John Fremont STEEL IV v. CITY of SAN DIEGO

Decision Date30 June 2010
Docket NumberCase No. 09CV1743-MMA (WVG).
Citation726 F.Supp.2d 1172
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of California
PartiesJohn Fremont STEEL IV, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF SAN DIEGO, et al., Defendants.





Richard Scott Desaulles, Law Offices of Richard S. Desaulles, Pacific Grove, CA, for Plaintiff.

Brian David Murphy, Office of The City Attorney, San Diego, CA, Mitchell D. Dean, Robert R. Heft, Samuel C. Gazzo, Daley and Heft, Solana Beach, CA, Philip H. Dyson, Law Offices of Philip Dyson, La Mesa, CA, for Defendants.







MICHAEL M. ANELLO, District Judge.

This action arises from events related to the arrest of Plaintiff John Fremont Steel IV for driving under the influence. On August 11, 2009, Plaintiff filed the instant action alleging violations of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California Civil Code § 52.1. Plaintiff also named several state law causes of action. (Doc. No. 1.) Thereafter, several defendants filed combined motions to dismiss and motions to strike under California's anti-SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”) statute. (Doc. Nos. 23, 26, 29, 63.) On January 4, 2010, the Court issued an order ruling on the pending motions. (Doc. No. 69.) In the Order, the Court granted in part and denied in part all of the Defendants' motions, with the exception of Defendant Aaron Zigman's motion, which the Court granted in its entirety. In granting portions of the motions to dismiss, the Court gave Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint.

On February 28, 2010, Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint (“FAC”). (Doc. No. 85.) Thereafter, the following Defendants filed motions to dismiss: (1) Robert Wood and Janis Stocks (“Attorney Defendants) (Doc. No. 88); (2) City of San Diego, William Landsdowne, Michael McCollough, Gilbert Ninness, San Diego Police Department (City Defendants) (Doc. No. 90); (3) Confidential Research Company and Laura Marie Sisson-Brown (“Investigator Defendants); and (4) Susan Hasbrouck (“Hasbrouck”) (Doc. No. 101). Plaintiff timely opposed the motions (Doc. Nos. 93, 94, 95, 105), and Defendants timely replied (Doc. Nos. 96, 97, 99, 110).

Factual Background

This case arises out of events that occurred in connection with the contentious divorce proceedings between Plaintiff and his now ex-wife, Christina Steel. Plaintiff alleges that his wife's attorneys, private investigators hired by her attorneys, and San Diego Police Department officers conspired to have him arrested in order to obtain incriminating child custody evidence against him. Ms. Steel is not named as a defendant to this action.

According to the FAC, Christina Steel hired Defendant Wood to represent her in her divorce proceedings. (FAC at ¶ 46.) Plaintiff alleges that on or about July 31, 2007, Wood contacted Sisson-Brown to retain the private investigative services of her and her firm, Confidential Research Company (“CRC”). ( Id. at ¶ 49.) Plaintiff alleges that the purpose was to ascertain “incriminating evidence that could be used to ignite a custody battle between his client and Plaintiff.” ( Id.) On August 1, 2007, Sisson-Brown, with the assistance of other private investigators, including Rick Bronold and Luis Gonzalez, 1 began surveillance of Plaintiff. ( Id. at ¶ 53.) Plaintiff alleges that on August 3, 2007, Bronold told Sisson-Brown that he had a “friend in traffic” at the San Diego Police Department, Defendant McCollough. ( Id. at ¶ 57.) Plaintiff alleges that Sisson-Brown told Bronold to have his friend arrange a “hot stop” of Plaintiff's vehicle. ( Id. at ¶ 59.) Plaintiff then alleges that Bronold contacted McCollough the next day, during which Bronold allegedly told McCollough that CRC had been hired to “perform surveillance on Plaintiff and that ‘their focus was to collect incriminating child custody evidence’ related to Plaintiff.” ( Id. at ¶ 61.)

