Rios v. Cnty. of Sacramento

Citation562 F.Supp.3d 999
Decision Date29 September 2021
Docket Number2:19-cv-00922-KJM-DB
Parties Betty RIOS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California

Stephen E. Goldberg, Hillary Pooler Hansen, Karen Elizabeth Kontz, Laurance H. Lee, Sarah Rose Ropelato, Legal Services of Northern California, Sacramento, CA, for Plaintiffs.

John Robert Whitefleet, Porter Scott, APC, Sacramento, CA, for Defendants County of Sacramento, County of Sacramento Sheriff's Department, Lee.

Alexander Cheung, Edward P. Garson, Peter Abraham Cownan, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, San Francisco, CA, for Defendant Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency.

ORDER

Kimberly J. Mueller, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

In 2019, Sacramento County and its Sheriff's Department expelled about one hundred unhoused and unsheltered people from a vacant lot owned in part by the County and in part by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA). The people who lived there allege they lost most of their belongings, from tents and beds to clothes and medicine, because they did not have enough notice or time to remove or reclaim those belongings. They assert claims under the federal and California constitutions and California law against the County, the Sheriff's Department, SHRA, and others. The defendants move to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. Some of the plaintiffs have standing and have asserted viable claims, so the motion is granted in part and denied in part .

I. BACKGROUND

Many years ago, SHRA took over a motel and mobile home park on Stockton Boulevard in Sacramento. First Am. Compl. (FAC) ¶ 11, ECF No. 1. It demolished the motel and mobile homes to make way for an affordable housing project, but the housing project never took root. Id. ¶¶ 11–12. The land remained vacant for more than a decade. See id. Over the years, many people with nowhere else to live began camping there. See id. ¶ 12. The County eventually began providing trash services and portable restrooms as well. Id. ¶ 4.

Betty "Bubbles" Rios was one of the longest-term residents of the property on Stockton Boulevard. See id. ¶ 24. She first moved into the now-demolished mobile home park in 1998. Id. ¶ 23. After it was torn down, she had nowhere else to go, so she began camping on the property under a tarp. Id. ¶¶ 24–26. For nine years she stayed despite sometimes being forced away. Id. ¶ 24. She kept her clothes, medicine, a breathing machine, and bone stimulator for her arm in her tent. Id. ¶ 26.

Lucille Mendez also lived at the Stockton property for many years, beginning more than ten years ago after her mother passed away and she had nowhere to go. Id. ¶ 34. She stayed at the Stockton property on and off for about five years. Id. Mendez also lived under a tented tarp, where she kept her clothes, tools, mattress, blankets, and chairs. Id. ¶ 36.

Palmer Overstreet also lived at the Stockton property for more than four years. Id. ¶ 46. While he lived there, he fixed and built bikes and made $200 or $300 per week at most. Id. This was not enough to pay rent and other living expenses. See id. ¶¶ 46–48. He lived in a tent and kept tools, bike parts, cooking equipment, and his other belongings on the Stockton property. Id. ¶ 49.

In early 2019, while Rios, Mendez, and Overstreet were still living at the Stockton Boulevard property, SHRA began building a wrought-iron fence around the lot. Id. ¶ 12. A few months later, it posted a notice warning that anyone who camped and stored their property on the lot was committing a misdemeanor. Id. ¶ 13. The notice also stated that a "Site Clean-Up" would begin early in the morning three days later. Id. The notice did not say how personal property could be reclaimed if it were removed, and it did not offer a phone number. Id. ¶ 14. It simply listed three places where property might be stored. Id. Mendez received a copy of this notice. Id. ¶ 35. Overstreet did not, but he heard about it from others. See id. ¶ 47. It is unclear whether Rios received a copy of the notice or knew about the "clean up" in advance. See id. ¶ 25.

Sacramento County Sheriff's Deputies arrived at 8 a.m. on May 1, 2019, the noticed date. Id. ¶ 16. Some were wearing riot gear and holding batons. Id. They moved in a line across the property and forced everyone to the sidewalk. Id. Cars blocked entrances and exits. Id. A helicopter circled overhead, sounding warnings that the people who lived on the property were part of an unlawful assembly and must disperse or face removal by force and arrest. Id. ¶ 17. After everyone was off the land, the Sheriff's Department drove backhoes, dump trucks, and garbage trucks onto the lot, and everything people had not been able to carry was raked and hauled indiscriminately into the trucks. Id. ¶ 18. The gates were then locked. See id. ¶ 39. Deputies allowed some people to enter the property and remove items, but many former residents, including the plaintiffs, were not able to recover all of their property. Id. ¶ 19.

