United States District Court, N.D. California
August 4, 2004.
IRENE HOENER, Plaintiff,
COUNTY OF SONOMA, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES BREYER, District Judge
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
This is a civil rights case arising out of plaintiff Irene
Hoener's arrest on March 1, 2002. Plaintiff filed this complaint
in proper. The Court has given plaintiff several opportunities to
amend her complaint in response to motions to dismiss filed by
defendants. Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint alleges causes of
action against the County of Sonoma, Sonoma County Sheriff's
Deputy Dave Iverson, and Sonoma County District Attorney's Office
Chief Investigator Michael Griffith (collectively "the Sonoma
defendants"), and the City of Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa Detective
Karen Westling, and Santa Rosa Detective John Snetsinger
(collectively "the Santa Rosa defendants"). Now before the Court
are two motions for summary judgment, one from each set of
On March 1, 2002, plaintiff went to pick up her children from
their school. When she arrived at the school, she was informed that her ex-husband,
Sonoma County Sergeant Edward Hoener, had already picked up their
children. Plaintiff and Mr. Hoener shared visitation rights to
their children, and pursuant to a court visitation order,
plaintiff had custody of the children on March 1, 2002. Mr.
Hoener, however, asserts that because he feared for the
well-being of his children, he withheld the children from their
scheduled visit with plaintiff. Plaintiff was unaware that Mr.
Hoener had taken this action, and when plaintiff discovered that
her husband had taken the children, she called the Sonoma County
Sheriff's Department. The Sheriff's Department informed her that
they would send an officer to the school. Rather than wait for
the officer, plaintiff went to the home of Mr. Hoener and his new
wife, Evane Hoener.
When plaintiff arrived at her ex-husband's home, a dispute over
the children and the visitation rights ensued. The dispute led to
a physical altercation between plaintiff and her ex-husband
Plaintiff called the Sheriff's Department to report the incident.
Mr. Hoener also called the Sheriff's Department and requested
that officers be sent to his home "Code 3." Evane Hoener
videotaped portions of the incident.
Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Dave Iverson was the first to
arrive on the scene. Immediately upon arriving at the scene,
Iverson handcuffed plaintiff and placed her in the back of his
patrol car. Plaintiff was later arrested for spousal abuse and
brought to the Sheriff's Department by Deputy Brad O'Bryan.
Because this incident involved Mr. Hoener, a member of the
Sonoma County Sheriff's Department, pursuant to a County
protocol,*fn1 the Santa Rosa Police Department was brought
in to investigate the incident. Santa Rosa Police Department
detectives Karen Westling and John Snetsinger came to the Sonoma
County Sheriff's Department where plaintiff was being detained.
Westling and Snetsinger photographed plaintiff's injuries.
Plaintiff asserts that her requests from medical attention were
ignored. She claims that she was confined to an interrogation
room, one arm handcuffed to a chair, for seven hours. Plaintiff was tried by a jury and convicted of misdemeanor
spousal abuse on November 1, 2002 based on this incident. Her
conviction was later affirmed on appeal.
II. Procedural History
Plaintiff originally brought this lawsuit on February 7, 2003.
In response to defendants' first motion to dismiss, this Court
dismissed some of plaintiff's claims and provided plaintiff leave
to amend other claims in accordance with express instructions.
Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint on July 23, 2003.
Defendants again moved to dismiss, and the Court dismissed some
of plaintiff's claims and provided plaintiff another opportunity
to amend her complaint. Plaintiff filed a third amended complaint
on October 29, 2003.
On January 20, 2004, the Sonoma defendants filed a motion for
summary judgment. On January 22, 2004, the Santa Rosa defendants
filed a motion for summary judgment. A hearing for both summary
judgment motions was scheduled for April 2, 2004. On March 10,
2004, plaintiff moved for a continuance of the summary judgment
motions. The Court granted plaintiff's motion, and scheduled the
hearing on the summary judgment motions for July 2, 2004. On May
26, 2004, plaintiff moved for another continuance in order to
complete certain discovery. The Court held a telephone conference
on May 28, 2004 with all parties to discuss plaintiff's motion.
