Magney-v-County of Humboldt, No. 4:2017cv02389 - Document 64 (N.D. Cal. 2018)

Court Description: ORDER by Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr. ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS ( 31 , 32 ) MOTIONS TO DISMISS. Amended Pleadings due by 4/2/2018. (ndrS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 3/5/2018)
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Magney-v-County of Humboldt Doc. 64 1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 JUDITH C. MAGNEY, 7 Plaintiff, 8 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS TO DISMISS v. 9 COUNTY OF HUMBOLDT, et al., 10 Re: Dkt. Nos. 31, 32 Defendants. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California Case No.17-cv-02389-HSG 12 Pending before the Court are two motions to dismiss: one filed by the County of 13 14 Humboldt, Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, and various County employees (“County 15 Defendants”),1 and the other filed by two employees of Humboldt County Adult Protection 16 Services (“APS Defendants”). See Dkt. Nos. 31 (“County Mot.”), 32 (“APS Mot.”). Both 17 motions seek dismissal of the complaint filed by Plaintiff Judith Magney as the successor in 18 interest to her late husband, Dick Magney (“Decedent”). See Dkt. No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶ 42. 19 Plaintiff filed oppositions to both motions, Dkt. Nos. 47 (“County Opp.”), 48 (“APS Opp.”), and 20 the APS and County Defendants (collectively, “Defendants”) separately filed replies, Dkt. Nos. 53 21 (“County Reply”), 51 (“APS Reply”). Having carefully considered the parties’ arguments, the 22 Court hereby GRANTS Defendants’ motions.2 23 24 25 26 27 28 1 In her complaint, Plaintiff named the following County employees as Defendants: Humboldt County Counsel Jeffrey S. Blanck, Carolyn J. Ruth, Blair Angus, and Natalie A. Duke; Director of Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”), Phillip Crandall; Adult Protection Services (“APS”) Public Nurse, Heather F. Ringwald; APS Supervising Nurse, Shirley Hillman; DHHS, Social Services Branch (“SS”) Social Worker Supervisor, Rosy Provino; SS Program Manager, Amanda Winstead; and DHHS Humboldt County Public Guardian, Kelli L. Schwartz. See Dkt. No. 1 at 2; see also Dkt. No. 1-2 at 3. 2 The Court finds this matter appropriate for disposition without oral argument. See Civil L.R. 71(b). Dockets.Justia.com 1 I. BACKGROUND This case arises out of allegations regarding Defendants’ conduct in (1) securing temporary 2 3 medical decision making authority for Decedent, and (2) challenging Plaintiff’s authority to act as 4 Decedent’s agent or surrogate pursuant to his Advanced Health Care Directive (“AHCD”) during 5 Decedent’s hospitalization in 2015. Specifically, the complaint sets forth the following facts. Plaintiff alleges that, “each and every day from March 13, 2015 through May 6, 2015,” 6 Defendants “conspired to, and did make [] fraudulent evidentiary showings to obtain ex parte 8 orders invalidating” Decedent’s AHCD. Compl. ¶¶ 47-48. In so doing, Defendants “purposefully 9 misled” the Humboldt County Superior Court of California in the subsequent legal proceedings. 10 Id. Defendants also allegedly aided and abetted each other in violating Decedent’s fundamental 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 7 rights “by subjecting [him] to daily Medical Batteries . . . [and] unwanted medical procedures” in 12 violation of his AHCD during this timeframe. Id. ¶ 57. Plaintiff further alleges that, from March 13 13, 2015 through May 22, 2015, Defendants “overtly acted in furtherance of their conspiracy” to 14 violate Decedent’s fundamental rights “by meeting, telephoning, emailing, planning[,] and 15 discussing daily how to further their conspiracy . . . .” and, from April 6 to May 22, 2015, “by 16 exercising total physical control over his person and total financial control over his finances . . . .” 17 Id. ¶¶ 58-59. According to Plaintiff, this deprivation of Plaintiff’s and Decedent’s constitutional 18 rights was the direct result of Defendant County’s official policy or custom of countermanding 19 AHCDs with which it disagrees. Id. ¶¶ 64-66. Following the California Superior Court’s decision not to award Plaintiff and Decedent 20 21 attorneys’ fees under section 4771(a) of the California Probate Code, see Cal. Probate Code § 22 4771(a), Plaintiff appealed.3 See Compl., Ex. 1 at 31-53; see also Humboldt Cty. Adult Protective 23 Servs. v. Superior Court, 208 Cal. Rptr. 3d 666, 669 (Ct. App. 2016). Plaintiff attached the 24 California Court of Appeal opinion to her complaint and incorporated it by reference. Id.; see also 25 Compl. ¶ 55. 