Alberto Hernandez v. County of San Bernardino et al

Filing 34

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT 23 by Judge Otis D. Wright, II. MD JS-6. Case Terminated. (lc). Modified on 2/6/2013 (lc).

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JS-6 O 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 ALBERTO HERNANDEZ, 12 13 v. Case No. 2:11-cv-10274-ODW(DTBx) Plaintiff, COUNTY OF SAN BERNARDINO et al., 14 ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [23] Defendants. 15 I. 16 INTRODUCTION 17 “‘Data! Data! Data!’ he cried impatiently. ‘I can’t make bricks without clay.’” 18 Arthur Conan Doyle, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 289 (Harper & Bros. Publishers 19 1900). Despite Sherlock Holmes’s admonition, Plaintiff Alberto Hernandez tries to 20 make a case with no evidence. Hernandez alleges that several officers engaged in 21 excessive force against him while he was being detained following arrest. When 22 Defendants moved for summary judgment, Hernandez did little to shed light on the 23 nature and extent of an injury to his left arm allegedly caused by Officer Fidler of the 24 San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. And as far as Monell liability against 25 the County, Hernandez did not even address it in his Opposition. Defendants have 26 established a lack of genuine issues of material fact, and Hernandez failed to rebut 27 /// 28 /// 1 Defendants’ entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Consequently, the Court 2 GRANTS Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment.1 II. 3 FACTUAL BACKGROUND 4 Fontana police arrested Hernandez on the morning of December 13, 2009, for 5 stealing alcohol from a Circle K store. (Thebeau Decl. Ex. B.; Hernandez Dep. 6 11:12–13.) Hernandez was tackled to the ground by the arresting officer as he was 7 leaving the scene. (Hernandez Dep. 11:12–24.) Fontana police then took Hernandez 8 to the Fontana Police Department. (Id. at 15:9–19.) Following questioning at the 9 station, Hernandez was driven to West Valley Detention Center (“WVDC”) for 10 booking and pretrial detention. (Id. at 15:20–21, 17:3–23.) 11 Upon arrival at WVDC, Booking Officer Esther Covarrubias fingerprinted 12 Hernandez at a booking window. (Id. at 21:13–22.) Covarrubias allegedly informed 13 Officer Arturo Ramirez about a “situation” going on between her and Hernandez. 14 (Ramirez Decl. ¶ 5.) 15 Covarrubias, and the two exchanged words. (Id. at ¶¶ 3–4.) Ramirez approached 16 Hernandez to inquire about the situation and remembers Hernandez saying something 17 like “that bitch needs to calm down.” (Id.) Officer Zachery Fidler overheard arguing 18 going on between Hernandez and Covarrubias and then observed Hernandez walk 19 away from the booking window. (Fidler Dep. 35:15–25.) Hernandez does not recall 20 ever telling Covarrubias to “calm the F down.” (Hernandez Dep. 21:23–25.) Hernandez was supposedly being uncooperative with At that point, Ramirez decided to transport Hernandez to a sobering cell. 21 22 (Ramirez Decl. ¶ 6.) Ramirez placed Hernandez in a “control hold,” whereby 23 Ramirez “placed [Hernandez’s] right arm behind his back and then moved his right 24 wrist to the middle of his back.” (Id. at ¶ 8.) 25 Officer Robert Escamilla then approached Hernandez’s right side and put his 26 arm on Hernandez’s right shoulder. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Fidler then saw that Hernandez’s left 27 1 28 Having carefully considered the papers filed in support of and in opposition to the instant Motion, the Court deems the matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; L. R. 7-15. 2 1 arm was still free, so he executed a “rear wrist lock” on Hernandez’s left arm. (Fidler 2 Dep. 36:10–11, 37:8.) This entailed Fidler grabbing Hernadez’s left elbow with his 3 left hand and then grabbing Hernandez’s left wrist with his right hand. 4 37:9–24.) Fidler then moved Hernandez’s wrist to the middle of his back. (Id. at 5 38:5–7.) (Id. at 6 Hernandez does not recall in which position his left arm was, but it “snapped” 7 after Fidler executed the wrist lock. (Hernandez Dep. 36:4–13.) Hernandez then felt 8 a “big pain.” (Id. at 36:18). The whole incident happened very quickly. (Id. at 9 35:6–7.) It appears to the court that it is more likely than not that the injury occurred 10 when Hernandez was tackled to the ground by the arresting agency. The application 11 of the control hold which was captured on video tape and reviewed by the court, did 12 not appear to have been applied with sufficient force to have caused injury. 