The opinion of the court was delivered by: BERNARD ZIMMERMAN, Magistrate Judge
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT ALAMEDA COUNTY'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
Plaintiffs, the estate and family of Dr. Erlinda Ursua, filed
this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendant
Alameda County Medical Center (the "Medical Center"), alleging a
violation of Dr. Erlinda Ursua's Fourteenth Amendment rights.
They also sued Alameda County (the "County") and ABC Security
Service, Inc. ("ABC") for negligence.*fn1
Now before me is
the County's motion for summary judgment. For a full description of the material facts, see the
Order Granting Defendant Alameda County Medical Center's Motion
for Summary Judgment.
In response to plaintiffs' claim, the County has asserted
design immunity under California Government Code § 830.6. Design
immunity is a complete affirmative defense to plaintiff's
negligence claim. If the County demonstrates it is entitled to
design immunity, recovery may be denied regardless of the
evidence presented relating to a defective design. Bane v. State
of California, 208 Cal. App. 3d 860, 866 (1989). Whether a
public body is entitled to design immunity is a question of law
for the court to decide. Mozzetti v. City of Brisbane,
67 Cal. App. 3d 565, 573 (1977).
The three elements of design immunity are: (1) the causal
relationship between the design and the accident; (2) the
discretionary approval of the design prior to construction; and
(3) substantial evidence supporting the reasonableness of the
design. Hefner v. County of Sacramento, 197 Cal. App. 3d 1007,
1014 (1988). The County bears the burden of establishing all of
the elements. Mozzetti, 67 Cal. App. 3d at 574.
Plaintiffs and the County agree on the first element of design
immunity; there was a causal relationship. Plaintiff contends
that the defective design of the John George Psychiatric Pavilion
(the "JGPP"), in particular, the isolation of Room B18 (also
known as Room 1319), where Dr. Ursua conducted the history and
examination of Pavon, contributed to Dr. Ursua's death (Joint
Statement of Undisputed Facts ("UF") 16-17). The second element is also
established. It is undisputed that the Board of Supervisors of
Alameda County approved as recommended the design of the JGPP,
which included the location and placement of Room B18 and the
presence of the panic button in Room B18, by resolution R-89-123
(UF 20; Wilson Decl., Exh. A, Summary Action Minutes at 3).
Plaintiffs dispute the County has satisfied the third element
of design immunity, that substantial evidence supports the
reasonableness of the design.*fn2 Plaintiffs argue that the
County must show the architects or other decision-makers
specifically discussed and approved the safety and location of
Room B18. I disagree. Requiring discussion and consideration of
the safety of each room in the JGPP to show reasonableness of the
design is not only impractical, it runs counter to the rationale
behind design immunity.
As for plaintiffs' arguments regarding the substantial evidence
of the reasonableness of the design, I focus on two points.
First, the presence of panic buttons in the rooms is evidence
that the architects did consider staff safety, as well as other
objectives of staffing, space and cost efficiencies and effective
treatment, in designing the building.
Second, the Court can find no authority to support plaintiffs' contention that substantial evidence of
reasonableness must include evidence that the specific risks of
which plaintiffs now complain were considered. Most design
immunity cases, in fact, seem to defer to the judgment and
approval of the public body or municipality without any
requirements on the detail, form and substance of approval or
reasonableness. See Bay Area Rapid Transit Dist. v. Superior
Court, 46 Cal. App. 4th 476 (1996); Higgins v. State of
California, 54 Cal. App. 4th 177 (1997). Where the courts have
denied the defense of design immunity, some violation of
guidelines or standards existed. See Hernandez v. Dept. of
Transportation, 114 Cal. App. 4th 476 (2004) (involving a design
that violated Caltrans' own guardrail-installation guidelines);
Levin v. State of California, 146 Cal. App. 3d 410 (1983)
(reversing summary judgment because a steep embankment slope was
not reflected in the design plan and did not conform to the
state's own standards).*fn3
In the instant case, multiple agencies approved the design of
the JGPP. The County's Department of Public Works reviewed and
approved the proposed plans showing the placement of Room B18 and the panic button in Room B18 (UF 22; Wilson
Decl., Exh. A, Public Works Agency Letter). After the approval of
the Board of Supervisors, the Office of Statewide Health Planning
and Development, the Office of the State Architect and the State
Fire Marshall approved the JGPP plans (Nash Decl. ¶ 4). There is
no evidence that the County violated any laws, codes or
regulations in designing the JGPP. The design "did not violate
any existing standard of care" and "[t]here are no federal or
state codes, regulations or standards which dictate the placement
of an exam room in a facility such as JGPP or prohibit the
configuration which was designed in this case" (UF 23-24).
Moreover, the issue is not whether the design could be found to
be unreasonable, but "whether there is any reasonable basis on
which a reasonable public official could initially have approved
the design" (emphasis in original). Compton v. City of Santee,
12 Cal. App. 4th 591, 597 (1993). Assuming there is a foundation
for the reasonableness of a design, the public body should get
the benefit of the defense of design immunity. See Cameron v.
State of California, 7 Cal. 3d 318, 326 (1972) ("[T]o permit
reexamination in tort litigation of particular discretionary
decisions where reasonable men may differ as to how the
discretion should be exercised would create too great a danger of
impolitic interference with the freedom of decision-making by
those public officials in whom the function of making such
decisions has been vested.") The legislature is clear; the courts
are not to reweigh reasonable decisions made by public bodies which approved the design.
Bane, 208 Cal. App. 3d at 866. The County has established the
third element of design immunity. Substantial evidence of the
reasonableness of the design of the JGPP exists.*fn4
Because Alameda County has satisfied its burden and established
that it is entitled to the defense of design immunity, IT IS
ORDERED that its motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.
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