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Beecham v. City of Sacramento

December 11, 2008

KARENE BEECHAM, INDIVIDUALLY AND KARENE CRANKSON, INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF SACRAMENTO; A PUBLIC ENTITY, POLICE OFFICER TIMOTHYY TWARDOSZ, POLICE OFFICER GEOFFRY ALBERT, POLICE OFFICER STEVE GODDEN, POLICE OFFICER ED HENSLEY, AND DOES 4 THROUGH 10, JOINTLY AND SEVERALLY, DEFENDANTS.



Order Denying Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs Karene Beecham ("Beecham") and Karena Crankson's ("Crankson") (collectively "Plaintiffs") motion for partial summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendants City of West Sacramento ("City") and West Sacramento Police Officers Geoffrey Albert ("Albert"), Steve Godden ("Godden"), and Ed Hensley ("Hensley")(collectively "Defendants") oppose the motion. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' motion is DENIED.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The factual background underlying this case is more fully outlined in the Court's previous order granting in part and denying in part Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment against Officer Timothy Twardosz ("Twardosz") and the City. See Order, filed October 22, 2008 ("Order"). The present motion focuses on the liability, or lack thereof, of the City and Officers Albert, Godden, and Hensley, the three officers who responded to Officer Twardosz's radio transmission regarding Plaintiffs' failure to yield.

In the instant motion, Plaintiffs' seek partial summary judgment against Officers Albert, Godden, and Hensley for violations of the Fourth Amendment and Cal. Civil Code § 52.1 for use of excessive force, Plaintiff Crankson seeks summary judgment against Officer Hensley under the Fourth Amendment and Cal. Civil Code § 52.1 for false arrest, and Plaintiffs move for summary judgment against the City of West Sacramento under Cal. Civil Code § 52.1 for use of excessive force against both Plaintiffs and for the false arrest of Crankson. Pls' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, filed Oct. 13, 2008, ("Pls' Mot.") 2:1-11. Plaintiffs base the present motion on the same legal and factual grounds already raised in Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment against Officer Twardosz and the City of West Sacramento. Pls' Mot. 2:11-16. Defendants oppose the motion. Docket ("Doc.") # 99.

II. OPINION

A. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The purpose of summary judgment "is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims and defenses." Cleotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-324 (1986).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 447 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). If the moving party meets its burden, the burden of production then shifts so that "the non-moving party must set forth, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in Rule 56,'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) and citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). The Court must view the facts and draw inferences in the manner most favorable to the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient: "There must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for [the non-moving party]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. This Court thus applies to either a defendant's or plaintiff's motion for summary judgment the same standard as for a motion for directed verdict, which is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id.

B. Plaintiffs' Claims Against Officers Albert, Godden, and Hensley for Use of Excessive Force under the Fourth Amendment and Cal. Civil Code § 52.1

Plaintiffs seek a finding of liability against Albert, Godden, and Hensley for use of excessive force under the Fourth Amendment and Cal. Civil Code § 52.1. Defendants argue that under the totality of the circumstances known to the officers at the time, their display of force was reasonable. The Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures permits law enforcement officers to use only such force to effect an arrest as is "objectively reasonable" under the circumstances. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). Whether the force used to effect an arrest is reasonable "is ordinarily a question of fact for the jury." Liston v. County of Riverside, 120 F.3d 965, 976 n.10 (9th Cir. 1997). (citing, e.g., Forrester v. City of San Diego, 25 F.3d 804, 806 (9th Cir. 1994)); see also Barlow v. Ground, 943 F.2d 1132, 1135 (9th Cir. 1991). Although excessive force cases can be decided as a matter of law, they rarely are because the Fourth Amendment test for reasonableness is inherently fact-specific. See Chew v. Gates, 27 F.3d 1432, 1443 (9th Cir. 1994). According to Graham, determining whether the force used in a particular instance is reasonable requires "a careful balancing of'the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests' against the countervailing governmental interests at stake."

Plaintiffs' state law claims under § 52.1 assert that their Fourth Amendment rights were violated and that those rights were interfered with by threats, intimidation, and coercion. Pls' Original Mot., filed Aug. 20, 2008, ("Pls' Orig. Mot.") 26:3-28; 27:1-17. Section 52.1 provides that "any individual whose exercise or enjoyment of constitutional rights... has been interfered with" by "threats, intimidation or coercion" may bring a civil action on his or her own behalf. Cal. Civ. Code § 52.1.

Here, Plaintiffs' motion is based on the same legal and factual grounds already raised in Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment against Officer Twardosz and the City of West Sacramento. Pls' Mot. 2:11-16. On October 22, 2008, this Court ordered, at Docket # 84, that with respect to Beecham several disputed issues of material fact regarding Beecham's Fourth Amendment and Cal. Civil Code § 52.1 claims precluded a finding of liability against Officer Twardosz. For the same reasons this Court found that Officer Twardosz, in regards to Beecham, could not be liable on a motion for summary judgment, so too does this Court find the same disputed factual issues preclude a finding of liability against Albert, Godden, and Hensley on Beecham's claims for use of excessive force under the Fourth Amendment and Cal. Civil Code § 52.1. See Doc. # 84.

Turning to the use of excessive force claim brought by Crankson, the Court's previous order found Officer Twardosz's actions violated both the Fourth Amendment and § 52.1. Doc. # 84. This Court held that even viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Defendants, Officer Twardosz's actions were not objectively reasonable under the circumstances and that Crankson's Fourth Amendment rights were violated. This Court further held that Crankson's constitutional rights were clearly interfered with by "threats, intimidation, or coercion" and that Officer Twardosz was liable under § 52.1. Officer Twardosz's liability, however, is evaluated differently from the liability of the secondary officers, Albert, Godden, and Hensley. See ...


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