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Estate of Dwayne Zachary v. County of Sacramento

December 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge


The Estate of Dwayne Zachary and several of his heirs (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), seek redress from Sacramento County and several individually named members of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department (collectively, "Defendants") from an altercation between several deputies and Mr. Zachary, which led to Mr. Zachary's in-custody death.

Following testimony at trial, both Plaintiffs and Defendants have each separately moved for a Judgment as a Matter of Law ("JMOL"), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a).*fn1 For the following reasons, both parties' motions are denied.


This action is brought by the heirs of Mr. Zachary, who died while being taken into custody by Sacramento County Sheriff's Deputies. Mr. Zachary was under the influence of three (3) days worth of cocaine and ecstasy at the time of the altercation. Several deputies were originally called to Mr. Zachary's home in response to a 911 call alleging Mr. Zachary had committed domestic violence.*fn2 The deputies arrived at Mr. Zachary's residence, who answered the door in what appeared to be an agitated state, and without clothing.

The officers entered Mr. Zachary's home with his permission, and proceeded to investigate the domestic disturbance call. As part of police protocol and for officer safety, the deputies handcuffed Mr. Zachary while they investigated the call, and searched his residence. Upon finding no evidence of a domestic violence victim, the deputies left the premises and made their way to their patrol vehicles.

However, the officers were unable to leave the premises as Mr. Zachary approached them wearing only an open bathrobe (with no undergarments) and one hand behind his back saying something which the deputies did not understand. As a result of this conduct, Mr. Zachary was directed to show his hands which he did not do, instead running back into his home and ignoring the deputies' orders to stop. The deputies followed Mr. Zachary into his home in the course of the foot pursuit.

An extended struggle resulted in Mr. Zachary being handcuffed, restrained with maximum restraints, and subsequent death. Plaintiffs sought monetary damages for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

A jury trial commenced on November 15, 2010. On December 13, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a written motion requesting the Court find a JMOL. Specifically, Plaintiffs assert that uncontroverted evidence establishes that Defendants violated Mr. Zachary's Fourth Amendment rights when they entered his home without a warrant, and all subsequent use of force was unreasonable and excessive.

At the conclusion of almost eleven days of testimony and evidence, on December 14, 2010, Defendants made an oral motion before the Court for a JMOL pursuant to Rule 50. Defendants renewed their previous oral motion for a JMOL, and presented new arguments to the Court as to why the case had no legally sufficient basis to go to the jury. /// ///


Under Rule 50(a), if a party has been "fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue," then this Court has discretion to resolve the issue by granting "a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party on a claim or defense that, under controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue." See also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 149 (2000); Summers v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 508 F.3d 923, 926 (9th Cir. 2007). Such a motion may be made at any time before the case is submitted to the jury, and contain (1) the judgment sought, and (2) the law and facts that entitle the movant to a judgment. Rule 50(a)(2).

In evaluating a Rule 50(a) motion, the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150. Using "all of the evidence in the record," the Court may also examine a number of factors including, "the strength of the plaintiff's prima facie case," the probative value of evidence, and "any other evidence" that supports a plaintiff's case. Id. ...

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