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Paulson v. City of Mountlake Terrace

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

January 15, 2020




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss and for sanctions (Dkt. No. 19). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 9, 2019, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants in Snohomish County Superior Court. (Dkt. No. 1-1.) Plaintiff sought monetary damages and asserted that Defendant City of Mountlake Terrace “was deliberate in the handling of the affairs and the events surrounding Thomas J. Paulson's criminal case of Domestic Violence 2002 until the year 2019 failing to train, supervise and/or discipline prosecutors, staff, public defenders and especially the city Domestic Violence Coordinator.” (Id. at 2.) Defendants removed the case on September 17, 2019, (Dkt. No. 1), and Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on September 27, 2019, (Dkt. No. 7). Plaintiff's amended complaint reiterates his assertion that Defendant City of Mountlake Terrace deliberately mishandled his 2002 domestic violence case by failing to train, supervise, or discipline various public employees. (Id. at 2-3.) Plaintiff specifically alleges that “the prosecutor, public defender and Domestic Violence Coordinator suppressed exculpatory evidence from” Plaintiff. (Id. at 3.) In the “Legal Authority” section of his amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges several claims purportedly arising under Washington state law. (See id. at 5-6.)

         Plaintiff's amended complaint also references several “Notary Statements” containing witness testimony and the Eastern District of Washington's decision in Vargas v. Earl, 2008 WL 5102310, slip op. at 1 (E.D. Wash. 2008). (Id. at 3-4.) One of cited notary statements is the signed statement of Mary E. Solberg and Josephine E. Paulson, which asserts that during the 2002 criminal proceedings against Plaintiff they were told by Plaintiff's public defender that there was “no evidence” supporting the domestic violence charges against Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 9 at 2.) The rest of the notary statements are signed statements of former employees of Defendant City of Mountlake Terrace that attest to the signors' belief that Josephine Paulson's written testimony is accurate. (See Dkt. No. 8 at 3-5.) Plaintiff has also filed excerpts of the plaintiff's complaint in Vargas. (See Dkt. No. 9 at 3-7.)

         Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and requests that sanctions be imposed on Plaintiff pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. (Dkt. No. 19.) In response, Plaintiff states that, “The Defendant, The City of Mountlake Terrace through their pleadings to dismiss this case have no witnesses in their pleadings that can come forward factually. Former City of Mountlake Terrace Officials have signed Notary Statements for the Plaintiff!” (Dkt. No. 25 at 1.)


         A. Legal Standard

         A defendant may move for dismissal when a plaintiff “fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). 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. Id. at 678. Although the court must accept as true a complaint's well-pleaded facts, conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences will not defeat an otherwise proper Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Vasquez v. Los Angeles County, 487 F.3d 1246, 1249 (9th Cir. 2007); Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001). A plaintiff is obligated to provide grounds for their entitlement to relief that amount to more than labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007). “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) “can [also] be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).

         When assessing the sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), the court ordinarily must not consider material outside of the pleadings. Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001). One exception to this rule is the incorporation-by-reference doctrine, which allows the court to “consider evidence on which the ‘complaint “necessarily relies” if: (1) the complaint refers to the document; (2) the document is central to the plaintiff's claim; and (3) no party questions the authenticity of the copy attached to the 12(b)(6) motion.'” Daniels-Hall v. Nat'l Educ. Ass'n, 629 F.3d 992, 988 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Marder v. Lopez, 450 F.3d 445, 448 (9th Cir. 2006)).

         B. Brady Violation

         Plaintiff asserts that “the prosecutor, public defender and Domestic Violence Coordinator suppressed exculpatory evidence from” Plaintiff during his 2002 criminal case, which the Court construes as a claim brought pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). (Dkt. No. 7 at 2, 3.) “[T]he suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.” Brady, 373 U.S. at 87. Because a violation of Brady deprives a person of the constitutional right to due process, a plaintiff may sue governmental actors under § 1983 for alleged Brady violations. See id. at 88; United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97 (1976). To do so, a plaintiff must prove three elements: “The evidence at issue must be favorable to the accused, either because it is exculpatory, or because it is impeaching; that evidence must have been suppressed by the State, either willfully or inadvertently; and prejudice must have ensued.” Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263, 281-82 (1999). “A prosecutor's decision not to preserve or turn over exculpatory material before trial, during trial, or after conviction . . . is, nonetheless, an exercise of the prosecutorial function and entitles the prosecutor to absolute immunity from a civil suit for damages.” Broam v. Bogan, 320 F.3d 1023, 1030 (9th Cir. 2003).

         Plaintiff's complaint does not describe the nature of the evidence that was allegedly suppressed during his 2002 criminal proceedings. (See generally Dkt. No. 7.) Notably, the statements Plaintiff has filed in support of his amended complaint assert that there was “No Evidence” supporting the domestic violence charges against Plaintiff, not that evidence favorable to Plaintiff was suppressed. See Strickler, 527 U.S. at 281-82; (Dkt. No. 9 at 2.) Thus, Plaintiff's amended complaint and supporting documents do not establish a plausible claim for relief on this ground. See Brady, 373 U.S. at 87; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Moreover, Plaintiff only seeks monetary damages as relief, which he cannot recover from the prosecutor even if he established a Brady violation claim. See Broam, 320 F.3d at 1030.[1] Therefore, Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED as to this claim.

         C. Monell Claim against Defendant City of ...

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