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Crowe, Houser, Treadway v. Co. of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California
Jul 26, 2000
CIVIL NO. 99-0241-R (RBB), CIVIL NO. 99-0283-R, CIVIL NO. 99-0253-R (S.D. Cal. Jul. 26, 2000)

Opinion

CIVIL NO. 99-0241-R (RBB), CIVIL NO. 99-0283-R, CIVIL NO. 99-0253-R.

July 26, 2000.


ORDER ADDRESSING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS AND MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT


I. Introduction


Defendants removed these three consolidated cases in early February, 1999, yet this Court still finds itself examining the pleadings for sufficiency. The Court issued a fifty-four page order on January 3, 2000 ("January 3 Order"), on Defendants' motions to dismiss the original complaints. Now Defendants move to dismiss the Joint First Amended Complaint ("JFAC"), and the Court again faces the daunting task of dissecting a tangled web of complex, interdependent allegations. Plaintiffs' JFAC consists of 64 pages of allegations, 13 causes of action, and 280 pleading paragraphs, many of which incorporate allegations from preceding paragraphs. Nine Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint or for summary judgment on numerous grounds, some of which the Court previously addressed in its January 3 Order. After two hearings and several hundred pages of briefing, the time has come to conclusively determine what federal causes of action have been stated and to move past the pleading stage.

In their pending motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, Defendants once again focus on Plaintiffs' federal causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See, e.g., Def. McDonough's Mot. at 6.) For that reason, the Court addresses only the federal causes of action in this order. Later, Defendants may move to dismiss the state causes of action on the merits or for lack of supplemental jurisdiction. Defendants may file motions directed to the state claims separate from or together with motions for summary judgement on the federal claims.

II. Discussion

The Court's January 3 Order sets forth the background facts, which will not be repeated here. (January 3 Order at 3-11.) Where appropriate, the Court will address new facts pleaded in the JFAC in the analysis that follows. After examining the broader issues of conspiracy and proximate cause, the Court addresses each federal cause of action in turn.

A. Conspiracy and Causation

Plaintiffs offer two distinct doctrines to hold individual Defendants liable for constitutional violations that they did not directly cause: (1) conspiracy and (2) proximate cause. First, plaintiffs allege that Defendants Claytor, Hoover, McDonough, Blum, Sweeney, and Wrisley conspired to coerce illegal confessions in order "to justify the myriad egregious civil rights violations heaped upon all plaintiffs herein." (Compl. ¶¶ 110, 111, 112.) Second, Plaintiffs attempt to hold individual Defendants liable for "set[ting] into motion a series of events which [they] knew or should have known would cause others to inflict Constitutional [sic] injury." (Opp'n to Def. Blum's Mot. at 6-7.) Because these issues apply broadly to most of the allegations in the JFAC, the Court considers them first before separately addressing each federal cause of action.

In its January 3 Order, the Court found that plaintiffs' original complaints failed to meet the heightened pleading standard for allegations of conspiracy. (January 3 Order at 16-17.) The Court ordered plaintiffs to plead the alleged conspiracy with "`at least some degree of particularity' beyond the conclusory allegations of the current complaints." (January 3 Order at 17 n. 9.) "This standard is not intended to be difficult to meet as 'it serves the limited purpose of enabling the district court to dismiss `insubstantial' suits prior to discovery and allowing the defendant to prepare an appropriate response. . . .'" Harris v. Roderick, 126 F.3d 1189, 1195 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Branch v. Tunnell, 937 F.2d 1382, 1386 (9th Cir. 1991)). Plaintiffs may meet the standard by pleading circumstantial evidence. See Branch, 937 F.2d at 1387.

In the JFAC, plaintiffs have plead a conspiracy involving Defendants Claytor, Hoover, McDonough, Blum, Sweeney, and Wrisley with adequate specificity. In support of their assertion that Defendants conspired, Plaintiffs allege conduct by each Defendant that contributed to the conspiracy and plead substantial circumstantial evidence that Defendants acted in concert.

