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Murray v. City of Carlsbad

July 19, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Barry Ted Moskowitz United States District Judge


Defendants Lieutenant Marc Reno ("Reno"), Officer Dzung Luc ("Luc"), and the City of Carlsbad ("City") have filed a motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff Shawn Murray's ("Plaintiff" or "Murray") 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for false arrest. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.


A. Facts Surrounding Plaintiff's Arrest

On August 18, 2009, six Carlsbad police officers responded to a call of domestic violence at the address of Plaintiff, an Oceanside Police Department Lieutenant. (Third Am. Compl. ("TAC") ¶ 13.) The officers responding to the call were Reno, Luc, Sergeant Gilbert Beason ("Beason"), Officer Domingo Parra ("Parra"), Officer Derek Harvey ("Harvey"), and Detective Eric Prior ("Prior"). (TAC ¶ 14.)

Luc was the first officer to arrive at the scene. (Luc Dep. (Def's Ex. D) 49:10-11) When Luc arrived, Shande Carpenter ("Carpenter"), a former Carlsbad Police Department officer, was in the front yard of Plaintiff's residence and "[s]he appeared upset, nervous . . . distraught as a victim." (Luc Dep. 58:12-18.) Carpenter explained that Plaintiff was her ex-boyfriend and that she had come to his house to retrieve some of her belongings. (Luc Dep. 109:15-23.) Carpenter told Luc that when she was in the house, she got into a physical altercation with Plaintiff during which Plaintiff choked her and pushed her up against the wall by her neck. (Luc Dep. 58:21-59:1.) Carpenter told Luc that Plaintiff then threw her to the ground, dragged her through the house, and threw her out the front door. (Luc Dep. 59:1-6.) Luc observed that Carpenter had "a visible mark, essentially redness around her neck" that was "consistent with her being choked or . . . grabbed around the neck." (Luc Dep. 225:6-15.) Luc also noticed a visible injury on her left arm. (Luc Dep. 225:3-5; Beason Dep. (Pl.'s Ex. 6) 135:2-5.)

When Reno arrived at the scene, Reno questioned Carpenter. (Reno Dep. (Pl.'s Ex. 2) 206:21-25.) Carpenter told Reno that she was inside the house when Plaintiff became physically violent, choked her, dragged her through the house, and threw her on the front stoop. (Reno Dep. 206:1-9) Carpenter described how she went to Plaintiff's truck after being ejected from Plaintiff's house, was involved in an altercation with Plaintiff at the truck, went back to Plaintiff's house, and had another altercation with Plaintiff in his house. (Reno Dep. 206:10-13.) After hearing Carpenter's story, Reno called Plaintiff on his cell phone, and Plaintiff invited the officers into his house. (Reno Dep. 206:14-20.)

Luc, Reno, Beason, Parra, and Harvey entered Plaintiff's home and stood in the kitchen as Plaintiff explained what happened. (Luc Dep. 247:25-248:4.) Luc estimates that Plaintiff talked for approximately thirty minutes. (Luc Dep. 247:23-24.) Plaintiff told Luc that Carpenter had texted him about coming over to his house, and that he texted back telling her not to come. (Luc Dep. 167:23-168:11.) Plaintiff explained that he allowed Carpenter into his house for the limited purpose of retrieving cards, letters, and a pair of pants. (Murray Decl. ¶ 5.j.) Carpenter refused to leave for two hours despite Plaintiff's repeated requests that she do so. (Murray Decl. ¶ 5.k.) Plaintiff told the officers that he "walked Carpenter out" of his residence. (Murray Decl. ¶ 5.m.) Unbeknownst to Plaintiff, Carpenter had taken Plaintiff's truck keys and began rummaging through his truck. (Murray Decl. ¶¶ 5.n-5.p.) Carpenter refused to leave the truck, and Plaintiff physically removed her. (Murray Decl. ¶ 5.q.) Plaintiff ran back to his house, and Carpenter followed. (Murray Decl. ¶¶ 5.r-5.s.) Plaintiff attempted to close the door, but Carpenter stuck her arm and foot in the door to stop Plaintiff from shutting it. (Murray Decl. ¶ 5.s.) Plaintiff told the officers that "Carpenter forced her way into the house and I removed her." (Murray Decl. ¶ 5.t.) Reno asked Plaintiff where the confrontation occurred, and Plaintiff answered that it occurred at the truck, the door, and near the kitchen. (Murray Decl. ¶ 8.) Reno told Plaintiff, "That's inconsistent," and left the house. (Murray Decl. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff became suspicious that the officers deemed him to be the primary aggressor in the domestic violence, and the officers in the kitchen confirmed that this was so. (Murray Decl. ¶¶ 10-11.)

