UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
December 5, 2007
JUAN VILLEGAS, PLAINTIFF,
ERIC HACKETT, AN INDIVIDUAL, AND CITY COMPLAINT OF CALEXICO, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jeffrey T. Miller United States District Judge
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR LEAVE TO FILE THIRD-PARTY
In this non-prisoner § 1983 action, Plaintiff Juan Villegas alleges several state and federal civil rights claims against Eric Hackett and the City of Calexico. Defendants now move under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 14(a) for leave to file a third-party complaint seeking indemnification from the County of Imperial ("the County"). The proposed third-party complaint ("TPC") is attached as an exhibit to Defendants' motion. Plaintiff filed a timely opposition to which Defendants replied. For the reasons set forth below, the court hereby DENIES the motion.
Plaintiff's claims arise out of the arrest of Villegas at his home in Calexico on December 3, 2002. The court fully set forth the undisputed facts in its January 24, 2005 order granting partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff on two of his claims. (See Docket no. 44 at 2-3.) That statement of facts is incorporated herein.
Plaintiff filed his complaint on October 29, 2003. Defendants answered on December 5, 2003.
In its January 24, 2005 order, the court granted partial summary judgment for Plaintiff on his state law claim for false arrest (claim no. 4) and his federal claim for unreasonable seizure (claim no. 7). The court also found that defendant Hackett was not entitled to qualified immunity.
Defendants filed an interlocutory appeal, and this court stayed the action pending appeal on April 5, 2005. (Docket no. 73.) In a memorandum decision filed March 19, 2007, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment on the § 1983 claim and the finding that Hackett was not entitled to qualified immunity. (Docket no. 89, Exh. 1.) The Ninth Circuit also dismissed the appeal as to the state-law claim and remanded the case back to the district court. The remaining claims now include three § 1983 claims against Hackett alone, and three state-law claims against both Hackett and Calexico. The case is set for trial on February 19, 2008.
Defendants move under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") Rule 14(a). They argue that the County should indemnify them for any liability. They claim that, when Hackett arrested Plaintiff, Hackett relied on "stale" and "erroneous" information from the County which "did not support probable cause." (Memo. of P. & A. in Supp. of Motion ("Motion") at 3.) Because Hackett relied on this "negligently obtained, negligently maintained, mistaken and erroneous information," Defendants claim entitlement to indemnification from the County.
Plaintiff opposes the motion on a number of grounds. The main theme of his argument is that Defendants waited far too long to bring this complaint.
A. Legal Standards
Under FRCP Rule 14(a), a defendant seeking to file a third-party complaint more than ten days after serving the original answer must obtain the court's permission.*fn1 The crucial characteristic of a Rule 14(a) claim is that the original defendant seeks to transfer some or all of its potential liability to a third party. United States v. One 1977 Mercedes Benz, 708 F.2d 444, 452 (9th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1071 (1984). Thus, a defendant can only implead a third party where the defendant asserts a claim "derivatively based on the original plaintiff's claim." One 1977 Mercedes Benz, 708 F.2d at 452.
The court has substantial discretion in deciding whether to allow a third-party claim under Rule 14(a). Southwest Adm'rs., Inc. v. Rozay's Transfer, 791 F.2d 769, 777 (9th Cir. 1986) (citing, inter alia, One 1977 Mercedes Benz, 708 F.2d at 452). In making this determination, the court must balance the benefits afforded by liberal third-party practice, including "'the desire to avoid circuitry of actions and to obtain consistent results[,] against any prejudice that the plaintiff might suffer from complications of the case.'" Irwin v. Mascott, 94 F. Supp. 2d 1052, 1056 (N.D. Cal. 2000) (quoting Somportex Ltd. v. Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corp., 453 F.2d 435, 439 (3d Cir. 1971), cert. denied, 405 U.S. 1017 (1972)). The court should consider the following factors: "(1) prejudice to the original plaintiff; (2) complication of issues at trial; (3) likelihood of trial delay; and (4) timeliness of the motion to implead." Irwin, 94 F. Supp. 2d at 1056; see also Southwest Adm'rs, 791 F.2d at 777 (affirming denial of impleader application where impleader would "disadvantage the existing action" by complicating and lengthening trial).
Plaintiff argues that the TPC would cause him a great deal of prejudice due to Defendants' delay in requesting to file the TPC. (Oppo. at 3-4.) He claims he would suffer prejudice because the County would inevitably request and rightfully receive a continuance of the trial date, which he has awaited for four years. He also argues that Defendants failed to offer a valid excuse for pursuing the TPC nearly four years after Plaintiff's original complaint, especially since Defendants allegedly knew about the County officer's role in the incident from the start of the case.
Defendants claim that the TPC would cause no prejudice to Plaintiff or the County. (Motion at 305.) They state that including the County would neither delay the trial nor make it more protracted. They claim that the case does not involve complex facts, the discovery already conducted will be available to the County, and the trial will already necessarily involve the facts relevant to the County's liability. They also claim that the County would not suffer prejudice because it has had notice of the potential case against it since the May 25, 2004 deposition of Officer Duran.
Having considered the parties' arguments, the applicable authorities, and the pertinent factors to be weighed, the court denies the motion for leave to file the TPC. See Irwin, 94 F. Supp. 2d at 1056. The first factor, that of prejudice to the original plaintiff, weighs heavily in Plaintiff's favor. More than four years have passed since the inception of the case. Plaintiff already has received summary judgment on two of his claims, upheld by the Ninth Circuit. This matter is nearly ready for trial. A continuance of the trial at this point would only extend what has become an inordinate passage of time between the filing of this action and trial. This court sees no justification for memories of witnesses to further fade and justice to be delayed. Turning to the second factor, complication of issues at trial, there is no question that, although the underlying factual matrix of the case is relatively straightforward, folding into the equation the potential liability of the County would complicate the case. Substantial evidence relating to the County's generation and maintenance of criminal information would be adduced as well as how information regarding Plaintiff's brother was maintained and ultimately utilized in this case. It is conceivable experts could be called on the reasonableness of these issues. Moreover, it is foreseeable various immunities of the California Tort Claims Act (Cal. Gov. Code § 800, et seq.) would be advanced by the County. In sum, Defendants' argument that the case would not be complicated by bringing in the County at this juncture is an attempt to hide an elephant in a mousehole. The second factor also weighs heavily in favor of Plaintiff. The third factor, continuance of trial, is a certainty if the TPC is filed and all issues are tried at one time. This factor also weighs in favor of Plaintiff. Finally, as to timeliness of the instant motion, there is little doubt Defendants could have filed many months earlier and, conceivably, shortly after the March 2007 affirmance by the Ninth Circuit.
In sum, a consideration of all relevant factors strongly counsels against a grant of Defendants' motion. The court therefore denies leave to file the TPC.*fn2
In so holding, the court expresses no opinion about the merits of the proposed indemnification claim. While the parties' briefs touched on the issue of viability, that issue is not now before the court. Accordingly, the court does not decide the extent to which the California Tort Claims Act and its claim-presentation requirement applies to the proposed claim for indemnification from the County. Nor does the court rule on the applicability of the two-year statute of limitations established in California Code of Civil Procedure § 335.1. (See Oppo. at 4-5; Reply at 3-6.)
For the foregoing reasons, the court hereby DENIES Defendants' motion for leave to file a third-party complaint, without prejudice to any future claim for indemnification properly raised in a separate state or federal action.
IT IS SO ORDERED.