13 The San Bernardino County’s Sheriff’s Department’s Policy requires all 14 deputies to use only that force that “reasonably appears necessary, given the facts and 15 circumstances perceived by the deputy at the time of the event, to accomplish a 16 legitimate law enforcement purpose.” (Thebeau Decl. Ex. J.) The Policy employs a 17 “reasonable deputy” standard and contemplates that deputies must make quick 18 decisions in tense situations after considering all the circumstances. (Id.) 19 Section 3.606 of the Sheriff’s Policy enumerates 11 factors a deputy should take 20 into consideration in determining the reasonableness of his or her force. (Id. Ex. K.) 21 They include the behavior of the individual, the size and strength of the individual, the 22 individual’s level of intoxication, and the existence of exigencies. (Id.) A deputy is 23 not allowed to use force if a person is compliant with the deputy’s orders. (Fidler 24 Dep. 22:12–17.) 25 Hernandez filed a Complaint in this Court on December 13, 2011, alleging two 26 claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On July 30, 2012, the Court granted leave to identity 27 the Doe defendants named in the suit. (ECF No. 18.) Hernandez filed his First 28 Amended Complaint against the County of San Bernardino, Esther Covarrubias, 3 1 Robert Escamilla, Zachery Fidler, and Arturo Ramirez on August 14, 2012. (ECF 2 No. 19.) His first § 1983 claim alleges that the officer-Defendants used excessive 3 force against him at WVDC, thus violating his substantive due process rights under 4 the Fourteenth Amendment. Hernandez bases his second § 1983 claim against the 5 County on Monell liability. 6 7 On December 14, 2012, all Defendants moved for summary judgment as to both claims. (ECF No. 23.) 8 Contemporaneously, the defendants assert the defense of qualified Immunity. 9 Plaintiff opposed the Motion on December 24, 2012 (ECF No. 30), and Defendants 10 replied on December 28, 2012. (ECF No. 31.) That Motion is now before the Court 11 for decision. III. 12 LEGAL STANDARD 13 Summary judgment should be granted if there are no genuine issues of material 14 fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. 15 P. 56(c). The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a 16 genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323–24 (1986). 17 Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond the 18 pleadings and identify specific facts through admissible evidence that show a genuine 19 issue for trial. Id.; Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Conclusory or speculative testimony in 20 affidavits and moving papers is insufficient to raise genuine issues of fact and defeat 21 summary judgment. Thornhill’s Publ’g Co. v. GTE Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 738 (9th 22 Cir. 1979). 23 A genuine issue of material fact must be more than a scintilla of evidence, or 24 evidence that is merely colorable or not significantly probative. Addisu v. Fred 25 Meyer, 198 F.3d 1130, 1134 (9th Cir. 2000). A disputed fact is “material” where the 26 resolution of that fact might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. 27 Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1968). An issue is “genuine” if 28 the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving 4 1 party. Id. Where the moving and nonmoving parties’ versions of events differ, courts 2 are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most 3 favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). 4 IV. 5 DISCUSSION 6 Defendants argue that Hernandez cannot prove that they violated his 7 substantive rights under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause by 8 restraining or escorting him to the sobering cell because the deputies never used 9 excessive force. They also contend that even if a violation were proven, Hernandez 10 cannot show that the right is “clearly established” sufficient to overcome qualified 11 immunity. Finally, Defendants assert that Hernandez has not and cannot prove any 12 basis for Monell liability. 13 Hernandez argues that triable issues exist regarding the necessity for, and extent of, 14 forced used on him by the deputies. The Court considers each issue and the parties’ 15 respective arguments in turn. 16 A. While completely skipping over the Monell issue, Qualified Immunity 17 Section 1983 allows for a civil action against any person who, under color of 18 law, causes the “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the 19 Constitution and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 20 Qualified immunity protects government officials from civil suit under § 1983 21 where an objectively reasonable officer would not have known that his conduct was 22 unconstitutional under the circumstances. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202 (2001), 23 rev’d on other grounds, Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009). In considering 24 whether qualified immunity applies, a district court must inquire whether (1) “the 25 facts alleged show the officer’s conduct violated a constitutional right” and (2) the 26 right was “clearly established.” Id. at 201. The two prongs need not be analyzed in 27 any particular order. See Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236 (“The judges of the district courts 28 and the courts of appeals should be permitted to exercise their sound discretion in 5 1 deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be 2 addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.”). 