Cornel v. Hawaii

Decision Date17 June 2020
Docket NumberCiv. No. 19-00236 JMS-RT
CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Hawaii)

Pending before the court is Defendant Dexter Kauahi's ("Defendant" or "Kauahi") Second Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 39,1 seeking to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") brought by Plaintiff Elizabeth Cornel ("Plaintiff" or "Cornel") against Kauahi and co-Defendants State of Hawaii ("State") and the Hawaii Paroling Authority ("HPA"). To be clear, the Motion toDismiss only concerns claims against Kauahi; neither the State nor the HPA has filed a motion. The court has reviewed the Motion to Dismiss, Opposition, Reply, and supplemental memoranda requested by the court, and decides the matter under Local Rule 7.1(c) without a hearing. Based on the following, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

A. Factual Background

"At the motion-to-dismiss stage, [courts] take all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true, construing them 'in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party,' and then determine[s] 'whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'" Keates v. Koile, 883 F.3d 1228, 1234 (9th Cir. 2018) (quoting Silvas v. E*Trade Mortg. Corp., 514 F.3d 1001, 1003 (9th Cir. 2008) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)).

Applying that standard, the SAC alleges that Kauahi (a sheriff employed by the State of Hawaii, Department of Public Safety) arrested Cornel (who was released from prison, but had been on parole under authority of the HPA) on February 2, 2018, by serving "a stale and/or invalid warrant, nearly seven years old." SAC ¶ 15, ECF No. 17 at PageID #159. "[A]s such[,] Dexter Kauahi lacked probable cause and/or made an unlawful arrest based on an invalid warranton its face." Id. The SAC explains the circumstances of the arrest and the context for that arrest warrant—and understanding those details is critical in assessing the parties' arguments as to whether the SAC states valid claims. The court sets forth key portions of that background in a timeline fashion:2

Aug. 12, 2005
Cornel sentenced in state court to 10 years incarceration.
The HPA sets her minimum term at 2 years and 6
months. SAC ¶ 8, ECF No. 17 at PageID #158.
Oct. 18, 2007
Cornel released on parole. Id. ¶ 9, ECF No. 17 at PageID
#158. The court infers from the SAC that her parole was
set to end on March 15, 2015. See, e.g., id. ¶ 27, ECF
No. 17 at PageID #161 ("[T]he expiration of Ms.
Cornel's maximum term . . . was restored to March 15,
2015, and Ms. Cornel was therefore immediately
discharged from further parole supervision [in June
May 23, 2011
The HPA issues an arrest warrant for Cornel (the "re-take
warrant"), directing a sheriff to arrest her for violating
parole by "fail[ing] to keep her Parole Officer informed
of her whereabouts when she failed to notify of her
change of address . . . ." ECF No. 52-2 at PageID #295.3
Among other things, the re-take warrant states on its
face: "Maximum Parole Term: March 15, 2015," id., and
   commands the sheriff to "make due return of yourproceeding upon this writ." Id.  The SAC contains seemingly contradictory allegationsregarding Cornel's parole violation. On one hand, italleges that "[a]t the time HPA requested and obtainedthe Arrest Warranty HPA had no authority to executethe Arrest Warrant as Ms. Cornel had already beendischarged by the HPA." SAC ¶ 12, ECF No. 17 atPageID #159. But the SAC also alleges that "HPAdetermined Ms. Cornel violated the terms and conditionsof her parole by failing to inform her parole officer of herchange of address." Id. ¶ 23, ECF No. 17 at PageID#160. And the earliest she could have been dischargedfrom parole was March 15, 2015. ECF No. 52-2 atPageID #295.  Sept. 29, 2011  "Cornel's parole was retroactively suspended effectiveMarch 8, 2011." SAC ¶ 10, ECF No. 17 at PageID #159.  Feb. 2, 2018  Almost seven years after it was issued, Kauahi serves there-take warrant on Cornel and arrests her. Id. ¶ 13, ECFNo. 17 at PageID #159; ECF No. 52-2 at PageID #295.Cornel was re-incarcerated from February 2, 2018 untilApril 19, 2018. Id. ¶ 22, ECF No. 17 at PageID #160.  April 19, 2018  A hearing was held on a motion by Cornel to dismiss theparole violation proceeding. Id. ¶¶ 24, 29, ECF No. 17 atPageID #160-61. Cornel was released from custody, andpresumably was returned to parole. Id. ¶ 28, ECF No. 17at PageID #161.  June 28, 2018  "HPA sent Ms. Cornel notice that the HPA Board neededto further review its previous decision of September 29,2011 that suspended her parole effective March 8, 2011."Id. ¶ 26, ECF No. 17 at PageID #161. "[A]ftercompleting its review, the Board decided to rescind theprevious decision to suspend her parole[.]" Id. 
"As a result of the Board's decision, the expiration of
Ms. Cornel's maximum term . . . was restored to March
15, 2015, and Ms. Cornel was therefore immediately
discharged from further parole supervision." Id. ¶ 27,
ECF No. 17 at PageID #161.
B. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed suit on October 25, 2018 in the First Circuit Court of the State of Hawaii. ECF No. 1 at PageID #2. Defendants removed the action to federal court on May 7, 2019, after a First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 1-1, added federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff filed the SAC on August 28, 2019; the SAC simply corrected the name of the sheriff who served the re-take warrant by substituting Kauahi for a different name. See ECF Nos. 13, 17.