The Court granted plaintiff's motion to take depositions and
continued the hearing until July 30, 2004 in order to provide
plaintiff with ample time to complete discovery. The Court
discussed the dates and location for plaintiff to take these
depositions. On June 8, 2004, plaintiff informed the Court that
she no longer intended to take the scheduled depositions.
On June 16, 2004, plaintiff timely filed a memorandum in
opposition to defendants' motions for summary judgment.
Defendants timely filed reply memoranda on July 23, 2004.
I. Legal Standard
Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with
the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving
party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R. Civ.
P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient
evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact finder could find
for the nonmoving party, and a dispute is "material" only if it
could affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. See
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). A
principal purpose of the summary judgment procedure "is to
isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims." Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). "Where the record
taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find
for the non-moving party, there is no `genuine issue for trial.'"
Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587
II. Motions for Summary Judgment
The Sonoma defendants and the Santa Rosa defendants have moved
for summary judgment on all causes of action asserted against
them. The Court will evaluate the motions as to each defendant or
group of defendants below.
A. Defendants Westling and Snetsinger
Plaintiff's complaint*fn2 alleges two claims against
defendants Westling and Snetsinger, detectives with the Santa
Rosa Police Department.
1. Inadequate Medical Care
Plaintiff's first cause of action alleges that defendants
Westling and Snetsinger violated plaintiff's civil rights when
they acted with "deliberate indifference" to her "serious medical
needs." Compl. ¶ 22. In particular, plaintiff alleges that these
defendants saw the injuries on plaintiff's "head, face, neck and
limbs," and "administered no first aid or medical care and denied
Ms. Hoener's request for medical care." Comp. ¶ 22.
Because the plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the time of
the alleged wrongdoing, the claim for inadequate medical care
arises from the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,
not from the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and
unusual punishment. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 n. 16
(1979). Despite the fact that the claim arises from the Due Process Clause, the Eighth Amendment provides
"a minimum standard of care for determining [plaintiff's] rights
as a pretrial detainee, including his right to medical care."
Jones v. Johnson, 781 F.2d 769, 771 (9th Cir. 1986) (citation
omitted). The authorities "violate a prisoner's eight amendment
rights if they are deliberately indifferent to the prisoner's
serious medical needs. This indifference must be substantial to
violate the constitution, and state prison authorities have wide
discretion regarding the nature and extent of medical treatment."
Id. (citations omitted).
The Court concludes as a matter of law that plaintiff has
failed to provide any evidence that her medical needs were
serious. Plaintiff points to the cuts, abrasions, and bruises as
evidence of her serious medical condition. However, the Court
having reviewed the photographs concludes, as a matter of law,
that they did not rise to the level of serious medical needs.
Additionally, plaintiff received medical attention on her own
after being released from custody, and the hospital records do
not indicate that plaintiff had a serious medical need.
Even if plaintiff did have a serious medical need, plaintiff
has failed to establish any evidence of deliberate indifference.
In fact, defendant Westling specifically asked plaintiff if there
was anything that she needed, and plaintiff responded: "I need
nothing." Accordingly, the Court concludes that there is no
genuine issue of material fact as to this claim and summary
judgment is warranted.
2. Failure to Investigate (Count 2) Westling and Snetsinger
Plaintiff's second cause of action alleges another Fourteenth
Amendment Due Process violation against defendants Westling and
Snetsinger for failure to investigate her complaint against her
ex-husband Plaintiff argues that these defendants failed to
"acknowledge and investigate" her complaint that her ex-husband
"violated a court order when he picked up the children and
refused Ms. Hoener her visitation rights." Compl. ¶ 25. Plaintiff
contends that this failure to investigate was a result of a
conflict of interest arising from the close relationship between
the Santa Rosa Police Department and the Sonoma County Sheriff's
Department, where her ex-husband was employed. Plaintiff's claim for failure to investigate is without merit.
If plaintiff is asserting that defendants' failure to investigate
led to her arrest for spousal abuse, such a claim is barred by
Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), because it would
necessarily mean that the conviction was invalid because it was
based on an illegal investigation. If, however, her claim is
based entirely on defendant's alleged failure to investigate her
complaint that Mr. Hoener violated their child custody agreement,
plaintiff has failed to offer any evidence that defendants
Westling and Snetsinger had a duty to investigate that complaint.
