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Freeland v. Sacramento City Police Dep't

January 28, 2010



Plaintiff, formerly confined at the Sacramento County Main Jail, is proceeding pro se with a civil rights action seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter is before the court on a motion for summary judgment brought on behalf of defendants Perez and Renzelman. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion, and defendants have filed a reply.


In his amended complaint plaintiff has named defendants Vu, Villegas, Hansen, Sanchez, Perez, and Renzelman.*fn1 In relevant part, he alleges as follows. On November 23, 2004, plaintiff began serving his parole term in the Sacramento area. He remained on active parole until his arrest on May 24, 2005. On that evening, plaintiff was in front of his mother's house when defendants Vu, Villegas, Hansen, Sanchez, Perez, and Renzelman drove up in unmarked law enforcement vehicles. Defendant Vu asked plaintiff if he had anything on him. Plaintiff replied "here I'll empty my pockets for you." According to plaintiff, defendant Vu then grabbed his left wrist and searched him while defendant Hansen grabbed his right arm through a car window. Defendants Villegas, Perez, and Renzelman then placed plaintiff on the ground in handcuffs face down and retrieved a firearm from him. They then searched plaintiff again in a progressively violent fashion but found nothing else in his possession. (Am. Compl. at 16-17.)

Plaintiff alleges that the defendants repeatedly attacked him while he lay handcuffed and face down in the street. They grabbed his ankles and crossed them and then jumped on him from behind. Plaintiff acknowledges that he does not know which of the defendants attacked him, but he screamed in pain and asked them to stop because he had suffered serious injuries to his face, back, neck, hip, and ankle. Plaintiff also repeatedly asked the defendants for medical attention. However, the defendants laughed at him and continued the attacks while giving each other high fives and telling him they would love to kill him. The defendants also refused to take him to the hospital or call an ambulance and allowed thirty to forty minutes to pass before they transported plaintiff to the Sacramento County Main Jail. (Am. Compl. at 17-18.)

Plaintiff claims that the defendants engaged in the excessive use of force against him, failed to protect him, and refused to provide him with adequate medical care in violation of his constitutional rights. In terms of relief, plaintiff requests injunctive relief and monetary damages. (Am. Compl. at 30-41.)


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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

Under summary judgment practice, the moving party always 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) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). "[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.'" Id. Indeed, 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. See id. at 322. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. 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. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but 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. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. 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, see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, see Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1433, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987).

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." T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631. 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).

In resolving the summary judgment motion, the court examines the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The evidence of the opposing party is to be believed. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. All reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. Nevertheless, inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 602 F. Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D. Cal. 1985), aff'd, 810 F.2d 898, 902 (9th Cir. 1987). Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, 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).

On February 22, 2007, the court advised plaintiff of the requirements for opposing a motion pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 957 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc); Klingele v. Eikenberry, 849 F.2d 409 (9th Cir. 1988).


I. Civil Rights Act Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows: Every person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). "A person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

Moreover, supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisorial position, the causal link between him and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley, 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

II. Fourth Amendment and Excessive Force

A claim that a law enforcement officer used excessive force during the course of an arrest is analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and an objective reasonableness standard. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989). Under this standard, "'[t]he force which [i]s applied must be balanced against the need for that force: it is the need for force which is at the heart of the Graham factors.'" Liston v. County of Riverside, 120 F.3d 965, 976 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Alexander v. City and County of San Francisco, 29 F.3d 1355, 1367 (9th Cir. 1994)). In addressing this legal standard, the Ninth Circuit recently reiterated:

We ask whether the officers' actions are objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances surrounding them. We must balance the nature of the harm and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake. Stated another way, we must balance the amount of force applied against the need for that force.

Bryan v. McPherson, __ F.3d __, 2009 WL 5064477 at *2 (9th Cir. Dec. 28, 2009) (internal quotations and citations omitted). See also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 383-84 (2007); Santos v. Gates, 287 F.3d 846, 853 (9th Cir. 2002); Deorle v. Rutherford, 272 F.3d 1272, 1280 (9th Cir. 2001); Liston, 120 F.3d at 976.

In analyzing the nature and quality of the intrusion on an individual's Fourth Amendment interests, the court considers both the type and the amount of force used. See Bryan, 2009 WL 5064477 at *3. "Force is excessive when it is greater than is reasonable under the circumstances." Santos, 287 F.3d at 854 (citing Graham, 490 U.S. 386). Thus, [a]lthough it is undoubtedly true that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments, and that therefore not every push or shove, even if it may seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge's chambers is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, it is equally true that even where some force is justified, the amount actually used may be excessive.

