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Greenfield v. City of Post Falls Municipality

United States District Court, D. Idaho

April 3, 2014

CHRISTINA J. GREENFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF POST FALLS MUNICIPALITY, including employees and/or agents; MAYOR CLAYTON R. LARKIN, in his capacity; PRECEDING ADMINISTRATOR JIM HAMMOND, in his individual and official capacity; PRECEDING ADMINISTRATOR ERIC KECK, in his individual and official capacity; PROSECUTOR JOEL K. RYAN, in his individual and official capacity; PRECEDING CITY PLANNER COLLIN COLES, in his individual and official capacity; POST FALLS POLICE DEPARTMENT; CHIEF OF POLICE R. SCOT HAUG, in his individual and official capacity; DETECTIVE RODNEY L. GUNDERSON, in his individual and official capacity; DETECTIVE MARK GOODWIN, in his individual and official capacity; CAPTAIN GREG McLEAN, in his individual and official capacity; BERNARD (BARRY) WILLIAM McHUGH (KOOTENAI COUNTY PROSECUTOR) working for the City of Post Falls, in his individual and official capacity, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

CANDY W. DALE, Chief Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on January 21, 2014. In response, Plaintiff Christina Greenfield filed a motion to amend her complaint. Thereafter, Greenfield served discovery, and Defendants filed a motion to stay discovery because of the pending motions. The Court granted the motion to stay further discovery until it considered the pending dispositive motions. The motion for judgment on the pleadings and motion to amend are fully briefed, and ripe for the Court's consideration.

Having reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, the motions will be decided on the record before the Court. Dist. Idaho L. Rule 7.1(d).

BACKGROUND

On October 4, 2013, Pro Se Plaintiff Christina Greenfield filed a complaint against the City of Post Falls, its mayor, and various administrators and employees (past and present), as well as members of the Post Falls Police Department, seeking damages for the Defendants' alleged failure to enforce its zoning laws to her detriment. The facts giving rise to Greenfield's complaint arise out of a zoning and boundary dispute, and a dispute about her neighbors' commercial activity operated out of their home.

The specific details of Greenfield's dispute with the City regarding her neighbors, the Wurmlingers, [1] are set forth in a thirty-four page complaint. (Dkt. 1.)[2] Defendants filed their answer on October 24, 2013, (Dkt. 23), denying the claims. The events giving rise to the complaint begin with Greenfield's purchase of her home in May of 2005, which was when she first became aware that her neighbors owning the adjacent property allegedly were operating an illegal bed and breakfast out of their home. Greenfield asserts that the operation of a bed and breakfast is prohibited under Post Falls City Ordinance 18.20.030. Greenfield notified the City on May 23, 2005, of the alleged illegal activities of her neighbors. Greenfield claims the City took no action.

The other dispute with the Wurmlingers involves an arborvitae hedge consisting of twenty-four arborvitae shrubs planted by the Wurmlingers on or near the property line separating Greenfield's property from the Wurmlinger property. Greenfield alleges the hedge constitutes a fence, that it exceeded the height limit set forth in the City Fence Ordinance, and that it obstructed Greenfield's view. Greenfield first notified the City on April 12, 2006, and demanded enforcement of the fence ordinance by the City. In response to the City's enforcement letters, Wurmlinger trimmed "some" of the hedges, but not all.

The hedge dispute burgeoned in May of 2006, when Greenfield hired an attorney whom she directed to send a demand letter ordering the Wurmlingers to trim their hedge to the allowable "CC&R height requirement of five feet, " and to correct other violations noted on the property. The Wurmlingers and Greenfield entered an agreement regarding those issues, including a requirement that the hedge be maintained at a height of six feet. Compl. ¶ 30. In June and July of 2006, the City changed its fence ordinance to exclude "landscaping and hedges" from the ordinance language prescribing the maximum height of fences.

In November of 2008, the City issued a warning letter to the Wurmlingers regarding the expansion of their business activities subject to their special use permit, but Greenfield alleges the Wurmlingers ignored the City's demand to scale back their bed and breakfast business. Greenfield alleges that, but for one letter, the City did nothing further to enforce its zoning ordinances to halt the neighbors' activities. Greenfield persisted in attempting to have the City enforce its zoning regulations by writing several letters in 2009, which she alleges fell on deaf ears.

