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Adams v. Nocon

March 23, 2009


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


This matter is before the court on cross motions for partial summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Plaintiffs Susan Adams ("Adams") and Robert Barrington ("Barrington") move for summary judgment on their Section 1983 claim for Fourth Amendment violations, asserting that collateral estoppel bars relitigation of the search and seizure issues. Defendants Deputies Michael Nocon ("Nocon"), David Bruegel ("Bruegel"), Kahekili Seto ("Seto"), and John Davis ("Davis") (collectively, "the deputies" or "defendants") move for summary judgment on plaintiffs' Section 1983 claim on the basis of qualified immunity; defendants also move for summary judgment on plaintiffs' various state law claims, contending that the claims for trespass, conversion, and assault and battery fail as a matter of law. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiffs' motion is DENIED, and defendants' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


This case arises out of defendant deputies' actions during and after the arrest of plaintiff Barrington following a domestic dispute. On October 20, 2006, the San Joaquin County Sheriff Department ("SJCSD") dispatched two deputies, Bruegel and Nocon, to Barrington's residence. (UF ¶ 63.) The deputies were dispatched following a 911 call from Shirley Adams, the mother of plaintiff Susan Adams, Barrington's girlfriend. (Id. ¶¶ 57-58, 63.) Shirley Adams called 911 out of concern for her daughter's well-being. (Id.) The basis for this concern is in dispute. According to defendants, Adams called her mother crying, telling her that she (Adams) and Barrington were in an argument. (Defs.' DF ¶ 55.) Defendants assert that Adams told her mother that Barrington was crashing his tractor into Adams' horse trailer. (Id. ¶ 54.) Adams' mother was allegedly worried that Adams could get hurt. (Id. ¶ 58.) Plaintiffs dispute the details of the circumstances leading up to the 911 call.

Upon arriving at the residence, Barrington asserts that Bruegel arrested him, handcuffed him, and placed him into the patrol car. (Pls.' DF ¶ 8.) Barrington claims he was injured in the process of being handcuffed and placed in the car. (UF ¶ 106.) Specifically, Barrington claims that Bruegel twisted Barrington's wrists, dislocated his shoulder, and "pushed [his] head into the roof of the car." (Decl. of Robert Barrington Sr. in Support of Opp'n to Defs' Mot. for Partial Summ. J. ("Barrington Decl. in Support of Opp'n"), filed Feb. 20, 2009, at ¶ 12.) Barrington also asserts that Bruegel returned to the car, pulled Barrington out, and removed his house keys from his pocket, at which point Barrington allegedly stated, "You can't go into my house." (Pls.' DF ¶¶ 10-11.) Defendants claim that it was Nocon, not Bruegel, who arrested Barrington. (Defs.' DF ¶ 105.)

Upon learning that there were multiple firearms in the residence, Bruegel called for additional assistance. (UF ¶ 135.) Soon thereafter, Deputies Davis and Seto arrived to help inventory weapons. (Id. ¶¶ 136-37.) It is undisputed that all four deputies entered the residence. It is disputed whether Adams told the deputies that she lived at the residence, whether she consented to a search, and whether she opened the door to the residence. (See id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiffs contend that the deputies did not ask Adams whether she lived at the residence and that the deputies entered the house using the keys procured from Barrington. (Id. ¶¶ 13-16.)

Once inside, the deputies collected and removed numerous firearms. Defendants claim that they collected a total of 51 firearms and transported them to the Sheriff's Department for safekeeping. (Defs.' DF ¶¶ 147-48.) Plaintiffs contend that "almost 110 firearms were missing," including several antique firearms. (Barrington Decl. in Support of Opp'n, ¶¶ 19, 21.)

A criminal complaint for domestic violence and assault with a weapon was filed against Barrington in San Joaquin County Superior Court. (UF ¶ 168.) Barrington filed a suppression motion, which was heard May 29, 2007. (Id. ¶ 169.) Neither Seto nor Davis testified at the hearing. (Id. ¶ 170.) The Superior court suppressed the firearms, concluding that the deputies' conduct constituted an unconstitutional search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Id. ¶ 174.)


The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary adjudication when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). One of the principal purposes of the rule is to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, (1986).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine all the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). Where the moving party will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, it must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24. If the moving party does not bear the burden of proof at trial, he or she may discharge this burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact remains by demonstrating that "there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. Once the moving party meets the requirements of Rule 56 by showing there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case, the burden shifts to the party resisting the motion, who "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). Genuine factual issues must exist that "can be resolved only by a finder of fact, because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Id. at 250.

