United States District Court, S.D. California
November 14, 2005.
JUDY FAYE COGGINS RAY, Plaintiff,
MATTHEW TSUNODA, SAN DIEGO POLICE OFFICER DAVIS, JUAN ESTRADA, the CITY OF CHULA VISTA, and DOES 1-30, inclusive, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: DANA SABRAW, District Judge
ORDER (1) GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON
PLAINTIFF'S FIRST AND SECOND CAUSES OF ACTION AND (2) DISMISSING
PLAINTIFF'S THIRD AND FOURTH CAUSES OF ACTION FOR LACK OF SUBJECT
This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion for
summary judgment or, in the alternative, summary adjudication.
Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion, and Defendants
have filed a reply. The Court found this motion suitable for
decision without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule
7.1(d)(1). For the reasons set out below, the Court grants
Plaintiff filed her original complaint in this case on
September 18, 2003, and a First Amended Complaint on November 7,
2003. Defendants City of Chula Vista, Matthew Tsunoda, Juan
Estrada and William Davidson filed their Answer to the
First Amended Complaint on February 23, 2004. Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated her Fourth Amendment
rights to be free from unreasonable search and excessive force.
She also alleges Defendants violated her Fifth Amendment right to
due process and her right against self-incrimination. In addition
to these federal claims, Plaintiff alleges state law claims for
battery and false imprisonment. Plaintiff seeks general and
punitive damages, attorney's fees and costs.
Plaintiff is the President of a non-profit organization, Save
The Orphaned Pets ("STOP"). STOP was established as a pet rescue
and adoption agency for discarded or orphaned pets. As a result
of her participation in STOP, Plaintiff kept numerous animals in
her Chula Vista home.
Plaintiff's neighbors filed repeated complaints about the
animals on Plaintiff's property. In response to those complaints,
Defendant Juan Estrada, an Animal Control Officer employed by the
City of Chula Vista, reported to Plaintiff's home on several
occasions. On one of those occasions, Defendant Estrada cited
Plaintiff for having unlicensed dogs on her property. On a
subsequent occasion, Defendant Estrada cited Plaintiff for having
too many cats on her property.
On September 4, 2002, Defendant Matthew Tsunoda, an Animal
Control Officer employed by the City of Chula Vista, was
dispatched to Plaintiff's home in response to another complaint
about the animals on Plaintiff's property. Defendant Tsunoda
parked down the street from Plaintiff's house. Upon exiting his
vehicle, he noticed the smell of feces and urine coming from
Plaintiff's house. He also noticed that Plaintiff had a
pedestrian door in her garage door.
Plaintiff approached Defendant Tsunoda on the street. Tsunoda
informed her that, with her permission, he was there to check on
the status of cats on her property in response to a complaint
from a neighbor. Plaintiff declined to give her consent, so
Tsunoda left the premises. Thereafter, Tsunoda informed his
lieutenant of this encounter with Plaintiff, and then began the
process of obtaining a search warrant for Plaintiff's property.
The following day, Bridget Neagles, one of Plaintiff's
neighbors, filed another complaint with the City of Chula Vista
about trash, junk and debris on Plaintiff's property, as well as
the possibility of a converted garage. In response to that
complaint, Charles Withers, a Code Enforcement Officer employed by the City of Chula Vista, reported to Plaintiff's
home. Plaintiff allowed Mr. Withers to inspect her garage,
whereupon he found approximately sixty cats being housed in cages
piled on top of each other. Mr. Withers told Plaintiff she had an
illegal number of cats on her property, and that he would be
contacting the City's Animal Control Department.
The following day, Mr. Withers contacted Defendant Tsunoda
about his visit to Plaintiff's property. Mr. Withers informed
Defendant Tsunoda about the number of cats Plaintiff was housing
and the unsanitary condition of the cats.
On October 11, 2002, Ms. Neagles filed another complaint with
the City of Chula Vista concerning Plaintiff's property and the
animals being housed there.
On October 21, 2002, Defendant Tsunoda submitted a request for
a search warrant for Plaintiff's property. San Diego Superior
Court Judge Margie G. Woods issued the search warrant later that
On October 23, 2002, eight officers from the City of Chula
Vista arrived at Plaintiff's home to execute the search warrant.