Additionally, even if they had such a duty, plaintiff has failed
to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether they
adequately investigated that complaint.
First, plaintiff has failed to establish that these defendants
had a duty to undergo an investigation of her complaint against
her husband With respect to a police department's duties to a
citizen, the Ninth Circuit stated the following:
There is, in general, no constitutional duty of state
officials to protect members of the public at large
from crime. However, such a duty may arise by virtue
of a "special relationship" between state officials
and a particular member of the public. Several courts
have held that, to determine whether a "special
relationship" exists, a court may look to a number of
factors, including (1) whether the state created or
assumed a custodial relationship toward the
plaintiff; (2) whether the state affirmatively placed
the plaintiff in a position of danger; (3) whether
the state was aware of a specific risk of harm to the
plaintiff; or (4) whether the state affirmatively
committed itself to the protection of the plaintiff.
Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696
, 699-700 (9th
Plaintiff has not established that a special duty existed such
that it was defendant Westling and Snetsinger's responsibility to
protect plaintiff from her ex-husband's alleged crime.
Second, even if these defendants had a duty to investigate her
complaint, aside from plaintiff's mere assertions that defendants
Westling and Snetsinger did not adequately investigate her
complaint regarding her ex-husband, she has offered no evidence
to establish that these defendants did not investigate the
situation. She makes the assertion that because of the friendly
relationship between defendants Westling and Snetsinger, their
investigation was biased. However, her assertion is not evidence.
The Court provided plaintiff with ample opportunities to conduct discovery and take depositions.
Plaintiff did not avail herself of those opportunities, and has
failed to produce evidence necessary to support her claims. On
the other hand, defendants Westling and Snetsinger have offered
evidence of their investigation of the situation. They spoke with
several witnesses, reviewed the videotape of the incident, and
attempted to interview plaintiff. Plaintiff does not deny that
defendants undertook this investigation, she simply claims that
it was biased due to defendants' relationship with Mr. Hoener.
Again, this does not create a genuine issue of material fact.
In sum, the Court concludes as a matter of law that plaintiff
has failed to establish that defendants Westling and Snetsinger
failed to adequately investigate her complaint in violation of
her due process rights. Accordingly, summary judgment is
warranted as to this claim.
B. Defendant Iverson
Plaintiff alleges two causes of action against defendant
Iverson, a deputy with the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department.
Plaintiff's third cause of action alleges that defendant Iverson
used excessive force in "forcing [plaintiff's] arms behind her
back, pinning her with the weight of his body against a vehicle
and causing her to be handcuffed too tightly on the wrists."
Compl. ¶ 28. Plaintiff asserts that these actions caused
"unnecessary pain" and placed plaintiff "in immediate fear of
severe bodily harm by cuffing her in such a rough and painful
manner without just provocation or cause." Plaintiff's sixth
cause of action alleges that this same conduct by defendant
Iverson constituted a state law claim of negligence. The
videotape shows the arrest.
Defendant argues that summary judgment is warranted on these
causes of action because the undisputed facts establish that the
force used against plaintiff during her arrest was reasonable and
not excessive as a matter of law.
The standard for the lawful use of force by police under the
Fourth Amendment is objective reasonableness. See Graham v.
Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989). The reasonableness of the
officer's use of force is to be judged from the perspective of a
reasonable police officer on the scene, not after the fact. See
id. at 396-97. It is undisputed that the police arrested plaintiff after
responding to calls from both plaintiff and Mr. Hoener regarding
a domestic dispute. It is also undisputed that the police did not
hit or kick or force plaintiff to the ground or use any weapon on
plaintiff during her arrest. Plaintiff does not assert that her
alleged injuries (abrasions, bruises, neck injury) were caused by
the police; rather, such injuries were created in her altercation
with her husband Plaintiff states in her declaration that
defendant Iverson "grabbed [her] by the wrist, spun [her] around
aggressively and put [her] in handcuffs while he pinned [her]
against the car with the weight of his body." Plaintiff's Decl. ¶
11. She further states that the handcuffs were too tight.
Plaintiff's Decl. ¶ 12.
