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Jones v. Sweeney

March 17, 2009

FREDERICK JONES, SR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
DARREN "HAP" SWEENEY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

(Document #119)

BACKGROUND

This is a civil rights action brought by Plaintiff Frederick Jones, Sr. ("Plaintiff"). Plaintiff's November 24, 2004 first amended complaint ("complaint") alleges that Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights were violated when Defendant Deputy Darren "Hap" Sweeny ("Defendant") subjected Plaintiff to an illegal seizure without probable cause and used excessive force on Plaintiff. The complaint also alleges that Defendant violated Plaintiff's rights under the Equal Protection Clause.

On January 5, 2009, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. Defendant contends that Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claims are barred under Heck v. Humphrey 512 U.S. 477 (1994) because Plaintiff's criminal conviction has not been reversed or vacated. Defendant also contends that under the doctrine of collateral estoppel the criminal conviction bars Plaintiff's claims. Defendant further contends that Plaintiff lacks sufficient evidence to support his Fourth Amendment claims. Finally, Defendant contends that there is no evidence to support Plaintiff's Equal Protection Clause claim.

On January 29, 2009, Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

On February 9, 2009, Defendant filed a reply to Plaintiff's objections to Defendant's separate statement of undisputed material facts in support of motion for summary judgment.

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.'" Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Fortyune v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc., 364 F.3d 1075, 1080 (9th Cir. 2004). 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); 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. In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute the opposing party is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. Rule 56(e); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11; First Nat'l Bank, 391 U.S. at 289; 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); Cline v. Industrial Maintenance Engineering & Contracting Co., 200 F.3d 1223, 1229 (9th Cir. 2000), 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; In re Caneva, 550 F.3d 755, 761 (9th Cir. 2008); Lindsey v. SLT Los Angeles, LLC, 447 F.3d 1138, 1144 (9th Cir. 2006). 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; Giles v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 494 F.3d 865, 872 (9th Cir. 2007). 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, admissions, and affidavits filed with the court. Rule 56(c); Poller, 368 U.S. at 468; Price v. Sery, 513 F.3d 962, 965 n.1 (9th Cir 2008); Lockett v. Catalina Channel Exp., Inc., 496 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2007). "[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). However, 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).

FACTS

A. Preliminary Undisputed Facts

In 2003, Paz Florez lived at 721 Denton Avenue in Corcoran and was acquainted with a woman named Marsha Scott. On the evening of August 21, 2003, Mr. Flores gave Ms. Scott a ride to a friend's house in Corcoran. After Ms. Scott was turned away, Mr. Flores was in the process of driving Ms. Scott to another person's house when Ms. Scott flagged down Plaintiff and another black male driving a Chevrolet Camaro. At this time, Plaintiff was on parole, having been released on August 4, 2003 for serving time for a parole violation. Ms. Scott exited Mr. Flores' vehicle and entered the Camaro.

Later in the evening, at approximately 4:00 a.m., Ms. Scott returned to Mr. Flores' residence, accompanied by Plaintiff and another black male. While Ms. Scott was let inside of the house Mr. Flores denied Ms. Scott's request to allow the other subjects into the house. Once inside Ms. Scott asked Mr. Flores to borrow money and asked to use the restroom. At this time Mr. Flores' wallet and keys were in his pillowcase, and Ms. Scott knew that Mr. Flores kept his wallet in the bedroom. After Ms. Scott used the bathroom, Mr. Flores suggested that Ms. Scott leave through the garage door because he was worried about the two black males. However, Ms. Scott said that she wanted to leave through the front door, and Mr. Flores accommodated this request.