As alleged, the conspiratorial objective is limited to the illegal arrest and detention of Plaintiffs Michael Crowe, Joshua Treadway, and Aaron Houser. Specifically, plaintiffs assert that the conspiring Defendants "jointly intended and planned" to use coerced confessions "to justify the arrest, detention, incarceration, search and seizure and separation from family" of the Michael, Joshua, and Aaron. (JFAC ¶ 112.) Accordingly, because they further that conspiratorial objective, Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims for violation of the Fifth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment due process, and Fourteenth Amendment deprivation of companionship are part of the alleged conspiracy. In contrast, the § 1983 claims for defamation and violation of the Sixth Amendment are not based on the alleged conspiracy but rest on purported statements by the particular Defendants named. (JFAC ¶¶ 158-62.) Of course, because the Court permits Plaintiffs' lawsuit to progress based on the alleged conspiracy, the scope of that conspiracy may be further refined and modified by discovery or motions for summary judgment.

Plaintiffs also argue that the expansive theory of proximate cause under § 1983 permits liability for violations that Defendants did not directly cause through their own conduct. Under § 1983, "[t]he requisite causal connection can be established not only by some kind of personal participation in the deprivation, but also by setting in motion a series of acts by others which the actor knows or reasonably should know would cause others to inflict the constitutional injury." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743-44 (9th Cir. 1978). On this basis, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants who purportedly participated in the alleged coercion of confessions may be held liable for subsequent violations by other Defendants, such as the alleged illegal arrests of Michael, Joshua, and Aaron.

While this broad theory of causation does apply to individual Defendants, it is mostly redundant of the conspiracy claim. Coercion of confessions may constitute proximate cause for subsequent illegal arrests and deprivation of parent-child companionship, but it cannot support liability for the defamatory statements of other Defendants or unrelated conduct of investigators that allegedly "shocks the conscience" (e.g., displaying nude pictures of family members or drawing guns on family members in the police station). The Court holds, as a matter of law, that individual Defendants who coerced confessions reasonably should have known that such conduct would lead to the subsequent Fourth Amendment violations and resulting Fourteenth Amendment violations for deprivation of family companionship. However, apart from Plaintiffs conceptually distinct conspiracy allegations, the Court is unwilling to hold that Defendants should have anticipated the alleged conduct supporting the § 1983 claims for defamation, or for violation of the Sixth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause.

Now that the Court has delineated the scope of Plaintiffs' conspiracy and proximate cause theories, the remainder of this order addresses, in turn, each cause of action in the JFAC.

B. Plaintiffs' Federal Causes of Action

Defendants Phil Anderson, Mark Wrisley, and Ralph Claytor filed an answer to the JFAC in lieu of motions to dismiss. Therefore, except for claims that the Court dismisses against all Defendants, plaintiffs may maintain each alleged cause of action against these Defendants. In contrast, Defendants state no claims against Defendant Rick Bass. While Defendant Bass' name appears in the list of Defendants for the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh Claims for Relief, Plaintiffs do not make any allegations regarding conduct by Defendant Bass. The Court therefore dismisses all claims against Defendant Bass. The Court addresses the causes of action against the remaining Defendants below. To avoid confusion, the Court clearly states which causes of action may be asserted by which Plaintiffs against which Defendants.

(1) Fourth Amendment Claims

All Plaintiffs assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of the Fourth Amendment against Defendants Hoover, Blum, Wrisley, Sweeney, Claytor, McDonough, and Anderson. (JFAC at 32.) In addition to Defendants Anderson, Wrisley, and Claytor, Defendant Sweeney does not move to dismiss the Fourth Amendment claim. The Court addresses the motions of the remaining Defendants in turn.

Defendant Hoover asserts absolute "prosecutorial function" immunity from the Fourth Amendment claim. The Court has already considered and rejected this argument in its January 3 Order. (January 3 Order at 30-33.) That previous ruling is the law of the case, and the Court will not revisit the issue here.

Defendants Blum and McDonough seek dismissal of the Fourth Amendment claims against them because the JFAC does not allege that they participated in any illegal arrests or searches and seizures, only the coercion of confessions. Under the Court's analysis above, however, Plaintiffs may maintain their Fourth Amendment claims against Blum and McDonough based on conspiracy or proximate cause.