26 27 28 3 Section 4771(a) of the California Probate Code permits a court, in its discretion, to award attorneys’ fees to “[t]he agent or surrogate, if the court determines that the proceeding was commenced without any reasonable cause.” 2 Plaintiff filed the complaint on April 26, 2017. Dkt. No. 1. The complaint sets forth three 1 2 claims for relief arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants, individually and in their 3 official capacities acting under color of state law. The first and third claims allege deprivation of 4 Decedent’s and Plaintiff’s constitutional rights to liberty and privacy under the Fourteenth 5 Amendment of the United States Constitution, and the second claim alleges conspiracy to violate 6 these constitutional rights. Id. ¶¶ 84-107. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as 7 well as an award of attorneys’ fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Id. ¶¶ 29-30. Defendants move to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of 8 9 10 Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (“Rule 12(b)(6)”). Among other arguments, Defendants contend that Plaintiff’s section 1983 claims are time-barred. See County Mot. at 4-5; APS Mot. at 9-10. United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 II. LEGAL STANDARD 13 Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a district court must dismiss a complaint 14 if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to 15 dismiss, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its 16 face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). On a motion to dismiss, the Court 17 accepts as true a plaintiff’s well-pleaded factual allegations and construes all factual inferences in 18 the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 519 F.3d 19 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008). But the plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief 20 above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Although the Court generally is confined 21 to assessing the allegations in the pleadings, when the complaint is accompanied by attached 22 documents, such documents are deemed part of the complaint and may be considered in evaluating 23 the merits of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Durning v. First Boston Corp., 815 F.2d 1265, 1267 (9th 24 Cir. 1987); Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c) (“A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is 25 a part of the pleading for all purposes.”). A court “need not accept as true allegations 26 contradicting documents that are referenced in the complaint.” Lazy Y Ranch Ltd. v. Behrens, 546 27 F.3d 580, 588 (9th Cir. 2008). 28 A statute of limitations defense may be raised by a motion to dismiss “[if] the running of 3 1 the statute is apparent on the face of the complaint.” Ledesma v. Jack Stewart Produce, Inc., 816 2 F.2d 482, 484 n.1 (9th Cir. 1987); Jablon v. Dean Witter & Co., 614 F.2d 677, 682 (9th Cir. 3 1980). However, a complaint may not be dismissed unless it appears “beyond doubt” that 4 plaintiffs can prove no set of facts that would establish the timeliness of the claim. Hernandez v. 5 City of El Monte, 138 F.3d 393, 402 (9th Cir. 1998). 6 7 III. Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims as barred by the statute of limitations period 8 9 PLAINTIFF’S SECTION 1983 CLAIMS AS PLED ARE TIME-BARRED for section 1983 actions, because they arise from conduct about which Plaintiff “knew or had reason to know” was wrongful that occurred prior to April 26, 2015, more than two years before 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 Plaintiff filed her complaint. County Mot. at 4-5; APS Mot. at 9-10; see also Dkt. No. 1. 