3 Because the Court finds that no Due Process violation occurred in this case, it 4 need only address the first Saucier prong. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201 (“If no 5 constitutional right [has] been violated . . . , there is no necessity for further inquiries 6 concerning qualified immunity.”) 7 The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause protects pretrial detainees 8 against excessive force that amounts to “punishment.” Gibson v. Cnty. of Washoe, 9 Nev., 290 F.3d 1175, 1197 (9th Cir. 2002). In analyzing these claims, the Ninth 10 Circuit adopts Fourth Amendment standards. Id. 11 Fourth Amendment jurisprudence employs an “objective reasonableness” 12 standard to evaluate excessive-force claims. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 388 13 (1989). Determining whether the force exerted was unreasonable under the Fourth 14 Amendment “requires a careful balancing of the nature and quality of the intrusion on 15 the individual’s Fourth Amendment interest against the countervailing governmental 16 interests at stake.” Id. at 396 (internal quotation marks omitted). 17 Factors considered are “‘the application of force, the relationship between the 18 need and the amount of force that was used, the extent of the injury inflicted, and 19 whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain and restore discipline or 20 maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.’” Rutherford v. 21 City of Berkeley, 780 F.2d 1444, 1446 (9th Cir. 1986) (quoting Johnson v. Glick, 481 22 F.2d 1028, 1033 (2d Cir. 1973)). In the context of prisons, the Supreme Court has 23 noted that “maintaining institutional security and preserving internal order and 24 discipline are essential goals that may require limitation or retraction of the retained 25 constitutional rights of both convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees.” 26 Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 546 (1979). Bell v. 27 Defendants argue that Hernandez’s alleged conduct in using obscenities in 28 reference to Covarrubias and Ramirez’s suspicion that Hernandez was intoxicated 6 1 resulted in a tense encounter between deputies and Hernandez. To prevent a jail 2 disturbance, Ramirez decided to escort Hernandez to a sobering cell by executing a 3 “control hold” on Hernandez’s right arm. 4 Hernadez’s left arm, Defendants contend, because that arm was free and could 5 possibly assault someone. 6 resulted from any excessive force since he did not retain an expert. Fidler only stepped in and restrained Further, Hernandez failed to establish that his injury 7 But Hernandez argues that triable issues exist regarding the need and amount of 8 force used by officers in executing the control hold. Hernandez points out that 9 Ramirez put him up against a wall, so he was immobile at the time Escamilla and 10 Fidler joined the fray. Consequently, Fidler’s actions were “gratuitous and served no 11 rational purpose.” 12 The Court finds that none of the Defendant-Officers violated Hernandez’s 13 substantive rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause. 14 Hernandez’s Complaint alleges that he was “severely beaten” and is now “severely 15 disfigured” as a result. 16 deposition that the events transpired “so fast,” and he was “not really sure” in which 17 position his arm was when it snapped. Fidler’s actions could not have been that 18 “severe[]” if Hernandez’s reaction was only, “Hey, my arm is broken.” (Hernandez 19 Dep. 36:12.) And whether it actually “snapped” is an issue completely devoid of any 20 supporting evidence. Hernandez has not adduced one single piece of evidence in 21 opposition to Defendants’ Motion.2 (Compl. ¶ 12.) But Hernandez himself testified at his 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 2 The Court understands that Ramirez and Escamilla were less than cooperative with their depositions. But there was nothing stopping Hernandez from retaining an expert witness or submitting other declarations in support of his Opposition. In fact, Hernandez does not cite to the record one single time in his Opposition. His ironically named Concise Statement of Genuine Disputes of Material Fact is anything but “concise.” Instead, Hernandez objects to or disputes all but a handful of Defendants’ facts, employing cut-and-paste objections. Error! Main Document Only.And to the extent that Hernandez claims he needs more time for discovery, it is not an answer to a motion based on qualified immunity that a plaintiff needs discovery because the very purpose of qualified immunity is not to merely avoid the burdens of trial, but also discovery. See, e.g., Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 308 (1996). 