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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ninth Circuit Lets Beaten Man Sue Sheriff

PASADENA, Calif. (CN) - A Latino who claims San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies beat and Tasered him without cause properly filed a second amended complaint, the Ninth Circuit ruled Monday, reversing the district court's dismissal and remanding.

The ruling stems from a December 2012 civil rights lawsuit from Sergio Casillas Ramirez. He sued San Bernardino County, Sheriff Rod Hoops, Deputies William Champin, D. Patton and Edward Finneran, and private investigator Jim Orr and the Recording Industry Association of America.

Ramirez claimed the deputies accosted him in his driveway, then beat him and Tasered him though he was not resisting them. He says he was in custody for 15 days without ever being arraigned and was sent to two immigration jails before he bonded out.

The complaint was removed to Federal Court in April 2013, where the parties agreed to dismiss some defendants and allow Ramirez to amend his complaint. Ten days later he filed a first amended complaint alleging, among other things, civil rights violations, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The defendants moved to dismiss. Though Ramirez's motion to oppose was due in court by June 3, 2013, he did not submit a response until he attempted to file a second amended complaint on June 12, which was rejected two days later on the grounds that Ramirez did not receive leave to file.

The U.S. District Court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the first amended complaint without leave to amend.

In July 2013, Ramirez filed a motion for reconsideration in which he claimed the second amended complaint was appropriately filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), and that he did not seek leave of the court before filing because he thought he still had such leave after filing the first amended complaint.

In denying his motion, the District Court said that leave to file an amended complaint must be explicitly sought and granted before it can be accepted, and that dismissal was proper because Ramirez did not oppose the motion to dismiss.

But on Monday, a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit sided with Ramirez, saying Rule 15(a) "does not impose any particular timing mechanism governing the order in which amendments must be made."

The panel said that rule 15(a) allows parties to amend pleadings 21 days after first service, or within 21 days of serving a motion to which a response is required. Otherwise, leave of the court or the opposing party's written consent must be obtained to file amended complaints.

"We disagree both with the district court's characterization of the first amended complaint as being the plaintiff's one matter of course amendment, as well as its conclusion about the timing and waiver mechanism of Rule 15(a)," U.S. District Judge Elizabeth E. Foote of the Western District of Louisiana, sitting by designation, wrote for the panel.

"We hold that Rule 15 provides different ways to amend a complaint, and these ways are not mutually exclusive."

That Ramirez filed his first amended complaint with the defendants' consent, fulfilling requirements of Rule 15(a)(2), does not exhaust his ability to file additional amendments under 15(a)(1) because the rule is not chronological, the ruling states.

In other words, parties do not need to file a Rule 15(a)(1) amendment before they can file an amendment under Rule 15(a)(2).

"Hence, we conclude that a plaintiff may amend in whatever order he sees fit, provided he complies with the respective requirements found within 15(a)(1) and 15(a)(2)," and does so in a timely manner, Foote wrote.

Such was the case here: Ramirez attempted to file his second amended complaint on the 21st day after the defendants filed their motion to dismiss, making it timely under the statute.

The first amended complaint "ceased to exist" under the law the moment Ramirez filed the second amended complaint, so the defendants' motion to dismiss, which targeted the first complaint, "should have been deemed moot," Foote wrote.

The district court erred by allowing a local rule to trump a federal rule, though local rules must yield to federal rules when in conflict.

The panel declined to address Ramirez's motion to remand to state court, as the court does not address arguments raised for the first time on appeal.

Ninth Circuit Judges Jay Bybee and Carlos Bea joined Judge Foote on the panel.

Plaintiff's attorney Moises Aviles told Courthouse News he was pleased with the ruling.

"It's a very equitable opinion. I think there is justice and fairness in it," he said. "Though it seems like it's all procedure, underlying it is the issue of civil rights. With this opinion, my client's civil rights have been vindicated."

The defendants must file an answer to the second amended complaint . After that, Aviles said, they can set the trial date, which will likely be nine months to a year from now.

The defendants were represented by Dawn Flores-Oster, who did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

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