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Escalante v. City And County of Honolulu

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

April 11, 2018

CITY AND COUNTY OF HONOLULU, et al., Defendants.




         The question before the court is whether Plaintiff Jonard P. Escalante (“Escalante”) has stated a viable 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against Defendant the City and County of Honolulu (the “City”) for the assault he suffered at the hands of an off-duty Honolulu Police Department (“HPD”) Officer, Co-Defendant Keoki Kamuela Duarte (“Duarte”). Because the court finds no plausible causal connection between the assault and the alleged acts or omissions of the City, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.


         A. Factual Background

         The facts alleged regarding the underlying assault are straightforward. On December 7, 2015, Escalante and Duarte were involved in a minor traffic accident. Compl. ¶¶ 11-13, ECF No. 1. Both drivers pulled to the side of the road, whereupon Duarte pulled Escalante from his truck, threw him to the asphalt, and punched, kicked, and choked him until a third party intervened. Id. ¶¶ 14-16. Duarte was not on duty at the time, and he was not driving a patrol car. Id. ¶ 12. There are no allegations that Escalante knew or believed that Duarte was a police officer or that Duarte did, said, or wore anything implying his position. Duarte was later convicted of assault and unauthorized entry of a motor vehicle. Id. ¶ 17.

         The factual allegations in the Complaint regarding the City, however, are more complex. They center on an alleged “de facto policy, practice, or custom of abstaining from reporting instances of misconduct of other officers” - what Escalante calls in his Opposition “HPD's unofficial ‘brotherhood' culture of silence” - which he alleges is “continuing, persistent, and widespread throughout the [HPD]” and results in the City's “failure to discover and/or take appropriate remedial actions.” Id. ¶¶ 21-22, 25-33; Opp'n at 3, ECF No. 19. The Complaint further alleges that HPD encourages its officers' behavior by failing to combat it, including by failing to establish appropriate policies and procedures for doing so. See id. ¶¶ 21-22, 25-27.

         Specifically, the Complaint states that, before the December 7 assault, Duarte “had a history of emotional distress and/or anger management issues resulting in the inappropriate use of excessive and violent force which was or should have been known” to HPD. Compl. ¶ 19. It claims that the City failed to properly counsel Duarte or “limit his encounters with potential victims of excessive force and violence, ” id. ¶20; failed to investigate incidents involving Duarte and properly discipline him, including for a 2012 incident involving a “mistaken arrest, ” violence, and excessive force, and an attempt to cover up the same, id. ¶ 20, 26; and failed to take proper action after the December 7 assault, id. ¶ 24.

         Besides the 2012 incident, the Complaint refers generally to four other “attempt[s] to conceal misconduct or criminal wrongdoing” of other HPD officers (one incident occurring in 2009-2010, two in 2014, and one in 2015).[1] Id. ¶ 27. And finally, it alleges that the City failed to adopt policies (1) requiring officers to report the misconduct of other officers, (2) protecting those who do report, and (3) requiring records be kept of misconduct and consequences.[2] Id. ¶¶ 28-29, 31.

         B. Procedural Background

         Escalante filed his Complaint on December 1, 2017, alleging various claims against the City, Duarte, and other unnamed individuals. ECF No. 1. Against the City, he alleges in Count Three a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and in Count Six a state-law negligence claim. Id. at 15-18.

         The City filed its Motion to Dismiss on January 2, 2018, arguing that Counts Three and Six of the Compliant should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[3] ECF No. 11. Escalante filed his Opposition on March 19, 2018.[4] ECF No. 19. And the City replied on March 26, 2018. ECF No. 21. The Motion was heard on April 9, 2018.


         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claims alleged in the complaint. Ileto v. Glock, Inc., 349 F.3d 1191, 1199-1200 (9th Cir. 2003). Review is limited to the contents of the complaint. Allarcom Pay Television, Ltd. v. Gen. Instrument Corp., 69 F.3d 381, 385 (9th Cir. 1995). To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a complaint generally must satisfy the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 8, which requires that a complaint include a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”

         This pleading standard “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, 'but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Aschcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). And a pleading that offers “labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. In other words, the allegations in the ...

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