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McCabe v. Hart

August 29, 2008

JEFFREY M. MCCABE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PATRICK J. HART CHIEF DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY, COUNTY OF KINGS; RONALD L. CALHOUN DISTRICT ATTORNEY, COUNTY OF KINGS; THE COUNTY OF KINGS, CALIFORNIA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Oliver W. Wanger United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION RE GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 76)

1. Introduction

Defendants The County of Kings, California ("Kings County"), Patrick J. Hart, Chief Deputy District Attorney ("CDDA Hart") and Ronald L. Calhoun, Deputy District Attorney ("DDA Calhoun") move for summary judgment in favor of Defendant DDA Calhoun pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(b). The summary judgment covers the last remaining cause of action, against the last remaining defendant in the suit, a Section 1983 claim against Defendant DDA Calhoun for malicious prosecution. The matter was submitted on the pleadings.

2. Procedural History

On March 11, 2003, Plaintiff Jeffrey M. McCabe ("McCabe") filed suit against Kings County DDA Calhoun, Kings County CDDA Hart, and Kings County for violations of his constitutional rights. Plaintiff's complaint alleges claims for unconstitutional false arrest (claim I), unconstitutional malicious prosecution (claim II); declaratory relief for false arrest and malicious prosecution (claim III); violation of California Civil Code § 52.1 (claim IV); and false arrest (claim V). (Doc. 1, Complaint)

On May 18, 2004, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion for summary adjudication. (Doc. 33) The remaining claims after the motion for summary judgment included:

(i) Plaintiff's third claim for declaratory relief from Defendant DDA Calhoun in his official capacity; (ii) Plaintiff's first and second claims alleging violations of his Fourth Amendment rights against false arrest and malicious prosecution; and (iii) Plaintiff's third claim for relief seeking a declaration that Defendants violated Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right against false arrest.

On May 25, 2004, Defendants moved for reconsideration of the Court's May 18, 2004 order. In an order dated September 10, 2004, the Court ordered that summary adjudication be granted in favor of Defendants as to Plaintiff's third claim for declaratory relief in its entirety. (Doc. 46)

On September 15, 2004, Defendants filed a motion for clarification of the Court's previous orders. (Doc. 47) On September 17, 2004, the Court ordered that summary adjudication was granted in favor of Defendants as to Plaintiff's claims for false arrest found in claims one, three, five in Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. 50)

On March 18, 2005, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the remaining second claim of malicious prosecution against the remaining Defendant DDA Calhoun. (Doc. 76, Motion for Summary Judgment) On April 1, 2005, Plaintiff filed an opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 79, Opposition) On April 11, 2005, Defendants filed their reply to the Opposition. (Doc. 81, Reply) After a series of stipulations and orders, Plaintiff filed a second opposition on November 11, 2005. (Doc. 94, Opposition II) On November 22, 2005, Defendants filed a reply to Plaintiff's second opposition. (Doc. 96, Reply II) The matter was submitted on the pleadings December 12, 2005. (Doc. 97)

3. Factual Background

A. UNDISPUTED FACTS

On March 1, 2002, during the course of a traffic stop involving suspect Peter Contreras, Plaintiff Lemoore Police Officer Jeffrey J. McCabe shot Mr. Contreras who died at the scene. Doc. 76, Defendants Statement of Undisputed Facts, "DSUF", #1. Defendant DDA Calhoun, at all times relevant to this lawsuit, was the District Attorney of the Kings County. DSUF #2. Before hearing of the shooting incident, Defendant DDA Calhoun had never heard of Plaintiff, nor, to his knowledge, had they ever had any personal contact. DSUF #41.

Defendant DDA Calhoun was notified by Investigator Larry Orth of the subject shooting the day (early morning hours) that it occurred. DSUF #3. Defendant DDA Calhoun understood that Investigator Orth was already investigating the incident. DSUF #4. That morning following the shooting incident, Defendant DDA Calhoun met with Investigator Orth and Deputy District Attorney ("DDA") Mike Reinhart to discuss the status of the case. DSUF #5. At that point, Defendant DDA Calhoun reassigned Investigator Larry Ponting and Investigator Randy Ebner to the investigation. DSUF #6.

Defendant DDA Calhoun never drafted any reports concerning any aspect of the shooting investigation, nor inspected the scene of the shooting. DSUF ##9-10. Defendant DDA Calhoun did not prepare any diagrams recreating the scene of the shooting, nor did he take any pictures of the scene of the shooting. DSUF ##11-12.

