Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Tackett v. County of Imperial

November 14, 2006

JUSTIN TACKETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF IMPERIAL AND IMPERIAL COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Napoleon A. Jones, Jr. United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Before the Court is Defendants County of Imperial and Imperial County Sheriff's Department's ("Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion") as to all claims in Plaintiff Justin Tackett's ("Plaintiff") Complaint. [Doc. No. 46.] Plaintiff has filed an Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment ("Opposition"), and Defendants have filed a Reply to the Opposition ("Reply"). [Doc. Nos. 60, 66.] Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1), the Court decides the matter on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See S.D. Cal. Civ. R. 7.1(d)(1) (2006). For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims.

Background

The following facts are either stipulated, supported by affidavit or deposition testimony, uncontroverted or viewed in the light most favorable to Mr. Tackett, the nonmoving party. The Court excludes factual assertions that are immaterial or that are conclusions of law rather than statements of fact.

In August of 1999, Defendant County of Imperial ("County") hired Plaintiff Justin Tackett as a corrections officer in the county jail. (See Tackett UMF at ¶ 1; Ex. 2, Tackett Dep. 10:1-7.) On January 24, 2000, Plaintiff was hired by Defendant Imperial County Sheriff's Department ("Department") as a Deputy Sheriff Recruit. (See Tackett UMF at ¶ 2; Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 2.) County and Department are governmental agencies doing business and employing agents and employees in the County of Imperial, California. (First Am. Compl. ("FAC") at 1-2.) Plaintiff graduated from the police academy in June of 2000. (See FAC at 5; Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 2.) Plaintiff then completed Department's field training program in September of 2000 and served as a bailiff in Court Services. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 5; Tackett Dep. 10:1-7.) In December of 2000, Plaintiff was assigned to patrol duty. (See Tackett UMF at ¶ 4.)

While under the supervision of Sgt. Manuel Avila, Plaintiff alleges that he first became aware of racial preferences within the workforce. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 5.) Plaintiff, a Caucasian male, alleges that Hispanic candidates were "invariably selected" for special assignments to which he applied. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 5.) During his training and patrol duty, Plaintiff was involved in four vehicle accidents. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 5-6; Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 3-4.) Following the third incident, Plaintiff was suspended for two days on November 16, 2001. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 6; Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 3; Ex. 7.) Plaintiff alleges that Chief Sharon Housouer changed her mind and reinstated the suspension after receiving a call from Plaintiff's attorney. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 6.) On November 1, 2001, Plaintiff rolled his vehicle over while responding to a call, causing substantial damage to the vehicle. (See id.) Following a review by the Significant Events Review and a pre-disciplinary meeting, Plaintiff was suspended on October 18, 2002 for five days. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 6; Exs. 8, 12, 13.)

Plaintiff alleges that he was reprimanded harsher than Hispanic peers who have been involved in similar incidents. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 6.)

Plaintiff also alleges that in October of 2001 Defendants retaliated against him after making "the largest drug bust in the inland valley" because an individual connected to the drug bust was personal friends with and a "high profile, campaign contributor" to both the Sheriff and the District Attorney. (See FAC at 3.) Plaintiff states that the "questionable relationship of Sgt. [Joe] Nava and D.A. Gilbert Otero with Niaz Mohammed led to [a] failure to properly investigate the 'biggest' marijuana grow found in Imperial County. . . ." (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 11.) Plaintiff further states that the "only thanks Plaintiff got for this important lead was criticism and an ominous warning to keep quiet and 'leave it alone.' " (See id.)

Plaintiff again faced disciplinary action following his arrest of Randall Lackey on December 28, 2001. Plaintiff responded to a request by the Brawley Police Department to investigate whether a vehicle parked at a residence was involved in an earlier hit and run. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 6; Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 5.) Plaintiff's investigation resulted in an altercation with Mr. Lackey, the owner of the residence. Mr. Lackey was handcuffed and subsequently released pursuant to an order by Plaintiff's supervisor, Sgt. Myron King. In a Memorandum to Chief Housouer, Sgt. King stated that the incident was avoidable, that Plaintiff failed to follow orders to wait for Brawley Police to arrive, that Plaintiffs "own actions instigated the incident," and that "Deputy Tackett's actions unnecessarily exposed himself and the Sheriff's Department to a citizen complaint or civil suit." (See Ex. 14 at 363-64). An Internal Affairs investigation found that Plaintiff had "insufficient evidence to detain Mr. Lackey" and violated several of the Department's Rules of Conduct, including incompetence, unbecoming conduct, and failure to make an arrest in accordance with the law and department procedures. (Ex. 17 at 388-90.) Following a departmental investigation and pre-disciplinary hearing (see Ex. 19), Sheriff Harold Carter suspended Plaintiff for two days on April 5, 2003 (see Ex. 21 at 1). Plaintiff alleges that his actions were criticized because Mr. Lackey was "the brother-in-law of Sgt. King's dear friend and best man at his wedding, Tony Rohoutas, a well connected individual in Imperial County." (Pl.'s Opp'n at 7.) Plaintiff states that he "refused to look the other way on this matter and pressed the case to the District Attorney's office," and was "labeled as a deputy who would not go along with the corrupt program engaged in by County officials."