To summarize, Plaintiffs have stated § 1983 claims for violation of the Fourth Amendment against Defendants Hoover, Blum, Wrisley, Sweeney, Claytor, McDonough, and Anderson.

(2) Fifth Amendment Claims

Michael Crowe, Joshua Treadway, and Aaron Houser assert § 1983 claims for violation of the Fifth Amendment against Defendants Hoover, Blum, Wrisley, Sweeney, Claytor, McDonough, and Anderson. (JFAC at 35.) In addition to Anderson, Wrisley, and Claytor, Defendants Sweeney and McDonough do not move to dismiss the Fifth Amendment claim. The Court denies the motions by Hoover and Blum.

Hoover claims absolute immunity from plaintiffs' Fifth Amendment claim. The Court has already rejected this argument. (January 3 Order at 32-33.) Blum moves for summary judgment against Plaintiffs Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser on the basis of a self-serving declaration filed with his motion. Blum argues that the declaration "conclusively establishes that he did not participate in the interrogations of Joshua or Aaron." (Blum Mot. at 11.) The Court is unwilling to order summary judgment based only on Blum's declaration, particularly given the discovery stay and Plaintiffs' consequent inability to present facts in opposition. See Fed.R.Civ. p. 56(f). The purpose of this order is to establish what claims plaintiffs have stated and to move beyond the pleading stage. The Court reserves consideration of summary judgment motions for another day.

To summarize, the Court finds that Michael, Joshua, and Aaron have stated § 1983 claims for violation of the Fifth Amendment against Defendants Hoover, Blum, Wrisley, Sweeney, Claytor, McDonough, and Anderson.

(3) Sixth Amendment Claims

Michael Crowe, Joshua Treadway, and Aaron Houser assert § 1983 claims for violation of the Sixth Amendment against Defendants Hoover, Stephan, Blum, and Sweeney. Plaintiffs' Sixth Amendment claims rest on alleged public statements regarding their involvement in the murder of Stephanie Crowe. (JFAC at 37.) The Court holds that Plaintiffs cannot assert these claims against any Defendant because they have not alleged that Defendants' purported statements contributed to an unfair trial.

A Sixth Amendment claim based on tainting of the trial process through publicity must allege a causal link between the alleged statements and an actual deprivation of the right to a fair trial. See Powers v. McGuigan, 769 F.2d 72, 74 (2d Cir. 1985);Stevens v. Rifkin, 608 F. Supp. 710, 727 (N.D. Cal. 1984) (requiring allegations that "the defamatory statements deprived [plaintiffs] of their right to a fair and impartial trial") (emphasis added). Plaintiffs have cited no case law holding that Defendants can violate the Sixth Amendment by making statements that might, if plaintiffs are charged with a crime, affect their right to receive a fair trial. Rather, when a plaintiff faces only an uncertain possibility of criminal charges, a Sixth Amendment claim is not ripe for adjudication. See Kaylor v. Fields, 661 F.2d 1177, 1181 (8th Cir. 1981) ("[U]ntil [plaintiff] is subjected to a criminal trial, we can only speculate as to whether his Sixth Amendment right is being denied."). The Court therefore dismisses plaintiffs claims under the Sixth Amendment because the charges against Michael, Joshua, and Aaron were dropped prior to trial.

(4) OutrageouS Government Conduct

All plaintiffs assert a § 1983 claim for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment against Defendants Hoover, Stephan, Blum, Wrisley, Sweeney, Claytor, McDonough, and Anderson based on outrageous government misconduct that purportedly "shocks the conscience." (JFAC at 39.) In addition to Anderson, Wrisley, and Claytor, Defendant Sweeney does not move to dismiss this claim. With respect to the remaining Defendants, the Court holds that Plaintiffs may maintain their outrageous misconduct claims against Hoover, Blum, and McDonough to the extent based upon conduct distinct from that underlying the other constitutional claims.