Among the officers executing the warrant were Defendants Estrada,
Tsunoda and Davidson.*fn1 Upon arriving at Plaintiff's home,
the officers heard dogs barking viciously from inside. Defendant
Davidson stated he had a search warrant, and the officers entered
Once inside the residence, Defendant Davidson handcuffed
Plaintiff and informed her of her Miranda rights. While the
officers were conducting their search, Plaintiff asked Defendants
if she could go to the restroom. Defendants removed Plaintiff's
handcuffs and allowed her to do so. Also during the course of the
search, Defendants asked Plaintiff some questions. In response,
Plaintiff informed Defendants of the existence and location of
marijuana in the house.
In the course of the search, some of the officers used capture
poles to restrain, capture and remove three vicious dogs from
Plaintiff's residence. In addition to these three dogs, the
officers found sixty-four cats and two additional dogs on
Plaintiff's property. The District Attorney filed charges against Plaintiff as a
result of the search of her home. Plaintiff subsequently pled
guilty to violating a Chula Vista Municipal Code regarding the
number of animals allowed on one's property.
Defendants move for summary judgment on each of Plaintiff's
claims. They raise several arguments in support of their motion.
First, they argue they are entitled to immunity from Plaintiff's
claims. Second, they assert Plaintiff's claims are barred by
Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Third, they contend
Plaintiff has not established liability against the City of Chula
Vista pursuant to Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social
Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).*fn2 Finally, Defendants
argue Plaintiff is not entitled to an award of punitive damages.
A. Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue as
to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving
party has the initial burden of demonstrating that summary
judgment is proper. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144,
157 (1970). The moving party must identify the pleadings,
depositions, affidavits, or other evidence that it "believes
demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact."
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "A material
issue of fact is one that affects the outcome of the litigation
and requires a trial to resolve the parties' differing versions
of the truth." S.E.C. v. Seaboard Corp., 677 F.2d 1301, 1306
(9th Cir. 1982).
The burden then shifts to the opposing party to show that
summary judgment is not appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.
The opposing party's evidence is to be believed, and all
justifiable inferences are to be drawn in its favor. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, to avoid
summary judgment, the opposing party cannot rest solely on
conclusory allegations. Berg v. Kincheloe, 794 F.2d 457, 459
(9th Cir. 1986). Instead, it must designate specific facts
showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. See also Butler v. San
Diego District Attorney's Office, 370 F.3d 956, 958 (9th
Cir. 2004) (stating if defendant produces enough evidence to
require plaintiff to go beyond pleadings, plaintiff must counter
by producing evidence of his own). More than a "metaphysical
doubt" is required to establish a genuine issue of material
fact." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)
B. Qualified Immunity*fn3
Qualified immunity shields government officials performing
discretionary functions from liability for civil damages unless
their conduct violates clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987). Claims
of qualified immunity require a two-step analysis. First, the
court must consider whether the facts alleged, taken in the light
most favorable to the party asserting the injury, show the
defendant's conduct violated a constitutional right. Saucier,
533 U.S. at 201. If the allegations do not establish the
violation of a constitutional right, "there is no necessity for
further inquiries concerning qualified immunity." Id. If the
allegations could make out a constitutional violation, however,
the court must then ask whether the right was clearly established
that is, whether "it would be clear to a reasonable officer
that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted."
Id. at 202. If an officer makes a reasonable mistake as to what
the law requires, the officer is entitled to immunity. Id. at
1. Excessive Force*fn4
The Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures
permits law enforcement officers to use only such force to effect
an arrest as is "objectively reasonable" under the circumstances.
Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). "The
`reasonableness' of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable
officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of
hindsight." Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. Because the
Fourth Amendment test for reasonableness is inherently fact-specific,
see Chew v. Gates, 27 F.3d 1432, 1443 (9th Cir. 1994) (citing
Reed v. Hoy, 909 F.2d 324, 330 (9th Cir. 1989)), it is a test
that escapes "mechanical application" and "requires careful
attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular
case." Graham, 490 U.S. at 396; Fikes v. Cleghorn,
47 F.3d 1011, 1014 (9th Cir. 1995).
In determining whether a particular use of force was
reasonable, courts must first assess "the quantum of force used"
in executing the search warrant. Smith v. City of Hemet,
394 F.3d 689, 701 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___,
125 S.Ct. 2938 (2005). In addition, in assessing the reasonableness
of force used, courts must consider: "(1) the severity of the
crime at issue, (2) whether the suspect pose[d] an immediate
threat to the safety of the officers or others, . . . (3) whether
he [was] actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest
by flight," and any other "exigent circumstances [that] existed
at the time of the arrest." Chew, 27 F.3d at 1440-41 & n. 5
(citing Graham, 490 U.S. at 396). In this case, Plaintiff's
excessive force claim appears to arise from Defendant Davidson's
handcuffing Plaintiff and "throwing" her on a couch, and
Defendants' refusal to allow her to use the restroom or speak
with her elderly mother, who was in her bedroom during the
search. (Defs.' Notice of Lodgment of Exhibits, Ex. C at 289,
291, 296-98.)*fn5 Defendants argue their conduct was not
unreasonable under the circumstances, and even if it was, it
would not have been clear to a reasonable officer that his
conduct was unlawful under the circumstances.