Id. at 8.)

In January of 2002, Plaintiff faced disciplinary action for his involvement in a probation search. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 8.) An investigation found that Plaintiff had "willfully disobeyed a direct order from Sgt. Manuel Avila, and provided false information to Sgt. Delfino O. Matus during the course of Deputy Tackett's interview." (Ex. 24 at 841.) The investigation further found that "Sgt. Avila had ordered Deputy Tackett during the latter part of 2001, and January 2002, not to be conducting probation or parol searches." (Id.) The investigation ultimately found that Plaintiff violated several of the Department's Rules of Conduct, including insubordination and unbecoming conduct. (Id. at 843.) As a result, Plaintiff was issued two Notices of Intent to Terminate, but was later suspended for thirty days in lieu of termination.

Exs. 25-27.)

Plaintiff alleges that "[i]t became clear that [he] was being targeted for refusing to go along with the corruption in the county." (Pl.'s Opp'n at 8.) Plaintiff states that, in February of 2002, he verbally complained of Sgt. Avila's continued favoritism toward the Hispanic deputies. See id.) Plaintiff states that on February 11, 2002, Sgt. Avila issued a memorandum to only him, forbidding him from making tracking stops in the Brawley area and from placing people in the back of his patrol car. (See id.) On March 4, 2002, Plaintiff filed a grievance for "continued harassment, discrimination, and retaliation for filing a previous grievance." (Ex. E.) In the grievance, Plaintiff also requested a transfer to "court division." (Id.) In March of 2002, Plaintiff was transferred back to court services. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 9; Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 2.) However, Plaintiff alleges that Chief Housouer failed to investigate his grievance. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 9.) The Department transferred Plaintiff back to patrol duty in March of 2003. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 10; Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 2.)

On May 22, 2003, Plaintiff was involved in the arrest of Reno Bertussi, a private citizen suspected of assault and theft of property. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 11; Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 8.) On June 16, 2003, Mr. Bertussi filed a complaint against Plaintiff alleging that Plaintiff and Officer Bostic "acted inhumanely and endangered [his] life" by conducting an illegal search and placing him in a patrol vehicle with no air conditioning causing Mr. Bertussi to suffer from heat exposure. (Ex. 31 at 1-2.) Plaintiff alleges that the following day he learned that Mr. Bertussi was the brother-in-law of Hank Kuiper, a member of the Board of Supervisors, and that Mr. Kuiper asked that the charges against Mr. Bertussi be dropped. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 11-12.) Plaintiff also alleges that, in a break from departmental policy, an Internal Affairs investigation was commenced while the charges against Mr. Bertussi were still pending. (Id.)

On July 27, 2003, Plaintiff conducted a traffic stop on Ernesto Macias, searched his hotel room, and arrested him. (See Pl.'s Opp'n at 12.) The district attorney to whom the case was referred rejected the charges, citing that the "[Fourth Amendment] violations [are] almost too numerous to list." (Ex. 28.) Independent investigations were commenced into both the Bertussi and Macias incidents. (See Exs. 29, 33.) As a result of the two incidents, Plaintiff was issued two Notices of Termination, citing as causes for the proposed discipline: unprofessional conduct, dishonesty, violation of or refusal to obey reasonable regulations, insubordination, violation of rules, incompetence, and failure to follow proper procedures for arrest, search, and seizure and treatment of persons in custody. (See Exs. 30, 34.)