The Court dismisses Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment outrageous misconduct claim against Defendant Stephan. The Court's January 3 Order sets forth the law on due process violations for conduct that "shocks the conscience," and the Court will not repeat that precedent here. (January 3 Order at 44-45.) Stephan is alleged to have made statements to the media regarding the investigation and prosecution of Michael, Joshua, and Aaron after the criminal charges were dismissed. The Court finds, as a matter of law, that this conduct falls short of the "shocks the conscience" standard.See Hammer v. Gross, 932 F.2d 842, 850 (9th Cir. 1991) (dismissing claims based on immunity because the alleged conduct did not "shock the conscience" as a matter of law).

Defendants Hoover, Blum, and McDonough are swept into the Fourteenth Amendment outrageous misconduct claim by Plaintiffs' conspiracy allegations. While Plaintiffs do not precisely specify the alleged conduct that "shocks the conscience," the Court holds that they may not base their claim on conduct underlying other alleged constitutional violations. See United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 272 n. 7 (1997) (finding that "if a constitutional claim is covered by a particular constitutional provision, such as the Fourth or Eighth Amendment, the claim must be analyzed under the standard appropriate to that specific provision, not under the rubric of substantive due process"). For example, because Plaintiffs assert Fourth and Fifth Amendment claims, they cannot base the government misconduct claim on the alleged coercion of confessions, illegal arrests, or overly intrusive searches and seizures.

The Court once again rejects Hoover's claim of immunity based on its January 3 Order. (January 3 Order at 34 n. 23.)

To summarize, the Court dismisses the Fourteenth Amendment claim based on government conduct that "shocks the conscience" against Defendant Stephan. The Court finds that Plaintiffs have stated such a claim against Defendants Hoover, Blum, Wrisley, Sweeney, Claytor, McDonough, and Anderson, but they must base the claim upon conduct different than that underlying Plaintiffs' other constitutional claims (e.g., displaying nude pictures of family members or drawing guns on family members in the police station).

(5) Deprivation of Companionship

All Plaintiffs assert § 1983 claims for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment right to parent-child companionship against Defendants Hoover, Blum, Wrisley, Sweeney, Claytor, McDonough, Anderson, and Stephan. (JFAC at 42.) In addition to Defendants Anderson, Wrisley, and Claytor, Defendant Sweeney does not move to dismiss this claim. The Court holds that certain Plaintiffs state a claim for deprivation of family companionship against all Defendants except Defendant Stephan.

The Court's January 3 Order instructed Plaintiffs to assert a claim for deprivation of companionship in the JFAC only if they could "provide authority for the proposition that the substantive due process right to companionship is violated by interferences that are less than permanent." (January 3 Order at 39.) In response, Plaintiffs filed with the JFAC a Joint Memorandum of Points and Authorities On Loss of the Right to Parent-Child Companionship, which argues that temporary deprivation of parent-child companionship is sufficient to state a Fourteenth Amendment claim. Plaintiffs rely heavily on the recent case ofOvando v. City of Los Angeles, 92 F. Supp.2d 1011 (C.D. Cal. 2000). The Ovando decision rests on several lines of substantive and procedural due process cases holding that temporary or partial interference with a constitutionally protected interest supports Fourteenth Amendment claim. See Ovando, 92 F. Supp. at 1017-21. The Court agrees with the analysis in Ovando, and holds that Plaintiffs may assert a Fourteenth Amendment claim for loss of companionship based on the temporary separation alleged in this case.

The Court stresses that not just any temporary separation of parent and child constitutes a deprivation of the right to companionship. Rather, the separation must be accomplished through some sort of wrongful or unconstitutional conduct by the government. See, e.g., Wallis v. Spencer, 202 F.3d 1126, 1138-41 (9th Cir. 2000) (holding that temporary separation of parent and child without "reasonable cause to believe that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury" violates the right to companionship). Whatever the precise nature of this requirement, Plaintiffs meet it in this matter by alleging that parent-child separation resulted from illegal arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

As the Court held in its January 3 Order, only parents and their children hold a right to companionship protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. (January 3 Order at 39.) The January 3 Order states that Plaintiffs "Shannon Crowe, Judith Kennedy, and Zachary Treadway lack standing to claim loss of companionship because the right does not extend to siblings and grandparents." (Id.) Plaintiffs offer no argument that grandparents and siblings may assert claims for deprivation of the right to companionship. The Court therefore holds that Shannon Crowe and Judith Kennedy do not state a Fourteenth Amendment claim for deprivation of companionship.

