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Buzayan v. City of Davis Police Dep't

February 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge


Defendants David Henderson and Patty Fong (referred to as "Prosecutor Defendants" unless otherwise noted) have filed a Motion for Reconsideration from this Court's Memorandum and Order filed September 29, 2008. Specifically, the Prosecutor Defendants ask this Court to reconsider Halema Buzayan and the Buzayan family's ("Plaintiffs") compliance with the California Tort Claims Act. The relevant facts are set forth in full in the Court's previous Order and need not be repeated here.

Pursuant to Local Rule 78-230(k), an application for reconsideration must set forth, by affidavit or brief, any new material facts and circumstances that support a claim that the Court's previous ruling be revisited. The rule is derived from the "law of the case" doctrine which states that when a decision has been made on a legal issue in a case that decision "should be followed unless there is substantially different controlling authority, or the prior decision was clearly erroneous and would result in injustice." Handi Investment Co. v. Mobil Oil Corp., 653 F.2d 391, 392 (9th Cir. 1981).

Here, the Prosecutor Defendants have not offered any such new evidence bearing on the Court's prior ruling; instead, they simply want the Court to again revisit its previous Order. The instant request is consequently deficient on that ground alone. The Court will nonetheless briefly address Defendants' argument.

The Prosecutor Defendants claim that Plaintiffs in the instant case failed to comply with the claims presentation requirements of the California Tort Claims Act (CTCA) contained in California Government Code Sections 900 et seq. (all references hereinafter are to the Government Code unless otherwise specified). CTCA's primary purpose is to "provide the public entity sufficient information to enable it to adequately investigate claims and to settle them, if appropriate, without the expense of litigation." Phillips v. Desert Hosp. Dist., 49 Cal. 3d 699, 705 (1989).

To this end, CTCA requires that any individual seeking damages from a local public entity, must submit his or her claim to the "governing body of the local public entity." §§ 900.2(a), 910-913.2. Local public entities are divided into three categories- judicial branch entities, local public entities, and the State. §§ 900.3-900.6.

Here, Prosecutor Defendants are district attorneys in Yolo County. The governing board of Yolo County is the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. Plaintiffs filed a claim under the CTCA with the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. Prosecutor Defendants do not dispute these facts. Therefore, Plaintiffs not only complied with the specific requirements of the act, they also complied with its purpose in providing the County of Yolo with sufficient information to investigate the claim that Plaintiffs have against it.

The Prosecutor Defendants nonetheless revisit the argument they made in their Motion to Dismiss, an argument that they have not cited one case to support. Prosecutor Defendants argue that because they were state officials under a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 analysis, Plaintiffs were required to file their claim with the State and not with Yolo county. "The state and the arms of the state...are not subject to suit under § 1983...either in federal or state court." Pitts v. County of Kern, 17 Cal. 4th 340, 356-57 (1998) (quoting Howlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 365 (1990). Under a § 1983 analysis, district attorneys are sometimes characterized as state officials and sometimes county officials, depending on the nature of the activity they are engaged in. McMillian v. Monroe County, 520 U.S. 781 (1997).

Defendants claim that Prosecutor Defendants acted as state officials in this instance, and that therefore Plaintiffs were required to file their CTCA claim with the State of California. Conversely if a district attorney acted as a county officer, a plaintiff would be required to file a claim with the applicable county.

The practical effect of Prosecutor Defendants' position is intolerable. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for a plaintiff at the beginning of litigation to undergo a § 1983 analysis to determine whether a district attorney was acting as a state or county official when the complained of conduct occurred. Moreover, this analysis was specifically tailored for determining immunity from § 1983 claims; it was not developed to determine who the governing board of an agency is for purposes of the CTCA. The CTCA was not meant to be "a trap for the unwary when [the] purpose has been satisfied." Jamison v. State of California, 31 Cal. App. 3d 513, 518 (1973). The CTCA was enacted to provide the government agency with sufficient information to investigate claims so that it could settle them without litigation. Phillips, 49 Cal. 3d at 705.

Here, the statute and the purpose of the statute were satisfied. Plaintiffs filed their claim with the Defendants' governing board. For all of these reasons, Defendants' Motion for Reconsideration (Docket No. 139) is DENIED.*fn1

IT IS SO ...

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