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Juan Manuel Rivera v. City of Santa Ana Et. Al

February 18, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David O. Carter United States District Judge


Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants the City of Santa Ana, Santa Ana Police Officer Francois Nguyen, Santa Ana Police Officer Michael Judson, Santa Ana Police Officer Jessica Quintana, Santa Ana Police Sergeant B. Sadler, Santa Ana Police Officer Ornelas and Santa Ana Police Officer Ruby Rohan (collectively, "Defendants") in the above-captioned case ("Motion for Summary Judgment") (Docket 25). After considering the moving, opposing and replying papers thereon [as well as oral argument], the Court hereby GRANTS in parts and DENIES in part the Motion for Summary Judgment.


This case arises from a series of alleged altercations that occurred between Plaintiff Juan Manuel Rivera ("Plaintiff") and several police officers and correctional officers employed by the City of Santa Ana. The specific facts of the case will be discussed below as they relate to the claims brought by Plaintiff. In brief, on June 2, 2008, several police officers arrived at Plaintiff's sister's home in response to a series of 911 calls allegedly placed by Plaintiff reporting suspicious activity by a group of individuals parked outside the home. The suspicious individuals who motivated the 911 calls were never apprehended. Rather, the police arrested Plaintiff. Plaintiff contends that the officers used excessive force against him both during his arrest and during Plaintiff's stay at the Santa Ana Jail. Plaintiff thus brings suit for violation of his federal civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as for violation of his rights under California law.


Summary judgment is proper if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The Court must view the facts and draw inferences in the manner most favorable to the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962); Chevron Corp. v. Pennzoil Co., 974 F.2d 1156, 1161 (9th Cir. 1992). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial, but it need not disprove the other party's case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986). When the non-moving party bears the burden of proving the claim or defense at trial, the moving party can meet its burden for summary judgment by pointing out that the non-moving party has failed to present any genuine issue of material fact. Musick v. Burke, 913 F.2d 1390, 1394 (9th Cir. 1990). A party cannot create a genuine issue of material fact simply by making assertions in its legal papers. There must be specific, admissible evidence identifying the basis for the dispute. S.A. Empresa de Viacao Aerea Rio Grandense v. Walter Kidde & Co., Inc., 690 F.2d 1235, 1238 (9th Cir. 1980).


a. Claims against Officer Ruby Rohan and Officer Jessica Quintana

As an initial matter, the Court notes that Plaintiff has stipulated to a dismissal of his claims against Officers Ruby Rohan and Jessica Quintana. Pl.'s Opp. at 1 ("Plaintiff stipulates to dismiss this complaint against Defendants RUBY ROHAN and JESSICA QUINTANA as agreed to in the pre-filing meet and confer."). Pursuant to the stipulation, the Court orders the claims against these Defendants DISMISSED.

The Court proceeds to examine the remainder of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

b. Claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

1. Unlawful Seizure of Person -- Individual Defendants

Plaintiff's first cause of action alleges the Defendants violated his fourth amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest. Plaintiff thus brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). Defendants move for summary judgment.

A. Whether A Violation Occurred

A fourth amendment violation occurs when a police officer effectuates an arrest without probable cause. Cabrera v. Huntington Park, 139 F.3d 374 (9th Cir. 1998). Probable cause exists when "under the totality of the circumstances known to the arresting officers, a prudent person would have concluded that there was a fair probability that [the suspect] had committed a crime." United States v. Smith, 790 F.2d 789, 792 (9th Cir. 1986). The evidence necessary to establish probable cause falls well below that necessary to sustain a conviction. Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175 (1949). As such, the Fourth Amendment is not violated by an arrest based on probable cause even where, for instance, the police arrest the wrong person. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396-97 (1989).

In this case, on June 2, 2008 at approximately 12:33 a.m., Santa Ana Police Department ("SAPD") Officers Francois Nguyen ("Nguyen"), Jessica Quintana ("Quintana") and Michael Judson ("Judson") arrived at Plaintiff's sister's residence, in response to a 911 call lodged by Plaintiff. Undisputed Fact from Def.'s Statement of Uncontroverted Facts ("UF"), ¶ 5. Defendants state that the 911 dispatcher described Plaintiff as sounding "very 925" over the phone, which is police code for "very intoxicated."*fn1 Def.'s Statement of Uncontroverted Facts ("DF"), ¶¶ 2-3. Plaintiff contends that he was not intoxicated at the time when he placed the 911 calls and that, other than a prescription Vicodin pill taken approximately six hours earlier, he had not imbibed any unnatural substances that day. Pl.'s Depo. at 35-36 (Plaintiff had taken prescription Vicodin approximately six hours earlier); id. at 38-39 (Plaintiff had ingested no other drugs or alcohol). Plaintiff contends that he did not behave in an intoxicated manner either before or after the officers arrived at the scene. Plaintiff's sister, a witness to all events, concurs with Plaintiff's description of his behavior. See Depo. of S. Rivera at 30 (stating that Plaintiff was not acting in a manner to suggest intoxication and had not taken drugs in a "very long time."). Plaintiff was not tested for drugs or alcohol at the police station.

