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Hooper v. Jackson County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

April 22, 2014

DENNIS RUSSELL HOOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
JACKSON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, et al., Defendants.

REPORT & RECOMMENDATION

MARK D. CLARKE, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on a motion to dismiss filed by defendants Jackson County Sheriffs Office, and SheriffMike Winters (#25) (collectively "JSCO defendants"). Plaintiff, proceeding prose and in forma pauperis, asserts claims for violations of his civil rights against these two defendants, as well as defendant Deputy Penkava. For the reasons below, defendants' motion to dismiss should be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that on August 16, 2011, he was lawfully operating his vehicle on a highway near Rogue River, Oregon, when Jackson County Sheriffs Deputy Penkava initiated a traffic stop. Plaintiff claims that Deputy Penkava refused to tell Plaintiff the reason for the stop, instead asking Plaintiff for his license, registration, and proof of insurance. Plaintiff claims he provided valid proof of all three. Deputy Penkava nevertheless issued Plaintiff three citations for failure to have the requested documents, and he then impounded Plaintiffs vehicle. Plaintiff claims that he was acquitted of all three citations, and he attempted to be reimbursed by JCSO for the towing and impound costs and fees, but his requests were denied.

STANDARD

Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a motion to dismiss will be granted where the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. In order to state a claim for relief, a pleading 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). "A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted tests the legal sufficiency of a claim.'" Conservation Force v. Salazar , 646 F.3d 1240, 1242 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Navarro v. Block , 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001)).

Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper "if there is a lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.'" Id . (quoting Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't , 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988)). To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc. , 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010). In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must accept the allegations of material fact as true and construe those allegations in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Odom v. Microsoft Com. , 486 F.3d 541, 545 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal citations omitted).

Pro se pleadings are held to less stringent standards than pleadings by attorneys. Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). That is, the court should construe pleadings by pro se plaintiffs liberally and afford the plaintiffs the benefits of any doubt. Karim-Panahi v. LA. Police Dept. , 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). Additionally, a pro se litigant is entitled to notice of the deficiencies in the complaint and the opportunity to amend, unless the complaint's deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. Id. at 623.

DISCUSSION

Section 1983 liability of a local governing body arises only when "action pursuant to official... policy of some nature caused a constitutional tort" and not on the basis of respondeat superior. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York , 436 U.S. 658, 691-99 (1978). The "official policy" requirement was intended to "distinguish acts of the municipality from acts of employees of the municipality, and thereby make clear that municipal liability is limited to action for which the municipality is actually responsible." Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati , 475 U.S. 469, 479 (1986). The circumstances in which Monell liability may be found under § 1983 are "carefully circumscribed." Fuller v. City of Oakland , 47 F.3d 1522, 1534 (9th Cir.1995).

A § 1983 plaintiff may establish Monell liability in one of three ways:

(1) prove that a county employee committed the alleged constitutional violation pursuant to a formal governmental policy or a longstanding practice or custom which constitutes the "standard operating procedure" of the county; (2) establish that the individual who committed the constitutional tort was an official with final policy-making authority; or (3) prove that an official with final policy-making authority ratified a subordinate's unconstitutional decision or action and the basis for it.

See Gillette v. Delmore , 979 F.2d 1342, 1346-47 (9th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted). Whether a particular official has final policy-making authority is a question of state law. Id.

In addition to claims based on an official policy, a plaintiff may assert Monell claims based on a custom or a failure to train. "[A]n act performed pursuant to a custom' that has not been formally approved by an appropriate decisionmaker may fairly subject a municipality to liability on the theory that the relevant practice is so widespread as to have the force of law." Bd. of Cnty. Commis. v. Brown , 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997). Similarly, "a local government's decision not to train certain employees about their legal duty to avoid violating citizens' rights may rise to the level of an official government policy for purposes of§ 1983." Connick v. Thompson , 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359 (2011). But, as the Supreme Court has cautioned, "[a] municipality's culpability for deprivation of rights is at its most tenuous where a claim turns on a failure to train." Id . Thus, "[a] ...


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