Ramachandran v. City of L. Altos, Case No.18-cv-01223-VKD

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
Writing for the CourtVIRGINIA K. DEMARCHI, United States Magistrate Judge
Citation359 F.Supp.3d 801
Parties Satish RAMACHANDRAN, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF LOS ALTOS, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No.18-cv-01223-VKD
Decision Date13 February 2019

Fulvio Francisco Cajina, Law Office of Fulvio F. Cajina, Oakland, CA, for Plaintiff.

Alexandra Andreen Baca, Scott William Ditfurth, Christopher Matthew Moffitt, Best Best and Krieger LLP, Riverside, CA, for Defendants.


VIRGINIA K. DEMARCHI, United States Magistrate Judge

Plaintiff Satish Ramachandran filed suit against defendants City of Los Altos ("Los Altos"), Kirk Ballard, Greg Anderson, and David Kornfield (collectively, "the original defendants") on February 25, 2018. Dkt. No. 1. On July 18, 2018, Mr. Ramachandran amended his complaint to name Zach Dahl, Jon Biggs, Chris Jordan, Garrett Jones, Jean Mordo, Sergeant Steve Spillman, Officer Eric Bardwell, Officer Jessica Vernon, and Does 9-25 as additional defendants.1 Dkt. No. 34. The First Amended Complaint ("FAC") asserts the following claims: (1) claim 1 against the original defendants: violation of Mr. Ramachandran's First Amendment right to free speech; (2) claim 2 against all defendants except Messrs. Ballard and Jordan: violation of Mr. Ramachandran's Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedural and substantive due process and equal protection; (3) claim 3 against all defendants: "discrimination – State and Federal"; and (4) claim 4 against all defendants: intentional infliction of emotional distress under California state law. Id. This Court has federal question jurisdiction over Mr. Ramachandran's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

Defendants filed the following motions: (1) motion to strike the FAC (Dkt. No. 59); (2) motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 60); (3) request for judicial notice in support of the motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 61); and (4) special motion to strike pursuant to California's Anti-Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation ("anti-SLAPP") statute, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16 (Dkt. No. 62). The parties also filed a joint discovery letter brief (Dkt. No. 64), and defendants filed a motion to vacate or continue the trial dates and related dates in this case (Dkt. No. 67), both of which the Court will address by separate orders.

The Court heard oral argument on defendants' motions on January 22, 2019. Dkt. No. 79. Having considered the parties' briefs and arguments made at the hearing, the Court: (1) grants the motion to strike, (2) grants the motion to dismiss with leave to amend, (3) grants defendants' request for judicial notice, and (4) denies the anti-SLAPP motion without prejudice.

A. Factual Allegations

Mr. Ramachandran moved to the United States from India in 1986. Dkt. No. 34 ¶ 18. In 1993, he purchased a home in Los Altos, California where he lives today. Id. Defendants are the City of Los Altos and several of its employees. Id. ¶¶ 3-13. Messrs. Kornfield, Ballard, Anderson, and Jones are employees of the city's Community Development Department. Id. ¶¶ 20, 27-28. Sgt. Spillman and Officers Bardwell and Vernon are employees of the Los Altos Police Department. Id. ¶¶ 39-41, 48-49. Mr. Jordan appears to have been the Los Altos City Manager as of October 2017. Dkt. No. 61, Ex. B at 2.2 The FAC does not state in what capacity Messrs. Dahl, Biggs, and Mordo are employed by Los Altos.

In 2013, Mr. Ramachandran sought to renovate the patio of his home, for which Messrs. Kornfield and Ballard initially informed him no permit was necessary for that project. Id. ¶ 20. However, after Mr. Ramachandran hired a contractor to demolish and replace the patio, Messrs. Kornfield and Ballard informed him that a permit was necessary after all. Id. ¶ 21. Mr. Ramachandran says that when he met with Messrs. Kornfield and Ballard to discuss the inconsistent direction they had given him, they became belligerent and hostile. Id. ¶ 22. Mr. Ramachandran says he also discussed the permit requirement with Mr. Anderson, who made discriminatory statements to Mr. Ramachandran, including telling him to "go back to India." Id. ¶ 24. Mr. Ramachandran filed a formal complaint with Los Altos about Mr. Anderson's conduct, but the city did not respond to his complaint. Id. ¶ 26.

Mr. Ramachandran alleges that between 2013 and 2014, the Los Altos Community Development Department (including its employees Messrs. Kornfield, Ballard, Anderson, and Jones) retaliated against him for complaining about Mr. Anderson's behavior. Id. ¶ 27. He says they asked him to comply with permitting requirements with which other residents who had not complained of discrimination were not asked to comply. He also says that Messrs. Ballard and Jones repeatedly refused to accept his patio project plans and arbitrarily changed the project requirements. Id. ¶ 28. Mr. Ramachandran's patio project was completed in late 2014 or early 2015. Id. ¶ 29.

