” for a defendant's conduct. Id. at 681.

         If the plaintiff “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” the District Court must dismiss the claim. 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). While dismissal is appropriate if the complaint's deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment, if the pleading can be remedied through the addition of facts, the claimant should be granted an opportunity to amend a complaint prior to final dismissal. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127-29 (9th Cir. 2000). However, the Court has broad authority to deny leave to amend where the claimant has been previously permitted to amend the complaint. Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe v. United States, 90 F.3d 351, 355 (9th Cir. 1996).

         III. Qualified Immunity

         “Determining whether officials are owed qualified immunity involves two inquiries: (1) whether, taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, the facts alleged show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right; and (2) if so, whether the right was clearly established in light of the specific context of the case.” O'Brien v. Welty, 818 F.3d 920, 936 (9th Cir. 2016) (citing Krainski v. Nevada ex rel. Bd. of Regents of Nev. Sys. of Higher Educ., 616 F.3d 963, 970 (9th Cir. 2010); Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011). To be clearly established, the right must be such that “every reasonable official would have understood that what he was doing violates that right.” Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. 658, 664 (2012) (quotation marks omitted). Indeed, the clearly established law cannot be a generalized inquiry, but must be specific to the facts of the instant case. White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 552 (2017). But, even when an officer has violated a clearly established law, if the mistake was reasonable he is still entitled to immunity. Sjurset v. Button, 810 F.3d 609, 621 (9th Cir. 2015); Blackenhorn v. City of Orange, 485 F.3d 463, 471 (9th Cir. 2007). In fact, qualified immunity covers “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). A court may grant a motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity if the court “can determine, based on the complaint itself, that qualified immunity applies.” Groten v. Calif., 251 F.3d 844, 851 (9th Cir. 2001).

         To arrest an individual, an officer must have a reasonable belief, given the facts available at the time, that the person committed or is committing a crime. Bailey v. Newland, 263 F.3d 1022, 1031 (9th Cir. 2001). This is an objective standard based on the totality of the circumstances at the time of arrest. D.C. v. Wesby, __ U.S. __, 138 S.Ct. 577, 586 (2018). Furthermore, the probable cause threshold is low. Id.

         IV. Discussion

         Plaintiff makes two arguments why Defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity. First, there was more information available to Detective Hoke that Plaintiff had not committed an offense. (Doc. 20 at 9-10.) Second, Detective Hoke's ...

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