Martin v. Berg et al, No. 3:2017cv01750 - Document 22 (S.D. Cal. 2019)

Court Description: ORDER Granting 17 Defendants' Motion to Dismiss; Denying as Moot 21 Plaintiff's Motion for Production of Documents. The Court GRANTS defendants' motion to dismiss in its entirety. (Doc. No. 17.) The Court DISMISSES Martins case wi thout leave to amend. The Court also DENIES as moot Martin's motion for production as documents. (Doc. No. 21.) The Court Clerk is instructed to close the case. Signed by Judge Anthony J. Battaglia on 3/1/2019. (All non-registered users served via U.S. Mail Service)(acc)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 LANCE R. MARTIN, Case No.: 17-cv-1750-AJB-JMA Plaintiff, 12 13 v. 14 MTS OFFICERS R. BERG AND M. RINI, 15 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS, (Doc. No. 17); and DENYING AS MOOT PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR PRODUCTION OF DOCUMENTS, (Doc. No. 21). Defendants. 16 17 18 Before the Court is Defendants’ dismissal motion. (Doc. No. 17.) Although the Court 19 gave Martin several opportunities to amend his complaint, (Docs. No. 4, 11), the Court 20 ultimately finds it must be dismissed for failure to state a claim, failure to comply with the 21 government claims act, and failure to overcome the high bar of qualified immunity. For 22 these reasons, the Court DISMISSES without leave to amend Plaintiff’s Complaint and 23 GRANTS Defendants’ motion to dismiss. (Docs. No. 1, 17.) Because Martin’s complaint 24 is dismissed, the Court DENIES as moot his recently-filed motion for production of 25 documents. (Doc. No. 21.) 26 I. BACKGROUND 27 Martin brings a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against defendants R. Berg and M. Rini. 28 (Doc. No. 8.) Martin alleges that on November 11, 2016, MTS Police Officer R. Berg 1 17-cv-1750-AJB-JMA 1 falsely charged Martin with fare evasion even though he had a valid fare pass provided by 2 the San Diego Salvation Army S.T.E.P.S. program. (Doc. No. 8 at 5, 12.) Martin points to 3 exhibit B, which is a copy of notice to appear citation from Berg dated November 11, 2016, 4 for fare evasion. (Doc. No. 8 at 14.) The ticket stated Martin is to appear at the San Diego 5 Superior Court Traffic Division on January 11, 2017. (Id.) 6 Martin also alleges that MTS Police Officer M. Rini, on April 9, 2017, similarly 7 checked his fare card, but deliberately kept the scanner in the off position, not pushing the 8 button to activate it, subsequently not allowing his card to register that it has sufficient 9 funds. (Doc. No. 8 at 7.) Martin alleges Rini ordered him to exit the Trolley and claims he 10 “did not feel free to leave while defendant Rini was taking the administrative steps of the 11 incident to falsely arrest Plaintiff.” (Id.) Martin alleges Rini then charged him for fare 12 evasion and “falsely arrested” him without probable cause. (Id.) Rini also gave Martin a 13 notice to appear citation, attached as exhibit F. (Id. at 20.) While this photocopy is difficult 14 to read, it is dated April 9, 2017, and appears to be for fare evasion. (Id.) 15 II. LEGAL STANDARDS 16 A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a plaintiff’s 17 complaint. See Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). “[A] court may dismiss 18 a complaint as a matter of law for (1) lack of cognizable legal theory or (2) insufficient 19 facts under a cognizable legal claim.” SmileCare Dental Grp. v. Delta Dental Plan of Cal., 20 88 F.3d 780, 783 (9th Cir. 1996) (internal quotations and citation omitted). However, a 21 complaint will survive a motion to dismiss if it contains “enough facts to state a claim to 22 relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). 23 In making this determination, a court reviews the contents of the complaint, accepting all 24 factual allegations as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving 25 party. See Cedars-Sinai Med. Ctr. v. Nat’l League of Postmasters of U.S., 497 F.3d 972, 26 975 (9th Cir. 2007). Notwithstanding this deference, a reviewing court need not accept 27 legal conclusions as true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). It is also 28 improper for a court to assume “the [plaintiff] can prove facts that [he or she] has not 2 17-cv-1750-AJB-JMA 1 alleged.” Assoc. Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 2 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). However, “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court 3 should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an 4 entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 664. 5 Pro se pleadings are held “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted 6 by lawyers” because pro se litigants are more prone to making errors in pleading than 7 litigants represented by counsel. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980) (internal quotations 8 omitted). Thus, the Supreme Court has stated that federal courts should liberally construe 9 the “‘inartful pleading’ of pro se litigants.” Eldridge v. Block, 832 F.2d 1132, 1137 (9th 10 Cir. 1987) (quoting Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365 (1982)). Nonetheless, Federal 11 Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint contain a short plain statement of 12 “the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]” Even if some claims may not— 13 on their face—be subject to dismissal under Rule12(b), a court still has discretion to 14 dismiss those that fail to comply with the requirement that they be “simple, concise, and 15 direct.” McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1179 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 16 8(e)). 