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Lawrence v. Castro

United States District Court, D. Nevada

April 24, 2018

JOHNNY MADRID LAWRENCE, Plaintiff,
v.
J. CASTRO et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          ROBERT C. JONES United States District Judge.

         This case arises out of an altercation over a vehicle parked on a public plaza. Pending before the Court is a motion to dismiss.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 26, 2017, Plaintiff Johnny Lawrence parked his car in front of the “BELIEVE” sign on the public plaza in downtown Reno, Nevada in order to photograph it there. (See Compl. 3, ECF No. 1). Plaintiff is a disabled veteran and argues he is therefore permitted to park his vehicle anywhere, despite the “posted permit parking only” sign at the entrance to the plaza. (Id.). Defendant Officers Castro, Meadows, Christensen, and Wamre approached Plaintiff, cited him, and told him he had five minutes to leave. (Id.). Plaintiff told Officer Castro he had to air up the suspension in his car and moved to the back of his car to do so, when Officer Castro “shoved [him] into the back of my vehicle.” (Id.).

         Plaintiff has sued Officer Castro in this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force. He has sued the other officers at the scene for failure to protect him, and he has sued Chief Jason Soto for failure to train the other Defendants. Defendants have moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” in order to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the complaint's sufficiency, see N. Star Int'l v. Ariz. Corp. Comm'n, 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983), and dismissal is appropriate only when the complaint does not give the defendant fair notice of a legally cognizable claim and the grounds on which it rests. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         A court treats factual allegations as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, NL Indus., Inc. v. Kaplan, 792 F.2d 896, 898 (9th Cir. 1986), but does not accept as true “legal conclusions . . . cast in the form of factual allegations.” Paulsen v. CNF Inc., 559 F.3d 1061, 1071 (9th Cir. 2009). A plaintiff must plead facts pertaining to his case making a violation “plausible, ” not just “possible.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-79 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”). That is, a plaintiff must not only specify or imply a cognizable legal theory (Conley review), he must also allege the facts of his case so that the court can determine whether he has any basis for relief under the legal theory he has specified or implied, assuming the facts are as he alleges (Twombly-Iqbal review).

         “Generally, a district court may not consider any material beyond the pleadings in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. However, material which is properly submitted as part of the complaint may be considered on a motion to dismiss.” Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). Similarly, “documents whose contents are alleged in a complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss” without converting the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Branch v. Tunnell, 14 F.3d 449, 454 (9th Cir. 1994). Also, under Federal Rule of Evidence 201, a court may take judicial notice of “matters of public record” if not “subject to reasonable dispute.” United States v. Corinthian Colls., 655 F.3d 984, 999 (9th Cir. 2011). Otherwise, if the district court considers materials outside of the pleadings, the motion to dismiss is converted into a motion for summary judgment. See Arpin v. Santa Clara Valley Transp. Agency, 261 F.3d 912, 925 (9th Cir. 2001).

         III. ANALYSIS

         To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated; and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). The constitutional reasonableness of a seizure is examined under a totality-of-the-circumstances:

Determining whether the force used to effect a particular seizure is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment requires a careful balancing of “‘the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests'” against the countervailing governmental interests at stake. Our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it. Because “[t]he test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application, ” however, its proper application requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.
The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. . . . With respect to a claim of excessive force, the same standard of reasonableness at the moment applies: “Not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge's chambers, ” violates the Fourth Amendment. The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second ...

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