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Grassilli v. Rodriguez

January 3, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Barry Ted Moskowitz United States District Judge


Defendant Carlos E. Rodriguez has filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, Rodriguez's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.


Plaintiffs Steve Grassilli and Patricia Grassilli are residents of Santa Ysabel, California. In, 1999, Mr. Grassilli filed a civil rights suit in the Superior Court of California, alleging that California Highway Patrol ("CHP") Officer Eric Barr and other CHP officers had conspired to violate his constitutional rights by systematically retaliating against him for filing a citizen's complaint against Barr. (Pl.'s Exh. A.) After a six week trial, a jury found all of the individually named CHP officers guilty of violating Mr. Grassilli's civil rights and awarded compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney's fees and costs in the total amount of $4,512,552.00. (Pl.'s Exh. B.) In a recent decision, the California Court of Appeal found that the punitive damage awards, which totaled $4,005,522.00, were excessive and set the awards aside. Grassilli v. Barr, 142 Cal. App. 4th 1260 (2006).

During the pendency of the lawsuit against the CHP officers, the Grassillis became involved in a civil dispute with their neighbors, Mary and David Larson. The dispute concerned a gate that was at the mouth of an easement which runs through the Grassillis' property and was used by the Larsons to access their property.

On December 24, 2003, the Larsons sought and obtained a temporary restraining order ("TRO") against the Grassillis from the San Diego Superior Court. (Pl.'s Exh. A.) The Larsons claimed, among other things, that the Grassillis frequently fastened a chain around the gate so tightly that they could not loosen the chain and open the gate, preventing them from either leaving or entering their property. (Def.'s Exhs. B, C.) The TRO prohibited the Grassillis from "chaining or locking the gate at the entrance of [the] road easement." (Exh. A to Comp.)

Mrs. Larson requested the assistance of the Sheriff's Department with respect to the service of the TRO and related court papers on the Grassillis. (Mary Larson Decl., ¶ 4.) On December 24, 2003, Deputy Alfred Duey served the TRO and other court papers on Mr. Grassilli. (Proof of Service, Def.'s Exh. D.)

On December 26, 2003, Mrs. Larson went to the Sheriff's Ramona Substation to file a crime incident report. (Def.'s Exh. E, Mary Larson Decl., ¶ 7.) Mrs. Larson claimed that on December 24, 2003, shortly after the TRO was served, the Grassillis' children chained the gate closed. (Def.'s Exh. E, Mary Larson Decl., ¶ 6.) Mrs. Larson believed that the Grassillis had violated the TRO. (Id.)

Deputy Rodriguez was assigned to investigate the alleged violation of the TRO. (Def.'s Exh. E, Rodriguez Decl., ¶ 1.) On January 8, 2004, Deputy Rodriguez received a call from Mr. Grassilli's attorney, who advised Rodriguez that he could interview Mr. Grassilli at the Grassilli residence on January 12, 2004. (Rodriguez Decl., ¶ 3.) On January 12, 2004, Deputy Rodriguez and another officer went to the Grassilli residence. (Rodriguez Decl., ¶ 4.) Upon arriving at the entrance to the easement road, Deputy Rodriguez saw that the gate was secured closed with a chain. (Rodriguez Decl., ¶ 4; Def.'s Exh. F.) Deputy Rodriguez removed the chain, opened the gate, and drove up to the Grassilli residence. (Id.) Rodriguez was greeted by Mrs. Grassilli who informed Rodriguez that Mr. Grassilli was not home. (Id.) Rodriguez told her that he was investigating the TRO violation alleged by the Larsons. (Id.) Mrs. Grassilli admitted that she had closed the gate, explaining that she needed to do so to prevent cattle from coming on their property. (Id.; Def.'s Exh. R at 32:11.) She also asked Rodriguez whether he was going to have her arrested for closing the gate. (Id.; Def.'s Exh. R at 50:10-11.)

Rodriguez prepared an investigative report following his visit to the property. (Def.'s Exh. F.) In the report, Rodriguez noted that Mrs. Grassilli "admitted closing the gate several times . . . ." His report concluded: "Based on the validity of the court order, Patricia Grassilli's admission to closing the gate and my observation of the gate being closed, I'm submitting this case for review. I'm also respectfully requesting that three counts of 166(a)(4) PC Criminal Contempt be issued against Steven and Patricia Grassilli." The report was forwarded to the District Attorney's Office for a case issuance evaluation. (Rodriguez Dec., ¶ 6.)

On January 16, 2004, the San Diego Superior Court issued a Preliminary Injunction Order which preliminarily enjoined the Grassillis and Larsons from, among other things, "[l]ocking the Gate at the entrance of the easement," or "[n]ot shutting and securing the Gate with an approved device after opening the Gate for access or egress." (Exh. B to Compl.) According to Rodriguez, he did not take part in any further investigation of the Grassillis and did not have occasion to review the Preliminary Injunction Order. (Rodriguez Decl., ¶ 6.)

Deputy Hoapili was instructed by a Sergeant to serve the Preliminary Injunction Order on the Grassillis. (Pl.'s Exh. H at 24-25; Pl.'s Exh. I at 4.) Dupty Hoapili was not ordered to serve the Preliminary Injunction Order on the Larsons. (Pl.'s Exh. I at 16.)

On February 24, 2004, Rodriguez executed a declaration in support of arrest warrant, the text of which was almost identical to that of the investigative report. (Def.'s Exh. J.) On February 27, 2004, the District Attorney's Office filed a misdemeanor complaint, charging Mrs. Grassilli with having violated the TRO on December 24, 2003. (Def.'s Exh. I.) To Rodriguez's knowledge, his declaration was never filed with the court to obtain a warrant. (Rodriguez Decl., ¶ 8.) The Grassilis were never arrested. Mrs. Grassilli eventually entered a fax arraignment. (Def.'s Exh. L.)

Upon further investigation by the District Attorney's Office, an Amended Complaint was filed on March 2, 2005. (Def.'s Exh. M.) The Amended Complaint charged Mr. and Mrs. Grassilli with willfully violating the TRO on December 31, 2003. On March 11, 2005, a Second Amended Complaint was filed, adding a charge against Mr. Grassilli for willfully ...

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