Zachary Treadway is not a Plaintiff in the JFAC.

The claim against Defendant Stephan cannot stand because her alleged conduct could not possibly have caused the deprivation of companionship. Stephan is alleged only to have made statements to the media after the criminal charges against Michael, Joshua, and Aaron had been dropped. (JFAC ¶¶ 102, 118.) Stephan is not sued as part of the conspiracy, which the Court has already held does not extend to alleged defamatory statements. There is consequently no basis in the JFAC to hold Defendant Stephan liable for the alleged deprivation of companionship.

To summarize, all Plaintiffs in the JFAC but Shannon Crowe and Judith Kennedy state § 1983 claims for deprivation of companionship under the Fourteenth Amendment against Defendants Hoover, Blum, Wrisley, Sweeney, Claytor, McDonough, and Anderson.

Hoover asserts absolute immunity from Plaintiffs' companionship claims. Again, the Court rejects this claim based on the law of the case. (January 3 Order at 30-33.)

Blum again moves for summary judgment based on his declaration. As noted above, the Court will not entertain summary judgment motions at this early stage.

(6) Defamation Under § 1983

Michael Crowe, Joshua Treadway, and Aaron Houser assert § 1983 claims for defamation against Defendants Hoover, Stephan, Blum, and Sweeney. (JFAC at 45.) Defendant Sweeney does not move to dismiss this claim. The Court holds that certain Plaintiffs state a claim for defamation under § 1983 against Defendants Hoover, Blum, and Stephan.

The Court's January 3 Order held that Plaintiffs could state § 1983 claims for defamation based on statements made "in connection with" a federally protected right, satisfied here by the alleged constitutional violations arising from the investigation of Michael, Joshua, and Aaron. (January 3 Order at 45-47.) The Court also admonished Plaintiffs that the JFAC should "plead [defamation] explicitly and specifically identify the alleged defamatory statements" made by each Defendant. (Id. at 47.) The Court now reviews Plaintiffs' attempt to meet these requirements.

The JFAC alleges that Defendant Hoover "said Aaron Houser was a `monster' and a `sociopath' and was mentally ill." (JFAC ¶ 102.) Because these are the only alleged statements by Hoover in the JFAC, only Aaron Houser states a § 1983 claim against Hoover for defamation.

Based on its January 3 Order, the Court rejects Hoover's claim of qualified immunity from the § 1983 claims for defamation. (January 3 Order at 33-34.)

With respect to Defendant Blum, the JFAC alleges an attempt to demonize Aaron Houser by calling him a "sociopath" and "Charles Manson with an IQ." (JFAC ¶ 106.) The JFAC attributes no other statements to Blum. For this reason, only Aaron Houser states a § 1983 claim for defamation against Defendant Blum.

In his motion to dismiss, Blum argues that Plaintiffs must support the § 1983 claim for defamation with allegations "showing how the defamatory statement deprived [Plaintiffs] of a fair trial." (Blum Mot. at 12.) Blum confuses defamation under § 1983 with violations of the Sixth Amendment. As discussed above, the former requires only defamation "in connection with" a federally protected right. (January 3 Order at 46.)

According to the JFAC, Defendant Stephan appeared on the television program "48 Hours" and made numerous statements about the murder of Stephanie Crowe that implicated and defamed Michael Crowe, Joshua Treadway, and Aaron Houser. (JFAC ¶ 102.) These allegations state a claim for defamation against Stephan on behalf of all three boys. In her motion to dismiss, Stephan argues that, because she allegedly made the statements several months after the criminal case was dismissed, the JFAC does not establish a sufficient connection between the statements and the alleged violations of federal rights. The Court rejects this argument. A § 1983 claim for defamation "in connection with" a federally protected right may rest upon allegations of statements made after the alleged federal violations. See Cooper v. Dupnik, 924 F.2d 1520, 1535 (9th Cir. 1991) (finding that statements made by defendant on the day of plaintiff's release were clearly made "in connection with" an allege illegal arrest because "it directly referred to this arrest"); see also Marrero v. City of Hialeah, 625 F.2d 499, 519 (5th Cir. 1980) (finding statements actionable under § 1983 because "the public surely perceived the defamatory statements . . . to be connected to the arrests and search and seizure"). The fact that Stephan's statements concerned the allegedly illegal investigation, interrogation, and arrest of Michael, Joshua, and Aaron is sufficient to make them actionable under § 1983.

