NeSmith v. County of San Diego et al, No. 3:2015cv00629 - Document 36 (S.D. Cal. 2017)

Court Description: ORDER Denying 30 Motion for Reconsideration. Plaintiffs have pled specific suicides, statistics, and news articles that raise their right to relief above the speculative level, (Underlying Order 713); this unlocks the doors of discovery, see A shcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) ("A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.":). Accordingly, Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration is denied. Signed by Judge Janis L. Sammartino on 3/30/2017. (dxj)
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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 8 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 9 10 11 12 13 CHASSIDY NeSMITH, individually and as Guardian ad Litem on behalf of SKYLER KRISTOPHER SCOTT NeSMITH, and as Successor in Interest to KRISTOPHER SCOTTT NeSMITH , 16 17 ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION (ECF No. 30) Plaintiffs, 14 15 Case No.: 15cv629 JLS (JMA) v. COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO; WILLIAM D. GORE, individually; and DOES 1 100, inclusive , Defendants. 18 19 20 Presently before the Court is Defendant County of San Diego’s Motion for 21 Reconsideration (“Recon. Mot.”). (ECF No. 30.) Also before the Court are Plaintiffs’ 22 Opposition to, (ECF No. 32), and Defendant’s Reply in Support of, (ECF No. 33), 23 Defendant’s Reconsideration Motion. Having considered the Parties’ arguments and the 24 law, the Court DENIES Defendant’s Motion for Reconsideration. 25 /// 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// -115cv629 JLS (JMA) ANALYSIS1 1 2 Plaintiffs bring an action alleging, among other things, that the County of San Diego 3 is liable for an inmate death at Vista Detention Facility (“VDF”) due to a systemic 4 deficiency in the way VDF addresses inmates exhibiting suicidal ideations. (See generally 5 Second Am. Compl. (“SAC), ECF No. 20.) After the Court initially dismissed in part 6 Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint, (ECF No. 18), Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended 7 Complaint (“SAC”), (ECF No. 19), supporting their claim for municipal liability with a 8 detailed accounting of VDF’s allegedly deficient practices towards inmates with suicidal 9 ideations. (SAC ¶¶ 1–138.) These details address the particular death giving rise to this 10 lawsuit, as well as many other instances of inmate suicide recounted through prior 11 violations found by an independent oversight body, news articles, and statistical analyses. 12 (Id.) Defendants County of San Diego and Sheriff William D. Gore again moved to 13 dismiss. (ECF No. 20.) The Court, however, denied Defendants’ second Motion to Dismiss 14 (the “Underlying Order”), (ECF No. 30), and it is that Order which Defendant County of 15 San Diego now urges the Court to reconsider. 16 Specifically, Defendant argues the Underlying Order “erred as a matter of law; 17 represents a departure from Supreme Court authority;” and is manifestly unjust because it 18 “places the parties in the untenable position of having to litigate multiple trials within a 19 trial” in order to determine whether prior inmate suicides in fact resulted from 20 unconstitutional practices. (See generally Recon. Mot.) All these alleged errors in the 21 Court’s prior Order flow from Defendant’s reading of Supreme Court precedent as 22 requiring “prior adjudications that other inmates’ constitutional rights were violated in the 23 same manner as alleged [in this suit]” for a municipality to be liable under a theory that a 24 municipal policy exhibited deliberate indifference to the decedent’s constitutional rights. 25 26 27 28 A comprehensive recounting of the facts relevant to this case are set forth in the Court’s underlying Order, which the Court here incorporates by reference. (Order Den. Mot. to Dismiss Second Am. Compl. and to Strike Parts of the Second Am. Compl. 2–6, ECF No. 25.) Because Defendant’s Reconsideration Motion almost solely turns on the applicable legal standard, the Court here only briefly recounts the underlying facts and relevant procedural background. 1 -215cv629 JLS (JMA) 1 (Id. at 2 (emphasis added).) However, as the Court previously noted, “[t]he Court does not 2 deduce that legal rule from the authority Defendant cites[,]” and “it is hard to see how the 3 County could ever be held liable if liability in the first instance always depended on a prior 4 adjudication.” (Underlying Order 11 n.3.) 5 In support of its position, Defendant primarily argues that, “[c]iting to Supreme 6 Court authority, defendants maintained that to satisfy the pattern of constitutional 7 violations element, the SAC must plead that there have been prior adjudications that other 8 inmates’ constitutional rights were violated in the same manner as is alleged to have 9 happened to NeSmith.” (Recon. Mot. 2.) But, of course, merely making a statement and 10 then citing a case afterwards does not automatically instill the statement with legal 11 certainty. And Defendant is clearly aware of this fact, especially given that its sole 12 “[c]it[ation] to Supreme Court authority,” (id.), in the underlying briefing for a requirement 13 of prior adjudicated constitutional violations is preceded by a see signal. (Mot. to Dismiss 14 8:4–7 (“Allegations of a pattern of constitutional violations, without findings of 15 constitutional violations do not rise to the level of a Monell violation. See Connick, 563 16 U.S. at 63 . . . .” (roman type in original)), ECF No. 20; see also Mot. for Recon. 