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Eppel v. County of San Diego

February 5, 2007


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


Defendants County of San Diego and Timothy Matzkiw have filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.


Rick La Mora*fn1 and Plaintiffs Kathy and Jarlath Eppel are neighbors in Vista, California. La Mora has an ingress/egress easement over a road on Plaintiffs' private property. According to Plaintiffs, La Mora installed a post with a keypad, which controlled a gate to La Mora's property, twenty feet into the easement on Plaintiffs' land. (Jarlath Eppel Decl., Def.'s Exh. 2.) Plaintiffs declare that they never gave La Mora permission to install the keypad/post, which was not necessary to ingress/egress because La Mora used a remote control to operate the gate. (Id.) Plaintiffs asked La Mora on a number of occasions to relocate the keypad/post to his property, but he never did. (Def.'s Exh. 1.)

In 2003, Mrs. Eppel became more insistent about La Mora removing the keypad/post because the Eppels planned to make some renovations to their property and wanted to make sure that there were no obstacles in the way of contractors. (Def.'s Exh. 1.) According to Plaintiffs, La Mora initially agreed to remove the keypad/post. (Id.) However, La Mora became reluctant to remove the keypad/post due to the expense involved and told the Eppels on several occasions that they could remove the keypad/post themselves and just throw it away since it did not work anyway. (Id.)

Mrs. Eppel consulted several attorneys who advised her that she could lawfully remove the keypad/post since it was erected on their property without their permission. (Kathy Eppel Decl.) Mrs. Eppel also called automatic gate companies to learn how to remove the keypad/post without causing damage to the pavement or the keypad. (Id.) On April 4, 2004, Mr. Eppel removed the keypad/post as instructed by the automatic gate companies and placed it at La Mora's property line. (Def.'s Exh. 2.)

That evening, Karen La Mora arrived home and noticed that the gate was wide open and that the keypad/post was missing. (Def.'s Exh. 4.) Concerned that there might be a burglary in progress, Karen La Mora called 911. (Id.) Sheriff's deputies arrived in response to the call.

According to the crime/incident report prepared by Deputy Matzkiw, Mrs. Eppel told him that she had cut the metal post with a reciprocating saw earlier that day. (Def.'s Exh. 4.) She said that an attorney told her that she could remove the keypad/post because it was on her easement and that La Mora had given her permission to take the keypad/post down. Deputy Matzkiw then spoke with La Mora, who denied ever giving permission for the removal of the keypad/post. La Mora said that he had spoken with Jarlath Eppel three days ago and told him that the keypad/post could not be removed because the Vista Fire Department had informed La Mora that they needed access to his residence via the gate transmitter. La Mora estimated the damage to the transmitter to be about $1,000 and insisted that Mrs. Eppel be prosecuted.

Mrs. Eppel has a different version of the events that night. According to Mrs. Eppel, during her initial conversation with Matzkiw, she explained that the keypad/post had been placed on the Eppels' property without their permission. (Def.'s Exh. 1.) Later, when Matzkiw returned from the La Mora residence to tell her that the La Moras were demanding her arrest, Matzkiw asked Mrs. Eppel if she had any papers to prove the keypad was on the Eppels' property. Mrs. Eppel tried to show Matzkiw several documents showing the Eppels' property boundaries and their obligations regarding the easement. However, Matzkiw would not look at the papers and continued to refer to the Eppels' private road as a "public road."

The La Moras continued to insist that Mrs. Eppel be arrested. When Mr. Eppel learned that Mrs. Eppel was going to be arrested, he told Matzkiw for the first time that he, not she, was the one who had cut the post and removed the keypad. (Def.'s Exh. 2.) Matzkiw responded that Mrs. Eppel had already admitted to cutting the post down and that she was the one going to jail. (Id.)

Matzkiw arrested Kathy Eppel, who was booked, released, and subsequently charged with felony vandalism (Cal. Penal Code § 594(a)(b)(1)). Several months later, Mr. Eppel was charged with misdemeanor vandalism, and an amended complaint was filed against Mrs. Eppel, adding an additional charge for delaying or obstructing Matzkiw's investigation. (Def.'s Exhs. 6, 9.) Mr. Eppel was never arrested. Instead, he entered his appearance via a fax arraignment. (Def.'s Exh. 7.)

The criminal cases against Mr. and Mrs. Eppel were consolidated and then were ultimately dismissed in exchange for an agreement by the Eppels to pay restitution to Mr. La Mora for the damaged keypad/post and a stipulation that Matzkiw had probable cause to arrest Mrs. Eppel. (Def.'s Exhs. 10-11.) Subsequently, the Eppels brought a motion for a finding of factual innocence pursuant to Cal. Penal Code § 851.8(c), which was granted.


Summary judgment is appropriate under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if the moving party demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is material when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 735 (9th Cir. ...

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