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Saade v. The State of Washington Department of Health

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

September 17, 2019

CHRISTOPHER RYAN SAADE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE STATE OF WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, TIMOTHY J. FENIMORE, individually and in his official capacity as an agent of the DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, THE CITY OF BELLEVUE, a Washington municipal corporation, ELLEN M. INMAN, individually and in her official capacity as an officer of the CITY OF BELLEVUE POLICE DEPARTMENT, RACHEL M. NEFF, individually and in her official capacity as an officer of the CITY OF BELLEVUE POLICE DEPARTMENT, and DOES 1-10, jointly and severally, Defendants.

          ORDER

          THOMAS S. ZILLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Bellevue Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, docket no. 8, brought by Defendants City of Bellevue, Ellen M. Inman, and Rachel M. Neff and the State Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) and (12)(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss, docket no. 9, brought by the State of Washington Department of Health and Timothy J. Fenimore. Having reviewed all papers filed in support of and in opposition to the motions, the Court enters the following order.

         Background

         Plaintiff Christopher Ryan Saade (“Saade”) alleges that an agent of the State of Washington Department of Health (“DOH”) and officers of the City of Bellevue violated his civil rights in conjunction with ongoing parallel agency and criminal investigations. As a result, Saade has sued the Defendants alleging various federal and state law claims.

         In 2016, Saade was employed by Bellevue Medical Imaging as a radiologic technician. Complaint, docket no. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶ 19. In March 2016, Bellevue Medical Imaging filed a complaint with DOH after one of Saade’s former patients called to report concerns regarding an incident in which Saade took x-ray images of her back. Id. ¶ 20. DOH assigned Timothy J. Fenimore (“Fenimore”) to investigate the complaint against Saade. Id. ¶ 21. Fenimore emailed Saade to inform him that a complaint for unprofessional conduct and sexual misconduct had been filed against him. Id. Shortly afterwards, the patient also filed a complaint with the Bellevue Police Department, and the case was assigned to Detective Ellen M. Inman (“Inman”). Id. ¶ 23.

         Inman and Fenimore subsequently agreed to “work together on the investigation.” Id. ¶¶ 25-26. Without notifying Saade of the City of Bellevue’s parallel criminal investigation, Fenimore set up an interview with Saade, stating that he “would be subpoenaed if he would not agree to appear voluntarily.” Id. ¶ 28. When Saade appeared for his interview at the DOH office in April 2016, Fenimore, as well as both Inman and Officer Rachel M. Neff (“Neff”), were present. Id. ¶¶ 35-36.

         Inman and Neff conducted the interview, giving the following preliminary instructions: “I know they have bathrooms and other vending machines if you need a drink or anything like that. All right. So the reason that you’re-I know you’ve been notified by the Department of Health that there was a complaint filed.” Id. ¶¶ 36-37. Inman and Neff did not inform Saade that there was an ongoing parallel criminal investigation. Id. ¶ 32. The interview lasted two hours and twenty minutes. Id. ¶ 38. Neff later testified that Saade was subject to a “criminal interrogation” during the interview. Id. ¶ 36. At the conclusion of the interview, Saade was informed of the City of Bellevue’s ongoing parallel criminal investigation for the first time. Id. ¶ 38. Fenimore also sent Saade a “Letter of Cooperation, ” stating that Saade was only obligated to provide written responses to materials as part of the DOH investigation rather than appear for an in-person interview. Id. ¶ 30. All Defendants now move to dismiss Saade’s complaint.

         Discussion

         Although a complaint challenged by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss need not provide detailed factual allegations, it must offer “more than labels and conclusions” and contain more than a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The complaint must indicate more than mere speculation of a right to relief. Id. When a complaint fails to adequately state a claim, such deficiency should be “exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money by the parties and the court.” Id. at 558. A complaint may be lacking for one of two reasons: (i) absence of a cognizable legal theory, or (ii) insufficient facts under a cognizable legal claim. Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must assume the truth of the plaintiff’s allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor. Usher v. City of Los Angeles, 828 F.2d 556, 561 (9th Cir. 1987). The question for the Court is whether the facts in the complaint sufficiently state a “plausible” ground for relief. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. If the Court dismisses the complaint or portions thereof, it must consider whether to grant leave to amend. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000).

