Friday, January 9, 2015

Does Save Plaintiff's Day

Pierce v. San Mateo Cnty. Sheriff’s Dept., No. A138278 (D1d1 Dec. 31, 2014)

In an interesting opinion that explores the subtle distinctions between the Eleventh Amendment, the nebulous state sovereign immunity doctrine that is somehow atextually baked into the constitution, and the meaning of the word “person” in 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the court also addresses an interesting issue about doe defendants. Doe pleading is, of course, an established practice in California state court. See Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 474. Here, the plaintiff sued a sheriff’s department. According to the California Supreme Court—which disagrees with the Ninth Circuit on the issue—a sheriff is an instrumentality of the state, not local government, and thus can’t be sued under § 1983 in an official capacity. But plaintiff also sued a bunch of individual deputies—whose names he didn’t know—as does. While the sheriff had a legit argument on demurrer that he should be dismissed as an arm of the state, that reasoning didn’t apply to the doe deputies. It was thus erroneous for the trial court to dismiss the case against the does based on the sheriff’s state actor arguments.


Reversed.

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