At the front door Ms. Scott said that she did not want to leave, but Mr. Flores opened the door. At this point Plaintiff stuck his foot in the door, pulled a gun, and demanded that Mr. Flores come outside. After saying that he would not come outside, Mr. Flores told Plaintiff that he was coming outside; however, he then quickly closed the door. Plaintiff then kicked a hole in the door, reached in, and unlocked the deadbolt lock. At this point, Ms. Scott went back to Mr. Flores' bedroom, took Mr. Flores' wallet and keys from their location on his bed, and exited the room. Mr. Flores then went back to his bedroom and obtained a hatchet from his closet. While in his bedroom, Mr. Flores heard Ms. Scott speaking to Plaintiff inside the house saying "Let's go." Ms. Scott and Plaintiff then left the house.

Mr. Flores then went to a neighbor's house, and the neighbor called the police. At 4:17 a.m., Officer Alex Chavarria from the Corcoran Police Department was dispatched to Mr. Flores' home. Mr. Flores informed Officer Chavarria that Ms. Scott came by his house with two unknown male companions. Mr. Flores informed Officer Chavarria that he invited Ms. Scott into his residence where she asked to borrow money and asked to use the bathroom. Mr. Flores informed Office Chavarria that he would not allow the male companions into the residence. Mr. Flores informed Officer Chavarria that when he opened the front door to let Ms. Scott out Plaintiff stuck his foot in the door, brandished a firearm, and ordered him outside. Mr. Flores informed Officer Chavarria that he was able to shut the door but that Plaintiff kicked a hole in the door. Mr. Flores informed Officer Chavarria that Plaintiff pointed the gun through the hole and reached in to unlock the door.

After Officer Chavarria left, Mr. Flores went to his bedroom and noticed that his wallet was gone.

While driving away, Plaintiff told Ms. Scott to give him the money that was in Mr. Flores' wallet. At Plaintiff's request Ms. Scott threw the wallet out of the window somewhere between Corcoran and Tulare. Items from Mr. Flores' wallet were returned to him a couple of days later by a person who said he found it in Tulare. However, Mr. Flores' wallet and $20.00 in cash remained missing.

After interviewing Paz Flores, Officer Chavarria put out a be-on-the-lookout ("BOL") bulletin for Ms. Scott. On August 28, 2003, Officer Chavarria received a phone call from Ms. Scott who informed Officer Chavarria that she was going to come into the police station. Officer Chavarria contacted Ms. Scott at the Department of Social Services and arrested her. Officer Chavarria then interviewed Ms. Scott who told Officer Chavarria about the event at Paz Flores's house.

On August 28, 2008, a warrant was issued for Plaintiff's arrest based on a violation of his parole because a BOL had been issued by Officer Chavarria.

On August 30, 2003, Mr. Flores selected Plaintiff out of a photo line-up and identified him as the suspect with the gun.

On the morning of September 6, 2003, Plaintiff and a man named Lester Alexander traveled from Bakersfield to Corcoran in Plaintiff's Camaro.

During this morning, Deputy Darren Sweeney was on uniformed patrol in a marked patrol vehicle and was responding to a 911 "hang up" call in Corcoran. Deputy Sweeney was driving eastbound on Whitley Avenue, near 7th Avenue, when he saw a gold Chevy Camaro traveling westbound on Whitley Avenue. As the car passed, Deputy Sweeney saw that Plaintiff was driving the car and that there were two persons in the car. Deputy Sweeney recognized Plaintiff based on prior contacts with Plaintiff. Deputy Sweeney was aware that Plaintiff was wanted for a robbery committed in the City of Corcoran, as well as a parole violation. At the time Deputy Sweeney saw Plaintiff, Plaintiff's BOL was in Deputy Sweeney's view in his vehicle. Plaintiff has no evidence that Deputy Sweeney was motivated by a discriminatory animus in attempting to stop Plaintiff.

When Deputy Sweeney turned his patrol car around in order to attempt a vehicle stop, Plaintiff turned southbound onto 7th Avenue. While following Plaintiff on 7th Avenue, Deputy Sweeney activated his overhead lights and commenced the intermittent use of the siren. After Plaintiff turned eastbound onto Ottawa Avenue, Deputy Sweeney caught up with Plaintiff. Plaintiff stopped abruptly at the stop sign at ...


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