6–7 17 (“[T]he Supreme Court has instructed it is the past adjudications finding recurrent 18 constitutional violations by employees under like circumstances that sets up how an 19 inadequate program based municipal federal civil rights claim can be pursued against the 20 municipality. See Connick, 563 U.S. at 62.” (roman type in original)).) In point of fact, 21 Supreme Court precedent states only that a pattern of prior constitutional violations is 22 required to show liability, and no case uses the term adjudication. E.g., Canton v. Harris, 23 489 U.S. 378, 397 (1989); Bd. of Comm’rs of Bryan Cty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 407–08 24 (1997); Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S 51, 62 (2011). And Defendant in its Reply even 25 tacitly acknowledges this point, distinguishing one of Plaintiffs’ cited cases by saying that 26 although the plaintiff, Tandel, “did not allege existence of prior adjudications, Tandel 27 supported his claim” by referring to his own personal experiences, and that therefore the 28 Court could permissibly “infer that he stated a plausible claim that the county had a custom -315cv629 JLS (JMA) 1 of failing to provide medical care.” (Reply in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss 7 (emphasis 2 added).) 3 The Court simply cannot agree that “for [P]laintiffs’ to state such a claim in this 4 case, they must plead that prior judgments of liability have been entered against employees 5 for constitutional violations that caused other inmate suicides under the same 6 circumstances as are alleged in the present action.” (Recon. Mot. 2–3.) The crux of this 7 argument turns on Defendant’s contention that formal court judgments would be the only 8 way in which the County could receive liability-creating “notice of a pattern of 9 constitutional violations and the existence of a systemically inadequate program that is 10 closely related to the cause of those violations . . . .” (Id. at 3.) But, aside from importing 11 an additional requirement into Supreme Court precedent where there is none to be found 12 in the relevant caselaw, this obscures the procedural posture of the underlying Motion. 13 Effectively, Defendant asks the Court to require Plaintiffs at this initial stage of the 14 proceeding to prove all elements of the policy or practice in deliberate indifference to 15 decedent’s constitutional rights. The result of accepting Defendant’s argument would 16 therefore mean that the only way a plaintiff could survive a Motion to Dismiss in a case 17 such as this one is if the plaintiff either (1) lives long enough to suffer multiple 18 constitutional violations at the hand of the state and later brings all claims for such 19 violations in one suit, or (2) acquires a catalog of many, previous adjudications that ran a 20 long course of litigation sufficient to result in an entry of judgment. However, the point of 21 a Motion to Dismiss is to remove from our courts cases that are fundamentally without 22 merit; Defendant’s argued-for rule would instead require Plaintiffs to prove that there case 23 is, in fact, meritorious, almost at the very start of litigation.2 24 25 26 27 28 Additionally, Defendant misses the mark in its statement that “[t]he prejudice and injustice to the County presented by compelling defendants to litigate the merits of unrelated events and of the editorial articles referenced in the SAC would be unprecedented and irreparable.” (Recon. Mot. 7.) To the contrary, the SAC contends that these events and news accounts are, in fact, related—together, they plausibly show a systemic deficiency in the way VDF treats (or fails to treat) inmates with a history of suicidal ideations. And the Court is called upon to adjudicate matters not directly at issue but nonetheless bearing on liability 2 -415cv629 JLS (JMA) 1 In the present case, it is true the Court cannot inquire further of the person whom 2 VDF’s policies or customs allegedly harmed; that person died, allegedly in part due to the 3 policies and practices here at issue. But Plaintiffs have explained in great detail the 4 decedent’s suicidal ideations and the alleged non-responsiveness of VDF staff to the same. 5 (SAC ¶¶ 1–70.) Further, Plaintiff alleges that “the Citizens Law Enforcement Review 6 Board (CLERB), the independent oversight body charged with investigating deaths-in- 7 custody and allegations of law-enforcement misconduct, has twice found that San Diego 8 County sheriff’s deputies violated policy and procedure in instances of inmate suicides.” 9 (Id. ¶ 75.) And Plaintiff further alleges news reports and studies detailing “18 [inmate] 10 suicides since 2013,” (id. ¶¶ 76–87), and that the County had notice of the mounting 11 problem given that “in January 2015, the County instituted a new policy whereby a ‘suicide 12 matrix’ is used to help identify inmates at risk of killing themselves[,]” (id. ¶ 86). This 13 evidence, taken together, supports the inference that the County was aware of deficient 14 VDF policies and customs that were consistently resulting in unnecessary and preventable 15 inmate deaths. And to require prior, formal adjudications regarding each death for Plaintiffs 16 to proceed past a threshold 12(b)(6) motion is not a component of established Supreme 17 Court jurisprudence. 18 CONCLUSION 19 In short, Plaintiffs have pled specific suicides, statistics, and news articles that raise 20 their right to relief above the speculative level, (Underlying Order 7–13); this unlocks the 21 doors of discovery, see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“A claim has facial 22 plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable 23 24 25 26 27 28 nearly every day. See, e.g., Sprint/United Mgmt. Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379, 388 (2008) (“The question whether evidence of discrimination by other supervisors [towards non-parties] is relevant in an individual [and distinct] ADEA case is fact based and depends on many factors, including how closely related the evidence is to the plaintiff’s circumstances and theory of the case.”); Manzari v. Associated Newspapers Ltd., 830 F.3d 881, 888 (9th Cir. 2016) (classifying the plaintiff as a “public figure” for purposes of liability based on “interviews[,] . . . news coverage[,]” internet presence, and film appearances). -515cv629 JLS (JMA) 1 inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”). Accordingly, 2 Defendant’s Motion for Reconsideration is DENIED. 3 4 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: March 30, 2017 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -615cv629 JLS (JMA)