         In a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, defendants present a facial, rather than a factual, jurisdictional challenge. A facial attack asserts that the allegations of the complaint are insufficient on their face to invoke federal jurisdiction, while a factual challenge disputes the truth of the allegations in the complaint that would otherwise support subject-matter jurisdiction. See Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2004). With respect to a facial challenge under Rule 12(b)(1), a plaintiff is entitled to the same safeguards that apply to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. See Friends of Roeding Park v. City of Fresno, 848 F.Supp.2d 1152, 1159 (E.D. Cal. 2012). The allegations of the complaint are presumed to be true, and the Court may not consider matters outside the pleading without converting the motion into one for summary judgment. See White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 2000).

         A. Count I: Defendants’ motions to dismiss Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim are DENIED in part, GRANTED in part, and DEFERRED in part.

         (1) State Defendants [1]

         Saade’s Fourth Amendment claim pursuant to Section 1983 against DOH and Fenimore in his official capacity is DISMISSED with prejudice. Neither state agencies nor state officials acting in their official capacities[2] are persons within the meaning of Section 1983. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).

         The Court DEFERS ruling on Saade’s Fourth Amendment claim against Defendant Fenimore in his individual capacity.

         (2) Bellevue Defendants

         Whether the Bellevue Defendants violated Saade’s Fourth Amendment right involves genuine issues of material fact.

         The Fourth Amendment protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. Amend. IV. A person is “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when a police officer, “by means of physical force or show of authority, terminates or restrains his freedom of movement, through means intentionally applied.” Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 254 (2007). A “seizure” occurs when a reasonable person would not feel free to leave. United States v. Al Nasser, 555 F.3d 722, 728 (9th Cir. 2009). “Examples of circumstances that might indicate a seizure, even where the person did not attempt to leave, would be the threatening presence of several officers . . . or the use of language or tone of voice indicating compliance with the officer's request might be compelled.” United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980).

         Police are entitled to invite witnesses, including suspects, to interviews for questioning. The question is thus whether, “taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business.” U.S. v. Washington, 387 F.3d 1060, 1068 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 437 (1991)).

         Here, two law enforcement officers and a DOH agent interviewed Saade in a conference room for two hours and twenty minutes. Compl. ¶¶ 35-38. Prior to his arrival at the DOH office, Saade did not know that the law enforcement officers would also be at the interview. Id. ¶ 38. Defendant Neff later described this interview as a “criminal interrogation.” Id. ¶ 36. Defendant Inman informed Saade that if he needed to use the restroom or if he needed a snack, he could use the restrooms and vending machines in the building’s hallway. Id. ¶ 37.

         Assuming the truth of Saade’s allegations and drawing all reasonable inferences in his favor, the Court cannot decide as a matter of law that a reasonable person in Saade’s circumstances would have felt free to leave the interview with Defendants and “go about his business.” Whether a reasonable person would have felt free to leave is thus a question subject to factual dispute precluding dismissal on the pleadings.[3]

         B. Count II: Defendants’ motions to dismiss Plaintiff’s Fifth Amendment claim are GRANTED.

         (1) State Defendants

(a) Saade’s Fifth Amendment claim against DOH and Fenimore in his official capacity is DISMISSED with prejudice. Neither state agencies nor state officials acting in their official capacities are persons within the meaning of Section 1983. Will, 491 U.S. at 71.
(b) Saade’s Fifth Amendment claim against Defendant Fenimore in his individual capacity is DISMISSED without prejudice. The Fifth Amendment provides that: “No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” U.S. Const. Amend. V. As Saade concedes (docket no. 15 at 14-15), there are no ...

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