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Barra v. City of Kerman

June 8, 2009

DANIEL BARRA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF KERMAN, CHIEF OF POLICE GAXIOLA INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS WILLIAM NEWMAN, OFFICER RONALD CHAPMAN INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, OFFICER TOM OFFICIAL CAPACITY, OFFICER GURDEEP DEOL INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS THROUGH 100, INCLUSIVE, OFFICIAL CAPACITY, AND DOES 1 DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Oliver W. Wanger United States District Judge

ORDER RE DEFENDANTS' RULE 12(b)(6) MEMORANDUM DECISION AND MOTION TO DISMISS

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the court is a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) brought collectively by Defendants City of Kerman, Chief of Police William Newton, Officer Ronald Gaxiola, Officer Tom Chapman, and Officer Gurdeep Deol ("Defendants"). Defendants contend that the single claim in the federal complaint of Daniel Barra ("Plaintiff") is barred by virtue of res judicata because Plaintiff brought the same claim in state court and Defendants have already obtained summary judgment on that claim (and others). Defendants request attorney's fees and costs in bringing this motion as well as Rule 11 sanctions against Plaintiff because he filed duplicative litigation.

The following background facts are taken from the parties' submissions in connection with the motion and Plaintiff's federal complaint.

II. BACKGROUND

A. State-Court Complaint

In July 2007, Plaintiff filed an eight-count, state-court complaint against the City of Kerman, the Kerman City Police Department, Chief Newton, and officers Gaxiola, Chapman and Deol.*fn1 The second through eighth count asserted state law claims for false arrest and imprisonment, interference with civil rights under various provisions of the California Civil Code (including §§ 43, 51 and 52.1), intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence per se, negligent infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, and negligence. Notably, the first count in the state-court complaint asserts a federal claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for an alleged violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

1. Plaintiff's § 1983 Claim -- Fourth And Fourteenth Amendment

With respect to his § 1983 claim, Plaintiff's state-court complaint alleges that on December 10, 2006, defendants Deol, Gaxiola and Chapman arrived at Plaintiff's apartment located at 150 S. First Street, Kerman California. The police were responding to a report from a neighbor that someone broke a window at Plaintiff's address.

Plaintiff arrived at the scene on foot and spoke with the officers. The officers informed Plaintiff of the neighbor's report, and confirmed that the window appeared broken. Plaintiff requested that the officers enter his apartment to conduct a search for the possible perpetrator(s). Gaxiola and Deol entered the apartment and conducted a search. They did not find any individual inside.

After the search, the officers required Plaintiff to verify that he was a resident of the apartment. Plaintiff entered the apartment with an officer and retrieved a bank statement with his name on it. Upon exiting his apartment, Plaintiff locked the door behind him. Deol, however, requested that Plaintiff reopen his door so that Deol could re-enter and remove drug paraphernalia on the kitchen table. Plaintiff refused. Deol accused Plaintiff of breaking his own window and began to interrogate Plaintiff regarding his whereabouts just prior to arriving on foot. Plaintiff denied breaking his own window and provided the requested information. The officers again demanded that Plaintiff unlock his door so they could retrieve the drug paraphernalia. Plaintiff again refused.

At some point during the encounter, Plaintiff placed his hands behind his back so that he could be cuffed. An officer, however, placed a choke hold on Plaintiff and a struggle ensued. Deol yelled out that Plaintiff was fighting, and an officer tasered Plaintiff several times. Plaintiff was arrested and taken to the Kerman Police Station. Officer Deol later transported Plaintiff to the Fresno County Jail where he was booked and incarcerated for approximately five hours and then released.

A few months later, on January 3, 2007, Deol stopped Plaintiff's vehicle and issued a ticket for excessive window tint.

On or about February 10, 2007, the Kerman City Police arrested Plaintiff for disturbing the peace, criminal threat, and attempted burglary. No criminal complaint followed.

On March 22, 2007, Officer Ruiz (not a named defendant) appeared at Plaintiff's apartment and served him with a Thirty Day Notice of Termination of Tenancy. An employee who worked for the apartment complex apologized to Plaintiff and informed Plaintiff that it was not their decision to evict him. Plaintiff was not delinquent in rent. Plaintiff vacated the premises as requested in the Notice of Termination.

In his § 1983 count, Plaintiff alleged that Gaxiola, Deol, Chapman and the Kerman City Police Department violated his "Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment" right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and his right under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment "to be secured in [his] person, to be free from the use of unjustified force, to be from summary punishment without due process, and to equal protection of the laws."*fn2

While the bulk of Plaintiff's § 1983 count is based on his arrest and the associated tasering on December 10, 2006, it is not clear to what extent the other events are asserted as a basis for liability (as Plaintiff did not clearly specify in his complaint which events are associated with which alleged constitutional deprivations).

B. Summary Judgment In State Court And Subsequent Appeal

As reflected in a tentative ruling by Judge Alan Simpson of the Fresno County Superior Court, Defendants in the state-court action filed a motion for summary judgment as to each cause of action in Plaintiff's eight-count complaint, including the cause of action under ยง 1983. Judge Simpson tentatively ruled ...


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