Ramirez v. Cnty. of San Bernardino

Decision Date23 November 2015
Docket NumberNo. 13–56602.,13–56602.
Citation806 F.3d 1002
PartiesSergio Casillas RAMIREZ, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. COUNTY OF SAN BERNARDINO, a political subdivision; Rod Hoops, Sheriff; William Champin, Sheriff's Deputy; D. Patton, Sheriff's Deputy; and Edward Finneran, Sheriff's Deputy, Defendants–Appellees, Jim Orr, Private Investigator; Recording Industry Association of America, Defendants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Moises A. Aviles(argued), Aviles & Associates, San Bernardino, CA, for PlaintiffAppellant.

Dawn M. Flores–Oster(argued), Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, Los Angeles, CA, for DefendantsAppellees.


FOOTE, District Judge:

PlaintiffAppellant, Sergio Ramirez, appeals the district court's dismissal of his civil rights complaint and the subsequent denial of his motion to reconsider that dismissal. In this appeal, we consider whether Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)required the Plaintiff, who filed his First Amended Complaint with consent of the opposing party, to seek leave of court before filing his Second Amended Complaint. This inquiry demands that we carefully scrutinize Rule 15(a)'s text to discern whether it imposes any particular timing mechanism governing the order in which amendments must be made. Because we find that Rule 15(a)does not impose any such timing mechanism, we hold that the Plaintiff was permitted to file his Second Amended Complaint “as a matter of course,” without seeking leave of court. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the district court below.


This civil rights case arises from an incident in which San Bernardino Sheriff's deputies stopped the Plaintiff in his driveway whereupon they allegedly beat, tased, and detained him despite his compliance with their commands. The Plaintiff asserts that he was detained for fifteen days without being arraigned or brought to court and that he was subsequently transferred to two different immigration detention centers, where he endured additional suffering before being released on bail. The merits of the case and the Plaintiff's allegations against the Defendants are not at issue in this appeal, however. Rather, we focus on an intriguing confluence of procedural mechanisms that resulted in the district court's action below.

In December 2012, the Plaintiff filed suit in California state court against the County of San Bernardino and other individuals, chiefly claiming a violation of his civil rights. On April 29, 2013, after removal of the case to federal court, the Plaintiff and the Defendants stipulated to the dismissal of certain Defendants and agreed that the Plaintiff could amend his complaint within twenty days. The parties submitted the stipulation to the district court for its approval. The district court shortened the Plaintiff's deadline to file an amended complaint from twenty days to ten days, but signed the order. Within ten days, as contemplated by the stipulation and order, the Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint, alleging civil rights violations, battery, false imprisonment, invasion of privacy, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of Sections 51.7 and 52.1 of the California Unruh Civil Rights Act.

On May 22, 2013, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the First Amended Complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and also moved for a more definite statement, pursuant to Rule 12(e). The motion was calendared for hearing on June 24, 2013. Pursuant to Central District of California Local Rule 7–9, the Plaintiff was required to file an opposition to the Defendants' motion no later than twenty-one days before the hearing date. If the Plaintiff intended not to oppose the motion, Local Rule 7–9mandated that he file a written statement confirming he would not oppose the motion. Although the Plaintiff's opposition or statement of non-opposition was due to the court by June 3, 2013, he failed to submit any response to the motion. Rather, on June 12, 2013, he attempted to file a Second Amended Complaint. This filing was rejected on June 14, 2013 because leave of court had neither been sought nor granted.

By June 19, the Defendants' motion to dismiss was still unopposed. Consequently, the district court granted the motion to dismiss, relying upon Local Rule 7–12, which provides that [t]he failure to file any required document, or the failure to file it within the deadline, may be deemed consent to the granting or denial of the motion....” Thus, without considering the merits of the Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, the district court deemed the Plaintiff's silence as his consent to the granting of the Defendants' motion to dismiss. The district court dismissed the First Amended Complaint, without leave to amend, as to all Defendants, including two nonmoving Defendants, and dismissed the action entirely.