To summarize, Aaron Houser states a § 1983 claim for defamation against Defendants Hoover, Blum, Stephan, and Sweeney. Michael Crowe and Joshua Treadway state defamation claims against only Stephan and Sweeney.

(7) 42 U.S.C. § 1985, 1986

All Plaintiffs assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 1986 for conspiracy to violate civil rights against Defendants Hoover, Stephan, Blum, Wrisley, Sweeney, Claytor, McDonough, and Anderson. (JFAC at 47.) The Court dismisses Plaintiffs' conspiracy claims against all Defendants because they have failed to allege that Defendants acted with class-based, invidious discrimination.

To state a claim under § 1985(3), Plaintiffs must allege that Defendants formed a conspiracy dedicated to class-based discrimination. See Stevens v. Rifkin, 608 F. Supp. 710, 720-21 (N.D. Cal. 1984) (citing Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88 (1971)). While the JFAC does not allege violation of a particular subsection of § 1985, Plaintiffs concede that they must meet the class-based discrimination requirement to state a claim. (Opp'n to Blum Mot. at 13.) Because they have not alleged discriminatory intent, they do not argue that the JFAC states a claim under §§ 1985 1986. (Opp'n to Blum Mot. at 13.)

Section 1986 imposes liability for failure to act to prevent a known violation of § 1985. See 42 U.S.C. § 1986;Zarim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dept., 839 F.2d 621, 626 (9th Cir. 1988). The viability of Plaintiffs § 1986 claim thus depends entirely on the claim under § 1985.

Plaintiffs claim, instead, that they "can prove conspiracy without reference to" §§ 1985 1986. (Id.) While that may be true, such a conspiracy is not a separate cause of action. As Judge Posner wrote in Jones v. City of Chicago, 856 F.2d 985, 992 (7th Cir. 1988) which Plaintiffs themselves cite: "In a [§ 1983] tort case such as this . . ., the function of conspiracy doctrine is merely to yoke particular individuals to specific torts charged in the complaint." The Court has already found that Plaintiffs may "yoke" Defendants Claytor, Hoover, McDonough, Blum, Sweeney, and Wrisley to particular causes of action through application of conspiracy doctrine. The alleged conspiracy does not, however, constitute a separate cause of action. The Court therefore dismisses Plaintiffs Seventh Claim for Relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 1986 against all Defendants.

(8) Municipal Policy Claims

All plaintiffs assert § 1983 claims against the Cities of Escondido and Oceanside based on municipal policies that allegedly lead to violations of Plaintiffs "rights guaranteed by [the] Constitution of the United States of America." (JFAC at 52.) In support of its motion to dismiss, Escondido argues (1) that Plaintiffs fail to allege the existence of a policy with adequate specificity and (2) even assuming that Plaintiffs state a policy, that policy, as alleged, states a claim only for violation of the Fifth Amendment. Defendant City of Oceanside joins in Escondido's motion. The Court finds that Plaintiffs state a § 1983 claim against Escondido and Oceanside only for violation of the Fifth Amendment.

The Court's January 3 Order sets forth the applicable precedent regarding the pleading standard that Plaintiffs must meet to state a claim based on a municipal policy. (January 3 Order at 19-20.) Under this precedent, the Court holds that the JFAC pleads municipal policies against Escondido and Oceanside with adequate specificity. Plaintiffs identify an unwritten policy, resulting from training and promulgated by the cities' chiefs of police, to coerce involuntary confessions. (JFAC ¶ 121.) They describe the particular conduct encompassed by the policy and assert circumstantial evidence that the policy actually exists, including Oceanside's alleged failure to discipline Defendant McDonough for coercing a confession in another case. {JFAC ¶¶ 121, 126, 127.) Such allegations are certainly enough to state a claim, permitting Plaintiffs the opportunity to seek discovery that may confirm or lead to modification of the alleged policy.

