Doe v. Elko County et al, No. 3:2013cv00165 - Document 25 (D. Nev. 2014)

Court Description: ORDER granting in part and denying in part 11 Motion to Dismiss. All claims against Defendant Torvinen in his official capacity shall be dismissed. Signed by Judge Larry R. Hicks on 01/04/2014. (Copies have been distributed pursuant to the NEF - KR)
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Doe v. Elko County et al Doc. 25 1 2 3 4 5 6 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 DISTRICT OF NEVADA 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 *** ) JOHN DOE, individually and, on behalf of a ) ) class of those similarly situated, ) ) Plaintiff, ) ) v. ) ELKO COUNTY, MARK TORVINEN, in his ) official capacity as District Attorney for Elko ) ) County, ) ) Defendants. 3:13-cv-00165-LRH-WGC ORDER 15 16 Before the Court is Defendants Elko County and Mark Torvinen’s (“Torvinen”) 17 (collectively “Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss. Doc. #11.1 Plaintiff John Doe (“Doe”) filed an 18 Opposition (Doc. #19), to which Defendants have replied (Doc. #24). 19 I. Facts and Background This action concerns Elko County’s alleged unconstitutional prosecution of Doe in juvenile 20 21 court for a violation of Nevada Revised Statute (“N.R.S.”) § 201.195. In connection therewith, 22 Doe alleges that Torvinen, acting in his official capacity as the Elko County District Attorney, 23 personally drafted and signed a juvenile delinquency petition charging Doe with violations of 24 Nevada’s criminal statutes. Doc. #1, ¶ 23. 25 /// 26 1 Refers to the Court’s docket number. Dockets.Justia.com 1 On April 2, 2013, Doe filed a Complaint against Defendants, seeking, among other 2 remedies, nominal damages and declaratory relief for his alleged unconstitutional prosecution 3 under N.R.S. § 201.195. See Doc. #1. Thereafter, the Nevada legislature voted to repeal N.R.S. 4 § 201.195, and on May 30, 2013, Governor Sandoval signed a repeal of the law. See Doc. #19, n.1; 5 see also S.B. 388, 77th Reg. Sess. (Nev. 2013). Doe concedes that the repeal of N.R.S. § 201.195 6 moots his prospective claims for injunctive and declaratory relief, but notes that the same does not 7 affect his retrospective claims for the aforementioned nominal damages and declaratory relief 8 based on his alleged unconstitutional prosecution. See Doc. #19, n.1. 9 On May 24, 2013, Defendants filed the present Motion to Dismiss arguing that (1) Torvinen 10 is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity and (2) Doe failed to sufficiently allege that Elko 11 County had a policy, practice, or custom of enforcing N.R.S. § 201.195 such that it would be 12 subject to municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Doc. # 11. On August 12, 2013, Doe 13 filed an Opposition. Doc. #19. Defendants did not file a Reply. 14 II. 15 Legal Standard Defendants seek dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure 16 to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state 17 a claim, a complaint must satisfy the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) notice pleading 18 standard. See Mendiondo v. Centinela Hosp. Med. Ctr., 521 F.3d 1097, 1103 (9th Cir. 2008). That 19 is, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is 20 entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The Rule 8(a)(2) pleading standard does not require 21 detailed factual allegations; however, a pleading that offers “‘labels and conclusions’ or ‘a 22 formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action’” will not suffice. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 23 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). 24 Furthermore, Rule 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to “contain sufficient factual matter, 25 accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 26 U.S. at 570). A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the Court to 2 1 draw the reasonable inference, based on the Court’s judicial experience and common sense, that the 2 defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. See id. at 678-79. “The plausibility standard is not 3 akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has 4 acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant’s 5 liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.” Id. at 6 678 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). 7 In reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts the facts alleged in the complaint as 8 true. Id. However, “bare assertions . . . amount[ing] to nothing more than a formulaic recitation of 9 the elements of a . . . claim . . . are not entitled to an assumption of truth.” Moss v. U.S. Secret 10 Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681) (brackets in original) 11 (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court discounts these allegations because “they do nothing 12 more than state a legal conclusion—even if that conclusion is cast in the form of a factual 13 allegation.” Id. (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681). “In sum, for a complaint to survive a motion to 14 dismiss, the non-conclusory ‘factual content,’ and reasonable inferences from that content, must be 15 plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief.” Id. 16 III. 17 Discussion As a preliminary matter, the Court agrees that the repeal of N.R.S. § 201.195 moots Doe’s 18 prospective claims for injunctive and declaratory relief, but does not affect his retrospective claims 19 for nominal damages and declaratory relief based on his alleged unconstitutional prosecution. 