Plaintiff alleges that after the Macias incident, he "realized that his life was in serious jeopardy." (Pl.'s Opp'n at 13.) Plaintiff further alleges that "deputies were advised not to provide Plaintiff with backup and were afraid to associate with him because they were on notice that they should avoid contact with Plaintiff or suffer from County's further animosity." (Id.) Plaintiff states that "[g]iven the statements made to him by other deputies and the clear perception within the Department, Plaintiff came to the unavoidable conclusion that he had to resign or else risk dying on the job." (Id.) On December 19, 2003, Plaintiff submitted a letter of resignation to Sheriff Harold Carter. (See Ex. J.)

On December 9, 2004, Plaintiff served Defendants with a Complaint, and Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). [Doc. Nos. 1, 6.] The Court denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and granted in part Defendants' Motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (See generally Order Re: Mot. Dismiss.) On March 22, 2005, Plaintiff served Defendants with a First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), alleging six causes of action: (1) race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; (2) violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983; (3) wrongful termination in violation of California Labor Code Section 1102.5; (4) retaliation in violation of public policy; (5) race discrimination in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"); and (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). (FAC ¶ 45-91.)

Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on "all or any part" of a claim where there is an absence of a genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). One of the principal purposes of Rule 56 is to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. See Celetox, 477 U.S. at 323-24. A fact is material when, under the governing substantive law, the fact might affect the outcome of the See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 735 (9th Cir. 1997). A dispute about a material fact is genuine if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. When making its determination, the Court must view all inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party can satisfy this burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence to negate an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element of his or her claim on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See id. at 322-23. If the moving party fails to discharge this initial burden, summary judgment must be denied and the court need not consider the nonmoving party's evidence. See Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159-60 (1970).

If the moving party meets the initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to "set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position is not sufficient." Triton Energy Corp. v. Square D. Co., 68 F.3d 1216, 1221 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252); see also Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 (if the moving party meets this initial burden, the nonmoving party cannot defeat summary judgment by merely demonstrating "that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts"). It is insufficient for the party opposing summary judgment to "rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his or her] pleading." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Rather, the party opposing summary judgment must "by [his or her] own affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.' " Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P 56(e)). "Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment." See T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors , 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). In addition, the Court is not obligated "to scour the records in search of a genuine issue of triable fact." Keenan v. Allan, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing Richards v. Combined Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1995)). "[T]he district court may limit its review to the documents submitted for purposes of summary judgment and those parts of the record specifically referenced therein." Carmen v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1030 (9th Cir. 2001).

"Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.' " Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citing First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)). Moreover, "[a] district court must enter summary judgment against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish an essential element of a claim, even if genuine factual disputes exist regarding other elements of the claim." Cunningham v. City of Wenatchee, 214 F. Supp. 2d 1103, 1110 (E.D. Wash. 2002) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24.)

Discussion

Defendants assert that Plaintiff's claims under FEHA, Title VII, California Labor Code Section 1102.5, retaliation in violation of public policy, and IIED are time-barred under the relevant statute of limitations. (See Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 12-14.) Defendants further argue that Plaintiff has failed to include factual allegations in his tort claim that correspond with the facts alleged in Plaintiff's FAC with respect to the alleged infliction of emotional distress. (See id. at 13.) Additionally, Defendants also move for summary judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims. (See id. at 14-25.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court FINDS that Plaintiff's claims under FEHA and Title VII are time-barred and GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims.

Procedural Bars to Plaintiff's Claims

A. Timeliness of Claims under the California Torts Claims Act

Defendants assert that Plaintiff's first cause of action (violation of California Labor Code Section 1102.5), second cause of action (retaliation in violation of public policy), and sixth cause of action (intentional infliction of emotional distress) are time barred under the California Torts Claims Act ("CTCA") for claims against a local government entity. (See Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 12.) According to the CTCA, a "claim [against a public entity] relating to a cause of action for death or for injury to person or to personal property . . . shall be presented . . . not later than six months after the accrual of the cause of action." Cal. Gov't Code § 911.2 (West 2006). Furthermore, "[u]nder . . . [S]section 945.4, presentation of a timely claim is a condition precedent to the commencement of suit against the public entity." Munoz v. State of California, 39 Cal. Rptr. 2d 860, 864 (Cal. Ct. App. 1995); see also Cal. Gov't Code § 945.4 (West 2006). Here, Plaintiff filed a tort claim against the County of Imperial on June 16, 2004. (Ex. 36.) Accordingly, causes of action that accrued prior to December 16, 2003 would be time barred under Section 911.2.

