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Walnut Hill Estate Enterprises, LLC v. City of Oroville

July 21, 2010

WALNUT HILL ESTATE ENTERPRISES, LLC; JONOTHAN BENEFIELD; AND JULIE BENEFIELD, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF OROVILLE; DAVID GOYER; BECKY FRASER; RAY SANDOVAL; AND CHRIS GAIL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland E. Burrell, Jr. United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DECLINING TO EXERCISE SUPPLEMENTAL JURISDICTION OVER PLAINTIFFS' REMAINING STATE LAW CLAIM*fn1

Defendants City of Oroville, David Goyer, Becky Fraser, Ray Sandoval, and Chris Gail ("Defendants") move for summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims in their First Amended Complaint ("FAC").*fn2 Plaintiffs allege in their FAC that Defendants violated their constitutional rights when they conducted health and safety code inspection searches of Plaintiffs' business and subsequently issued Plaintiffs a "Notice to Repair or Demolish the Substandard Building."

I. Background

Plaintiffs Jonothan Benefield and Julie Benefield (collectively, "the Owners") are the managing members of Plaintiff Walnut Hill Estate Enterprises, LLC ("Walnut Hill"). (Statement of Undisputed Facts ("SUF") ¶ 1.) Walnut Hill owns the Oroville Inn, which is located in downtown Oroville, California. (Id.)

Oroville City Interim Fire Marshall Chris Gail ("Gail") and Code Enforcement Officer David Goyer ("Goyer") went to the Oroville Inn on December 16, 2008 after Interim Fire Chief Les Bowers ("Bowers") informed Gail that the Inn was in "very poor condition and should be inspected for safety reasons." (Id. ¶ 3.) Bowers spoke to Gail after Bowers and his crews had responded to a fire alarm at the Inn on the morning of December 16, 2008, at which time Bowers observed the poor conditions and that the residents of the Inn did not evacuate the building despite "an audible alarm sounding when his crews arrived at the building...." (Id. ¶ 2.) Gail and Goyer met with the Oroville Inn maintenance man and observed "several code violations" before they were asked to leave the premises. (Id. ¶ 3.) Goyer "issued a Notice of Violation for the violations they observed and set January 2, 2009 as the date for re-inspection." (Id.)

The Owners refused to allow Gail and Goyer into the Oroville Inn on January 2, 2009. Goyer then filed an "Affidavit for Inspection Warrant" in the Butte County Superior Court on January 7, 2009. (SUF ¶ 4; Ex. 1 of Defendants' Unopposed Request for Judicial Notice ("RJN"), which is granted.) On January 7, 2009, Butte County Superior Court Judge William Lamb issued "an Inspection Warrant authorizing City staff to enter upon and inspect the interior and exterior of the Oroville Inn." (SUF ¶ 5.) Plaintiffs "filed an ex parte application to quash and/or limit the scope of the Inspection Warrant" on January 8, 2009, which City Attorney, Dwight L. Moore opposed on January 9, 2009. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 7.) Judge Lamb held a hearing on January 9, 2009, at which Plaintiffs' application to quash the warrant was denied. (Id. ¶ 8.)

Goyer submitted his "Return on Inspection Warrant" to the Butte County Superior Court on January 30, 2009, which included a twenty-four page list of hundreds of health and safety code violations Goyer discovered while inspecting the Oroville Inn. (Moore Decl. Ex. 3, Ex. E.) The "Return on Inspection Warrant" also listed twenty-three apartments which "were not inspected after being provided a 24-hour notice, because the occupants did not make their apartments available for inspection." (Id.) Judge Lamb issued an additional inspection warrant on February 4, 2009, authorizing forcible entry into these apartments. (SUF ¶ 9; Gail Decl. Ex. 5.) City staff gave the Owners and tenants advance written notice of each inspection. (SUF ¶ 10.) On April 22, 2009, the Owners were given a "Notice to Repair or Demolish the Substandard Building", and were advised that their failure to comply may result in a civil enforcement action. (Id. ¶ 11.)

Plaintiffs challenge in their FAC, filed on May 13, 2009, the inspections "[c]ommencing on January 9, 2009," and the April 22, 2009 "Notice to Repair or Demolish the Substandard Building." (FAC ¶ 8.) Plaintiffs allege the inspections violated their Fourth Amendment rights and were conducted in retaliation for Plaintiffs asserting their First Amendment right in an an earlier filed lawsuit. (Id. ¶ 12(a), (b).) Plaintiffs also allege the inspections and Notice violated their procedural and substantive due process rights and their "rights to be secured from a taking." (Id. ¶ 12(c), (d).) Plaintiffs further allege the City of Oroville has policies, practices, and customs which foster, promote, condone the constitutional violations to which they were subjected. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiffs also seek a writ of mandate under California Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5. (Id. ¶ 21.)

II. Legal Standard

The movant for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). If the movant satisfies this burden, "the non-moving party must set forth, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in Rule 56 [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure], specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987) (quotations, citation, and emphasis omitted). "All reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party." Bryan v. McPherson, 590 F.3d 767, 772 (9th Cir. 2009).

III. Analysis

A. Fourth Amendment Claims

Defendants seek summary judgment on Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims, arguing the inspection searches "were pursuant to valid inspection warrants." (Mot. 5:12-15.) Plaintiffs rejoin, arguing the warrants were "not supported by probable cause," were "unparticularized," and that Defendants exceeded the scope of the inspection warrants when they executed the inspections. (Opp'n 3:28, 5:1-3, 6:19.)

"[T]he Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches applies to administrative inspections of private commercial property." Donovan v. Dewey, 452 U.S. 594, 598 (1981). However, "[p]robable cause in the criminal law sense is not required. For purposes of an administrative search..., probable cause justifying the issuance of a warrant may be based... on specific evidence of an existing violation...." Marshall v. Barlow's, 436 U.S. 307, 320 (1978). "Where considerations of health and safety are involved, the facts that would justify an inference of 'probable cause' to make an inspection are clearly different from those that would justify such an inference where a criminal investigation has been undertaken." Camara v. Mun. Court of City and Cnty. of San Francisco, 387 U.S. 523, 538 (1967). "This lower standard of administrative probable cause may be 'met by a showing of specific ...


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