-CMK Chico Scrap Metal, Inc. et al v. Robinson et al, No. 2:2011cv01201 - Document 56 (E.D. Cal. 2011)

Court Description: ORDER granting DTSC defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' amended complaint signed by Judge John A. Mendez on 11/22/11. Plaintiffs' claims against defendants are dismissed with prejudice. (Kastilahn, A)
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-CMK Chico Scrap Metal, Inc. et al v. Robinson et al Doc. 56 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 CHICO SCRAP METAL, INC., a California corporation; GEORGE W. SCOTT, SR., individually and as trustee of GEORGE W. SCOTT, SR. REVOCABLE INTER VIVOS TRUST DATED SEPTEMBER 25, 1995, ) ) ) ) ) ) ) Plaintiffs, ) ) v. ) ) DEBBIE RAPHAEL, in her official ) capacity as Director of ) California Department of Toxic ) Substances Control; LEONARD ) ROBINSON, in his official ) capacity as former Acting ) Director of the California ) Department of Toxic Substances ) Control; RAYMOND LECLERC, in his ) official capacity as the ) Assistant Deputy Director of ) California Department of Toxic ) Substances; DIANE SHERIDAN, in ) her official capacity as an ) employee of California ) Department of Toxic Substances ) Control; NANCY LANCASTER, an ) individual; SAMUEL MARTINEZ, JR, ) an individual; VIVIAN MURAI, an ) individual; STEVEN BECKER, an ) individual; LEONA WINNER, an ) individual; MICHAEL RAMSEY, in ) his official capacity as ) District Attorney of Butte ) ) Case No. 2:11-CV-1201-JAM-CMK ORDER GRANTING DTSC DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS’ AMENDED COMPLAINT 1 Dockets.Justia.com 1 2 3 County; HAROLD THOMAS, an individual; GEORGE BARBER, an individual; and DOES 1-20, inclusive, Defendants. 4 ) ) ) ) ) ) ) This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Debbie 5 6 Raphael in her official capacity as Director of the California 7 Department of Toxic Substances Control (“DTSC”), Leonard Robinson 8 in his official capacity as former Acting Director of DTSC, Raymond 9 LeClerc in his official capacity as the Assistant Deputy Director 10 of DTSC, Diane Sheridan in her official capacity as an employee of 11 DTSC, Nancy Lancaster in her individual capacity, Samuel Martinez, 12 Jr. in his individual capacity, Vivian Murai in her individual 13 capacity, Steven Becker in his individual capacity, and Leona 14 Winner in her individual capacity’s (collectively “Defendants”) 15 Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint (“MTD”) (Doc. 16 #30).1 17 (collectively “Plaintiffs”) Plaintiffs’ oppose the DTSC Defendants’ 18 Motion to Dismiss (“Opposition”) (Doc. #46). 19 Reply to Opposition to Motion to Dismiss (Doc. #49). For the 20 reasons set forth below, Defendants’ motion is GRANTED. Plaintiffs George Scott, Sr. and Chico Scrap Metal, Inc. Defendants filed a 21 I. 22 FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY This action arises out of state enforcement of hazardous waste 23 24 laws against Plaintiffs at four operating scrap metal facilities. 25 Defendants, all associated with DTSC, initiated an investigation 26 and then allegedly acted with the Office of the Butte County 27 28 1 This motion was determined to be suitable for decision without oral argument. E.D. Cal. L.R. 230(g). The hearing was originally scheduled for September 21, 2011. 2 1 District Attorney (the “District Attorney”), members of which are 2 also defendants in this action, to impose clean-up requirements on 3 Plaintiffs’ four commercial properties. 4 causes of action against Defendants in their First Amended 5 Complaint (“FAC”) (Doc. #17). 6 (2) damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 7 (3) a declaration of the Defendants’ legal right to continue 8 enforcing existing clean-up orders. 9 Plaintiffs bring three They seek (1) injunctive relief and Plaintiffs also seek Beginning in 2007, DTSC, working with the District Attorney, 10 investigated Plaintiffs for various criminal violations related to 11 the operation of Chico Scrap Metal. 12 investigation was not intended to enforce California hazardous 13 waste laws, but that the investigation was instead intended to 14 produce revenue for DTSC and the Butte County District Attorney’s 15 Office. 16 investigation was not to protect the public health or enforce the 17 law because the primary motivation was revenue generation through 18 the levying of fines and enforcement costs against Plaintiffs. 19 Plaintiffs allege that the Plaintiffs also allege that the motivation for the Defendants’ investigation culminated in Plaintiffs’ agreement 20 to several consent orders requiring compliance with a DTSC 21 monitored environmental remediation program. 22 Attorney filed criminal felony charges against Plaintiffs, leading 23 to Plaintiffs’ pleas of nolo contendere as part of a plea 24 agreement. 25 Attorney referenced and incorporated the DTSC consent orders, 26 requiring compliance with them as a term of Plaintiffs’ probation. Further, the District The plea agreement between Plaintiffs and the District 27 28 3 1 A. Defendants’ 2007 Investigation 2 In 2007, Defendants started investigating Plaintiffs’ 3 business. The alleged basis for the investigation was a sample 4 taken from one of the four sites operated by Plaintiffs. 5 Plaintiffs claim that the sample was obtained through the reckless 6 use of unsound testing methods in order to yield evidence of waste, 7 which was subsequently mischaracterized as hazardous. 