In Plaintiff's FAC, Plaintiff alleges that he was constructively terminated on December 15, 2003. (FAC at 6.) However, Plaintiff, in his Opposition, states that the December 15th date "is simply a typographical error in a pleading." (Pl.'s Opp'n at 14.) Plaintiff has also shown that his resignation letter was file stamped, signed, and dated on December 19, 2003. (Ex. 35.) Furthermore, Plaintiff, in his tort claim against the County, states that he was constructively terminated on December 19, 2003. (See Ex. 36.)

While Plaintiff has not specifically alleged that any tortious actions occurred after December 16, 2003, it is "the actual termination of employment that starts the statute of limitations period running, not when the alleged intolerable conditions occurr[ed]" or "the date on which an employee is unequivocally informed his employment will be terminated." Colores v. Bd. of Trs., 105 Cal. App. 4th 1293, 1320 (2003) (citing Mullins v. Rockwell Int'l Corp., 936 P.2d 1246, 734 (Cal. 1997); Romano v. Rockwell Int'l, Inc., 926 P.2d 1114, 1116 (Cal. 1996)). Thus, "for the purposes of filing a tort claim for wrongful termination, the cause of action accrues when the employment is actually terminated, whether by the employer or the employee."

. Therefore, Plaintiff's claim will have accrued on December 19, 2003, the date on which he resigned from the Department. However, the Court's decision only determines when the claim the arose, not whether the claim has any merit. For purposes of determining only whether a claim is time barred, the Court does not address the merits of the claim.

Accordingly, the Court FINDS that Plaintiff's claims for violation of California Labor Code Section 1102.5, retaliation in violation of public policy, and IIED are not time-barred under the CTCA.

B. Consistency of Pleadings with Tort Claim

Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to include factual allegations in his tort claim that correspond with the facts alleged in Plaintiff's FAC dealing with emotional distress. (See Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 13.) Specifically, Defendants argue that "Plaintiff's sixth claim for relief for emotional distress is based entirely upon the allegation that Defendants instructed other deputies not to provide backup to Plaintiff and 'to stay away from him,' " and that Plaintiff's tort claim does not include such allegations. (Id.) According to Government Code Section 910, a claim shall include "the date, place and other circumstances of the occurrence or transaction which gave rise to the claim asserted" and a "general description of the . . . injury, damage or loss incurred." Cal. Gov't Code § 910 (West 2006). If a suit against a public entity is ultimately filed, "[e]ach theory of recovery against the public entity must have been reflected in a timely claim" and "the factual circumstances set forth in the claim must correspond with the facts alleged in the complaint." Munoz v. State of California, 33 Cal. App. 4th 1767, 1776 (1995) (citing Brownell v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist., 4 Cal. App. 4th 787, 793-94 (1992)). However, a claim "need not contain the detail and specificity required of a pleading, but need only fairly describe what the entity is alleged to have done." Stockett v. Ass'n of Cal. Water Agencies Joint Powers Ins. Auth., 34 Cal. 4th 441, 446 (2004).

Here, Plaintiff alleged in his tort claim that he was "subjected to false accusations, . . . numerous instances of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, [and] disparate treatment." (Ex. 36 at 1.) In addition, Plaintiff alleged that he "suffered past, present and future emotional distress." (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff did not specifically claim he was subjected to "intentional infliction of emotional distress." However, as previously stated by this Court, Plaintiff's Complaint merely elaborates or adds further detail to "a claim . . . predicated on the same fundamental actions or failures to act by the defendants." (See Order Denying Mot. Dismiss at 14 (quoting Stockett, 34 Cal. 4th at 447).)

Accordingly, the Court FINDS that Plaintiff substantially complied with the requirements of the CTCA.

C. Timeliness of Claims Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Defendants argue that Plaintiff's fourth cause of action (violation of FEHA) and fifth cause of action (violation of Title VII) are time barred pursuant to FEHA and Title VII, respectively. (See Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 13.) Defendants claim that Plaintiff cannot show that he was discriminated against within the allowed time to file a claim under FEHA or Title VII. (See id.) Pursuant to FEHA, "[n]o complaint may be filed after the expiration of one year from the date upon which the alleged unlawful practice or refusal to cooperate occurred. . . ." Cal. Gov't Code ยง 12960 (West 2006). Furthermore, "[i]n a State having an entity authorized to grant or seek relief with respect to the alleged unlawful practice, an employee who initially files a grievance with that agency must file the charge with the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.