Santos, 287 F.3d at 853 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

In analyzing the governmental interests at stake, the court considers a range of factors, including "'(1) the severity of the crime at issue, (2) whether the suspect pose[d] an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others . . . (3) whether he [was] actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight,' and any other 'exigent circumstances [that] existed at the time of the arrest.'" Deorle, 272 F.3d at 1280 (quoting Headwaters Forest Def. v. County of Humboldt, 240 F.3d 1285 (9th Cir. 2000), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 534 U.S. 801 (2001)). See also Blankenhorn v. City of Orange, 485 F.3d 463, 477 (2007). These factors are not exclusive, however. Rather, the court must "examine the totality of the circumstances and consider 'whatever specific factors may be appropriate in a particular case, whether or not listed in Graham.'" Bryan, 2009 WL 5064477 at *5. For example, the court may appropriately consider whether a warning was given before force was used. See Deorle, 272 F.3d at 1285 ("Less than deadly force that may lead to serious injury may be used only when a strong governmental interest warrants its use, and in such circumstances should be preceded by a warning, when feasible.").

III. Fourth Amendment and Failure to Protect or Failure to Intercede

"Pursuant to a long line of civil cases, police officers have a duty to intercede when their fellow officers violate the constitutional rights of a suspect or other citizen." United States v. Koon, 34 F.3d 1416, 1447 (9th Cir. 1994), rev'd on other grounds, 518 U.S. 81 (1996); Cunningham v. Gates, 229 F.3d 1271, 1289 (9th Cir. 2000). Parole officers have the same duty to intercede in such situations. See, e.g., Motley v. Parks, 383 F.3d 1058, 1071 (9th Cir. 2004) (parole officer was not entitled to qualified immunity in connection with parole search because he either participated in harassing and intimidating plaintiff during the search or failed to intercede to stop the harassment and intimidation of the plaintiff by other officers).

In such cases, "the constitutional right violated by the passive defendant is analytically the same as the right violated by the person who strikes the blows." Koon, 34 F.3d at 1447. In this regard, a law enforcement officer who fails to intercede when his fellow officers deprive a victim of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from an excessive use of force would, like his fellow officers, be liable for depriving the victim of his Fourth Amendment rights. Id.

However, a law enforcement officer may only be held liable for failing to intercede if he had a "realistic opportunity" to do so. See Cunningham, 229 F.3d at 1289-90. For example, if officers are not present at the time of a constitutional violation, they have no realistic opportunity to intercede. Id. at 1290. In addition, if a constitutional violation occurs too quickly, there may no realistic opportunity to intercede to prevent the violation. See, e.g., Knapps v. City of Oakland, 647 F. Supp. 2d 1129, 1159-60 (N.D. Cal. 2009).

IV. Fourteenth Amendment and Adequate Medical Care

The Fourteenth Amendment imposes, at a minimum, the same duty to provide adequate medical care to those incarcerated as imposed by the Eighth Amendment: "'persons in custody ha[ve] the established right to not have officials remain deliberately indifferent to their serious medical needs.'" Gibson v. County of Washoe, Nevada, 290 F.3d 1175, 1187 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Carnell v. Grimm, 74 F.3d 977, 979 (9th Cir. 1996)). "An official's deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate - including the deprivation of a serious medical need - violates the Eighth Amendment, and a fortiori, the Fourteenth Amendment." Conn v. City of Reno, __ F.3d __, 2010 WL 48649, at *11 (9th Cir. Jan. 8, 2010). In this regard, the court may look to decisions involving claims of inadequate medical care applying Eighth Amendment standards. See Lolli v. County of Orange, 351 F.3d 410, 418-19 (9th Cir. 2003) (employing traditional Eighth Amendment standards to analyze Fourteenth Amendment inadequate medical care claims); Oregon Advocacy Center v. Mink, 322 F.3d 1101, 1121 n.11 (9th Cir. 2003) (finding the deliberate indifference standard to be of use in a substantive due process analysis).

Where a prisoner's Eighth Amendment claims arise in the context of medical care, the prisoner must allege and prove "acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. An Eighth Amendment medical claim has two elements: "the seriousness of the prisoner's medical need and the nature of the defendant's response to that need." McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1991), overruled on other grounds by WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc).

A medical need is serious "if the failure to treat the prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.'" McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1059 (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 104). Indications of a serious medical need include "the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities." Id. at 1059-60. By establishing the existence of a serious medical need, a prisoner satisfies the objective requirement for proving an Eighth Amendment violation. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).

If a prisoner establishes the existence of a serious medical need, he must then show that prison officials responded to the serious medical need with deliberate indifference. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. In general, deliberate indifference may be shown when prison officials deny, delay, or intentionally interfere with medical treatment, or may be shown by the way in which prison officials provide medical care. Hutchinson v. United States, 838 F.2d 390, 393-94 (9th Cir. 1988). Before it can be said that a prisoner's civil rights have been abridged with regard to medical care, however, "the indifference to his medical needs must be substantial. Mere 'indifference,' 'negligence,' or 'medical malpractice' will not support this cause of action." Broughton v. Cutter Laboratories, 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir. 1980) (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06). See also Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1057 (9th Cir. 2004) ("Mere negligence in diagnosing or treating a medical condition, without more, does not violate a prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights."); ...

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