8 allege the following improprieties: (1) Defendants had no sampling 9 plan; (2) Defendants did not apply the proper scrap metal industry Plaintiffs 10 exemptions to the sample; and (3) the testing performed on the 11 samples was done incorrectly. 12 B. The DTSC Orders and Plaintiffs’ Criminal Conviction 13 In 2008, both DTSC and the District Attorney carried out 14 enforcement actions against Plaintiffs. After DTSC imposed an 15 “Imminent Endangerment Order” shutting down one of Plaintiffs’ 16 sites, Plaintiffs agreed to consent orders that permitted DTSC to 17 investigate and monitor Plaintiffs’ businesses. 18 required Plaintiffs to pay fees and costs to DTSC. The orders also 19 In October, 2008, Plaintiffs pleaded nolo contendere to a 20 series of misdemeanors in state court pursuant to a plea agreement 21 with the District Attorney. 22 all charges from felonies to misdemeanors. 23 pay $181,000 for investigation and cleanup costs incurred by DTSC 24 up to that point. 25 of the DTSC orders. 26 $500,000 suspended pending successful completion of Plaintiffs’ 27 probation, but no term of imprisonment was imposed. 28 agreement incorporates the DTSC orders, DTSC was not a party to the The District Attorney agreed to reduce Plaintiffs agreed to Further, Plaintiffs agreed to abide by the terms Finally, Plaintiffs were fined $700,000 with 4 While the plea 1 plea agreement. 2 C. Events Leading To the Present Litigation 3 Plaintiffs allege that they began to question the necessity of 4 the DTSC and District Attorney actions for a number of reasons. 5 First, Plaintiffs hired an independent expert in 2009, who is a 6 former manager at the DTSC laboratory. 7 identified various deficiencies in the testing system used by DTSC 8 on samples taken from Plaintiffs’ properties. 9 2011, Plaintiffs allege that DTSC investigations at two out of four That expert allegedly Then, in 2010 and 10 Chico Scrap Metal properties determined that no hazardous waste 11 existed. 12 orders, even though Plaintiffs’ consultants determined that any 13 problems that did exist could be managed by existing procedures at 14 the sites. 15 Plaintiffs claim that DTSC was not willing to modify its Defendants subsequently reported to the District Attorney that 16 Plaintiffs were no longer complying with the DTSC orders in 17 violation of their plea agreement. 18 reason for Defendants’ noncompliance report, is that Plaintiffs 19 objected to being double-billed by both DTSC and the District 20 Attorney for the $181,000 in costs preceding the state court 21 conviction. 22 issue. Plaintiffs allege that the Ongoing proceedings in state court are addressing this 23 Defendants’ response to Plaintiffs’ allegations is emphatic: 24 “This action arises out of the illegal dumping of toxic chemicals 25 by Plaintiffs in Butte County. 26 highly toxic materials . . . by dumping them in open fields near 27 the City of Oroville.” Plaintiffs were caught disposing of MTD, at 3. 28 5 1 II. OPINION 2 A. Legal Standard 3 A party may move to dismiss an action for failure to state a 4 claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of 5 Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). 6 court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true and draw 7 all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. 8 Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by 9 Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984); Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, In considering a motion to dismiss, the Scheuer v. 10 322 (1972). 11 are not entitled to the assumption of truth. 12 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 13 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). 14 plaintiff needs to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief 15 that is plausible on its face.” 16 Dismissal is appropriate where the plaintiff fails to state a claim 17 supportable by a cognizable legal theory. 18 Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). 19 Assertions that are mere “legal conclusions,” however, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, To survive a motion to dismiss, a Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Balistreri v. Pacifica Upon granting a motion to dismiss for failure to state a 20 claim, the court has discretion to allow leave to amend the 21 complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a). 22 “Dismissal with prejudice and without leave to amend is not 23 appropriate unless it is clear . . . that the complaint could not 24 be saved by amendment.” 25 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003). Eminence Capital, L.L.C. v. Aspeon, Inc., 26 B. 27 Defendants raise three jurisdictional doctrines in their 28 Discussion motion: the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Younger abstention, and the 6 1 exhaustion requirement established by Heck v. Humphrey. 2 these doctrines applies to the claims before the Court, the Court 3 must grant Defendants’ motion, or at least stay proceedings pending 4 resolution of the state court action. 5 challenge the sufficiency of the allegations contained in the First 6 Amended Complaint. 7 1. 8 9 If any of Defendants do not otherwise Heck v. Humphrey Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the rule set forth in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), because 10 Plaintiffs’ success in this suit will call into question the 11 validity of their state law convictions. 12 respond that success in this lawsuit does nothing to change the 13 state law convictions, as the conduct at issue here is distinct 14 from the state court criminal decisions. MTD, at 9. Plaintiffs Opp., at 8. 