Pursuant to Smith, the Court must first assess "the quantum
of force used" in executing the search warrant to determine
whether or not the force used was reasonable. 394 F.3d at 701.
Although the use of handcuffs and the alleged "throwing" of
Plaintiff onto her couch unquestionably constitute the use of
force, that force is relatively moderate, especially in light of
Plaintiff's alleged injuries. Plaintiff complains the handcuffs
hurt her wrists, (see Defs.' Notice of Lodgment of Exhibits,
Ex. C at p. 299), but she does not allege any lasting injury to
her wrists as a result of the handcuffs. She also alleges Defendant Davidson hurt her shoulder when he turned her
around to apply the handcuffs, (see id. at 292), but she fails
to allege any residual injury to her shoulder as a result of that
conduct. Plaintiff also admits she suffered no injury from
allegedly being thrown onto her couch. (Id. at 292-93.) In
light of these facts, the use of force in this case was
The same may be said of the severity of the crime at issue in
this case. The crime originally charged is set out in California
Penal Code Section 597, which prohibits cruelty to animals (and
may be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor), but Plaintiff
ultimately pled guilty to a Chula Vista Municipal Code violation
regarding the number of animals allowed on one's property. The
crime, therefore, was relatively minor.
The Court must also consider whether Plaintiff posed an
immediate threat to the safety of the officers on the scene or
anyone else, and whether Plaintiff was resisting arrest or
attempting to flee. Chew, 27 F.3d at 1440-41. According to
Plaintiff's version of the facts, which is contested by
Defendants, she was not threatening the officers or anyone else,
nor was she resisting arrest or attempting to flee her residence.
Thus, neither of these factors supports the application of any
force in this case.
Finally, the Court must consider whether any other exigent
circumstance existed at the time of Defendants' use of force. It
is undisputed Plaintiff owned five dogs, all of which were on the
property and "barking viciously" when Defendants approached the
house. (See Pl.'s Separate Statement of Genuine Issues and
Reference to Supporting Evidence in Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J.,
No. 46.) Plaintiff also does not dispute that some of these dogs
had bitten people in the past. (Id. at Nos. 70-71.) However,
according to Plaintiff, these dogs were located in the bedroom
and backyard when Defendants applied the force at issue.
Considering the circumstances above in Plaintiff's favor, the
reasonableness of force used in this case is a close call.
Defendants were investigating a relatively minor crime, Plaintiff
was not threatening the officers or anyone else, nor was she
resisting arrest or attempting to evade the officers. Further,
according to Plaintiff, her dogs were not threatening Defendants
either before or at the time the force was applied. Defendants,
however, were executing a warrant and entering a residence that
indisputably contained numerous aggressive dogs (including pit
bulls) that were known to be territorial and to have bitten persons in the recent past. Under these
circumstances, limiting Plaintiff's access to the dogs, securing
the residence, and otherwise maximizing officer safety, all would
be legitimate and pressing concerns of Defendants immediately
after entering the residence. Accordingly, the Court finds
Plaintiff has not established a violation of her Fourth Amendment
right to be free from excessive force, even under circumstances
viewed most favorably to Plaintiff.
In addition, if the Court were to find a violation of
Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right, she would be unable to
satisfy the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis. Step
two requires this Court to address whether it would have been
clear to a reasonable officer that his use of force was
unreasonable under the circumstances. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 202.
