FLORES v. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES

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United States Court of Appeals,Ninth Circuit.

Maria G. FLORES, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES and Lee Baca, Defendants–Appellees.

No. 12–56623.

Decided: July 14, 2014

Before JAY S. BYBEE, CARLOS T. BEA, and SANDRA S. IKUTA, Circuit Judges. Luis A. Carillo, Law Offices of Luis A. Carillo, South Pasadena, CA, for Plaintiff–Appellant. Thomas C. Hurrell and Melinda Cantrall, Hurrell Cantrall LLP, Los Angeles, CA, for Defendants–Appellees.

OPINION

Plaintiff Maria Flores alleges that after she received a traffic ticket, she drove to a Los Angeles County vehicle inspection site to clear the ticket. There, she alleges, she was sexually assaulted by a deputy sheriff, who is to date unidentified. She now sues the County and its sheriff Lee Baca, claiming the assault was a proximate result of their failure properly to train deputy sheriffs “to ensure that Sheriff's [d]eputies do not sexually assault women that [d]eputies come in contact with.” This failure to train is alleged to be a violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights, actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court dismissed Flores's claims for failure to state a claim for relief, and she appeals.

Flores's allegations do not establish that the County or Baca were deliberately indifferent to the risk of sexual assault by deputies on members of the public, nor that the assault on Flores was a known or obvious consequence of the alleged lack of training of deputies. Further, in view of the penal code of California,1 which already prohibited such assault, and which law the deputies were sworn to uphold, and in the absence of any pattern of sexual assaults by deputies, Flores has also failed to allege facts sufficient to state a claim, plausible on its face, that the alleged failure to train officers not to commit sexual assault constituted deliberate indifference. For these reasons, we affirm.

Factual and Procedural History2

On January 20, 2011, plaintiff Maria Flores went to the Vehicle Inspection Area at Metropolitan Court House in Los Angeles in connection with a traffic ticket. An unknown deputy, whom Flores names Deputy Doe 1, was tasked with “signing off” on her ticket. According to Flores's complaint, Deputy Doe 1 touched and fondled Flores's body without her consent.3 Id.

Flores timely brought suit in federal district court under 42 U.S .C. § 1983 against the County of Los Angeles (the “County”) and Sheriff Lee Baca.4 Flores also brought state law negligence claims against the County, Baca, and the fictitiously named Deputies Doe 1–10, assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims against Deputy Doe 1, and a respondeat superior claim against the County. Deputy Doe 1 has not been served with process and is not a party to the action. The district court dismissed with prejudice Flores's state-law based negligence claims against the County and Baca, and her respondeat superior claim against the County. Flores does not appeal the dismissal of these state-law based claims.

In support of her § 1983 claims,5 Flores's First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) alleged that defendants “failed to implement proper training to protect women to ensure that Sheriff's [d]eputies do not sexually assault women that ․ [they] come into contact with at the Vehicle Inspection Area.” The FAC also alleged that the defendants were on notice, following a different deputy sheriff's 2006 conviction for three sexual assaults which took place in 2004 and 2005,6 “that since 2004 the training of Sheriff's [d]eputies had deteriorated, was defective, and needed improvement[,] and that failure to implement proper training for Sheriff's [d]eputies was reckless and dangerous ․ especially for women who would go to the Vehicle Inspection Area.” The FAC alleged that the “failure to properly train Sheriff's [d]eputies reflects a ‘deliberate’ or ‘conscious' choice by the [County] and [Baca], and said failure to train can be properly characterized as an actionable [County] ‘policy.’ “7 To support the argument that the failure to include sexual assault training amounts to a deliberate or conscious choice, Flores proposed additions to the Sheriff's Department Manual that would instruct deputies that they “shall not sexually harass or sexually attack women with whom they come into contact.”

Defendants moved the court to dismiss the FAC for failure to state a claim for relief under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). On that motion, the court found that Flores had failed to allege facts to show the existence of a policy, practice, or custom sufficient to state a claim against the County under Monell8 and that Flores “fails to allege facts showing that there was a sufficient causal connection between the wrongful conduct and the constitutional violation” to support her § 1983 claim against Baca in his individual capacity. The court dismissed the Monell and § 1983 claims against the County and Baca without leave to amend.9 Flores timely appealed. On appeal, Flores argues that the district court erred because Flores alleged facts sufficient to state a claim for relief, plausible on its face, as to the County's and Baca's failure to train sheriff's deputies.

Standard of Review

This court reviews de novo a district court's dismissal of an action for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Wood v. City of San Diego, 678 F.3d 1075, 1080 (9th Cir.2012).

Analysis

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, “[e]very person who, under color of any statute ․ custom, or usage of any State ․ subjects, or causes to be subjected, any ․ person within the jurisdiction of [the United States] to the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law.” Neither state officials nor municipalities are vicariously liable for the deprivation of constitutional rights by employees. Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. Rather, as to a municipality, “the inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for § 1983 liability only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact.” City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. at 388.10 This means that Flores must “must demonstrate a ‘conscious' or ‘deliberate’ choice on the part of a municipality in order to prevail on a failure to train claim.” Price, 513 F.3d at 973. As to an official in his individual capacity, the same standard applies—Flores must show that Baca was deliberately indifferent to the need to train subordinates, and the lack of training actually caused the constitutional harm or deprivation of rights. Connick v. Thompson, –––U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1358, 179 L.Ed.2d 417 (2011).

