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Meza v. City of Los Angeles

May 26, 2009

LUIS MEZA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF LOS ANGELES, DBA LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT, AN INCORPORATED MUNICIPALITY; JUSTIN MALCUIT, AN INDIVIDUAL AND EMPLOYEE OF THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dean D. Pregerson United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; DENYING MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT

[Motions filed on February 2, 2009, Dkt. No. 24, February 18, 2009, Dkt. No. 36]

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises from Plaintiff Luis Meza's arrest for second-degree robbery,*fn1 resulting in a six month incarceration, after which Plaintiff was acquitted at trial of all wrongdoing. Plaintiff alleges that there was no probable cause for his arrest and that Defendants unlawfully withheld exculpatory evidence, in violation of his constitutional rights.

On February 3, 2006, Officers Justin Malcuit and Richard Powers responded to a call from Domino's Pizza in Van Nuys at 7pm. (Statement of Genuine Issues ("SGI") ¶ 9.) Powers was Malcuit's training officer that night. (Id. ¶ 91.) At Domino's, the officers interviewed one of the delivery men, Wilfredo Flores, who said that he had been robbed earlier in the evening at 8070 Langdon Avenue in Van Nuys. (Id. ¶ 10.) Flores does not speak fluent English and his manager, Tony Juarez, translated the information provided by Flores from Spanish to the officers. (Id. ¶ 11.)

While Flores was making the delivery to 8070 Langdon Avenue, a man approached him, demanded money, and threatened him with a pocket knife. (Id. ¶ 12.) Flores stated the man was physically close to him while demanding the money, and that he was approximately 5' 5", 200 pounds, 26 to 27 years old, and had a light mustache or goatee. (Id. ¶ 13.) Flores also stated that the man had a tattoo around the throat or neck area that was similar to a barbed-wire design. (Id. ¶ 16.) After taking Flores' money, the man crossed the street to join a group of people in front of a building there. (Id. ¶ 17.) Malcuit prepared a preliminary investigation report of this interview, and then he and Powers went to 8070 Langdon Avenue.

Upon arriving at Langdon Avenue, Malcuit saw Plaintiff seated on the steps of the apartment complex across from 8070 Langdon (at 8101 Langdon Avenue). (Id. ¶ 20.) Malcuit believed that Plaintiff matched Flores' description because of his overall similarity to the description and because he had a distinctive tattoo at the neck area. (Id. ¶ 21.) Malcuit then detained Plaintiff and requested that another police unit bring Flores to the scene to identify Plaintiff (called a "field show-up"). (Id. ¶ 22.) The standard procedure for a field show-up is that the victim or witness be given an "admonition" before an officer requests an identification of a suspect. (Pl. Append., Ex. 6, Koman Depo. 27-28.) Because a one-on-one confrontation between a suspect and a witness is suggestive of guilt, an admonition is designed to prevent unnecessary bias. (Koman Depo. Ex. 2, LAPD Training Bulletin at 2.) The admonition consists of the officer informing the witness that the suspect is a "possible suspect only," that the suspect's presence in police custody "does not indicate guilt or innocence," and that the "purpose of the identification is either to eliminate or identify the person as the perpetrator" of the crime. (Id.)

Flores was then driven to the area and, from a police car, identified Plaintiff as the person who had robbed him. (Id. ¶ 24.) The parties dispute whether Flores was given an adequate admonition prior to making this identification. (D. Response to SGI ("D. Response") ¶ 51.) Neither side presents any direct evidence as to whether an admonition was given or what exactly Flores understood. (Id. ¶ 52.) However, Flores does not speak fluent English and the officers who had driven him to the area did not speak Spanish. (Id. ¶ 52.) When Malcuit was informed by the first set of officers with Flores that they did not speak Spanish and Flores only spoke Spanish, Malcuit requested that Flores be given an admonition by Spanish-speaking police and make a second identification. (SGI ¶ 25.) After the second unit arrived, Flores was given an admonition in Spanish, although the second unit was not aware that Flores had already identified Plaintiff once.*fn2 (D. Response ¶ 53.) Flores then identified Plaintiff again as the person who had robbed him. (SGI ¶ 26-29.)

In both identifications, Flores' identification was based on the appearance of Plaintiff's general appearance and tattoo. (SGI ¶ 29.) Officer Malcuit was not present in the vehicle during either of these identifications. (SGI ¶ 36.) After fellow officers informed Malcuit that Plaintiff had been identified by Flores a second time, he arrested Plaintiff. (SGI ¶¶ 30-31.) Officer Malcuit stated that he did not believe there was probable cause to arrest Plaintiff before Flores positively identified Plaintiff as the robber. (Id. ¶ 47.)

In his final arrest report, Officer Malcuit did not include that there had been two identifications, and that an admonition was not given before the first, and instead Malcuit only referenced the second identification (which included an admonition). (D. Response ¶ 89.) Malcuit had originally intended to include the first identification and failure to give an admonition, but was told by the Detective Watch Commander, Detective Minton, to not include it.

(D. Response ¶ 89.) Officer Powers also agreed that Malcuit should omit the first identification from the final arrest report. (Malcuit Depo. ¶ 149:4-6.)

However, at the preliminary hearing to determine probable cause for prosecution, Plaintiff's counsel raised the issue of the two identifications, and conducted cross-examination and made legal argument based on its omission from the arrest report. (Prelim. Hearing Tr. 47:23-28.) Again, Plaintiff was acquitted, but was imprisoned for approximately six months while waiting for trial because he could not make bail or afford private counsel. (SGI ¶¶ 95-96.)

After acquittal, Plaintiff filed the present suit. Pursuant to the parties' stipulation, on March 10, 2008, the Court dismissed with prejudice Plaintiff's state law claims for false imprisonment, negligence, and gross negligence. Plaintiff's remaining claims include numerous violations of federal law under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as claims for equitable and injunctive relief.

Defendants now move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's remaining claims.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where "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 a judgment as a matter of law."

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In determining a motion for summary judgment, all reasonable inferences from the evidence must be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A genuine issue exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party"; and material facts are those "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. However, no genuine issue of fact exists "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Evidentiary Issues and Violation of Local Rules

Defendants request that the Court take judicial notice of the certified docket from Los Angeles County Superior Court, the transcript from Plaintiff's preliminary hearing, and the reporter's transcript from the trial in state court. Plaintiff does not oppose this request. The Court takes ...


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