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Estate of Jones v. City of Spokane

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

February 1, 2017

ESTATE OF DANNY CECIL JONES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF SPOKANE, FRANK STRAUB, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          JUSTIN L. QUACKENBUSH SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendant City of Spokane's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 15). Response and Reply briefs have been filed and the Motion was submitted without oral argument.

         I. Introduction and Background

         This action was filed in state court on August 19, 2016, and removed to this court on September 16, 2016. The Complaint alleges Danny Jones was shot and killed by City of Spokane police officers on August 22, 2013. The Complaint is brought by his wife, surviving children, and his parents. Plaintiffs allege Danny Jones was in his vehicle, stopped in a parking lot, and surrounded by several police vehicles when officers "opened fire." (Complaint ¶ 27). Plaintiffs allege Danny Jones was unarmed and did not pose a threat to officers. Plaintiffs assert several claims, including: 1) excessive force in violation of Constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983; 2) Monell liability against the City and Chief Straub under 42 U.S.C. 1983; 3) denial of Due Process; 4) wrongful death; and 5) negligence.

         Defendant City of Spokane ("City") argues Plaintiffs' claims against the City "are formulaic Monell and negligence allegations" and should be dismissed. (ECF No. 15, p. 2). Plaintiffs respond the Complaint complies with the notice pleading requirement of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) and request the Motion be denied. Alternatively, Plaintiffs request leave to amend.

         II. Standard of Review

         The City brings its Motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). "Analysis under Rule 12(c) is substantially identical to analysis under Rule 12(b)(6) because, under both rules, a court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint, taken as true, entitle plaintiff to a legal remedy." Pit River Tribe v. Bureau of Land Management, 793 F.3d 1147, 1155 (9th Cir. 2015). The Ninth Circuit has found the plausibility standard of Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), applies to Rule 12(c) motions. See Harris v. County of Orange, 682 F.3d 1126, 1131 (9th Cir. 2012). "The court may find a claim plausible when a plaintiff pleads sufficient facts to allow the court to draw a reasonable inference of misconduct, but the court is not required to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Id.

         III. Discussion

         Municipalities are not liable under 42 U.S.C. 1983 under a theory of respondeat superior liability. A city may be liable if the Constitutional violation is the result of a governmental policy, practice, or custom. Monell v. Dept of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). "In order to establish liability for governmental entities under Monell, a plaintiff must prove: 1) that the plaintiff possessed a constitutional right of which he was deprived; 2) the municipality had a policy; 3) this policy amounts to deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's constitutional rights; and 4) the policy is the moving force behind the constitutional violation." Dougherty v. City of Covina, 654 F.3d 892, 900 (9th Cir. 2011). Defendants argue the Complaint does not contain sufficient facts for a Monell claim. In addition to the background factual allegations, the Complaint contains the following allegations concerning the City:

- The officers acted in accordance with an established policy of the Spokane Police Department to not utilize or engage in adequate de-escalation and non-lethal tactics prior to using lethal force (Complaint ¶ 37);
- The officers acted in accordance with a City policy to use lethal force against citizens who demonstrate erratic or unusual behavior, even if those citizens do not pose an imminent threat (Id. at ¶ 38);
-The City failed to provide adequate training to Officer Lesser and others concerning the use of force against mentally disturbed or distraught individuals (Id. at ¶ 39);
- The City ratified the actions of the officers in causing the death of Danny Jones by determining such actions were consistent with policies and procedures of the City (Id. at ¶40); and
- The City's failure to adequately investigate prior deadly force incidents and discipline the officers involved, established a de facto policy of permitting the ...

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