Officer Nguyen was the first to make contact with Plaintiff at the scene. UF, ¶ 6. The parties disagree as to what occurred next. According to Defendants, Plaintiff presented as visibly intoxicated and anxious, proving unable to recognize Nguyen, Quintana and Judson as police officers. DF, ¶¶ 7-9. Plaintiff avers that the officers approached him with guns drawn and that, as a result, Plaintiff opened his cell phone in order to show the officers that he was not holding a gun. Pl.'s Depo. at 20; see also S. Rivera Depo. at 26, 28 (attesting to the fact that police officers approached Plaintiff with their guns drawn). Defendants further declare that Plaintiff's sister, Sonia Rivera, had told Officer Quintana that Plaintiff was not acting normally, but was instead acting in a manner that suggested that he had taken drugs. DF, ¶ 10. In her deposition, Ms. Rivera denies making any such statement. Depo. of S. Rivera at 30, 39. Rather, Ms. Rivera testified that, when asked by Officer Quintana whether Plaintiff appeared to be under the influence of drugs or whether he took drugs regularly, she repeatedly answered in the negative. Id.

Based solely on the evidence listed above, Plaintiff was arrested for violation of California Penal Code § 647f, which makes it a crime for any person to be " . . . found in a public place under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, [or] controlled substance . . . in a condition that he or she is unable to exercise care for his or her own safety."*fn2 The district attorneys office declined to prosecute Plaintiff.

Given the wildly different stories concerning Plaintiff's conduct, the Court finds that genuine issues of material fact are in dispute regarding whether probable cause existed to support Plaintiff's arrest. The conflicting accounts offered by each party leaves the Court with a classic he-said-she-said scenario. It must be left to a jury to determine which portions of which witnesses' testimony to accept. See Anderson., 477 U.S. at 255 ("Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge."). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, as the Court is required to do when deciding a motion for summary judgment, Diebold, 369 U.S. at 655, the Court determines that triable issues of fact exist regarding whether Plaintiff's arrest was supported by probable cause.

B. Qualified Immunity

Even where a constitutional violation has occurred, a police officer is entitled to qualified immunity from suit under Section 1983 where an objectively reasonable officer would not have known that her conduct was unconstitutional under the circumstances of the case. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202 (2001). In this case, Defendants have asserted no arguments related to the qualified immunity defense. Even if they had, it is beyond dispute that the standard of liability for effectuating an arrest without probable cause was clearly established when the events at issue took place. See, e.g. Cabrera, 139 F.3d 374 (a fourth amendment violation occurs when officers arrest a suspect without probable cause); Smith, 790 F.2d at 792 (defining probable cause). The qualified immunity doctrine does not shield Defendants from liability.

C. Participation of Each Individual Defendant

Not every defendant named in this action, however, may be liable for Plaintiff's unlawful arrest. Plaintiff presents no evidence to indicate that Officer Ornelas, a correctional officer at the Santa Ana Jail, played any role in his arrest. Summary judgment on the unlawful arrest claim must therefore be granted in Officer Ornelas's favor. At the other end of the spectrum, Officer Nguyen admits to participating directly in Plaintiff's arrest. See DF, ¶ 11 ("Officer Nguyen handcuffed Plaintiff . . . "). Summary judgment must therefore be denied with respect to this officer.

Regarding Officer Judson, there is no dispute that Officer Judson was present at the time of Plaintiff's arrest. See UF, ΒΆ 5. Typically, placing an officer at the scene of an alleged constitutional violation does not suffice to assert individual liability against that officer. See Jones v. Williams, 297 F.3d 930, 936 (9th Cir. 2002) (rejecting an "inference of individual liability of individual officers based on merely being present at the scene of the [illegal] search."). The Ninth Circuit, however, has recognized that "police officers have a duty to intercede when their fellow officers violate the constitutional rights of a suspect or other citizen," so long as a "realistic opportunity" to intercede existed. Cunningham v. Gates, 229 ...

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