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Miller v. City of Los Angeles

March 25, 2009

GEORGIA MILLER, INDIVIDUALLY DENISE BAILEY AS GUARDIAN AD LITEM FOR PHILIP ARTHUR MILLER, JR., A MINOR, AND AS HIS AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE AS THE SUCCESSOR IN INTEREST FOR PHILIP ARTHUR MILLER, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF LOS ANGELES, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF POLICE WILLIAM BRATTON, SGT. CESAR MATA, AND DOES 1-10, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VIRGINIA A. Phillips United States District Judge

[Motion filed on March 2, 2009]

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SANCTIONS AGAINST DEFENSE COUNSEL

Plaintiffs' Motion for Sanctions came before the Court for hearing on March 23, 2009. After reviewing and considering all papers filed in support of, and in opposition to, the Motion, the Court GRANTS the Motion.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 10, 2007, at approximately 12:30 a.m., decedent Philip Arthur Miller was shot and killed by Sergeant Cesar Mata, Jr. as Mr. Miller left a Masonic Lodge, located at 9714 South Avalon Boulevard in the City of Los Angeles, California. (Joint Pretrial Conference Order ("JPTO") at ¶ 5(a)-(c).) The police were called to the Lodge because a fight had broken out among those present there at a private party; after the officers arrived, shots were fired inside, injuring a man named Levon Bean. On July 6, 2007, the decedent's mother, Georgia Miller, and his son, Philip Arthur Miller, Jr., represented by his guardian ad litem Denise Bailey, filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department, its Chief, William Bratton, and the officer who shot Mr. Miller, Cesar Mata. (See Compl.) Plaintiffs claimed violations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Id.)

Before the trial began, the Court issued rulings on Plaintiff's Motions in Limine.*fn1 The Court, inter alia, granted Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 1, barring evidence, testimony, or any argument that the decedent possessed a weapon at the time he was killed.

The jury trial lasted four days, from January 13, 2009 through January 16, 2009. The jury deliberated from January 20, 2009 through January 22, 2009 and was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. The Court declared a mistrial on January 23, 2009.

On March 2, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a "Motion for Sanctions Against Counsel for Defendants" based on statements made by defense counsel during his closing argument. Defendants filed Opposition on March 9, 2009. Plaintiffs filed a Reply on March 16, 2009.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The District Court may enter sanctions against a party for willfully violating its orders or unreasonably multiplying the proceedings under either its inherent power or under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 ("Section 1927").*fn2 See, e.g., Chambers v. Nasco, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43-44 (1991) (discussing inherent power to sanction); Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper, 447 U.S. 752, 759-63 (1980) (discussing sanction power under Section 1927); Fink v. Gomez, 239 F.3d 989, 991 (9th Cir. 2001) (discussing both inherent power to sanction and power under Section 1927). A Court may enter sanctions under its inherent power for an attorney's bad faith, or willful disobedience of a Court order; under Section 1927, a Court may sanction an attorney for unreasonably multiplying proceedings with bad faith, improper motive, or reckless disregard for her duty to the Court. Chambers, 501 U.S. at 67-69; B.K.B. v. Maui Police Dept., 276 F.3d 1091, 1107-08 (2002). If the Court enters sanctions under its inherent power, it may sanction for any amount necessary to vindicate the authority of the Court and to deter misconduct, including awarding attorneys' fees and costs. B.K.B., 276 F.3d at 1108-09; Fink, 239 F.3d at 991. If the Court enters sanctions under Section 1927, it may award sanctions for fees, costs, and expenses for unjustified claims, but may not order reimbursement for the ordinary costs of trial. See 28 U.S.C. § 1927.

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff seeks an award of monetary sanctions against defense counsel, Richard Arias, for the following remarks made during his closing argument:

"MR. ARIAS: Okay. He [the decedent] stops. He comes up. I think he saw Sergeant Silva there. But there's no testimony... It's just his nonverbal what he does. And then there's that moment where he makes a decision. And he turns to the left and he faces Sergeant Mata. Now here's where the toxicologist does come in. We know that he was drunk. He had .12 or 14 -- yeah .12, 14 alcohol we know he had marijuana in his system.

Maybe that clouded his mind. I don't know. Maybe he was [in] some rage because he had just fought with this kid and you know the blood was pumping. I don't know but whatever happened he's got a police officer in front of him when he saw Sergeant Silva oh, I'm trapped I ...


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