Plater v. United States

Decision Date16 February 2018
Docket Number17-cv-04297 VAP (JEMx)
Citation359 F.Supp.3d 930
Parties Heidi Summer Wright PLATER a.k.a Heidi Wright, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES of America, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of California

Morris Steven Getzels, Morris S. Getzels Law Offices, Tarzana, CA, for Plaintiff.

Jason K. Axe, AUSA - US Attorneys Office, Civil Division, Los Angeles, CA, for Defendants.

Order Granting in Part, Denying in Part, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 26)

Virginia A. Phillips, Chief United States District Judge

On December 4, 2017, Defendants United States of America and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke1 (collectively "Defendants") filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Heidi Summer Wright Plater a.k.a Heidi Wright's ("Plaintiff") First Amended Complaint Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and (b)(6) ("Motion"). (Doc. No. 26). On January 12, 2018, Plaintiff filed her opposition to Defendants' Motion. (Doc. No. 28). Defendants filed their Reply in Support of their Motion on January 25, 2018. (Doc. No. 35).

After considering the papers filed in support of, and in opposition to, the Motion, the Court Grants the Motion in part and denies the Motion in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges the following facts in her First Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 19) ("FAC").

Plaintiff suffered strokes in 2004 and 2007 that caused multiple physical disabilities. (FAC at ¶¶ 5, 11). Plaintiff is unable to walk, and is confined to a wheelchair. (FAC at 11). While she can understand what a person says to her, she cannot respond verbally. (FAC at ¶ 5). Since she is right-handed, and her strokes have affected the right side of her body, Plaintiff cannot hold a pen to write. (FAC at ¶ 11). She communicates with others by nodding or shaking her head. (FAC at ¶ 5).

Plaintiff suffers from several other medical conditions including diabetes, incontinence, hypertension, coronary artery disease, chronic ischemic heart disease, and sick sinus syndrome. (FAC at ¶ 11).

In March 2014, Plaintiff's sister, Chantel Bonet, made arrangements for Plaintiff to move from a skilled nursing facility in Los Angeles to a residential facility for disabled persons in Arizona. (FAC at ¶ 18). Bonet moved to Arizona herself, arranged for Plaintiff's new residence, and transferred Plaintiff's Medicare/Medicaid payments from California to Arizona. (FAC at ¶ 18). Because Plaintiff's California Medicare/Medicaid payments were terminated effective March 31, 2014, Plaintiff had to move to Arizona by April 1, 2014 so the State of Arizona would pay for Plaintiff's living facility. (FAC at ¶ 18).

It appears that in advance of her April 1, 2014 flight, Plaintiff did not have any other form of photo identification apart from a California Identification Card that had expired on September 28, 2012. (See FAC at ¶¶ 19, 12). On March 20, 2014, Bonet wrote to the California Department of Motor Vehicles to request a renewal of Plaintiff's identification card. (FAC at ¶ 19). Plaintiff's other sister, Sherry Wright, took her to the California Department of Motor Vehicles on March 31, 2014, and received a receipt for an application for an identification card renewal. (FAC at ¶ 19).

On March 25, 2014, Bonet wrote to executives of Southwest, Delta, American, and United, requesting assistance for Plaintiff at the Los Angeles Airport ("LAX"). (FAC at ¶ 20). Bonet also tried to contact the Transportation Security Administration's "TSA Cares" department to prepare Plaintiff for her April 1, 2014 flight. (FAC at ¶ 20). Bonet placed calls to TSA Cares on March 25, 26, 27 and 30, but did not receive assistance. (Id. ). Bonet finally left a telephone message with TSA Cares Supervisor Karen Hennigan on March 31, 2014, asking for the appropriate steps Plaintiff would need to take to board a flight on April 1, 2014. (Id. ). Hennigan did not return Bonet's phone call. (Id. ).

With Wright's assistance, Plaintiff went to LAX the evening of April 1, 2014 so she could take Southwest Airlines Flight 1015 for Phoenix, Arizona. (FAC at ¶ 12). At the airport, Plaintiff attempted to get through TSA security screening by presenting her expired California Identification Card, the receipt for application for a new identification card, and her Social Security card. (FAC at ¶ 12).

TSA employees Sandra Vences and Pablo Paiva were responsible for screening passengers for Plaintiff's flight. (FAC at ¶¶ 15, 17). They refused to accept Plaintiff's proffered forms of identification, and did not allow Plaintiff to pass through the TSA security screening. (FAC at ¶ 13).

Between 8:00 p.m. and 9:44 p.m., Vences and Paiva repeatedly asked Plaintiff to either say or write her name to identify herself. (FAC at ¶ 15). They made it clear to Plaintiff that if she did not write or say her name, she would not be allowed to board her flight. (FAC at ¶ 15). Plaintiff tried to say her name, but because of her disability, she could only make garbled sounds. (FAC at ¶ 15). Neither could Plaintiff hold a pen to write her name. (FAC at 15). Plaintiff was reduced to tears and remained crying while Vences and Paiva continued to demand that Plaintiff write or say her name. (FAC at ¶ 15). Vences and Paiva did not let Plaintiff board her flight, which departed at 9:55 p.m. (FAC at ¶ 16).

After Plaintiff had missed her flight, her sister made arrangements for Plaintiff to travel alone by bus to Phoenix. (FAC at ¶ 21). The bus ride was long and uncomfortable. (Id. ).

II. LEGAL STANDARD
A. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1).

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a district court must dismiss an action if the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The party seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing that jurisdiction exists.

Scott v. Breeland, 792 F.2d 925, 927 (9th Cir. 1986). A complaint will be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction if (1) the cause does not "arise under" any federal law or the United States Constitution, (2) there is no "case or controversy" within the meaning of that constitutional term, or (3) the cause is not one described by any jurisdictional statute. Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 198, 82 S.Ct. 691, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962). Rule 12(b)(1) is the proper avenue to argue that a claim is barred by the sovereign immunity doctrine. See Wright & Miller, 5B Federal Practice & Procedure: Civil 3d, § 1350 at 79 (2004).

B. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to bring a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Rule 12(b)(6) is read along with Rule 8(a), which requires a short, plain statement upon which a pleading shows entitlement to relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) ; Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957) (holding that the Federal Rules require a plaintiff to provide " ‘a short and plain statement of the claim’ that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests" (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) ) ); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept all material allegations in the complaint—as well as any reasonable inferences to be drawn from them—as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Doe v. United States, 419 F.3d 1058, 1062 (9th Cir. 2005) ; ARC Ecology v. U.S. Dep't of Air Force, 411 F.3d 1092, 1096 (9th Cir. 2005) ; Moyo v. Gomez, 32 F.3d 1382, 1384 (9th Cir. 1994). "The court need not accept as true, however, allegations that contradict facts that may be judicially noticed by the court." Shwarz v. United States, 234 F.3d 428, 435 (9th Cir. 2000).

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of her ‘entitlement to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (citations omitted). Rather, the allegations in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.

To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 697, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). "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. 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.’ " Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

The Ninth Circuit has clarified that (1) a complaint must "contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively" and (2) "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 v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011).

Although the scope of review is limited to the contents of the complaint, the Court may also consider exhibits submitted with the complaint, Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir. 1990), and "take judicial notice of matters of public record outside the pleadings," Mir v. Little Co. of Mary Hosp., 844 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1988).

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and...

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