On March 12, 2002, 11 days after the shooting, Defendant DDA Calhoun suffered a stroke and was officially out of the office for six weeks. DSUF #13. Defendant DDA Calhoun continued to receive updates from Investigator Ponting during the time he was officially out of the office. Doc. 93, Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Facts, "PSUF", #13.

On or about April 1, 2002, Defendant DDA Calhoun returned to work to review the investigative packet concerning the shooting. DSUF #19. This is the first time that Defendant DDA Calhoun saw any written documentation concerning the investigation. DSUF #20. When Defendant DDA Calhoun returned to the office, he received updates on the status of the investigation by District Attorney's Office Investigators. DSUF #14. Defendant DDA Calhoun received an additional three to four verbal updates from Investigator Ponting during the time that he reviewed the investigative packet. DSUF #21.

April 2002 Meeting

During the month of April of 2002, Defendant DDA Calhoun attended a meeting with Investigator Ponting and other senior attorneys from the District Attorney's Office in which the Contreras shooting was discussed to determine what action, if any, the District Attorney's Office should take with regards to the shooting. DSUF #22.

April 18, 2002 Press Release

Shortly after the decision was made to criminally prosecute Plaintiff, the Kings County District Attorney's Office, through CDDA Hart, issued a press release. DSUF #15. The press release stated in part, "This decision to file criminal charges was made only after many hours of investigation among the senior staff of the District Attorney's Office, including Ron Calhoun." DSUF #16.

B. DISPUTED FACTS

Defendants contend that at no time did DDA Calhoun direct the District Attorney's Office investigation, nor did he give any direction to any District Attorney Investigators in terms of how to conduct the investigation. DSUF #7. Defendants contend that DDA Calhoun never directed that any witnesses be interviewed; never interviewed any witnesses to the shooting; did not attend any witness interviews; nor did he ever have contact with any witnesses. DSUF #8.

"Thorough Investigation" Comments

Plaintiff states that DDA Calhoun testified that he instructed Investigator Orth to get an investigator on the case full-time and further stated, "let's make sure it's a thorough investigation." 2005 Calhoun Depo. 6:7-15, 8:17:22. Defendant DDA Calhoun did not go into detail on what he meant by this statement because "they knew what I wanted." 2005 Calhoun Depo. 8:23-9:7.

Defendant DDA Calhoun stated that he didn't know any of the witnesses and he didn't identify anybody for Investigator Ponting to talk to during his investigation. 2005 Calhoun Depo. 14:18-15:8.

Updates from Investigators

Between the period March 1 through March 11, Defendant DDA Calhoun received a status report probably four to five times from Investigator Ponting or Investigator Ebner. 2005 Calhoun Depo. 16:13-18. DDA Calhoun testified that he did not make any comments indicating his opinion as to whether or not additional work needed to be done. 2005 Calhoun Depo. 16:19-23.

"That was good. Keep doing it" Comment Defendant DDA Calhoun testified that when the investigators would tell him what was going on and lay it out in terms of what they were going to do, in response he would tell them "that was good. Keep doing it." 2005 Calhoun Depo. 17:10-17-18:1-3.

"Get all the witnesses you can" Comment

After the investigators came back from viewing the vehicle, specifically Investigator Ebner told him they viewed the vehicle, reviewed the autopsy report and found the location of the bullet, Defendant DDA Calhoun said to Investigator Ponting "get all the witnesses you can." 2005 Calhoun Depo. 18:12-17; 19:9-14.

Investigator Ponting's Thoughts on Prosecution

Defendant DDA Calhoun understood that Investigator Ponting did not want the case to go to court. 2003 Calhoun Depo. 19:21-20:2. The day before they filed the action, Investigator Ponting came over to Defendant DDA Calhoun's house and asked if they really had to file against Plaintiff McCabe. When asked if there was a reason not to, he couldn't. 2003 Calhoun Depo. 14:21-15:4.

Plaintiff cites Investigator Ponting's May 10, 2002 memorandum that stated McCabe felt his life was in danger after Mr. Contreras appeared to be backing up directly in McCabe's direction, and McCabe fired one shot into the vehicle not knowing whether or not he actually struck Mr. Contreras. PSUF #29. Plaintiff ...


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