Luc considered the red mark on Carpenter's neck to be inconsistent with reasonable force used to eject a trespasser. (Luc Dep. 90:3-91:6.) Based on Carpenter's visible injuries and his determination that Carpenter's explanation of events (the choking) was more consistent with those injuries than Plaintiff's explanation of events, Luc arrested Plaintiff for violating Cal. Penal Code § 273.5, felony domestic violence. (Luc Dep. 256:25-258:6.)

Luc called to acquire an Emergency Protective Order ("EPO") for Carpenter, even though as a non-cohabitating non-family member she did not qualify for one. (Luc Dep. 24:10-25:16.) Luc also attempted to get an EPO for Plaintiff after Plaintiff asked Luc for one. (Luc Dep. 25:17-22.) The District Attorney's Office declined to file criminal charges against Plaintiff. (Pl.'s Ex. 8.)

B. Policy Governing Domestic Violence Arrests

California Penal Code § 13701 mandates that "every law enforcement agency in this state shall develop, adopt and implement written policies and standards for officers' responses to domestic violence calls by Januanry 1, 1986. These policies shall reflect that domestic violence is alleged criminal conduct . . ." Section 13701 further explains that:

The written policies shall encourage the arrest of domestic violence offenders if there is probable cause that an offense has been committed. These policies also shall require the arrest of an offender, absent exigent circumstances, if there is probable cause that a protective order . . . has been violated. These policies shall discourage, when appropriate, but not prohibit, dual arrests. Peace officers shall make reasonable efforts to identify the dominant aggressor in any incident. The dominant aggressor is the person determined to be the most significant, rather than the first, aggressor. In identifying the dominant aggressor, an officer shall consider the intent of the law to protect victims of domestic violence from continuing abuse, the threats creating fear of physical injury, the history of domestic violence between persons involved, and whether each person acted in self defense.

Carlsbad Police Department, Policy 320 ("Policy 320") was adopted in response to the California state legislature's passage of Cal. Penal Code §§ 13701(a) and (b), "mandating the preparation and adoption of a domestic violence law enforcement protocol in each law enforcement agency in the state." ("Policy 320" (Def.'s Ex. 1 to Reno Dep.), Section 320.1.) Cal. Penal Code § 13701 and Policy 320 advance a pro-arrest policy regarding domestic violence. (Policy 320, Section 320.11.) Policy 320 states, "Law enforcement officers shall arrest batterers in all situations where an arrest is legally permissible for felony acts of domestic violence and should arrest batterers for misdemeanor acts of domestic violence." (Policy 320, Section 320.11(d).) This means that once the primary aggressor is identified and there is probable cause for an arrest for domestic violence, the officer should arrest the primary aggressor. (Reno Dep. 26:2-16.)

According to Policy 320, in the context of domestic violence, the primary aggressor "is the person who is the most significant, rather than the first, aggressor." (Policy 320, Section 320.12(o).) The primary aggressor is often determined by the extent of injury to the parties at the scene. (Reno Dep. 25:1-19.)

For officer-involved domestic violence cases, there should be review by an officer one rank above the rank of the officer involved. (Policy 320, Section 320.66(a)(1).)


Summary judgment is appropriate under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if the moving party demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is material when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 735 (9th Cir. 1997). A dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party can satisfy this burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to establish an essential element of the ...

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