Moore v. Cnty. of Sacramento, No. 2:19-cv-844-JAM-KJN PS

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
Docket NumberNo. 2:19-cv-844-JAM-KJN PS
Decision Date14 May 2020


No. 2:19-cv-844-JAM-KJN PS


May 14, 2020


(ECF No. 23.)

Plaintiffs Otis and Kristina Moore, proceeding pro se, allege the County of Sacramento wrongfully removed their grandchildren from their custody.1 Plaintiffs primarily claim their First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment Constitutional rights were violated; they seek monetary and injunctive relief. (ECF No. 1.) The County now moves to dismiss, arguing that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear some of plaintiffs' claims, all claims are time-barred, and the Complaint otherwise fails to state claims on which relief might be granted. (ECF No. 23.)

For the reasons that follow, the court recommends the County's motion be granted, and plaintiffs be denied leave to amend.


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Otis and Kristina Moore have two adult-age children, Karissa and Kamara, and six grandchildren: S.S., E.G., Ps.M, Pc.M., C.M., and K.M.3 (ECF No. 1 at 4; see also ECF No. 18 at 8, 13.) In the summer of 2014, Sacramento Human Services Supervisor Essence Webb ("Webb") requested plaintiffs provide shelter for Karissa, Kamara, S.S., E.G., Pc.M., and C.M. (ECF No. 1 at 6; see also ECF No. 18 at 9.) At that time, K.M. was not yet born, and Ps.M. was already living with his grandparents—and had been so for close to a decade. (See Id. at 20-21.) Plaintiffs agreed to shelter the four grandchildren, but did not want to house their daughters, given their drug history. (Id.) However, after Webb insisted, plaintiffs agreed to take in everyone. (Id.; see also ECF No. 25 at 8.) Webb had plaintiffs sign a "Voluntary Caretaker Authorization Form," which gave plaintiffs temporary authority to care for the four grandchildren; this form did not otherwise affect legal custody. (ECF No. 1 at 6.) Webb did not discuss the County's "Family Maintenance Program" with plaintiffs at that time. (Id.)

In mid-August of 2014, Kamara gave birth to K.M. (ECF No. 18 at 9-10). On September 4, plaintiffs visited their granddaughter at U.C. Davis Medical Center after the infant sustained an injury. (ECF No. 1 at 6.) During the hospital visit, plaintiffs (alongside Karissa and Kamara) met with Emergency Response Social Worker Nikkita Moorer ("Moorer"). (ECF No. 1 at 6.) Moorer informed plaintiffs that the County was going to place all six grandchildren in foster care because plaintiffs house was a "drug and violent house." (Id.) Plaintiffs responded that Moorer had mistaken their home for Karissa and Kamara's former house. (Id.) Five days later, Sacramento

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Superior Court Referee Carol Chrisman informed plaintiffs that the grandchildren would be "detained by the court" and placed in foster care. (ECF No. 1 at 6.) Plaintiffs again argued that the County "had the wrong house." (Id. at 6-7.)

On September 15, 2014, "Psychosocial Social Worker" Jillian Cuevas visited plaintiffs' residence, under the premise of conducting a "home assessment." (Id. at 9.) Instead, Cuevas conducted an "in-home psychological assessment." (Id.) Cuevas's report "gave 10 reasons why [plaintiffs] should not have [their] grandchildren placed in [their] home." (Id.) Plaintiffs contended Cuevas was biased and relied on erroneous information. (Id.) The home assessment was conducted on a later date. (Id.)

On December 2, 2014, plaintiffs met with Sacramento County Counsel Christophe Guillon. (Id. at 7.) There, plaintiffs questioned Guillon about why he failed to turn over a Detention Report from August 2010. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiffs accused Guillon of using the Report "to create a negative narrative" about their family life, and argued that some of the details contained therein were fabricated by a County social worker. (Id.) Guillon accused plaintiffs of stealing their copy of the Report. (Id.) That same day, Sacramento Superior Court Referee Marlene Hertoghe issued an order permanently removing the grandchildren from plaintiffs' home. (Id. at 7.) Referee Hertoghe noted that Mrs. Moore failed to "take parenting classes" as ordered, and stated "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." (Id. at 8.) The grandchildren have since been adopted. (See ECF No. 21 at 2:11-14.)