Under this standard, Flores must allege facts to show that the County and Baca “disregarded the known or obvious consequence that a particular omission in their training program would cause [municipal] employees to violate citizens' constitutional rights.” Id. at 1360 (internal quotation marks omitted).

To this end, Flores argues that following the earlier arrest and conviction of a different Los Angeles deputy sheriff for sexual assaults, who Flores does not allege worked at the same installation, the County and Baca were on notice that the training of deputies was “inadequate,” and that “proper training and procedures were not in place ․ to protect women [and] ensure that Sheriff's [d]eputies do not sexually assault women that Sheriff's deputies come in contact with on a daily basis.”11 However, Flores does not allege a pattern of sexual assaults perpetrated by Los Angeles sheriff's deputies before her alleged assault in 2011.12 The sexual assaults in 2004 resulted in convictions against the sole offender.

A “pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is ordinarily necessary to demonstrate deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train,” though there exists a “narrow range of circumstances [in which] a pattern of similar violations might not be necessary to show deliberate indifference.” Id. at 1360, 1361 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The isolated incidents of criminal wrongdoing by one deputy other than Deputy Doe 1 do not suffice to put the County or Baca on “notice that a course of training is deficient in a particular respect,” nor that the absence of such a course “will cause violations of constitutional rights.” Id. Neither Baca nor the County was faced with a pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees. Id. at 1360.

Nor does Flores's failure to train claim fall within the “narrow range of circumstances [in which] a pattern of similar violations might not be necessary to show deliberate indifference.” Id. at 1361 (internal citations omitted). In City of Canton, the “Court posed the hypothetical example of a city that arms its police force with firearms and deploys the armed officers into the public to capture fleeing felons without training the officers in the constitutional limitation on the use of deadly force.” Id. at 1361 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). In its hypothetical, the Court “sought not to to foreclose the possibility, however rare, that the unconstitutional consequences of failing to train could be so patently obvious that a city could be liable under § 1983 without proof of a pre-existing pattern of violations.” Id. As the Court observed, this hypothetical recognizes that “[t]here is no reason to assume that police academy applicants are familiar with the constitutional constraints of the use of deadly force.” Id. There is, however, every reason to assume that police academy applicants are familiar with the criminal prohibition on sexual assault, as everyone is presumed to know the law. United States v. Budd, 144 U.S. 154, 163, 12 S.Ct. 575, 36 L.Ed. 384 (1892). There is no basis from which to conclude that the unconstitutional consequences of failing to train police officers not to commit sexual assault are so patently obvious that the County or Baca were deliberately indifferent.

Finally, Flores's claim for failure to train fails because it is not plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Flores's sole factual allegation regarding the alleged failure to train consists in the absence of language in the Sheriff's Department Manual that would instruct deputies not to sexually harass or sexually attack women with whom they come into contact. “Where the proper response ․ is obvious to all without training or supervision, then the failure to train or supervise is generally not ‘so likely’ to produce a wrong decision as to support an inference of deliberate indifference by city policymakers to the need to train or supervise.” Walker v. City of New York, 974 F.2d 293, 299–300 (2d Cir.1993); see also Sewell v. Town of Lake Hamilton, 117 F.3d 488, 490 (11th Cir.1997). Given that the penal code prohibits sexual battery, it is not plausible that inclusion in the Manual of the language that Flores proposes would have prevented the assault on Flores.13 If the threat of prison time does not sufficiently deter sexual assault, it is not plausible to assume that a specific instruction not to commit sexual assault will provide such deterrence, and therefore failure to include such instruction does not constitute deliberate indifference absent a longstanding pattern of such criminal behavior. We agree with our sister circuits that “[i]n light of the regular law enforcement duties of a police officer” there is not “a patently obvious need for the city [ ] specifically [to] train officers not to rape young women.” Andrews v. Fowler, 98 F.3d 1069, 1077 (8th Cir.1996); see also Barney v. Pulsipher, 143 F.3d 1299, 1308 (10th Cir.1998) (“Specific or extensive training hardly seems necessary for a jailer to know that sexually assaulting inmates is inappropriate behavior”).

Accordingly, we hold that Flores has failed to allege sufficiently that the failure to train sheriff's deputies not to commit sexual assault constitutes deliberate indifference to the risk of such assault by a deputy. Given the absence of any pattern of sexual assaults and the clear criminality of the conduct, we also hold that instructions in an employment manual not to sexually harass or sexually assault women cannot plausibly be considered an effective means to prevent sexual assault, when the employees are peace officers sworn to uphold the law which prohibits such assaults.

Conclusion

Flores has not alleged facts sufficient to state a claim against the County or Baca, and the district court properly dismissed the action for failure to state a claim. The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.

BEA, Circuit Judge:

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