The SAC is not a model of clarity. In an overlapping manner, the SAC alleges five counts: (1) false arrest/false imprisonment; (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (3) negligent infliction of emotional distress; (4) gross negligence; and (5) "Unlawful seizure and Detention." ECF No. 17 at PageID #162-67. Counts one, two, and three appear to be directed only at the HPA—they speak in terms of "HPA" and do not mention Kauahi at all. See, e.g., SAC ¶ 33, ECF No. 17 at PageID #162 ("HPA unduly delayed in executing the Arrest Warrant[.]") (emphasis added). Counts four and five, however, arespecifically directed at "defendants," and also sometimes specifically mention Kauahi. See, e.g., id. ¶ 75, ECF No. 17 at PageID #168 ("As a direct and foreseeable result of said acts and omissions of the defendants[,] the plaintiff was illegally arrested and held in custody[.]"); id. ¶ 77 ("Defendant [S]tate of Hawaii, Hawaii Paroling Authority, [and] Dexter Kauahi . . . are directly liable and responsible for the unlawful arrest and seizure . . . of the plaintiff[.]"). Moreover, count five appears to include both state law claims for false arrest, and federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unlawful seizure and denial of due process under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. See id. ¶¶ 80-81, ECF No. 17 at PageID #169-170.4

Accordingly, the court construes the SAC as making claims against Kauahi for (1) false arrest/imprisonment, (2) gross negligence, and (3) constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983—as does Kauahi in his Motion to Dismiss. See ECF No. 39-1 at PageID #226 (arguing that the SAC's allegations "do[] not constitute false imprisonment, gross negligence, or an illegal seizure").

Kauahi filed his Motion to Dismiss on January 16, 2020, ECF No. 39; Cornel filed an Opposition on March 27, 2020, ECF No. 47; and Kauahi filed a Reply on April 6, 2020, ECF No. 48. On May 8, 2020, the court ordered Cornel to supplement the record with a copy of the re-take warrant, and requested supplemental briefing. ECF No. 51. Both parties filed their supplemental briefing on May 22, 2020. ECF Nos. 53, 54.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a motion to dismiss for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]" A Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is proper when there is either a "'lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged.'" UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Shelter Capital Partners, LLC, 718 F.3d 1006, 1014 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990)).

Although a plaintiff need not identify the legal theories that are the basis of a pleading, see Johnson v. City of Shelby, Mississippi, 574 U.S. 10, 11 (2014) (per curiam), a plaintiff must nonetheless allege "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This tenet—that the court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in thecomplaint—"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); see also Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011) ("[A]llegations in a complaint or counterclaim may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.").

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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In other words, "the factual allegations that are taken as true must plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation." Starr, 652 F.3d at 1216. Factual allegations that only permit the court to infer "the mere possibility of misconduct" do not show that the pleader...

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