Plaintiffs complained to then-Director of Health and Human Services, Dr. Sherri Heller, and in 2016, Heller ordered an investigation. (ECF No. 1 at 8-9) Two weeks later, a County investigator informed plaintiffs that her investigation showed Mrs. Moore was never ordered to take parenting classes (contrary to Referee Hertoghe's findings). (Id.) Sometime after this conversation, plaintiffs met with County Supervisor Don Nottoli, then-Deputy Executive Paul Lake, and Heller. (Id.) Plaintiffs complained of County employees' biases, and questioned why the County did not utilize the "Emergency Housing Program" in July 2014 (instead of the "Voluntary Caretaker Form."). (Id.) Heller said this program had been shut down, but plaintiffs disputed this assertion and accused Heller of lying. (Id.)

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Procedural Posture

Plaintiffs filed their Complaint with this court on May 13, 2019. (ECF No. 1.) Therein, they prayed for compensatory and punitive damages for the "pain and suffering, emotional distress, and trauma" suffered by both them and their grandchildren. Plaintiffs also prayed for injunctive relief, that "this court [order] all 6 grandchildren returned." (Id.)

The County answered in November 2019, and plaintiffs filed a response to the County's answer. (ECF Nos. 13, 18.) On December 2, the County indicated it anticipated filing a motion for judgment on the pleadings, and so at a February 3, 2020 hearing, the court set a briefing schedule. (ECF Nos. 14, 22.)

On March 5, 2020, the County filed its Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (ECF No. 23.) Plaintiffs failed to file timely opposition, and so the court vacated the hearing and ordered an opposition brief. (ECF No. 24.) On April 2, plaintiffs filed their opposition. (ECF No. 25.) On April 30, 2020, the County filed its reply brief. (ECF No. 26.)

Parties' Arguments

The County's motion under Rule 12 is multifaceted. First, the County argues plaintiffs are seeking a de-facto appeal of the state court judgment, and federal courts have "no jurisdiction to revisit, review, or modify a state court judgment." Second, it argues plaintiffs lack standing to assert any "Right to Familial Association" claim, arguing grandparents have no such right under Ninth Circuit precedent. Third, it asserts plaintiffs' constitutional claims are time barred, as the allegedly-wrongful conduct occurred in 2014. Fourth, the County avers the Complaint either fails to allege sufficient facts to support a claim, or asserts injuries under inapplicable statutes. Thus, the County requests dismissal of the complaint without leave to amend.

Plaintiffs' pro se opposition brief reasserts their belief that the sources of law cited in the Complaint are appropriate, and enough facts exist to support those claims. They further argue their relationship with their grandchildren is "so intimate and essential" that it is worthy of Constitutional protections. Plaintiffs contend they are not trying to relitigate a state court proceeding, and argue that events occurring after 2014 effectively tolled the limitations period.

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Legal Standard

Rule 8(a)4 requires that a complaint be "(1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction . . . ; (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief." A responding party may present certain defenses to a complaint by motion, including: (a) challenges to the court's subject-matter jurisdiction, and (b) challenges to the sufficiency of the complaint. See Rule 12(b).

(a) Subject Matter Jurisdiction

A Rule 12(b)(1) challenge to the court's subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any point in the litigation. See Rule 12(h)(3). This is so because subject-matter jurisdiction concerns "the courts' statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case." Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998) (emphasis omitted). Constitutional power is governed by Article III, which requires the existence of "an actual case or controversy"—a core component of which is "standing." Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). The "standing" doctrine requires a plaintiff to show (1) he or she has "suffered an 'injury in fact' that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision." Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180-81 (2000).

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and are presumptively without subject-matter jurisdiction over civil actions. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Thus, burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction—including standing, rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction. Id.; Maya v. Centex Corp., 658 F.3d 1060, 1067 (9th Cir. 2011) ("[A] lack of Article III standing requires dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction[.]") Because subject matter jurisdiction involves a court's power to hear a case, it can never be forfeited or waived. United States v. Cotton, 535 U.S. 625, 630 (2002).

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Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attacks can be either facial or factual. White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 2000). In a facial...

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