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Johnson v. City of Caldwell

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 14, 2015

DAVID JOHNSON, CONNIE JOHNSON, and AARON JOHNSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF CALDWELL, CALDWELL POLICE DEPARTMENT, CITY OF NAMPA, NAMPA POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF POLICE CHRIS ALLGOOD, CHIEF OF POLICE CRAIG KINGSBURY, OFFICER C. HESSMAN, OFFICER J. DAVIS, OFFICER J. BRIDGES, OFFICER B. DONEY, SGT. LATHRUP, and DOES I-X, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

CANDY W. DALE, Magistrate Judge.

Currently pending before the Court is a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss[1] for failure to state a claim (Dkt. 19) filed by Defendants City of Nampa, Nampa Police Department, Chief of Police Craig Kingsbury, Officer Becky Doney, and Sgt. Mick Lathrop[2] ("Nampa Defendants"), and a motion to amend the complaint[3] (Dkt. 20) filed by David Johnson, Connie Johnson, and Aaron Johnson ("the Johnsons"). The Johnsons request permission to amend their complaint (Dkt. 1) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) in order to address the concerns raised in Nampa Defendants' motion to dismiss.

Presiding Judge Lodge referred all non-dispositive matters to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. 13 at 3.) Additionally, Judge Lodge referred the motion to dismiss and all related matters. (Dkt. 25.) Accordingly, the Court considers the two motions together and issues the following Report and Recommendation.

Having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. In the interest of avoiding delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this matter will be decided on the record without oral argument. Dist. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 7.1.

The Court will consider the factual allegations contained in the proposed amended complaint in its analysis of the motion to dismiss. Even considering the amended factual allegations, the Court will recommend that the Nampa Defendants' motion to dismiss be granted, and consequently will recommend denying the motion to amend as moot. Because the deadline for amending the pleadings has come and gone, and the Court can discern no good cause for the delay, the Court will not recommend further permission to amend the pleadings.

BACKGROUND

1. Facts[4]

This lawsuit commenced on November 15, 2013, when the Johnsons filed a complaint against the City of Caldwell, Caldwell Police Department ("CPD"), City of Nampa, Nampa Police Department ("NPD"), Chief of Police Chris Allgood, Chief of Police Craig Kingsbury, Officer Chad Hessman, Officer J.L. Davis, Officer Josh Bridges, Officer Becky Doney, Sgt. Mick Lathrop, and Does I-X. The Johnsons filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and allege the following Constitutional violations and state law claims: (1) Illegal Search in Violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) Illegal Seizure in Violation of the Fourth Amendment; (3) Excessive Force in Violation of the Fourth Amendment; (4) Failure to Knock-and-Announce in Violation of the Fourth Amendment; (5) Illegal Search and Seizure in Violation of Article I, § 17 of the Idaho Constitution;[5] (6) Negligent Supervision; (7) False Imprisonment; and (8) Trespass.

This case stems from an incident that occurred the night of February 21, 2013, in Caldwell, Idaho. At approximately midnight, the Johnsons were awakened by a "loud crashing sound nearby." ( Id. ¶ 23.) This loud noise was actually law enforcement officers dressed in SWAT gear who had kicked in the Johnsons' apartment door, entered their home with guns drawn, and were accompanied by a police canine. The officers immediately began yelling at and threatening the Johnsons, who remained silent. David and Aaron Johnson were handcuffed, and all three were forced into the hallway while the officers conducted a sweep of their apartment. The officers did not knock-and-announce their presence nor did the officers have a warrant to search the Johnsons' home

While the officers were conducting the sweep of the Johnsons' apartment, Defendant Hessman, again without knocking or announcing, kicked in the door of the neighboring apartment. The resident of the neighboring apartment, Bill Gerst, was threatened and ordered by the officers to crawl into the hallway while the officers conducted a sweep of his apartment. The officers then proceeded to break down another door down the hall. After the officers refused several requests from the Johnsons for an explanation, the Johnsons were allowed to return to their apartment. After the alleged raid, Defendant Davis reported back to Lathrop and Doney. Lathrop requested that Gerst be transported to the Caldwell Police Department so he could be interviewed by Doney.

