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Chen v. D'amico

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

March 27, 2018

SUSAN CHEN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NATALIE D'AMICO, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS

          JAMES L. ROBART UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I.INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is Defendants City of Redmond (“the City”), Redmond Police Department (“RPD”), RPD Officer Natalie D'Amico, former RPD Chief Ron Gibson, and former RPD Assistant Chief Kristi Wilson's (collectively, “City Defendants”) motion to dismiss certain claims. (MTD (Dkt. # 79).)[1] Plaintiffs Susan (Shiying) Chen, Naixiang (Nash) Lian, J.L, and L.L. (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed a response (Resp. (Dkt. # 81)), City Defendants filed a reply (Reply (Dkt. # 82)), and Plaintiffs filed a notice of supplemental authority (Notice (Dkt. # 84)). The court has considered the parties' submissions in support of and in opposition to the motion, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [2] the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part City Defendants' motion to dismiss with leave to amend as described herein.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Chen and Mr. Lian are the parents of J.L. and L.L. (SAC ¶¶ 3-6.) J.L. was born in 2008, and L.L. was born in 2010. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.) In 2012, J.L. was diagnosed with gastrointestinal (“GI”) problems and Autism Spectrum Disorder. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) From September 2012 to October 2013, Plaintiffs took J.L. to a number of clinics at Seattle Children's Hospital (“SCH”), as well as a naturopath, to address his GI issues. (Id. ¶¶ 27-33.)

         On or about October 19, 2013, J.L. suffered significant GI problems. (Id. ¶ 34.) Ms. Chen and Mr. Lian took J.L. to a number of clinics to have blood work done because of creatinine levels in his blood that could harm his kidneys. (Id. ¶¶ 34-36.) The first two clinics Plaintiffs went to refused to perform blood work. (Id.) SCH Urgent Care Clinic, the third location Plaintiffs visited, agreed to perform the blood work and inform Plaintiffs of any abnormal results. (Id. ¶ 36.)

         The next day, Ms. Chen took J.L. back to SCH Urgent Care Clinic because his condition had not improved. (Id. ¶ 38.) Upon returning to the clinic, Ms. Chen learned that J.L.'s blood work from the previous day revealed dangerously high creatinine levels. (Id.) The clinic recommended that Ms. Chen take J.L. to the emergency room (“ER”). (Id.) The clinic had not notified Ms. Chen about the blood work results before she brought J.L. back the following day. (Id.)

         Based on the clinic's recommendation, Ms. Chen and Mr. Lian took J.L. to the emergency room at SCH. (Id.) Medical staff supervised J.L.'s condition for several hours and discharged him later that night. (Id. ¶ 39.) They advised Ms. Chen and Mr. Lian to follow up with Dr. Halamay-who was not J.L.'s typical primary care doctor-in one to three days. (Id.)

         After their visit to the ER at SCH, Ms. Chen took J.L. to see Dr. Halamay on October 23, 2013. (Id. ¶ 41.) Dr. Halamay “took the positon that Ms. Chen should take J.L. to the SCH emergency department for admission” based on an inaccurate belief that Mr. Chen and Mr. Lian had not already taken J.L. to the ER just a few days before. (Id.) Plaintiffs contend that “[a]fter Ms. Chen expressed her dissatisfaction with Dr. Halamay's treatment of her and J.L.” and left a complaint about the treatment with the receptionist, Dr. Halamay referred J.L's case to DSHS's Child Protective Services (“CPS”). (Id.)

         CPS visited Plaintiffs' home on October 23, 2013, to investigate Dr. Halamay's allegation. (Id. ¶ 43.) The CPS social worker convinced Ms. Chen and Mr. Lian to take J.L. to SCH, where he was found to be malnourished and subsequently placed into protective custody. (Id. ¶¶ 43-44.) On October 24, 2013, Officer D'Amico and an unidentified RPD officer searched Ms. Chen and Mr. Lian's apartment without a warrant or an interpreter. (Id. ¶ 46.) RPD then removed L.L. from Ms. Chen and Mr. Lian's custody.[3] (Id. ¶¶ 48-49.)

         Soon after the children's removal, Officer D'Amico led an investigation into possible child neglect by Ms. Chen. (Id. ¶ 59.) On December 9, 2013, Officer D'Amico signed a probable cause affidavit to file criminal charges against Ms. Chen. (Id. ¶ 65.) Plaintiffs allege that the affidavit, made upon Officer D'Amico's knowledge, contained untrue statements and omitted exculpatory information. (Id. ¶¶ 66-72.) On December 13, 2013, Officer D'Amico sent her investigation report and probable cause affidavit to the King County Prosecuting Attorney, whose office filed a criminal information against Ms. Chen on January 31, 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 85-86.) In early 2014, Ms. Chen was arraigned, imprisoned for one day, and released without bail.[4] (Id. ¶ 87.) Mr. Lian was not charged with any crime arising from the alleged neglect. (See Id. ¶ 21.) On September 19, 2014, the Prosecuting Attorney's office dropped the charges against Ms. Chen. (Id. ¶ 88.)