Plaintiff asserts that in the early afternoon of August 11, 2007, Bronold contacted Sisson-Brown to inform her that Plaintiff was at a friend's private residence. ( Id. at ¶ 63.) Sisson-Brown and Bronold followed Plaintiff and another friend as they walked around La Jolla Village for several hours and then returned to Plaintiff's friend's house. ( Id. at ¶¶ 64-65.) Plaintiff alleges that at approximately 10:05 p.m. on August 11, 2007, Bronold contacted Defendant McCollough. Plaintiff contends that shortly after Bronold called McCollough, Sisson-Brown called 911 to report that Plaintiff was driving while intoxicated. ( Id. at ¶ 67.) During the call, Sisson-Brown allegedly spoke with McCollough. ( Id.) Plaintiff then alleges that McCollough dispatched Defendant Ninness, who was assigned to patrol Pacific Beach, to La Jolla to meet with Bronold and Sisson-Brown. ( Id. at 71.) At approximately 10:37 p.m., Officer Ninness met with Bronold and Sisson-Brown in La Jolla. Although Plaintiff's allegations in the FAC are not clear, it appears that Plaintiff drove to another location after leaving his friend's house. When Ninness met with the investigators, the investigators showed Ninness Plaintiff's parked vehicle. Because Plaintiff was not inside the vehicle, Plaintiff alleges that Officer Ninness waited more than two and a half hours for Plaintiff to return to his vehicle. ( Id. at ¶ 74-76.) Upon returning to his vehicle, Plaintiff got into his car and began to drive home. ( Id. at ¶ 76.) Officer Ninness followed and eventually pulled Plaintiff over at 12:58 a.m. for failing to come to a complete stop at an intersection with a flashing red light. ( Id. at ¶¶ 78, 81-83.) Thereafter, Ninness conducted various sobriety tests and ultimately arrested Plaintiff for DUI. ( Id. at ¶¶ 90-93.) The private investigators, who had been following Steel and Ninness, video recorded the stop and subsequent arrest. ( Id. at ¶ 82.)

Plaintiff, who is a diabetic, alleges that while he was being transported by Defendant Ninness to police headquarters, he went into diabetic shock, even losing consciousness at one point. ( Id. at ¶ 98.) After several hours at Police Headquarters and a trip to County Jail, Ninness took Plaintiff to the hospital, where the hospital staff administered insulin to Plaintiff. ( Id. at ¶¶ 100-105.) Plaintiff alleges that within 48 hours, either McCollough, Ninness, or Bronold reported Plaintiff's arrest to Wood. Plaintiff asserts that this was at least seven days before the officers prepared the police report. ( Id. at ¶ 106.) Plaintiff alleges that Wood then proceeded to include details regarding Plaintiff's arrest and diabetic attack in declarations that he filed in Family Court on August 14, 2007. ( Id. at ¶¶ 109-110.)

Plaintiff also names Defendant Stocks as part of the conspiracy. Plaintiff alleges that several months after Plaintiff's arrest, Wood “arranged for attorney [Stocks] to assist in the representation of Ms. Steel.” ( Id. at ¶ 116.) Plaintiff alleges that on July 28, 2008, Stocks arranged for the delivery of copies of the private investigators' video recordings, which Plaintiff alleges had been tampered with in order to remove the audio. ( Id. at ¶ 123.) Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Hasbrouck arise out of his allegations that Hasbrouck, while serving Plaintiff with divorce papers “angrily warned Plaintiff, ‘you have no idea who you're fucking with.’ ( Id. at ¶ 111.)

On February 28, 2008, criminal charges were filed against Plaintiff related to his arrest on August 12, 2007. ( Id. at ¶ 114.) To date, criminal charges are still pending.

Legal Standard

A complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The court reviews the contents of the complaint, accepting all factual allegations as true, and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1072 (9th Cir.2005). Notwithstanding this deference, the reviewing court need not accept “legal conclusions” as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Moreover, it is improper for a court to assume “the [plaintiff] can prove facts that [he or she] has not alleged.” Associated General Contractors of California, Inc. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526, 103 S.Ct. 897, 74 L.Ed.2d 723 (1983). Accordingly, a reviewing court may begin “by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Ashcroft, supra, 129 S.Ct. at 1950.

“When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. 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. at 1949.

“The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.’ Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

A. City Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

The City Defendants move to dismiss the FAC on multiple grounds. First, the City Defendants assert that Plaintiff has failed to adequately allege facts to support his claims of...

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