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Parrott v. City of Bellingham

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

July 31, 2017

THE CITY OF BELLINGHAM, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on “Defendants' Rule 12(c) Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings.” Dkt. # 7. Plaintiff alleges that he called 911 to report that his daughter had assaulted him, but when the police officers responded, they heard conflicting stories regarding who was the aggressor and decided to place plaintiff under arrest. Plaintiff was instructed to put his hands behind his back but “told the officer that he could not do that, ” that “it was painful to put his arms together behind his back, ” and that he had “preexisting injuries to his right arm and his right wrist.” Dkt. # 1 at ¶¶ 39-40 and ¶ 42. Plaintiff's wife, who was also at the scene, asked the officers to be gentle because of plaintiff's preexisting injuries. Dkt. # 1 at ¶ 41. Plaintiff asked if he could be handcuffed with his arms in front of him, but the officers insisted that he bring his arms behind his back and put his hands together. Dkt. # 1 at ¶ 43. Plaintiff put his arms back, but could not bring them together. One officer held plaintiff while the other “wrenched his left arm violently, causing extreme pain, and, as Parrot later discovered, serious injury.” Dkt. # 1 at ¶¶ 44-45. Plaintiff alleges that he had previously suffered injuries to his right shoulder, right arm, and right wrist and that the defendant officers tore the rotator cuff in his left shoulder when they forced his hands together for handcuffing. Dkt. # 1 at ¶¶ 41 and 56. Plaintiff has asserted excessive force, assault and battery, and negligence claims against the officers and/or their municipal employer based on these allegations. Plaintiff also alleges that defendants violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Washington Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”) by failing to reasonably accommodate his disability during the arrest. Defendants seek dismissal of all claims except the federal excessive force claim against defendant Jacob Esparza.

         The question for the Court on a motion to dismiss is whether the facts alleged in the complaint sufficiently state a “plausible” ground for relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Plausibility requires pleading facts, as opposed to conclusory allegations or the formulaic recitation of elements of a cause of action, and must rise above the mere conceivability or possibility of unlawful conduct that entitles the pleader to relief. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief. Nor is it enough that the complaint is factually neutral; rather, it must be factually suggestive.

Somers v. Apple, Inc., 729 F.3d 953, 959-60 (9th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). All well-pleaded factual allegations are presumed to be true, with all reasonable inferences drawn in favor of the non-moving party. In re Fitness Holdings Int'l, Inc., 714 F.3d 1141, 1144-45 (9th Cir. 2013). If the complaint fails to state a cognizable legal theory or fails to provide sufficient facts to support a claim, dismissal is appropriate. Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc., 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010).

         Having reviewed the complaint and the memoranda submitted by the parties, the Court finds as follows:

         A. State Law Immunity

         Defendants argue that all of plaintiff's state law claims - assault and battery, negligence, and violations of the WLAD - are barred because the officers are statutorily immune from liability for any acts or omissions occurring during a domestic violence arrest. RCW 10.99.070 provides:

A peace officer shall not be held liable in any civil action for an arrest based on probable cause, enforcement in good faith of a court order, or any other action or omission in good faith under this chapter arising from an alleged incident of domestic violence brought by any party to the incident.

         The immunity applies to all conduct occurring in the course of a domestic violence arrest or other on-the-scene actions and protects both the officers and the municipal employer. Roy v. City of Everett, 118 Wn.2d, 352, 357-58 (1992). Courts interpreting the “good faith” requirement under RCW 10.99.070 have held that it is essentially the same as the qualified immunity analysis under federal law. Wuerfel v. City of Seattle, C03-3660JLR, 2006 WL 27207, at *11 (W.D. Wash. Jan. 5, 2006); Estate of Lee ex rel. Lee v. City of Spokane, 101 Wn.App. 158, 177 (2000). Thus, the issue is whether the officers could have believed their conduct was lawful in light of clearly established law. Defendants, having chosen not to seek dismissal of plaintiff's underlying excessive force claim, have not attempted to make that showing.[1]

         B. Negligence

         Plaintiff alleges that, by forcing his arms together despite knowledge of plaintiff's injury, the officers failed to use reasonable care and tore his rotator cuff. Defendants argue that this claim is barred by the public duty doctrine because the duty to avoid the use of excessive force is owed to all citizens, not to plaintiff in particular. The public duty doctrine recognizes that an essential element of a negligence claim is a duty owed by the defendant to the individual plaintiff. Meaney v. Dodd, 111 Wn.2d 174, 178 (1988). Although the officers in this case clearly owed a duty of reasonable care to the public, plaintiff argues that the legislative intent exception to the public duty doctrine applies. See Cummins v. Lewis County, 156 Wn.2d 844, 852 (2006).

         The legislative intent exception gives rise to a duty to plaintiff if the legislature has enacted legislation for the protection of persons in plaintiff's class. Taylor v. Stevens County, 111 Wn.2d 159, 164 (1988). Plaintiff relies on the ADA and the WLAD, arguing that both statutes identify specific classes of people who are protected under the law, including persons with physical disabilities. As was the case in Washburn v. City of Fed. Way, 178 Wn.2d 732, 755-56 (2013), the legislature's stated intent to protect a certain group of persons who were the subject of wrongful acts - harassment in Washburn, discrimination here - gives rise to a duty under the legislative intent exception. The public duty doctrine does not bar plaintiff's negligence claim.

         Defendants further argue that, because the WLAD and the ADA provide private causes of action to enforce their protections, plaintiff must satisfy the elements of his statutory claims and cannot supplant or short-cut the analysis by pursuing a negligence claim based on the statutory duty. In the context of emotional distress claims, the courts of Washington generally agree that a plaintiff may not maintain a separate and duplicative tort claim based on the same facts giving rise to a WLAD claim. Santos v. Wash. State Office of Ins. Comm'r, 177 Wn.App. 1030, 2013 WL 6046091, at *15 (2013). While it certainly makes sense that a plaintiff should be precluded from bringing a duplicative and more general tort ...

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