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Synclair v. County of Fresno

January 16, 2009

LARRY SYNCLAIR, SR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF FRESNO, DEPARTMENT OF CHILD ABDUCTION UNIT, WILLIAM FRANK, RON HOPPER, DENNIS LEWIS, AND EDWARD HUNT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anthony W. Ishii Chief United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DIRECTING THE CLERK OF THE COURT TO ENTER JUDGMENT FOR DEFENDANTS (Document #145)

Plaintiff Larry Synclair, Sr. is pursuing this civil action for damages and injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This court has federal question subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and venue is proper in this district. Pending before the court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This action is proceeding on Plaintiff's March 13, 2002 amended complaint. Plaintiff seeks damages and injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Defendants' alleged violations of Plaintiff's right to procedural due process, substantive due process, and rights under the Fourth Amendment. Plaintiff contends that Defendants failed to take steps to follow and implement the Fresno County Superior Court's orders that required Defendants to cooperate with federal officials in connection with the international parental abduction of Plaintiff's son.

Plaintiff also contends that Defendants failed to establish policies and procedures to ensure that its employees and agents would follow the Superior Court's orders.

On July 30, 2003, the court dismissed this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court reasoned that because resolving Plaintiff's claim would require the court to determine the validity of the Superior Court's orders, this action was barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

Plaintiff appealed. On December 14, 2004, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the court's dismissal. See Synclair v. County of Fresno, 115 Fed.Appx. 395 (9th Cir. 2004).

On November 28, 2005, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit for further consideration in light of Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 125 S.Ct. 1517 (2005). See Synclair v. Fresno County, Cal., 546 U.S. 1027 (2005). On June 2, 2006, the Ninth Circuit remanded the action to this court for further proceedings consistent with the direction of the Supreme Court. See Synclair v. County of Fresno, 449 F.3d 1041 (9th Cir. 2006).

On October 24, 2008, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Defendants contend, among other things, that there are insufficient facts to support a Fourteenth Amendment claim. On November 7, 2008, Plaintiff filed an opposition. On November 17, 2008, Defendants filed a reply.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); Poller v. Columbia Broadcast System, 368 U.S. 464, 467 (1962); Southern California Gas Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 336 F.3d 885, 888 (9th Cir 2003).

Under summary judgment practice, the moving party

[A]lways bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Miller v. Glenn Miller Productions, Inc., 454 F.3d 975, 987 (9th Cir. 2006). A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Miller, 454 F.3d at 987. "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file.'" Id.; Fortyune v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc., 364 F.3d 1075, 1080 (9th Cir. 2004). Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. 477 U.S. at 322; Miller, 454 F.3d at 987. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex Corp. 477 U.S. at 322. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should be granted, "so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied." Id. at 323.

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968); Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Fritz Companies, Inc.,210 F.3d 1099, 1103 (9th Cir. 2000). The opposing party cannot "'rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [its] pleading' but must instead produce evidence that 'sets forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Estate of Tucker v. Interscope Records, 515 F.3d 1019, 1030 (9th Cir.2008) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(e)); Miller, 454 F.3d at 987.

The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, Anderson, 477 U.S. 248-49; Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1433, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987). In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that "the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." First Nat'l Bank, 391 U.S. at 290; T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631. Thus, the "purpose of summary judgment is to 'pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) advisory committee's note on 1963 amendments); International Union of Bricklayers v. Martin Jaska, Inc., 752 F.2d 1401, 1405 (9th Cir. 1985).

In resolving the summary judgment motion, the court examines the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any. Rule 56(c); Poller, 368 U.S. at 468; SEC v. Seaboard Corp., 677 F.2d 1301, 1305-06 (9th Cir. 1982). "[I]n ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party's evidence 'is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [that party's] favor.'" Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Miller, 454 F.3d at 987; Stegall v. Citadel Broad, Inc., 350 F.3d 1061, 1065 (9th Cir. 2003). Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted).

Additionally, the court has the discretion in appropriate circumstances to consider materials that are not properly brought to its attention, but the court is not required to examine the entire file for evidence establishing a genuine issue of material fact where the evidence is not set forth in the opposing papers with adequate references. See Southern Cal. Gas Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 336 F.3d 885, 889 (9th Cir. 2003); Carmen v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1031 (9th Cir. 2001).

UNDISPUTED FACTS*fn1

Plaintiff moved to live in Russia in 1991 where he lived for approximately nine years. On June 4, 1994, Plaintiff and Svetlana Synclair ("Svetlana") were married in Russia. On May 14, 1995, Svetlana gave birth to their son, Larry Synclair, Jr. ("Larry Jr."), who was born in Fresno, California. Soon after Larry Jr.'s birth, the three returned to Russia.

In May of 1998, Svetlana and Plaintiff separated, with Larry Jr. primarily staying with his mother. That same year, Plaintiff, through his Russian attorney, filed for divorce in the Dorogomilovo District Court of Moscow. Plaintiff is not sure whether his dissolution proceedings included child custody or support because it occurred in the Russian language and Plaintiff's Russian attorney filed the paperwork.

In November of 1998, Plaintiff and Svetlana entered into an agreement that Plaintiff could have visitation with his son every weekend on the condition that he pay $300/month for child support to Svetlana. Plaintiff describes this agreement as "extortion."

Plaintiff promised Svetlana that he would never remove their child from the country of Russia.

After picking up his son and without informing Svetlana, Plaintiff took a train out of Moscow into Minsk, Belarus, where he and his son boarded an airplane and flew into London. Plaintiff was unable to fly out of Moscow, Russia, as this would have required Svetlana's signature of consent. From London, Plaintiff and Larry Jr. flew into San Francisco, California.

A month after fleeing with his son from Russia, on February 8, 1999, Plaintiff filed a petition for legal separation in the Fresno County Superior Court, case number 626188-7.

Meanwhile in Russia, on March 10, 1999, the head of the District Management Office for the Dorogomilovo District of Moscow recommended to the Russian Court that Svetlana be given permanent custody of Larry Jr., based on the best interests of the child. On March 22, 1999, the head of the Moscow Social Development Department prepared a home study on Svetlana's and Larry Jr.'s living conditions.

Back in Fresno, on April 6, 1999, at a hearing on a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction brought by Svetlana's family law attorney, John Johnson, the Superior Court ruled that Russia was the home state of Plaintiff's son. Svetlana came from Russia to attend this hearing and remained from mid to late March until a few days after the hearing. During the proceeding, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jane Cardoza ("Judge Cardoza") found that, under then Family Code Section 3403 (Uniform Child Custody Jurisdictional Act), "California is not the home state of this child since the child resided in the country of Russia for most of its life and has only until recently been brought to the United States." Judge Cardoza also ruled that, "based on the fact that the child has resided in Russia for the majority of his life, . . . [it] appears to the court that it would be in the child's best interest that the Russian court have jurisdiction and consider the evidence that's before that court concerning the child." Upon review of the evidence, Judge Cardoza further found that the child had not been mistreated, abused or ...


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