17 III. DISCUSSION 18 Defendants argue that Martin’s first amended complaint should be dismissed for the 19 following reasons: (1) Martin fails to state a claim under § 1983; (2) Martin’s state law 20 claims are dismissed under the Government Claims Act; (3) Martin’s claims against the 21 officers are barred by Qualified Immunity; and (4) Martin’s state law claims do not rise to 22 the level of novel or complex to warrant exercising supplemental jurisdiction. 23 A. Plaintiff Fails to State a Claim Under § 1983 24 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a cause of action for the “deprivation of any rights, 25 privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” of the United States. Wyatt 26 v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege 27 two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United 28 States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting 3 17-cv-1750-AJB-JMA 1 under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Long v. Cnty. of Los 2 Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006). 3 “A claim for unlawful arrest is cognizable under § 1983 as a violation of the Fourth 4 Amendment, provided the arrest was without probable cause or other justification.” Lacey 5 v. Maricopa Cnty., 693 F.3d 896, 918 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc) (citation and internal 6 quotation marks omitted). “Probable cause exists if the arresting officers ‘had knowledge 7 and reasonably trustworthy information of facts and circumstances sufficient to lead a 8 prudent person to believe that [the arrestee] had committed or was committing a crime.’” 9 Maxwell v. Cnty. of San Diego, 697 F.3d 941, 951 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States 10 v. Ricardo D., 912 F.2d 337, 342 (9th Cir. 1990)). 11 Martin contends both times the officers cited him for fare evasion he was falsely 12 arrested. However, Martin produced no evidence of an actual arrest, only a detention period 13 in which the officers gave him a citation. Martin’s FAC fails to provide facts regarding 14 how long each officer stopped Martin for or any details surrounding each incident—despite 15 the Court previously stating Martin should do so. (Doc. No. 4 at 4.) An officer is permitted 16 to detain someone for the purposes of investigating a violation. Rodriguez v. United States, 17 135 S. Ct. 1609, 1614 (2015). “A routine traffic stop . . . is a relatively brief encounter and 18 is more analogous to a so-called ‘Terry stop’ . . . than to a formal arrest.” Knowles v. Iowa, 19 525 U.S. 113, 117 (1998) (internal quotation and citation omitted). The Fourth Amendment 20 requires the length and scope of the detention be “strictly tied to and justified by the 21 circumstances which rendered its initiation permissible.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 22 (1968) (internal citations omitted). A constitutional violation would arise if an officer 23 continued their detention without probable cause after the officer obtained enough 24 information to issue a citation. United States v. Luckett, 484 F.2d 89, 90–91 (9th Cir. 1973) 25 (per curiam) (finding that an individual stopped for jay-walking may be detained “only the 26 time necessary to obtain satisfactory identification from the violator and to execute a traffic 27 citation.”). 28 Martin was either the subject of a Terry stop, where the officers briefly detained him 4 17-cv-1750-AJB-JMA 1 to find out if he was evading fare, or he was detained while being ticketed (or both). 2 However, under either a Terry stop or a detention to issue a citation, there was not an 3 unlawful arrest under § 1983. While the Court is required to construe Martin’s pleadings 4 liberally, as he is a pro se plaintiff, “a liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may 5 not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled.” Ivey v. Bd. of 6 Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). Martin provided only conclusory statements 7 that Berg and Rini “falsely arrested” him for fare evasion. (Doc. No. 8 at 5–8.) There are 8 no supporting facts or evidence proving Martin was arrested or detained for an 9 unreasonable amount of time on either occasion. 10 Martin was already granted leave to amend in order to provide more information 11 regarding the timeline of incidents or any other pertinent details. However, Martin’s FAC 12 fails to meet the pleading requirements under Iqbal. This FAC contains the type of bare 13 legal assertions without supporting facts that the Ninth Circuit directs the court to dismiss 14 as frivolous. McHenry, 84 F.3d at 1179. Thus, the Court DISMISSES WITH 15 PREJUDICE the § 1983 claim. 16 B. State Law Claims are Dismissed Pursuant to the Government Claims Act 17 The California Tort Claims Act of 1963 (as amended and now referred to as the 18 Government Claims Act) provides public entity immunity. Section 815 of the Government 19 Claims Act prohibits holding a public entity liable “[e]xcept as otherwise provided by 20 statute.” Cal. Gov’t Code § 815. Section 818.8 specifically immunizes public entities from 21 liability “for an injury caused by misrepresentation by an employee of the public entity, 22 whether or not such misrepresentation be negligent or intentional.” Cal. Gov’t Code 23 § 818.8. 24 Defendants are entitled to statutory immunity for the state law claims under the 25 Government Claims Act. Martin alleged that in both instances with Berg and Rini, 26 (November 11, 2016, and April 9, 2017, respectively), the Defendants were in uniform 27 performing their official duties on behalf of San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. 