Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Cota v. Penzone

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 13, 2019

Emily Cota, Plaintiff,
Paul Penzone, et al., Defendants.



         Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 25.) Defendants Bratt and Fortner argue that Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) (Doc. 24) fails to state a cognizable claim, that relief is barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity, and that the allegations against Defendant Fortner lack the factual specificity required to state a claim.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff's FAC alleges the following:[1]

         Defendants are Maricopa County Sheriff Deputies Bratt and Fortner. (Doc. 24 ¶¶ 29, 38.) At about 10:50 p.m. on August 30, 2016, Defendants were on patrol and initiated a stop of a Ford Mustang. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 12.) Defendants ordered two female passengers to exit the vehicle and asked for their names and identification. (Id. ¶ 15.) Neither woman had identification and both giggled while providing Defendants their names. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.)

         One of the women falsely identified herself to Defendants as “Emily Cota.” (Id. at ¶ 19.) Deputy Bratt ran that name through the Motor Vehicle Department database but found that the photograph of Emily Cota on record did not match the individual who had provided that name. (Id. at ¶ 20.) The other female passenger, now known to be Tania Hernandez, then falsely stated that in fact she was “Emily Cota, ” and that she had “switched names” with the other woman. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 21.) Ms. Hernandez stands at least five feet and six inches tall and weighs at least 160 pounds, while Emily Cota is five feet and three inches tall and weighs 110 pounds. (Id. ¶ 56.) Deputy Bratt asked Ms. Hernandez, who continued to maintain that she was in fact “Emily Cota, ” for her address. (Id. ¶ 22.) Ms. Hernandez provided the address 580 W. Galveston Road, Chandler, Arizona, which did not match Emily Cota's address on file. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) Ms. Hernandez told Deputy Bratt that the address didn't match because she had just moved in with the other occupants of the Mustang, but none of the occupants' addresses matched the one given by Ms. Hernandez. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) Deputy Bratt then searched Ms. Hernandez's purse, finding state identification and Social Security cards bearing the name “Tania Hernandez.” (Id. ¶¶ 26, 65.)

         Despite the above-described indicia of unreliability as to Ms. Hernandez's claim to be “Emily Cota, ” Defendants conducted no further investigation into Ms. Hernandez's identity. (Id. ¶ 59.) Neither Defendant searched a police computer for the name Tania Hernandez, which was found on her identification and Social Security card. (Id. ¶ 67.) Neither Defendant asked Ms. Hernandez why, if she was in fact “Emily Cota, ” she was carrying identification for a Tania Hernandez. (Id. ¶ 68.) Instead, they took Ms. Hernandez's insistence that she was “Emily Cota” at face value and conducted no further investigation. (Id. ¶ 59.)

         Defendants found marijuana in Ms. Hernandez's possession, and subsequently completed an incident report swearing that the marijuana was found in the possession of “Emily Cota.” (Id. ¶ 47.) The incident report, which was authored by Deputy Bratt, falsely stated that Defendants had verified Emily Cota's identity (Id. ¶ 72.) That incident report triggered a felony criminal complaint against the real Emily Cota. (Id. ¶ 73.) The report included the name, date of birth, and driver's license number of the real Emily Cota, information which Deputy Bratt retrieved from his police computer. (Id. ¶ ¶ 50-55.) He did not say in the report that he got this information from his computer, nor that “Emily Cota” did not provide any identification. (Id. ¶ 51.) Deputy Bratt's incident report also did not state that he found identification and a Social Security card with the name “Tania Hernandez” on the person purporting to be Emily Cota. (Id. ¶¶ 69-70.)

         Based on the misstatements and omissions in the incident report, a Maricopa County Judicial Officer found probable cause to issue a summons for the real “Emily Cota.” (Id. ¶¶ 73-75.) The summons was directed to the address provided by Tania Hernandez, 580 W. Galveston Road, Chandler Arizona. (Id. ¶ 30.) The summons was returned to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office as non-deliverable, and a warrant was subsequently issued for Emily Cota's arrest. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.) Ms. Cota was forced to employ counsel to respond to the warrant and the pending criminal charges. (Id. ¶ 33.) The charges were eventually dismissed without prejudice on February 7, 2018. (Id. ¶ 37.)

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed her Complaint on August 10, 2018. (Doc. 1.) Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (Doc. 18) as well as an Answer (Doc. 17). On February 01, 2019, the Court granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint. (Doc. 23.) Plaintiff filed the operative FAC on February 12, 2019. (Doc. 24.) Plaintiff's FAC alleges two causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. First, she alleges that Defendants, acting under color of law, violated her due process rights. (Id. ¶¶ 41-84.) Second, she alleges a substantive due process violation. (Id. ¶¶ 85-93.) Defendants filed the pending Motion to Dismiss on February 26, 2019. (Doc. 25.) Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 26) and Defendants filed a Reply. (Doc. 27.).

         III. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         Defendants move to dismiss the FAC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 25.) Defendants make several arguments. First, they argue that Plaintiff's claims are properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights. Second, they argue that Plaintiff fails to state a valid claim for a substantive due process violation. Third, they argue that the allegations in the FAC mostly relate to Defendant Deputy Bratt, and that the allegations against Defendant Fortner lack the requisite specificity to support a claim of a constitutional violation. Finally, Defendants argue in the alternative that, even if the Court finds that Plaintiff has stated a constitutional claim, that the complaint should nonetheless be dismissed because Defendants are protected by qualified immunity.

         A. Legal Standard for 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a defendant to file a motion to dismiss for failure “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law either for lack of a cognizable legal theory or for insufficient facts under a cognizable theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't,901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint's “[f]actual ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.