The CPD officers had been dispatched based on information obtained from NPD of a "possible violent crime, " "possible kidnapping and torture, " or "homicide" that may have occurred in Caldwell.[6] ( Id . ¶¶ 57, 58, 77.) NPD had received information that "Wild Mill Bill" (later identified as Bill Gerst) had posted an alarming photograph and threatening Facebook posts in which Gerst expressed a desire that someone would "beat up" Hilda Valle. ( Id. ¶¶ 55, 68.) The photograph depicted a "female lying naked on a bed, covered in blood, and appeared to have several lacerations on her body." Upon receipt of this information, Doney and other NPD officers conducted a welfare check of Ms. Valle and confirmed that she was not in immediate danger. Ms. Valle provided the NPD officers with information regarding Gerst's residence. Presumably, because Gerst resided in Caldwell, NPD relayed this information to CPD. Thereafter, the events described above allegedly took place. Several Caldwell Officers and Canyon County Deputies have been identified as being on the scene the night of the alleged raid.

2. Procedural Background

Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, the Johnsons' counsel sent a public records request to NPD seeking the NPD report prepared by Doney regarding the events at issue in this case. NPD denied the request, stating that it would interfere with ongoing enforcement proceedings. Accordingly, the Johnsons' counsel relied on the CPD reports already obtained when drafting the original complaint. (Dkt. 20 at 4.) The complaint contained the same counts as the proposed amended complaint, but it assumes that both CPD and NPD officers were on the scene the night of the alleged raid.

On February 24, 2014, after the complaint had been filed but before an answer had been filed, Nampa Defendants' counsel wrote a letter to the Johnsons' counsel seeking voluntary dismissal from the case. Attached to this letter was a redacted copy of the NPD report. (Dkt. 22-3 at 3-12.)

The Johnsons' counsel responded, stating that she had not yet discussed dismissal with her clients, so the Nampa Defendants would not be dismissed at that time. On March 21, 2014, Nampa Defendants' counsel again requested to be voluntarily dismissed from the case during a telephone conversation with the Johnsons' counsel. Once again, the Johnsons, through their counsel, refused. Nampa Defendants allege that, during this telephone conversation, Johnsons' counsel propositioned another theory of liability for the Nampa Defendants, arguing that liability could be based on NPD's miscommunication of Gerst's address to CPD. (Dkt. 22-1 at 4.)

On March 24, 2014, Nampa Defendants filed their answer. (Dkt. 11.) On April 14, 2014, Nampa Defendants provided the Johnsons with their initial disclosures, which again included NPD's report. On this same date, Nampa Defendants again requested that they be voluntarily dismissed from the case. On May 7, 2014, the Johnsons responded by stating that, because there were discrepancies between the NPD reports and the CPD reports, Nampa Defendants would not be voluntarily dismissed. On July 23, 2014, the Nampa Defendants filed their motion to dismiss. On August 13, 2014, the Johnsons responded with the instant motion to amend the complaint, (Dkt. 20), and attached a copy of the proposed amended complaint.[7] (Dkt. 20-1.) The Court allowed further briefing, permitting the parties an opportunity to respond and reply the Johnsons' motion to amend, and to the motion to dismiss, to allow the parties to incorporate all arguments responsive to the issues raised. (Dkt. 21, 26.)

3. Scheduling Order

The Scheduling Order issued by Judge Lodge stated "[a]ll amendments of pleadings, joinder of parties, except for allegations of punitive damages, and pre-alternative dispute resolution (ADR) discovery shall be completed on or before June 24, 2014." (Dkt. 13 at 2.) The Order further stated "[t]his deadline shall only be extended for good cause shown." ( Id. ) The stated purpose of this deadline was to ensure that all parties knew the claims and the parties well before the trial date. The Order further directed the parties to serve all discovery requests that might relate to amendment well in advance of this deadline. A jury trial is scheduled to begin August 25, 2015.

MOTION TO DISMISS

1. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]" The Supreme Court of the United States created a "plausibility" standard requiring that allegations in a complaint be plausible on their face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A complaint is plausible when the factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). This standard does not require that the misconduct be "probable, " but it "asks for more than just a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Supreme Court specified that "heightened fact pleading of specifics" is not required, "but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 662.

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), "all well-pleaded allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party." Wyler Summit P'ship v. Turner Broad. Sys., Inc., 135 F.3d 658, 661 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). However, the Court does not necessarily assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cased in the form of factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint. See Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752, 754-55 (9th Cir. 1994). There is a strong presumption against dismissing an action for failure to state a claim. See Gilligan v. Jamco Dev. Corp., 108 F.3d 246, 249 (9th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). "The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'" Id. (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) overruled on other grounds by Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 807 (1982). Consequently, the Court should not grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Hicks v. Small, 69 F.3d 967, 969 (9th Cir. ...


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