Nearly one month later, the Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration under Rules 59(e) and 60(b). There, he submitted that the Second Amended Complaint was

appropriately filed as an amended complaint filed of course under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1), and properly superseded the First Amended Complaint, making the Motion to Dismiss, filed May 22, 2013, moot, and that a newly decided Federal case and a newly decided State case would bar granting a Motion to Dismiss without leave to amend. In the alternative, Plaintiff attempted to file the Second Amended Complaint based on the fact that the Plaintiff previously obtained leave to file the First Amended Complaint, and still believed that he still had the right to file an amended complaint filed of course, but through carelessness, attempted to file the Second Amended Complaint anyway.

The district court denied the motion for reconsideration, explaining that the Plaintiff was not entitled to file a Second Amended Complaint without seeking leave of court, as he had already exhausted his one matter of course amendment when he filed the First Amended Complaint. The court explained:

Based on the stipulation of the parties, the Court entered an order on May 1, 2013 that had been lodged by the parties dismissing those defendants [in the original complaint] and setting a deadline for the filing of an amended complaint. Although the May 1, 2013 Order set a deadline by which Plaintiff had to file a First Amended Complaint, the stipulation submitted by the parties did not seek, and the Court did not grant, Plaintiff leave to file his First Amended Complaint. Thus, Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint filed on May 9, 2013 constituted his one “as a matter of course” filing of an amended complaint. In addition, even if the May 1, 2013 Order is construed as granting Plaintiff leave to amend his original Complaint, Plaintiff was still not entitled to file his Second Amended Complaint without seeking leave of the Court because he had waived his right to file an amended complaint “as a matter of course.” ... Therefore, the Court properly rejected the Second Amended Complaint because Plaintiff failed to seek leave of the Court to file it.

The district court further reasoned that the Defendants' motion to dismiss was properly granted under the Local Rules because the Plaintiff failed to file an opposition, which was deemed consent to the granting of the motion. The court found that vacating the dismissal of the case would prejudice the Defendants who would be required to devote additional time and resources to more litigation; that prejudice would be “compounded by the fact that granting Plaintiff's Motion would simply reward Plaintiff for his repeated violations of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules while the County Defendants incurred additional unnecessary expenses in defending this action.” For those reasons, the district court concluded that the Plaintiff was not entitled to relief under Rule 60(b) and denied the motion.1


We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. The district court's rejection of the Second Amended Complaint, pursuant to its interpretation of Rule 15, will be reviewed de novo. See Cal. Scents v. Surco Prods., Inc.,406 F.3d 1102, 1105 (9th Cir.2005)(This court reviews de novoa district court's interpretation of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”).


The Plaintiff's chief complaint on appeal is that Rule 15(a)is ambiguous and that under the Rule, it is not clear whether he was required to seek leave of court to file his Second Amended Complaint. After a thorough examination of the Rule, we hold that he was not.

Rule 15(a)provides:

(1) Amending as a Matter of Course.A party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within:
(A) 21 days after serving it, or
(B) if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier.
(2) Other Amendments.In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a).2The Plaintiff contends the district court erred in striking his Second Amended Complaint and should have allowed it to be filed. While we agree with the Plaintiff that the district court impermissibly rejected the Second Amended Complaint, we do not agree that Rule 15(a)is ambiguous.

As the Supreme Court has long instructed in the context of statutory interpretation, when the wording of a rule is clear and unambiguous and is not capable of more than one meaning, “the duty of interpretation does not arise, and the rules which are to aid doubtful meanings need no discussion.” Caminetti v. United States,242 U.S. 470, 485, 37 S.Ct. 192, 61 L.Ed. 442 (1917); see also Conn. Nat'l Bank v. Germain,503 U.S. 249, 254, 112 S.Ct. 1146, 117 L.Ed.2d 391 (1992)(“When the words of a statute are unambiguous, then, this first canon is also the last: judicial...

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