28 Additionally, both Defendants utilized a Hand-Held Device as part of their official 5 17-cv-1750-AJB-JMA 1 compacity as Code Compliance Inspectors to read Plaintiff’s Compass Card. Defendants, 2 after utilizing the Hand-Held Device, reasonably believed Plaintiff to be in violation of 3 Penal Code section 640(c) and issued the appropriate misdemeanor citation. Thus, the 4 Defendants are immune from civil liability for the state law claims and the Court 5 DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE these claims pursuant to the Government Claims Act. 6 C. Even If Plaintiff Could Succeed Under § 1983 or the Government Claims 7 Act, Plaintiff is Unsuccessful Under the Federal Qualified Immunity 8 Doctrine 9 “In determining whether an officer is entitled to qualified immunity, we consider (1) 10 whether there has been a violation of a constitutional right; and (2) whether that right was 11 clearly established at the time of the officer’s alleged misconduct.” C.V. by & through 12 Willegas v. City of Anaheim, 823 F.3d 1252, 1255 (9th Cir. 2016) (quoting Lal v. 13 California, 746 F.3d 1112, 1116 (9th Cir. 2014)). The Supreme Court has often stressed 14 the importance of deciding qualified immunity “at the earliest possible stage in litigation” 15 in order to preserve the doctrine’s status as a true “immunity from suit rather than a mere 16 defense to liability.” Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (internal citations 17 omitted). Additionally, “courts are now empowered to address the two prongs in whichever 18 order would expedite resolution of the case.” Morales v. Fry, 873 F.3d 817, 822 (9th Cir. 19 2017). 20 Even assuming he can state a claim, Martin cannot overcome qualified immunity 21 because he cannot show the officers violated a clearly established right. “The relevant, 22 dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would 23 be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he 24 confronted.” Quiroz v. Short, 85 F. Supp. 3d 1092, 1107 (N.D. Cal. 2015). Here, Martin 25 does not—and cannot—show that the officers’ actions violated a clearly established right. 26 On both occasions, the officers approached Martin, inquired about his trolley ticket, and 27 cited him for fare evasion. Issuing a ticket for failure to produce a valid fair does not violate 28 a clearly established right, and neither does being reasonably questioned by an MTS 6 17-cv-1750-AJB-JMA 1 officer. 2 Thus, the Court finds that the officers are entitled to qualified immunity against 3 Plaintiff’s claims and DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE all claims against Defendants 4 Officer Berg and Officer Rini. 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 D. Finally, the Court is Not Exercising Supplemental Jurisdiction Over The Remaining State-Law Claims The Supplemental Jurisdiction statute states: The district courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim under subsection (a) if-(1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law, (2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction, (3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, or (4) in exceptional circumstances, there are other compelling reasons for declining jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(1)-(4). 15 Here, although Martin’s case does not present any novel or complex issues of state 16 law and his state law claims do not predominate over his § 1983 claim, the Court did 17 dismiss his claim in which it had original jurisdiction: his § 1983 claim. “When the balance 18 of . . . factors indicates that a case properly belongs in state court, as when the federal-law 19 claims have dropped out of the lawsuit in its early stages and only state-law claims remain, 20 the federal court should decline the exercise of jurisdiction by dismissing the case without 21 prejudice.” Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350 (1988) (citations omitted). 22 Here, the case is still in its infancy. Discovery has not commenced and the lawsuit is in 23 pleading stages of litigation. Thus, the Court finds on a balance, the case belongs in state 24 court and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. 25 III. LEAVE TO AMEND 26 The Court “should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 27 15(a)(2). However, “[u]nder Ninth Circuit case law, district courts are only required to 28 grant leave to amend if a complaint can possibly be saved. Courts are not required to grant 7 17-cv-1750-AJB-JMA 1 leave to amend if a complaint lacks merit entirely.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1129 2 (9th Cir. 2000). Here, Martin has filed two complaints and was already given an 3 opportunity to amend. (Docs. No. 1, 4, 8). However, the Court finds any further amendment 4 would be futile as Martin’s core set of facts simply fail to state a federal claim. Accordingly, 5 the Court DECLINES granting leave to amend. 6 IV. CONCLUSION 7 For the reasons set forth above, the Court GRANTS defendants’ motion to dismiss 8 in its entirety. (Doc. No. 17.) The Court DISMISSES Martin’s case without leave to 9 amend. The Court also DENIES as moot Martin’s motion for production as documents. 10 11 (Doc. No. 21.) The Court Clerk is instructed to close the case. IT IS SO ORDERED. 12 13 Dated: March 1, 2019 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 8 17-cv-1750-AJB-JMA
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