         Plaintiffs allege various constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and violations of Washington State law by City Defendants and unnamed John Does A-D; Defendant Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (“DSHS”); and 10 named and unnamed DSHS employees.[5] (SAC ¶¶ 7-20.) Relevant to City Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Plaintiffs assert the following constitutional claims: (1) violation of Ms. Chen's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights due to her arrest and prosecution without probable cause (id. ¶¶ 110-11); (2) violation of Ms. Chen's Fourteenth Amendment due process right based on Officer D'Amico's failure “to use an interpreter to obtain reliable and accurate testimony from Ms. Chen” (id. ¶ 112); (3) violation of Ms. Chen's right to equal protection of the law due to selective prosecution and failure to provide Ms. Chen “an opportunity to provide exculpatory testimony obtained without an interpreter” (id. ¶¶ 114-15); and (4) violation of J.L.'s Fourteenth Amendment due process rights (id. ¶ 113). Plaintiffs also bring claims against the City and RPD for those same constitutional violations pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); claims of supervisory liability against Chief Gibson and Assistant Chief Wilson based on their roles in the constitutional violations; and a claim of malicious prosecution against Officer D'Amico, Chief Gibson, and Assistant Chief Wilson. (Id. ¶¶ 119-41, 187-209.) The court now addresses City Defendants' motion to dismiss. (See MTD.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard

         Rule 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Although a plaintiff does not have to make “detailed factual allegations, ” a complaint must include “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In other words, a complaint must include sufficient factual allegations to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Under Rule 12(b)(6), the court can dismiss a complaint based on “the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Livid Holdings Ltd. v. Salomon Smith Barney, Inc., 416 F.3d 940, 946 (9th Cir. 2005), and accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, Wyler Summit P'ship v. Turner Broad. Sys., Inc., 135 F.3d 658, 661 (9th Cir. 1998).

         B. The Motion to Dismiss

         City Defendants first argue for dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims against the City for failure to adequately allege municipal liability. (MTD at 6-9.) They further contend that leave to amend those claims would be futile because Plaintiffs cannot plead the underlying constitutional violations. (Id. at 9-13.) City Defendants then argue that (1) qualified immunity bars Plaintiffs' Section 1983 claims against Officer D'Amico, Chief Gibson, and Assistant Chief Wilson; (2) the applicable statute of limitations bars those same claims against Chief Gibson and Assistant Chief Wilson; and (3) Plaintiffs fail to adequately plead a claim of supervisory liability against Chief Gibson and Assistant Chief Wilson.[6] The court addresses the claims against the City first, followed by the claims against the officers.

         1. Municipal Liability

         Defendants contend that Plaintiffs fail to plead municipal liability for their Section 1983 claims because the complaint lacks sufficient detail regarding a City policy causing the constitutional violations. (MTD at 7.) Plaintiffs claim that the City is responsible for Officer D'Amico's alleged constitutional violations because the City failed to (1) adopt and implement policies (SAC ¶ 122-23), and (2) train or supervise RPD officers to ensure constitutional practices (id. ¶ 124). Plaintiffs assert that the City failed to adopt or implement policies and to train and supervise regarding (1) preparing “probable cause affidavits that do not contain material falsehoods or omissions”; (2) accounting for “exculpatory evidence in order to refrain from prosecuting persons without probable cause”; (3) not targeting “persons for investigation and prosecution on the basis of gender or national origin or ethnicity”; (4) not using “unreliable testimony obtained from witnesses who are not English proficient for use in prosecution unless there was a qualified interpreter present at the interrogation”; and (5) providing “prosecutors with exculpatory information to terminate criminal and/or dependency proceedings in order to halt prosecutions not founded upon probable cause.” (Id. ¶¶ 122-24.) In response to City Defendants' motion, Plaintiffs argue that their complaint adequately pleads both that the City's actions and inactions led to the constitutional violations asserted. (Resp. at 5.) The court addresses both theories of municipal liability, as well as City Defendants' contentions regarding leave to amend these claims.

         a. Policy, Custom, or Practice

         To state a claim against a municipality under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege facts supporting the reasonable inference that a municipality adopted a policy, custom, or practice that amounted to deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's constitutional right and resulted in a deprivation of the constitutional right. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 691-92; see also Plumeau v. Sch. Dist. No. 40 Cty. of Yamhill, 130 F.3d 432, 438 (9th Cir. 1997). A plaintiff can plead a policy by supplying sufficient facts demonstrating that the municipality (1) adopted an official policy or had an established custom that led to the constitutional violation, (2) failed to act in a way that amounts to a policy of deliberate indifference to constitutional rights, or (3) that an official with final policy-making authority committed the constitutional violation or ratified a subordinate's violation. See Clouthier v. Cty. of Contra Costa, 591 F.3d 1232, 1249 (9th Cir. 2010), overruled on other grounds by Castro v. Cty. of L.A., 833 F.3d 1060 (9th Cir. 2016). A plaintiff's allegations “may not simply recite the elements” of municipal liability and instead must “put forth additional facts regarding the specific nature” of the alleged policy and its relationship to the alleged constitutional violation. AE ex rel. Hernandez v. Cty. of Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 637 (9th Cir. 2012).

         Under that standard, Plaintiffs fail to sufficiently allege facts from which the court can reasonably infer a municipal policy, custom, or practice. (See generally SAC.) Their complaint alleges only that “customs, longstanding practices, and official policies caused the deprivation of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights.” (Id. ¶ 125.) That formulaic recitation falls far short of the pleading standard. See AE ex rel. Hernandez, 666 F.3d at 637; Ahmed v. City of Antioch, Cal., No. 16-cv-01693-HSG, 2016 WL 8729938, at *5 (N.D. Cal. July 1, 2016) (dismissing a Monell claim where the complaint did nothing more than use “key buzzwords such as ‘conformity, ' ‘customs, ' ‘policies, ' and ‘practices'”); Alston v. Tassone, No. CIV S-11-2078 JAM GGH PS, 2012 WL 2377015, at *8 (E.D. Cal. June 22, 2002) (stating that a Monell claim “must consist of more than mere formulaic recitations of the existence of unlawful policy customs or habits”). Thus, Plaintiffs fail to state a claim based on this theory of municipal liability.

         b. ...


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