While Plaintiffs state a policy with enough specificity, their allegations narrowly describe a policy confined to coercion of confessions in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Escondido points out this limitation on Plaintiffs' pleadings in its motion to dismiss. (Escondido Mot. at 5.) Nonetheless, Plaintiffs argue that they may assert all federal causes of action against the municipal Defendants arising front their "setting in motion a series of acts by others which the actor knows or reasonably should know would cause others to inflict the constitutional injury." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743-44 (9th Cir. 1978) The Court finds that this proximate cause doctrine does not apply to policy claims against municipalities under Monell v. New York City Dept. of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).

Monell established that a municipality does not "cause" a constitutional violation giving rise to a § 1983 claim unless it establishes a policy that is the "moving force" behind the violation. See Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 818-20 (1985). "At the very least there must be an affirmative link between the policy and the particular constitutional violation alleged." Id. at 823. Due to this limitation on municipal liability, plaintiffs may not assert claims based on the actions of employees not taken pursuant to an alleged municipal policy: "Where a plaintiff claims that the municipality has not directly inflicted an injury, but nonetheless has caused an employee to do so, rigorous standards of culpability and causation must be applied to ensure that the municipality is not held liable solely for the actions of its employee." Board of the County Comm'rs of Bryan County, Okla., v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 405 (1997).

The alleged policies of Escondido and Oceanside are limited to Fifth Amendment violations. The JFAC does not allege that any additional violation underlying a § 1983 claim occurred pursuant to some directive or order from an official municipal policy maker. Rather, Plaintiffs allege that individual Defendants acted in concert with each other to commit most of the remaining federal violations. To hold Escondido or Oceanside liable for those violations would violate the limitations on municipal liability established by Monell. Therefore, Plaintiffs may only assert § 1983 claims for violation of the Fifth Amendment against Escondido and Oceanside. Moreover, because only Michael Crowe, Joshua Treadway, and Aaron Houser assert Fifth Amendment claims in the JFAC, only those three Plaintiffs may assert Fifth Amendment claims against Escondido and Oceanside.

The Court's January 3 Order holds that the Crowe, Treadway, and Houser family members lack standing to assert Fifth Amendment claims. (January 3 Order at 43.)

III. Conclusion

Plaintiffs may continue to assert their federal causes of action only as set forth above. Plaintiffs may not amend the JFAC. Because the issue of Defendants' immunity has been resolved, the Court will permit discovery commencing thirty days from the filing of this order. If any party seeks to enjoin such discovery, they may bring a motion prior to that date.

The Court is aware that the San Diego County Sheriff's Department has taken control of the continuing criminal investigation. As a result, the Court may be receptive to a motion to intervene and stay discovery by the Sheriff's Department based on the "official information" privilege for ongoing investigations. See Youngblood v. Gates, 112 F.R.D. 342, 345 (C.D. Cal. 1985). Nonetheless, the parties should read no implication as to how the Court would rule on such a motion. Barring a successful motion to stay, discovery will commence thirty days from the date of this order.


Summaries of

Crowe, Houser, Treadway v. Co. of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California
Jul 26, 2000
CIVIL NO. 99-0241-R (RBB), CIVIL NO. 99-0283-R, CIVIL NO. 99-0253-R (S.D. Cal. Jul. 26, 2000)
Case details for

Crowe, Houser, Treadway v. Co. of San Diego

Case Details

Full title:STEPHEN CROWE, ET AL., Plaintiffs, v. COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO, ET AL.…

Court:United States District Court, S.D. California

Date published: Jul 26, 2000

Citations

CIVIL NO. 99-0241-R (RBB), CIVIL NO. 99-0283-R, CIVIL NO. 99-0253-R (S.D. Cal. Jul. 26, 2000)