12 Specifically, Defendants argue that all of Plaintiff’s claims are predicated on documents filed 13 before April 26, 2015, the operative date for statute of limitations purposes. See County Mot. at 4- 14 5.4 Two of these documents are petitions seeking temporary control over Decedent’s health care 15 decisions, which were filed by certain County Defendants on March 13, 2015. See Comp. ¶ 48; 16 RFJN, Exs. A-B. Those petitions were withdrawn on April 2, 2015. See RFJN, Exs. C-D. The 17 other documents are petitions for appointment seeking temporary conservatorship and permanent 18 probate conservatorship over Decedent. See County Mot. at 6; RFJN, Exs. E-L. These documents 19 were filed on April 3, April 9, and April 22, 2015, respectively, by the Humboldt County Public 20 Guardian, another County Defendant. See County Mot. at 6; RFJN, Exs. E, F,G, H. The 21 Humboldt County Superior Court appointed the Public Guardian as temporary conservator of 22 Decedent’s person and estate in letters dating between April 6, 2015 and April 14, 2015. See 23 County Mot. at 6, RJFN Exs. I-L. 24 The Court GRANTS County Defendant’s request for judicial notice (“RFJN”) to the extent that Defendants seek judicial notice of the existence of these documents. See County Mot. at 5-6; Dkt. No. 31-1, Exs. A-L. These documents are part of the public record, and are “not subject to reasonable dispute.” See Mir. v. Little Co. of Mary Hosp., 844 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1988). Plaintiff’s opposition to County Defendants’ RFJN does not contest County Defendants’ RFJN to the extent that the Court takes notice of these documents for their existence. See Dkt. No. 48-1 at 4-6. In view of County Defendants’ RFJN, the Court does not rely on APS Defendants’ RFJN. See Dkt. No. 29. The Court therefore DENIES AS MOOT APS Defendants’ RFJN. 4 4 25 26 27 28 Plaintiff generally alleges that Defendants’ unlawful conduct occurred “each and every 1 2 day” from approximately March 13, 2015 to May 22, 2015.5 Compl. ¶¶ 47-48, 57-59, 64-66. All 3 three of Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants are based on her allegation that Defendants made 4 “fraudulent evidentiary showings” to the Humboldt County Superior Court in order to obtain ex 5 parte orders invalidating Decedent’s AHCD. Id. ¶¶ 48-56. 6 A federal claim “accrues when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury 7 which is the basis of the action.” Knox v. Davis, 260 F.3d 1009, 1013 (9th Cir. 2001). Since 8 section 1983 does not on its face contain a limitations period, federal courts “look to the statute of 9 limitations for personal injury actions in the forum state.” Maldonado v. Harris, 370 F.3d 945, 955 (9th Cir. 2004). In California, the statute of limitations for personal injury actions is two 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 years. Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 335.1. As the above-referenced documents suggest, Plaintiff knew 12 or had reason to know of the injuries underlying her section 1983 claims as pled—at the very 13 latest—by April 22, 2015, the date on which the County Public Guardian filed its most recent 14 appointment petition. See RFJN, Ex. H. Based on the two year statute of limitations period, the 15 date by which Plaintiff needed to timely file her complaint was no later than April 22, 2017. 16 Plaintiff filed her complaint on April 26, 2017. Dkt. No. 1. While this difference is only a matter 17 of days, Plaintiff does not specifically allege any other dates that would cast doubt on the above 18 discussed public documents. Those documents, on their face, show that Plaintiff’s last cognizable 19 harm under her claimed theory (i.e., the last opportunity for a “fraudulent evidentiary showing” by 20 Defendants) occurred on April 22, 2015. The Court therefore finds that Plaintiff’s claims are 21 time-barred as pled and must be dismissed. Plaintiff contends in her oppositions that the continuing violation theory applies to satisfy 22 23 the statute of limitations for her section 1983 causes of action. See County Opp. at 9-11; APS 24 In her first claim for relief, Plaintiff contends that Decedent’s constitutional rights were violated by Defendants’ actions in taking control of his end of life medical care decisions and in subjecting him to “forced” medical procedures from March 13, 2015 to May 6, 2015. Compl. ¶ 85. And from April 6, 2015 to May 22, 2015, Decedent’s rights were further violated by Defendants’ actions in placing him in a nursing facility “against his choices.” Id. Lastly, from March 13, 2015 to May 22, 2015, Decedent “was unlawfully restricted from exercising his [end of life] choices” by Defendants’ unlawful conduct. Id. ¶ 86. Plaintiff’s remaining claims for relief are both based on conduct that Plaintiff alleges to have occurred from March 13, 2015 to May 22, 2015. 