On April 1, 2010, Greenfield decided to take matters into her own hands. She trimmed ten of the arborvitae shrubs to the prescribed height of six feet. Mr. Wurmlinger called the police, who began an investigation. The police submitted a criminal complaint against Greenfield as a result, charging her with Felony Malicious Injury to Property. On June 14, 2010, Greenfield was served a summons to appear in district court, wherein she was formally charged. Greenfield alleges she was arrested, hand cuffed, searched, and forced to sit in a chair for several hours while being processed for the crime. Greenfield was arraigned on the charges on June 23, 2010, and she appeared before Judge Friedlander, the City Attorney's wife. Because the judge did not recuse herself given the history between Greenfield and the City Attorney's office, Greenfield alleges a miscarriage of justice.

After her arrest and arraignment, Greenfield alleges that Defendant McLean was interviewed by the local paper and described Greenfield as a "criminal Hedge Hacker, " among other remarks. Greenfield alleges that her reputation was tarnished by the "slanderous remarks."

Greenfield had several court appearances, which she alleges caused absences from her work. She asserts that the absences, together with negative publicity on local news sources, resulted in the termination of her employment on September 2, 2010, from her job at a local bank.

As part of the criminal investigation, Wurmlinger hired a crew to perform a survey of the arborvitae hedge on December 16, 2010. The survey was allegedly provided to the City and the Kootenai County Prosecutor, Defendant Barry McHugh. Greenfield asserts she requested the results of the survey, but that Defendant Gunderson and Defendant McHugh denied the existence of the survey and refused to give Greenfield the findings from the survey during the course of discovery in the criminal case.

On October 4, 2011, after "a grueling nineteen months post her arrest, " Greenfield was acquitted and found not guilty of the criminal charges. Greenfield alleges that, after the termination from her employment with the bank, she was unable to secure employment during the "post-arrest timeframe, pending criminal proceedings while awaiting trial, " and that she has not been employed for thirty-six months after her initial arrest. Greenfield asserts that her arrest and prosecution caused her financial ruin, resulting in filing for bankruptcy.

The hedge dispute has continued. Greenfield contends that Mr. Wurmlinger has trespassed upon her property ten times to trim the arborvitae shrubs, and each time, Greenfield complained to the police department, but the City has refused to prosecute Mr. Wurmlinger. Apparently, Mr. Wurmlinger also has filed numerous malicious injury to property reports accusing Greenfield of trespass on his property from April 2007 to the present. Defendant Gunderson was assigned to investigate the matters, but Greenfield alleges instead that Defendant Gunderson and other members of the police force have "conspired to harass Greenfield by confiscating her garbage and inspecting said contents, installing surveillance cameras... on the Wurmlinger property... and organizing several overnight surveillance watches...." Neither Greenfield nor Wurmlinger have been charged with any crimes.

Greenfield alleges that on August 17, 2011, Defendant Gunderson and Defendant Goodwin retrieved a garbage bag from her residence and "released unrelated personal and confidential information in his [Gunderson's] report pertaining to highly sensitive data that Greenfield had submitted to the Idaho American Civil Liberties Union Legal Department, ' as well as receipts... and personal information about Greenfield's financial situation." Greenfield alleges that such acts have caused "extreme emotional distress."

Greenfield alleges that her reputation has been tarnished by the continuing acts of Defendants stemming from the "false Felony charge" and other charges brought against her. Greenfield contends that the City and the named Defendants have refused to enforce city ordinances to her detriment as a property owner, and have "retaliated against her with malicious prosecution, harassment, abuse of power, and police misconduct, " causing her lost "economic opportunity, deprivation of civil rights, violation of Constitutional rights, defamation of character, failure to keep from harm, invasion of privacy, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and false arrest."

Greenfield alleges she filed a notice of tort claim on April 2, 2012, pursuant to Idaho Code § 50-219, with the City of Post Falls and Kootenai County. However, according to the affidavits Defendant submitted, the City and the County received the notices by certified mail on April 3, 2012. Aff. of Hayes (Dkt. 35-2); Aff. of Howard (Dkt. 35-3.) The notice of tort claim specifies that her claim arose out of her June 14, 2010 arrest and acquittal of those charges on October 4, 2011.