7 1 Construing all the evidence actually adduced, the Court finds that Covarrubias, 2 Ramirez, Escamilla, and Fidler did not violate Hernandez’s substantive due process 3 rights, as they did not use any excessive force. The officers were confronted with a 4 potentially intoxicated man who had just engaged in a verbal confrontation with 5 Covarrubias. 6 unrestrained, the officers decided to thwart any potential escalation of the situation by 7 escorting Hernandez to a sobering cell. Mindful of the jail surroundings and the fact that Hernandez was 8 Further, there is simply no indication that Covarrbuias played any part in the 9 snapping of Hernandez’s arm. At best, the evidence shows she was at a booking 10 window the entire time and never touched Hernandez after she fingerprinted him. 11 As far as what exactly happened to Hernandez’s left arm, it really is a mystery. 12 Hernandez produced nothing in discovery to offer a plausible explanation, much less 13 prove, how the injury occurred or the extent of his “severe[] disfigure[ment].” 14 Mysteries, while fodder for Scottish fiction writers, do not serve to establish violations 15 of constitutional rights. 16 Therefore, the Court finds that Defendants Covarrubias, Ramirez, Escamilla, 17 and Fidler are entitled to judgment as a matter of law and GRANTS the Motion for 18 Summary Judgment with respect to the excessive-force § 1983 claim. 19 B. 20 21 Monell Liability Hernandez’s second cause of action, alleging a violation of § 1983 against the County, rests upon a theory of Monell liability. 22 While § 1983 does not define “person” or address whether a governmental unit 23 may be sued under its provisions, the United States Supreme Court in Monell held that 24 a local government may be sued under § 1983 “when execution of a government’s 25 policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts 26 may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury.” 436 U.S. at 694. 27 However, a governmental unit may not be liable under § 1983 simply based on a 28 “respondeat superior theory.” Id. at 691. 8 1 Specifically, to hold a municipality liable for the actions of its officers and 2 employees, a plaintiff must allege one of the following: “(1) that a [municipal] 3 employee was acting pursuant to an expressly adopted official policy; (2) that a 4 [municipal] employee was acting pursuant to a longstanding practice or custom; or 5 (3) that a [municipal] employee was acting as a ‘final policymaker.’” Lytle v. Carl, 6 382 F.3d 978, 982 (9th Cir. 2004). Additionally, a governmental entity can be held 7 liable when its failure to train its officers amounts to “deliberate indifference” to the 8 constitutional rights of the citizens with which the officers come into contact. City of 9 Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989). 10 On one hand, the County points to several provisions of its Sheriff’s Policy, 11 which require that deputies respect the constitutional rights of the individuals with 12 which they come in contact and to use only that force necessary to achieve a 13 legitimate law-enforcement purpose. 14 15 On the other hand, Hernandez does not even mention Monell liability in his Opposition. His theory of Monell liability is another mystery. 16 The Court finds that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether the 17 County had any policy or custom sufficient to trigger Monell liability. The official 18 policy, that is, the Sheriff’s Policy, only permits deputies to use reasonable force as 19 determined by the totality of the circumstances. 20 enumerates several factors to take into account, and many of them echo the factors a 21 court would also weigh in assessing the reasonableness of any force used. 22 Rutherford v. City of Berkeley, 780 F.2d 1444, 1446 (9th Cir. 1986). Section 3.606 of the policy See 23 Additionally, there is no serious dispute that any of the deputies are “final 24 policymakers” for the County or that the County failed to train them. The Sheriff’s 25 Policy comports with Fourth Amendment jurisprudence on the use of force, and 26 Hernandez has not indicated that the actual practice is any different. 27 28 9 1 The Court consequently finds that the County of San Bernardino is entitled to 2 judgment as a matter of law and GRANTS its Motion for Summary Judgment as to 3 Hernandez’s second §1983 claim. 4 V. 5 6 CONCLUSION For the reasons discussed above, Defendants’ Motion is GRANTED. A judgment will issue. 7 8 IT IS SO ORDERED. 9 10 February 6, 2013 11 12 13 ____________________________________ OTIS D. WRIGHT, II UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 10

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