5 5 25 26 27 28 1 Opp. at 9-11. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s continuing violation 2 theory fails based on the current allegations. The Ninth Circuit has “repeatedly held that a mere 3 continuing impact from past violations is not actionable.” Knox, 260 F.3d at 1013 (internal 4 quotations omitted). The proper inquiry for determining whether a continuing violation theory 5 applies to a plaintiff’s claims is whether the case involves “the delayed, but inevitable, 6 consequence” of the original injury, or an “independently wrongful, discrete act . . . which began 7 the running of the statute of limitations anew.” Pouncil v. Tilton, 704 F.3d 568, 581 (9th Cir. 8 2012); see also County Reply at 3-7; APS Reply at 3-5. Here, Plaintiff’s complaint fails to allege that any specific act or conduct occurred within 9 the statute of limitations period. Plaintiff’s complaint similarly lacks any facts indicating that 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 Plaintiff suffered a new injury arising out of an “independently wrongful, discrete act” within that 12 timeframe. See Compl. ¶¶ 42-83. Because Plaintiff does not specify, in the complaint, any 13 “independently wrongful, discrete act” that occurred after the Public Guardian filed its most recent 14 appointment petition on April 22, 2015, the continuing violation theory does not save her claims 15 from dismissal. Moreover, even if the Court accepts as true Plaintiff’s factual allegations as they 16 relate to the dates of Defendants’ conduct, she fails to plead those allegations in her complaint 17 with sufficient specificity to survive a dismissal motion. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (holding 18 that a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level”). 19 For instance, Plaintiff does not identify particular dates on which any one of the many named 20 Defendants undertook the allegedly unconstitutional actions.6 The Court therefore concludes that, as the complaint is currently pled, Plaintiff knew or 21 22 had reason to know of all of Defendants’ allegedly unlawful conduct prior to April 26, 2015. 23 Plaintiff’s section 1983 claims are therefore untimely and must be dismissed.7 24 25 26 27 28 6 While Plaintiff references more detailed facts in her oppositions beyond those included in the complaint, the Court cannot consider those facts. See Schneider v. California Dep’t of Corr., 151 F.3d 1194, 1197 n.1 (9th Cir. 1998) (“In determining the propriety of a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a court may not look beyond the complaint to a plaintiff’s moving papers, such as a memorandum in opposition to a defendant’s motion to dismiss.”) (emphasis in original). 7 Because the Court finds that Plaintiff’s claims are time-barred, the Court does not address Defendants’ other arguments. The Court notes, however, that any amended complaint must not 6 1 IV. LEAVE TO AMEND Even where dismissal is appropriate under Rule 12(b)(6), a court “should grant leave to 2 3 amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading 4 could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 5 (9th Cir. 2000) (quotation and citation omitted). Because the Court cannot conclude at this stage 6 that Plaintiff could not allege facts sufficient to overcome the defects identified above, the Court 7 grants Plaintiff leave to amend. See id. Any first amended complaint must clearly and concisely 8 state the basis for all claims alleged. 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 V. CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motions to dismiss. Any amended complaint must be filed within 28 days of the date of this Order. 13 14 IT IS SO ORDERED. 15 16 Dated: 3/5/2018 17 18 19 HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR. United States District Judge 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 lump “the Defendants” together generically. Instead, the complaint must allege what each Defendant did with enough specificity to enable the Court to determine whether a claim has been stated against each Defendant individually. 7