In 2016, Mr. Ramachandran's neighbors, the Jacobses, sought to make substantial additions to a storage shed located on the joint fence and property line between their property and Mr. Ramachandran's. Id. ¶ 30. The Jacobses also contested the property line itself, claiming that part of Mr. Ramachandran's property actually belonged to them instead. Id. Mr. Ramachandran believed that the Jacobses' proposed shed addition did not comply with the city's building code, and he contacted the Community Development Department to express his concerns. Id. ¶¶ 30-32. He says Los Altos employees assured him that the city would not approve the Jacobses' project. Despite these assurances, Mr. Kornfield approved the Jacobses' project and—without authority—approved an increase in their lot size, thereby reducing the size of Mr. Ramachandran's lot. Id. ¶¶ 35-36. Mr. Ramachandran says that similar projects for other non-white city residents were not approved in the past, but that the Jacobses, who are white, received preferential treatment. Id. ¶ 35. Mr. Ramachandran attempted to appeal Mr. Kornfield's approval decision, but Mr. Kornfield told him that the decision was final and unappealable. Id. ¶ 37.

In June 2017, the Jacobses began demolishing the fence along the joint property line. Id. ¶ 38. In anticipation of this event, Mr. Ramachandran spoke to unnamed individuals at the Los Altos Police Department, who informed Mr. Ramachandran that the Jacobses could not enter his land or remove the fence without a court order. Id. When the Jacobses proceeded to do just that, Mr. Ramachandran called the police to the scene. Id. ¶ 39. Officer Bardwell and Sgt. Spillman refused to intervene and told Mr. Ramachandran not to interfere. Id. ¶¶ 39-40. They informed Mr. Ramachandran that if he wanted to stop the Jacobses, he would need a court order to do so. Id. ¶ 41.

The Jacobses proceeded to remove the fence, and at one point, Jim Jacobs entered Mr. Ramachandran's property and pushed him. Id. ¶ 43. Mr. Ramachandran called the police again, and Sgt. Spillman returned. Id. ¶ 44. Sgt. Spillman refused to believe Mr. Ramachandran's account and refused to review the video taken of the incident. Id. The police took no action against the Jacobses. Id. ¶ 46. Two days after the incident, Mr. Ramachandran went to the hospital for his injuries. Id. ¶ 47. A few days later, Officer Vernon contacted Mr. Ramachandran. Id. ¶ 48. Mr. Ramachandran provided her a copy of the medical records of his injuries to include in her report to the district attorney, but he says that she intentionally omitted these medical records from her report. Id. ¶¶ 48-49. Mr. Ramachandran alleges that Mr. Kornfield or his colleagues contacted the Los Altos Police Department before and after the incident with Mr. Jacobs in an attempt to influence the police department's investigation in retaliation for Mr. Ramachandran's 2013 complaint. Id. ¶ 50. He also contends that the officers' conduct contributed to the disparate treatment against Mr. Ramachandran in favor of his white neighbors. Id. Mr. Ramachandran says he continued to complain about this treatment, but Los Altos never investigated his complaints and took no action against any of its employees. Id. ¶ 51.

Following his dispute with the Jacobses, Mr. Ramachandran says that in September 2017, Mr. Ballard demanded entrance to inspect Mr. Ramachandran's home for violations of the city's building code, asserting that the city had received complaints about the violations. Id. ¶ 52. Mr. Ramachandran asked for copies of the alleged complaints, but Mr. Ballard never provided any, and a public records request yielded no such complaints. Id. ¶ 53. Mr. Ramachandran says that Mr. Ballard's surprise home inspection was intended to intimidate him and induce him to stop complaining about Los Altos's discrimination against him. Id. ¶ 54.

On August 1, 2017 and October 12, 2017, Mr. Ramachandran filed claims with the city invoking the Government Tort Claims Act against Los Altos. Id. ¶ 57. Los Altos did not respond to those claims. On October 11, 2017, Mr. Ramachandran also appealed Mr. Kornfield's approval of the Jacobses' permit, but the city did not respond to the appeal. Id. However, Mr. Ramachandran says that after he filed his October 2017 appeal, Messrs. Dahl and Biggs proposed to the Los Altos city council that the city eliminate the requirements that prohibited the Jacobses' project. Id. ¶ 58. Mr. Ramachandran says that this proposal reflects an effort by Mr. Dahl and his staff, including Messrs. Kornfield, Biggs, and Jordan, to have the city council alter the building code after the fact to justify their prior discrimination against Mr. Ramachandran in favor of the Jacobses. Id. ¶ 59.

B. Procedural Background

Mr. Ramachandran filed this action on February 25, 2018 against Los Altos, and Messrs. Ballard, Anderson, and Kornfield. Dkt. No. 1. The...

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