The Supreme Court has held that "[p]ushes and shoves, like
other police conduct must be judged under the Fourth Amendment
standard of reasonableness." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 209
(2001). Other than the basic assertion in the complaint that the
force used by the police officers was "unnecessary" and was
"without just provocation or cause," plaintiff does not provide
any evidence to establish that the force used was objectively
unreasonable. Rather, plaintiff makes numerous assertions in her
opposition to the motions for summary judgment, which are not
supported by evidence. Plaintiff has failed to provide any
evidence that defendant Iverson's actions were done with an
intent to violate plaintiff's constitutional rights.
Additionally, plaintiff makes numerous references to the fact
that her ex-husband was the original aggressor, and therefore the
arrest was unwarranted. However, those arguments are irrelevant
because plaintiff cannot assert a section 1983 claim that would
invalidate her state conviction for spousal abuse. See Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).
Plaintiff also does not cite any cases holding that a similar
degree of force was unreasonable. Because the amount of force
used by the officers did not cause plaintiff to fall, to be
injured, or to suffer considerable or prolonged pain, the amount
of force used by police against plaintiff was objectively
reasonable and defendants' motion for summary judgment of
plaintiff's federal excessive force claim must be granted. See,
e.g., Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. at 208-09 (holding that
"gratuitously violent shove" by officers placing handcuffed
suspect into van did not constitute excessive force); Jackson v.
City of Bremerton, 268 F.3d 646, 653 (9th Cir. 2001) (no Fourth Amendment violation where
arrested interfered with arrest of another person, was sprayed
with chemical irritant, and was pushed to ground by three
officers during handcuffing).
As for plaintiff's state law negligence claim for this conduct,
summary judgment is also appropriate. Plaintiff has failed to
establish that defendant Iverson violated a reasonable standard
of care owed to plaintiff. His conduct was not unreasonable.
Accordingly, summary judgment is granted on plaintiff's state
negligence claim against defendant Iverson.
C. Defendant Griffith
Plaintiff alleges two causes of action against defendant
Griffith, an investigator with the Sonoma County District
Attorney's Office. Plaintiff's fourth cause of action, a federal
due process claim, alleges that defendant Griffith and Mr. Hoener
have a "friendly relationship" and "[b]ecause of this
relationship and favoritism," Mr. Hoener "was able to procure
unwarranted authorization for cancellation of Ms. Hoener's
visitation with her children." Compl. ¶ 32. Plaintiff asserts
that Griffith acted with deliberate indifference when he "ignored
judicial procedure for changing court-ordered child visitation
rules by deliberately giving verbal phone authorization for good
cause" to withhold plaintiff's visitation. Id. Plaintiff's
eighth cause of action alleges that the same conduct by defendant
Griffith constitutes a state law negligence claim.
California Penal Code section 278.7 provides that a person with
a right to custody of a child who has a "good faith and
reasonable belief that the child, if left with the other person,
will suffer immediate bodily injury or emotional harm" can
withhold that child from the other parent if he or she makes a
report to the office of the district attorney of the county where
the child resided within ten days of withholding the child. Cal.
Penal Code § 278.7. Accordingly, if Mr. Hoener had a good faith
and reasonable belief that his children, if left with plaintiff,
would suffer immediate bodily injury or emotional harm, he could
withhold the children from plaintiff if he made a report to the
Sonoma County District Attorney's Office in a reasonable time. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Griffith, an investigator with
the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office who received Mr.
Hoener's call regarding this custody situation, provided Mr.
Hoener with "unwarranted authorization" for withholding
plaintiff's visitation with her children. She asserts that he
"ignored judicial procedure" by providing "verbal phone
authorization for good cause" for Mr. Hoener to withhold
visitation. However, Penal Code section 278.7 does not require
the district attorney's office to give authorization for good
cause in order for a parent to withhold a child. The code section
provides that Mr. Hoener must have a "good faith and reasonable
belief" regarding the harm to the children, and if he reports
that to the district attorney's office, he can withhold
visitation. Nothing in the statute requires the district
attorney's office to have a good faith belief nor does it require
that the parent have authorization from the district attorney's
office. The penal code simply allows a parent to withhold a child
based on their own, i.e., the parents own, good faith belief.