None of the parties to this case have cited any case law that
would have put Defendants on notice that their conduct in this
case was unreasonable. See Blanford v. Sacramento County,
406 F.3d 1110, 1119 (9th Cir. 2005) (finding deputies entitled to
qualified immunity because "neither Supreme Court nor circuit
precedent in existence" at time of incident "would have put a
reasonable officer in the deputies' position on notice that using
deadly force in the particular circumstances would violate his
Fourth Amendment rights.") Further, in light of the
circumstances, the Court cannot say Defendants' conduct was "`so
patently violative of the constitutional right that reasonable
officials would know without guidance from the court that the
action was unconstitutional[.]" Boyd v. Benton County,
374 F.3d 773, 781 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Deorle v. Rutherford,
272 F.3d 1272, 1286 (9th Cir. 2001)). This is particularly so
where, as here, Defendants were executing a warrant and entering
a residence that contained numerous aggressive dogs. Considering
the exigencies and uncertainties presented by such an encounter,
it would not have been clear to a reasonable officer that the
force used by Defendants (as characterized by Plaintiff) was
unreasonable. Defendants are therefore entitled to qualified
immunity on Plaintiff's excessive force claim.
In her second cause of action, Plaintiff alleges Defendant
Davidson compelled her to incriminate herself. Specifically,
Plaintiff alleges she was forced to disclose the existence and
location of an amount of marijuana in her residence while the
officers were executing the search warrant. Defendants argue
these facts, even if true, do not establish a constitutional
violation. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states no
person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness
against himself[.]" U.S. Const. amend. V. Although this right may
serve as the basis for a Section 1983 claim, four Justices of the
Supreme Court recently clarified "a violation of the
constitutional right against self-incrimination occurs only if
one has been compelled to be a witness against himself in a
criminal case." Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760, 767 (2003).
In Chavez, the plaintiff was never prosecuted, and hence, never
compelled to be a witness against himself in a criminal case.
Id. at 766. Under those circumstances, the Court found the
plaintiff had failed to allege a violation of his constitutional
right against self-incrimination.
Here, Plaintiff was charged with a crime, and she eventually
entered a guilty plea to violating a municipal code. However,
like the plaintiff in Chavez, Plaintiff was never forced to be
a witness against herself in a criminal case. Absent such a
showing, Plaintiff has not established a violation of her
constitutional right against self-incrimination. Accordingly,
Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on this claim.
3. Due Process
Plaintiff's final constitutional claim is for a violation of
her due process rights. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges she was
deprived of her dogs without a post-seizure hearing. Defendants
argue Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate a violation of her
constitutional rights, therefore they are entitled to qualified
immunity on this claim.
California Penal Code Section 597.1 authorized Defendants to
seize Plaintiff's animals if they had "reasonable grounds to
believe that very prompt action [was] required to protect the
health or safety of [the animals] or the health and safety of
others[.]" Cal. Penal Code § 597.1(b). After seizing the animals,
Defendants were required to provide Plaintiff "with the
opportunity for a post-seizure hearing to determine the validity
of the seizure or impoundment, or both." Cal. Penal Code §
597.1(f). Although Plaintiff contends Defendants violated her due
process rights by seizing her dogs and then failing to provide
her with a hearing, Plaintiff presents no evidence to support
this claim. Plaintiff has therefore failed to establish a
constitutional violation, and thus Defendants are entitled to
qualified immunity from this claim. C. Heck Bar
In addition to arguing they are entitled to qualified immunity,
Defendants assert Plaintiff's claims are barred by the Supreme
Court's decision in Heck. There, the Supreme Court held:
to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional
conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused
by actions whose unlawfulness could render a
conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff
must prove that the conviction or sentence has been
reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive
order, declared invalid by a state tribunal
authorized to make such a determination, or called
into question by a writ of habeas corpus.
512 U.S. at 486-87. In other words, if a criminal conviction or
other judgment "arising out of the same facts stands and is
fundamentally inconsistent with the unlawful behavior for which
the section 1983 damages are sought, the 1983 action must be
dismissed." Smithart v. Towery, 79 F.3d 951
, 952 (9th Cir.
Here, Plaintiff alleges Defendants subjected her to an
unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Specifically, Plaintiff contends the search warrant was defective
in that it was not supported by probable cause. However,
Plaintiff's guilty plea to violating the Chula Vista Municipal
Code ordinance limiting the number of animals allowed on one's
property is based on evidence seized during the search of
Plaintiff's home. Under these circumstances, Plaintiff's claim is
barred by Heck, and it must be dismissed. See Harvey v.
Waldron, 210 F.3d 1008, 1015 (9th Cir. 2000) ("a § 1983
action alleging illegal search and seizure of evidence upon which
criminal charges are based does not accrue until the criminal
charges have been dismissed or the conviction has been
For these reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion for
summary judgment. Specifically, the Court grants Defendants'
motion as to Plaintiff's first and second causes of action, and
dismisses Plaintiff's third and fourth causes of action for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction. The Clerk of Court shall enter
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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