In judging evidence at the summary judgment stage, the court does not make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence. See T.W. Elec. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630-31 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). The evidence presented by the parties must be admissible. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Conclusory, speculative testimony in affidavits and moving papers is insufficient to raise genuine issues of fact and defeat summary judgment. See Falls Riverway Realty, Inc. v. City of Niagara Falls, 754 F.2d 49, 57 (2d Cir. 1985); Thornhill Publ'g Co., Inc. v. GTE Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 738 (9th Cir. 1979).


I. Title 42 U.S.C. section 1983

Plaintiffs bring claims against defendant deputies pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1983, asserting, among other things, that the deputies acted under color of state law to deprive plaintiffs of their Fourth Amendment constitutionally protected rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1983, "[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage . . . subjects, or causes to subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress." Section 1983 confers no substantive rights itself, but rather, "provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere." City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816 (1985).

Plaintiffs move for summary judgment on the grounds that collateral estoppel bars relitigation of the Fourth Amendment issue and that there are no material issues of fact as to the entry and lack of warrant. Defendants bring a countermotion for summary judgment, contending that the 1983 Fourth Amendment claim for unreasonable search and seizure fails as a matter of law and that the deputies are entitled to qualified immunity.

A. Collateral Estoppel

Plaintiffs contend that the County Superior Court's ruling on the constitutionality of the search of Barrington's residence bars relitigation of that same issue here. (Pls.' Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Mot. for Partial Summ. J. ("Pls.' MSJ"), filed Dec. 12, 2008, at 15.)

According to the doctrine of collateral estoppel, also known as issue preclusion, "once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case." Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980). "[R]es Judicata and collateral estoppel relieve parties of the cost and vexation of multiple lawsuits, conserve judicial resources, and, by preventing inconsistent decisions, encourage reliance on adjudication." Id.

Federal courts must give preclusive effect to state court judgments "whenever the courts of the State from which the judgments emerged would do so." Allen, 449 U.S. at 96. Thus, in determining whether to apply collateral estoppel to an issue litigated in California state court, a federal court must look to California law. Id. California law requires that: "(1) the issue necessarily decided at the previous proceeding is identical to the one which is sought to be relitigated; (2) the first proceeding ended with a final judgment on the merits; and (3) the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted was a party or in privity with a party at the first proceeding." Reyn's Pasta Bella, LLC v. VISA USA, Inc., 442 F.3d 741, 746 (2006).

For collateral estoppel to apply, the party against whom an earlier court decision is asserted must have had a "full and fair opportunity" to litigate the issue. Allen, 449 U.S. at 101. The Ninth Circuit has held that police officers are not in "privity" with the prosecution in a criminal case when the officers have "no measure of control" over the proceeding or "direct personal interest" in its outcome. Davis v. Eide, 439 F.2d 1077, 1078 (9th Cir. 1971). Moreover, the fact that the individual officers do not have counsel in connection with the criminal case is "critical" to the determination of whether they had a "full and fair opportunity" to litigate the issue. See Yezek v. Mitchell, et al., No. C-05-03461, 2007 WL 61887, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 8, 2007).

Plaintiffs contend that the San Joaquin County Superior Court's decision---finding that the search and seizure violated the Fourth Amendment and granting Barrington's motion to suppress evidence in connection with his arrest--has a preclusive effect on the Fourth Amendment issue in this case. However, the individual deputies were not parties to the criminal case and were not represented by counsel. (See Decl. of Detective David Breugel in Opp'n to Pls.' MSJ ("Bruegel Decl."), filed Feb. 6, 2009, at ¶ 3; Decl. of Detective Michael Nocon in Opp'n to Pls.' MSJ ("Nocon Decl."), filed Feb. 6, 2009, at ¶ 2; Seto Dep., filed Feb. 6, 2009, at 215:12-216:10.) In fact, two of the deputies, Deputies Davis and Seto, did not even testify at the criminal proceeding, and Deputies Bruegel and Nocon only participated as witnesses. (See Bruegel Decl. ¶ 3; Nocon Decl. ¶ 2; Seto Dep. 215:12-216:10.) For these reasons, the court cannot find that the deputies were "in privity with a party at the first proceeding"; nor can the court find that the deputies had a "full and fair opportunity" to litigate the issue in the first proceeding. Thus, plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on this basis is DENIED.*fn2

B. Qualified Immunity

As to plaintiffs' constitutional claim for unlawful search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, defendants move for summary ...

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