20 Accordingly, Doe’s claim seeking a declaration that N.R.S. § 201.195 is facially unconstitutional 21 and his claims seeking injunctive relief shall be dismissed. Additionally, Doe’s claims on behalf of 22 other persons similarly situated shall be dismissed. Doe’s claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 23 seeking nominal damages for Defendants’ alleged violation of his right to equal protection under 24 the Fourteenth Amendment and his claim seeking a declaration that N.R.S. § 201.195 is 25 unconstitutional as applied to him shall proceed before the Court. 26 /// 3 1 2 A. Absolute Prosecutorial Immunity First, Defendants argue that the claims against District Attorney Torvinen must be 3 dismissed because Torvinen enjoys absolute prosecutorial immunity from liability for his actions in 4 connection with the prosecution of Doe. See Doc. #11, pp. 5-6. However, as Doe correctly avers, 5 personal immunity defenses are only available when a government official is sued in his or her 6 individual capacity, not when the official is sued in his or her official capacity. See Kentucky v. 7 Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-67; see also Hartmann v. Cal. Dep’t. of Corr. and Rehab., 707 F.3d 8 1114, 1127 (9th Cir. 2013). In contrast, “the only immunities available to [an official] in an 9 official-capacity action are those that the governmental entity possesses.” Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 10 21, 25 (1991). Here, Torvinen is sued only in his official capacity as District Attorney for Elko 11 County. See Doc. #1. Accordingly, absolute prosecutorial immunity is unavailable as a defense. 12 However, “[b]ecause an official capacity suit against a municipal officer is equivalent to a 13 suit against the government entity, the court may dismiss the officer as a redundant defendant 14 where both the officer and the entity are named.” Alfred v. Gillespie, No. 2:13-CV-00519-JCM, 15 2013 WL 2096452, at *2 (D. Nev. April 18, 2013) (citing Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. v. 16 Los Angeles Cnty. Sheriff Dept., 533 F.3d 780, 799 (9th Cir. 2008)); see also Chavez v. Las Vegas 17 Metro. Police Dept., No. 2:11-CV-01445-LRH-GW, 2012 WL 1964042, at *2 (D. Nev. May 31, 18 2012) (citing the same). Accordingly, Doe’s claims against Torvinen shall be dismissed as 19 redundant. 20 B. 21 Second, Defendants argue that under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 Failure to State a Claim for Municipal Liability 22 (1978), Elko County cannot be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because the alleged 23 constitutional violations cannot be traced to an official policy, practice, or custom of the 24 municipality. Doc. #11, pp. 6-8. However, as Doe correctly avers, “a municipality can be liable 25 even for an isolated constitutional violation . . . when the person causing the violation has final 26 policy making authority.” Webb v. Sloan, 330 F.3d 1158, 1164 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Christie v. 4 1 Iopa, 176 F.3d 1231, 1235 (9th Cir. 1999)); see also Nichols v. Hager, No. 3:04-CV-0559-LRH- 2 LRL, 2012 LW 3135861, at *4-5 (D. Nev. Aug. 1, 2012) (explaining that a municipality may be 3 liable for the tortious actions of its employees under Monell if “a district employee was acting as a 4 final policy maker”). Whether an official has final policy-making authority is an issue of law to be 5 determined by reference to state law. See Jett v. Dallas Indp. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 737 (1989); 6 City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 123 (1988). Nevada law designates principal district 7 attorneys as the final policymaking authority for the local governments they represent with respect 8 to the decision to prosecute a case. See Webb, 330 F.3d at 1166 (holding that district attorneys in 9 Nevada are “final policymakers whose actions can be the acts of the municipality for the purposes 10 of attaching liability under § 1983”); see also Cairns v. Sheriff, Clark Cnty., 89 Nev. 113, 508 P.2d 11 1015, 1017 (1973) (per curiam) (“[t]he matter of the prosecution of any criminal case is within the 12 entire control of the district attorney”) (citing N.R.S. 252.110). 13 Here, contrary to Defendants’ assertion, the Court finds that Doe has sufficiently alleged a 14 claim against Elko County. Specifically, the Court finds Doe’s allegations that Torvinen, acting as 15 a final policymaker, personally drafted and signed the delinquency petition filed against him 16 plausibly suggest municipal liability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Doc. #1, ¶¶ 10, 48 (alleging 17 that Torvinen has final policymaking authority for Elko County and that his decision to file charges 18 against Doe for violating N.R.S. 201.195 constitutes a policy, custom, or practice of the 19 municipality); see also McKenna v. San Miguel Consol. Fire Prot. Dist., 10-CV-1500 H(AJB), 20 2010 WL 4392557, at *4-5 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 27, 2010) (dismissing 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against 21 municipality where plaintiff failed to allege that any of the employees responsible for the conduct at 22 issue were official policymakers). Accordingly, dismissal of Elko County for failure to state a 23 claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is not warranted. 24 /// 25 /// 26 /// 5 1 2 3 4 IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Doc. #11) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part in accordance with this Order. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that all claims against Defendant Torvinen in his official capacity shall be dismissed. 5 IT IS SO ORDERED. 6 DATED this 4th day of January, 2014. 7 8 9 __________________________________ LARRY R. HICKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 6