During this "clean up," a deputy named Le1 broke Rios's arm. Id. ¶ 27. Rios was taken to a hospital, and when she returned, most of what she owned was gone. Id. ¶¶ 27–28. Officers also gave her a "Notice of Trespass" threatening prosecution under state and local law. Id. ¶ 29. Mendez was also forced off the property, and she lost almost everything she had kept under her tarp. Id. ¶ 38. She had nowhere to go and spent the next few nights in a donated tent outside the locked gate of the lot where she used to live. Id. ¶ 40. About a week later, deputies forced her away again and took her tent. Id. She moved around the corner but was soon arrested for trespassing. Id. ¶ 41. Overstreet also lost his tent, bike parts, cooking equipment, and other belongings. Id. ¶ 49. Like Rios, he received a notice of trespass, but he was not arrested. Id. ¶ 50. He slept on the asphalt outside the locked gates until deputies forced him away a few days later. Id. ¶ 51. Rios, Mendez, and Overstreet do not know what happened to their lost belongings. All three submitted tort claims to both the County and SHRA; all were denied. See id. ¶¶ 30–31, 42–43, 52–53.

Board members of the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee or "SHOC" were also at the Stockton Boulevard property on the morning of May 1. See id. ¶ 58. SHOC is a nonprofit organization that seeks "to address problems of homelessness." Id. ¶ 56. It publishes a newspaper about poverty and homelessness, advocates for the homeless, litigates on their behalf, directs nonviolent actions, and offers "education to bridge the gap between the homeless community and others." Id. The night before the removal, SHOC board members also helped organize "community groups, residents and other volunteers," and on the morning of the removal, they "were on site to observe and ensure that residents were not illegally arrested or forced to move." Id. ¶ 58. SHOC met with the County Supervisor who represents the district that surrounds the Stockton Boulevard property a few days after the raid. Id. ¶ 64. Since then, SHOC has tried to improve living conditions of the people who were removed from the Stockton property. Id.

Rios, Mendez, Overstreet, and SHOC filed a complaint in this court a few months later, see Compl., ECF No. 1, and the case is proceeding on their First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 8. Plaintiffs name the County of Sacramento, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency and its executive director, and Deputy Le as defendants. See id. They assert nine claims:

1. All of the plaintiffs assert a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all of the defendants for unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. FAC at 20.
2. All of the plaintiffs assert a claim under § 1983 against all of the defendants for denial of due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 20–21.
3. All of the plaintiffs assert a claim under § 1983 against all of the defendants for cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 21–22.
4. Rios asserts an excessive force claim under § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment against Deputy Le. Id. at 22–23.
5. All of the plaintiffs assert a declaratory relief claim under 28 U.S.C. § 2201 – 2202 against all of the defendants. Id. at 23.
6. All of the plaintiffs assert a claim for unreasonable search and seizure against all of the defendants under Article I, section 13 of the California Constitution. Id. at 23–24.
7. All of the plaintiffs assert a claim against all of the defendants for the denial of due process under Article I, section 7(a) of the California Constitution. Id. at 24.
8. All of the plaintiffs assert a claim against all of the defendants under California Civil Code § 2080 and Government Code section 815.6, which relate to the seizure and return of personal property. Id. at 24–25.
9. All of the plaintiffs assert a claim against all of the defendants under the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act, California Civil Code section 52.1. Id. at 25.

The plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction, declaratory relief, the return of their belongings, damages, fees, costs, and other relief. Id. at 25–27.

The defendants have moved to dismiss. See County Mot., ECF No. 14; SHRA Mot., ECF No. 16; SHRA Joinder, ECF No. 15. The plaintiffs have opposed both motions for the most part, see Opp'n County, ECF No. 17; Opp'n SHRA, ECF No. 18, but they narrowed their claims in two respects. First, they agreed to dismiss Deputy Le from all of their claims except the fourth claim for excessive force, Opp'n County at 14, and that claim is not currently in dispute. Second, they agreed to dismiss all of their claims against SHRA's executive director. Opp'n SHRA at 12. The claims against these defendants are therefore dismissed. As a result, the defendants’ motions address claims against the three entities (SHRA, the County, and the...

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2 cases
  • Adams v. Cnty. of Sacramento
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
    • January 10, 2023
    ... ... Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477, 480 (1994) ... (distinguishing the lack of exhaustion requirement for § ... 1983 from the federal habeas corpus statute); Heath v ... Cleary, 708 F.2d 1376, 1379 (9th Cir. 1983) (finding ... plaintiff did not need to exhaust under Patsy); Rios v ... Cnty. of Sacramento, 562 F.Supp.3d 999, (E.D. Cal. 2021) ... (J. Mueller) (“Exhaustion is not a prerequisite to an ... action under § 1983.”) (citing Patsy, 457 ... U.S. at 102)); Mahoney v. Hankin, 539 F.Supp. 1171, ... 1174 (S.D. N.Y. 1984) ... ...
  • Adams v. Cnty. of Sacramento
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
    • January 10, 2023
    ...v. Cleary, 708 F.2d 1376, 1379 (9th Cir. 1983) (finding plaintiff did not need to exhaust under Patsy); Rios v. Cnty. of Sacramento, 562 F.Supp.3d 999, (E.D. Cal. 2021) (J. Mueller) (“Exhaustion is not a prerequisite to an action under § 1983.”) (citing Patsy, 457 U.S. at 102)); Mahoney v. ......

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