Thus, even if Mr. Hoener and Griffith had a friendly
relationship, and even if Griffith believed that Mr. Hoener had
"good cause" for withholding plaintiff's visitation, Griffith's
authorization was not required for Mr. Hoener to withhold the
children from plaintiff and therefore nothing Griffith did can
constitute an injury to plaintiff.
Accordingly, there is no genuine issue of material fact and
summary judgment is warranted as to plaintiff's claims against
D. Defendants County of Sonoma and City of Santa Rosa
Plaintiff's complaint alleges two causes of action against
defendant County of Sonoma ("County") and City of Santa Rosa
("City"). Plaintiff's fifth cause of action is a Monell claim
against the County and the City. Plaintiff asserts that the
"County Wide Protocol for officer involved incidents" "did not
adequately safeguard Ms. Hoener against bias and retaliation for
her complaint against a member of the Sonoma County Sheriff's
Department" because of the "necessarily close and collaborative
relationship" between the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department and
the Santa Rosa Police Department. Compl. ¶ 36.
Plaintiff's seventh cause of action is a state law negligence
claim against the County and the City. This cause of action
asserts that the County and the City are liable for negligence by failing to "adequately train police in proper,
unbiased investigations of complaints involving police officers"
and "adequately train defendant police in the proper use of force
and investigatory procedures." Compl. ¶¶ 43 & 46. Plaintiff
asserts that the City and County "have demonstrated deliberate
indifference to this pattern and practice of negligence by
failing to take, appropriate or adequate measures to prevent the
continued perpetuation of biased, retaliatory and harmful police
conduct." Compl. ¶ 45.
In Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658
(1978), the Supreme Court held that if the "execution of a
government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or
by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent
official policy, inflicts the injury [then] the government as an
entity is responsible under § 1983." Id. at 694. To establish
such municipal liability, a plaintiff must satisfy four
conditions: "(1) that [the plaintiff] possessed a constitutional
right of which he was deprived; (2) that the municipality had a
policy; (3) that this policy `amounts to deliberate indifference'
to the plaintiff's constitutional right; and (4) that the policy
is the `moving force behind the constitutional violation.'" Van
Ort v. Estate of Stanewich, 92 F.3d 831, 835 (9th Cir. 1996)
(quoting Oviatt v. Pearce, 954 F.2d 1470, 1474 (9th Cir. 1992)
Plaintiff cannot state a Monell policy-or-practice claim when
she herself suffered no constitutional violation. See Monell
v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) (city may be
held liable under section 1983 when official policy, practice, or
custom leads to a constitutional violation). Accordingly, summary
judgment is warranted as to plaintiff's Monell claim against
the City and County.
With respect to plaintiff's state negligence claims against the
City and County for this same conduct, the City and County are
entitled to immunity from plaintiff's state law claim. The City
and County are public entities. The Ninth Circuit has held that
California law does not support a cause of action against a
public entity for negligent hiring or supervision. See Van Ort
v. Estate of Stanewich, 92 F.3d 831, 840-41 (9th Cir. 1996);
see also Universal By-Products, Inc. v. City of Modesto,
43 Cal.App.3d 145, 153 (1974) (stating there is "no common law
liability of a public entity; liability is wholly statutory").
This is consistent with sections of the California Government Code providing that a state
governmental entity can be sued in tort only pursuant to an
authorizing statute or enactment. See Cal. Gov't Code § 815 et
seq.; Lopez v. Southern Cal. Rapid Transit Dist.,
40 Cal.3d 780 (1985).
Despite being given several opportunities to amend her
complaint to provide a statutory basis for liability, plaintiff
has not done so. Thus, having failed to provide a statutory basis
for the City and County's liability for her claim, the City and
County are immune from liability. Accordingly, summary judgment
is warranted as to plaintiff's state negligence claim against the
City and County.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS all defendants'
motions for summary judgment in their entirety. Plaintiff has not
produced any evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact
as to any of her claims.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
The Court having granted defendants' motions for summary
judgment, it is hereby ORDERED that judgment be entered in favor