Greenfield's Complaint contains several claims for relief. Claim number one alleges violation of her right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, on the grounds that the City and the named Defendants subjected her to unequal treatment by refusing to enforce city ordinances. She claims her property rights have been damaged as a result. Greenfield's second claim alleges violation of the "right of equal protection of law under Article I, Sections 1, 8, 13, 17, and 22" of the Idaho Constitution. In this claim, Greenfield alleges that Defendants "did not protect Greenfield from harm by falsely accusing her of a crime and maliciously prosecuting her for said crime, " when she had a legal right to maintain her hedge. As part of the criminal prosecution, Greenfield alleges a conspiracy to conceal evidence, namely the survey that was conducted to determine the true property line and location of the hedge. Greenfield's third claim alleges another violation of her right to equal protection under "Article I, Section 14141." In this claim, Greenfield alleges that her right to privacy was violated because of the "unwarranted surveillance abuse" and retrieval of "highly sensitive, personal information" from her property.

Greenfield's fourth claim alleges "deprivation of rights under color of law" and cites Title 18, U.S.C. § 242. The constitutional violation alleged is the violation of her "human rights" including the right that her integrity and safety will be protected, the right to a fair trial, due process, and the right to participate in a civil society.

Greenfield's fifth claim for relief alleges abuse of process during the criminal proceedings against her that culminated in the acquittal on October 4, 2011. She alleges she was unjustly accused of a crime, and that the police engaged in misconduct during the investigation. Continuing in that vein, Greenfield's sixth claim alleges malicious prosecution, again referring to the prosecution for malicious injury to property. Greenfield's seventh claim alleges "tortious interference for damages lost for past and future earnings, " claiming that as a result of Defendants' conduct, Greenfield lost "past and future earnings along with prospective future employment opportunities." Greenfield's eighth and ninth claims for relief allege intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, respectively. Greenfield again refers to Defendants' lack of enforcement of the city ordinances with respect to the Wurmlingers' conduct, and the criminal prosecution of her for trimming the hedge.

Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings asserts Defendants are entitled to judgment because Greenfield's claims are legally insufficient; barred by the two-year statute of limitations; or barred for failure to timely file a notice of tort claim.

In response to Defendants' motion, Greenfield filed a motion to amend her complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(B). The motion attached a proposed Amended Complaint consisting of a hefty eighty pages instead of a mere thirty four pages constituting the original complaint. Claims one through nine are the same as in the original complaint. The proposed amended complaint generally describes the same facts as the Complaint, albeit in more detail. Greenfield adds claims for libel and defamation; intentional breach and tortious interference of contractual agreement; civil conspiracy; violation of her Fifth Amendment right of procedural due process; and spoliation of evidence. Defendants argue that Greenfield's motion is improper and should be denied because she does not have the right to amend her pleading "as a matter of course" under Rule 15(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendants further contend that amendment would be futile.

DISPOSITION

1. Standard of Review

According to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), a judgment on the pleadings is properly granted when, "taking all allegations in the pleading as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." McGann v. Ernst & Young, 102 F.3d 390, 392 (9th Cir. 1996). In determining whether a complaint states a cognizable claim under Rule 12(c), courts apply the same legal standards applicable to motions brought under Rule 12(b)(6). Cafasso, U.S. ex rel. v. General Dynamics C4 Systems, Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1054, n. 4 (9th Cir. 2011) ("we have said that Rule 12(c) is functionally identical to Rule 12(b)(6) and that the same standard of review applies to motions brought under either rule.").

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a plaintiff's claim for relief. The relevant inquiry is whether the plaintiff's allegations are sufficient under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), which sets forth the minimum pleading requirement, i.e., that the plaintiff provide a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " and "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all nonconclusory, factual (not legal) allegations made in the complaint, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007), and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., 579 F.3d 943, 949 (9th Cir. 2009). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In addition, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. Dismissal may therefore be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or on the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001); Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).

Further, the Court may not consider any evidence contained outside the pleadings without converting the motion to one for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b); United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 907-908 (9th Cir. 2003). "A court may, however, consider certain materials-documents attached to the complaint, documents incorporated by reference in the complaint, or matters of judicial notice-without converting the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment." Id. at 908 (citing Van Buskirk v. CNN, 284 F.3d 977, 980 (9th Cir. 2002); Barron v. Reich, 13 F.3d 1370, 1377 (9th Cir. 1994); 2 James Wm. Moore et al., MOORE'S FEDERAL PRACTICE § 12.34[2] (3d ed. 1999)). And, the Court may consider evidence upon 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 document. Branch v. Tunnell, 14 F.3d 449, 453-54 ...


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