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Sanchez v. City And County of Honolulu

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

November 12, 2019

IRIS SANCHEZ, individually, and as successor in interest to Pekelo Sanchez, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY AND COUNTY OF HONOLULU, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING AS MOOT IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          DERRICK K. WATSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendants move for dismissal of Claims Three and Five of the First Amended Complaint (FAC), the individual defendants in their official capacities, and the request for punitive damages against the City and County of Honolulu (City). For the reasons discussed below, the Court agrees that Claim Five must be dismissed because the FAC does not plausibly allege a link between any custom or policy of the City and the incident at issue in this case. The Court also agrees that the individual defendants in their official capacities must be dismissed because the City is the proper defendant for those claims. As for other matters raised by the motion to dismiss, Plaintiff has clarified the scope and limits of her claims and related relief, rendering the motion to dismiss moot as to those matters, as described further below. Finally, leave to amend the claims dismissed herein is denied. That too is explained below.

         BACKGROUND

         I. The Alleged Incident

         The FAC alleges that the following events took place on the morning of February 11, 2017. Pekelo Sanchez (Sanchez) and Chayla Belford (Belford) were sleeping in a parked 2002 Blue Dodge Ram (Truck). FAC at ¶ 15, Dkt. No. 32. At some point, Officers Jonathan Frye, Dylan Shatto, Marvin Parengit, and Barbara Delaforce (collectively, “the Officer Defendants”) were called to the scene because the Truck was parked in the wrong parking stall, and the owner of the stall wanted the Truck moved. Id. at ¶16. Without identifying or explaining themselves, the Officer Defendants banged on the windows of the Truck and demanded Sanchez and Belford get out. Id. at ¶ 18. Startled by the commotion and uncertain as to what was happening, Sanchez and Belford discussed rolling down the windows of the Truck. Id. at ¶ 19. As soon as Sanchez reached for the keys to do so, the Officer Defendants shot him. Id. at ¶ 20. After being shot, Sanchez was able to start the Truck, but was shot a second time. Id. at ¶ 22. Evidently, Sanchez died from the injuries inflicted by the Officer Defendants. See id. at ¶ 39.

         II. The FAC

         Five claims are asserted in the FAC. These claims are brought against the Officer Defendants, in both their official and individual capacities, and/or the City. In Claim One, the FAC alleges that Sanchez was detained without reasonable suspicion and arrested without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In Claim Two, the FAC alleges that the Officer Defendants' use of deadly force was excessive and unreasonable in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In Claim Three, the FAC alleges that the death of Sanchez caused him to experience severe pain and suffering and caused Plaintiff to lose her familial relationship with Sanchez, in violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. In Claim Four, the FAC alleges that Sanchez's death caused Plaintiff to lose her familial relationship with him, as well as suffer expenses and a loss of financial support in violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. In Claim Five, the FAC alleges that the City enacted, sanctioned, or tolerated a large number of policies, practices, or customs that were the “moving force” behind Sanchez's death in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

         III. The Motion to Dismiss

         The motion to dismiss seeks dismissal of various parts of the FAC, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). First, Defendants seek dismissal of Claim Five, arguing that the FAC fails to plead a plausible custom, policy, or practice that was the moving force behind any alleged constitutional violations. Second, Defendants seek dismissal of Claim Three, arguing that it is duplicative of another claim raised in the FAC. Third, Defendants seek dismissal of any claim for punitive damages against the City, arguing that such damages are not permitted under Hawai‘i law. Fourth, Defendants seek dismissal of the Officer Defendants in their official capacities, arguing that they are “redundant” given that the City is named as a defendant.

         In opposition to the motion to dismiss, Plaintiff first responds that Claim Five has been properly pled, arguing that the FAC identifies an express policy, a custom or practice, and a decision of a person with final policymaking authority, all giving rise to liability. Second, Plaintiff argues that Claim Three should not be dismissed because it is asserted on behalf of Plaintiff individually and, to the extent the FAC states otherwise, it was “inadvertent[.]” Third, Plaintiff argues that punitive damages have been properly sought because such damages are sought only against the Officer Defendants in their individual capacities, rather than the City. Fourth, Plaintiff argues that the Officer Defendants should not be dismissed in their official capacities because the relevant claims are not brought against the City.

         After a reply in support of the motion to dismiss was filed, Dkt. No. 41, the Court elected to decide the motion without a hearing, Dkt. No. 43. This Order now follows.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes the Court to dismiss a complaint that fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Rule 12(b)(6) is read in conjunction with Rule 8(a), which requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Pursuant to Ashcroft v. Iqbal, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In addition, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Id. Accordingly, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Rather, “[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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Factual allegations that only permit the court to infer “the mere possibility of misconduct” do not show that the pleader is entitled to relief as required by Rule 8(a)(2). Id. at 679.

         When a complaint fails to state a plausible claim, leave to amend should be given when “justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Justice does not require leave to amend when (1) it would prejudice an opposing party, (2) it is sought in bad faith, (3) it would produce an undue delay in litigation, (4) it would be futile, or (5) there has been repeated failure to cure a deficiency. Abagninin v. AMVAC Chem. Corp., 545 F.3d 733, 742 (9th Cir. 2008); AmerisourceBergen Corp. v. Dialysist West, Inc., 465 F.3d 946, 951 (9th Cir. 2006).

         DISCUSSION

         The Court addresses each of Defendants' arguments in turn.

         I. ...


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