15 The Heck rule is simple: “if finding in favor of a § 1983 16 plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction 17 or sentence the complaint must be dismissed.” 18 L.A., 632 F.3d 607, 611 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Heck, 512 U.S. at 19 486-87). 20 Szajer v. City of Defendants offer two cases to support the argument that 21 Plaintiffs’ lawsuit calls into question the validity of Plaintiffs’ 22 state court conviction. 23 7. 24 possessing a particular weapon in state court based on nolo 25 contendere pleas. 26 supporting their convictions was found when the police executed a 27 search warrant at the plaintiffs’ business and home. 28 plaintiffs did not contest or question the legality of the searches First, they rely on Szajer. Reply, at 6- In Szajer, the plaintiffs were convicted of illegally Szajer, 632 F.3d at 609. 7 The only evidence Id. The 1 during the course of the state proceedings. Id. After entering 2 their pleas, the plaintiffs filed suit in federal court to recover 3 damages for what they alleged were illegal searches. 4 10. 5 necessarily called into question the state court conviction because 6 there was no evidence other than that recovered by the police 7 during the execution of the search warrant to support the charge 8 that they illegally possessed the weapon. 9 court noted that the plaintiffs did not provide “any other basis Id. at 609- The court held that declaring the search warrant invalid Id. at 612. The Szajer 10 for the discovery of the assault weapon found in their home, which 11 formed the basis of the plea conviction.” 12 Id. Plaintiffs in this case respond to Szajer by contending that 13 other evidence can provide a basis for their state court conviction 14 independently of the DTSC orders and investigation. 15 This information includes admissions of Plaintiff Scott, 16 observations made by Defendant Barber, and allegations of unsafe 17 working methods used by Plaintiffs at one of their facilities. 18 Defendants next rely upon Price v. Schwarzenegger, 344 F. Opp., at 10. Id. 19 App'x 375 (9th Cir. 2009). In Price, the plaintiff brought a 20 federal action alleging denial of due process at a parole hearing 21 and in the imposition of a mandatory parole term. 22 court dismissed the claim challenging the mandatory parole term on 23 the grounds that the parole term was a statutorily required 24 consequence of the guilty plea in the prior state court proceeding. 25 Id. at 376. 26 the plea agreement itself, the court held that Heck barred the 27 federal court action. 28 that in order to grant Plaintiffs the relief they seek, this Court Id. at 375. The Since the only way to avoid parole was to invalidate Id. Defendants rely on Price on the grounds 8 1 would have to invalidate the DTSC Orders which are the central 2 provisions of the pleas agreement and sentencing order. Under 3 Price, this is not permitted. 4 Reply, at 7. Plaintiffs respond to Defendants’ arguments by claiming that 5 successfully challenging the DTSC Orders in this federal action 6 against Defendants will not change the status of their state court 7 convictions. 8 based on their nolo contendere pleas, not the legal validity of the 9 DTSC orders. 10 Plaintiffs argue that the state court conviction is Plaintiffs cite two Ninth circuit cases in support of their 11 argument that a conviction based on a nolo contendere plea does not 12 in any way depend on the validity of the evidence underlying the 13 conviction. 14 (9th Cir. Aug. 31, 2011) (citing Ove v. Gwinn, 264 F.3d 817, 823 15 (9th Cir. 2001)). 16 First, in this case the DTSC orders are not evidence used to 17 support the plea agreement, they are prospective requirements of 18 the plea agreement and the state court terms of probation. 19 permitting Defendants to challenge the DTSC orders in federal court 20 would effectively invalidate the state court’s mandate that 21 Plaintiffs abide by the terms of those orders. 22 kind of action barred by Heck, and Lockett’s holding is 23 inapplicable to the facts of the present case. 24 Lockett v. Ericson, — F.3d —, 2011 WL 3836467, at *4 Plaintiffs’ argument fails for two reasons. Second, This is exactly the Defendants’ position is clearly supported by both Price and 25 Szajer. In Price, the “mandatory consequence” of the plaintiff’s 26 guilty plea, the term of parole, was deemed inseparable from the 27 plea agreement. 28 terms of the DTSC orders are incorporated by reference in the plea Price, 344 F. App’x. at 376. 9 In this case, the 1 agreement itself and are similarly inseparable. 2 invalidating the parole term also invalidated the plea agreement, 3 and that is the functional effect in this case as well. 4 orders are clearly a mandatory term of Plaintiffs’ plea agreement. 5 Heck, as explained by Szajer and Price, bars Plaintiffs’ federal 6 claims against Defendants. 7 8 9 In Price, The DTSC Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motion to dismiss on these grounds. 2. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine & Younger Abstention 10 Having granted dismissal on the basis of Heck v. Humphrey, the 11 Court need not reach Defendants’ motion insofar as it relies on the 12 Rooker-Feldman doctrine and Younger abstention. 13 14 15 16 III. ORDER For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendants are dismissed with prejudice. 17 18 19 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: November 22, 2011 ____________________________ JOHN A. MENDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 10