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Ramon Obas v. County of Monterey; Conan Hickey; Bryan Hoskins

February 22, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lucy H. Koh United States District Judge


immediately arrested by members of the Monterey County Joint Gang Task Force. Although Plaintiff repeatedly complained of pain in his legs, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) called 21 to the scene observed no visible signs of injury. Rather than immobilizing Plaintiff on a backboard 22 and transporting him by ambulance to the hospital, Monterey County Sheriff's Office Deputies Conan Hickey and Bryan Hoskins lifted Plaintiff to his feet and required him to walk, with some 24 assistance, to a patrol car. Subsequent medical examination revealed a displaced fracture of Plaintiff's right tibial plateau. Plaintiff claims that the actions of Deputies Hickey and Hoskins 26 caused or exacerbated his injuries, and he therefore brings this action against the County of

On October 23, 2008, Plaintiff Ramon Obas jumped from a second story balcony and was Monterey and Defendants Hickey and Hoskins for excessive use of force, battery, and negligence.

The case is now before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment, which Plaintiff 2 has opposed. The Court heard oral argument on January 27, 2011. Based on the submissions and 3 arguments of the parties, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion for 4 summary judgment.


8 contours of the incident giving rise to this action are undisputed. In the months leading up to Obas on several occasions without success. On October 23, 2008, members of the Task Force organized a tactical operation to apprehend Plaintiff at a two-story apartment complex located at 10525 Seymour Street, in Castroville, California, where Plaintiff was expected to appear. That 13 night, two Task Force members, Defendant Hickey and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") Special Agent John Jefferson, were waiting in an unmarked car in the 15 parking lot of the complex when they observed Plaintiff ascending the stairs to the second floor of 16 the complex. Hickey and Jefferson notified the other Task Force members by radio and then got 17 out of the car and approached the stairs. When Plaintiff noticed the two men approaching him, he 18 jumped from the second-floor balcony onto the pavement below, a distance of some ten to thirteen 19 feet. Hickey and Jefferson arrested Plaintiff approximately where he landed and handcuffed him 20 with his hands behind his back

Ruskell arrived at the scene. Vindhurst and Ruskell exposed both of Plaintiff's legs, conducted a 24 basic physical examination, and found no objective, visible signs of injury. Although an 25 ambulance had been summoned, it was called off. Defendants Hickey and Hoskins then lifted Plaintiff to his feet and assisted him, supporting some amount of his weight, as he walked to a 27 waiting patrol car. As Plaintiff and Defendants walked to the patrol car, Plaintiff continued to 28

A.Undisputed Facts

While the parties strongly contest certain details of Plaintiff's arrest and transport, the basic October 2008, the Monterey County Gang Task Force had attempted to apprehend Plaintiff Ramon Plaintiff complained of pain in his legs, and a call was placed for medical assistance.

Shortly thereafter, firefighters and trained EMTs Ken Ash, Michael Vindhurst, and Jonathan complain of pain in his legs, though he did not scream or yell in pain. None of the EMT-2 firefighters intervened or suggested the Plaintiff should be reexamined, and at no point after he 3 jumped from the second-floor balcony did Plaintiff resist, act belligerently, or attempt to get away 4 from the officers.

Plaintiff, intending to take him to the county jail for booking. During the drive, however, Plaintiff 8 continued to complain that his legs hurt, and West and Muscutt decided instead to take him to 9

After Defendants Hoskins and Hickey placed Plaintiff in the patrol car, Monterey County Sherriff's Office Deputy Charles West and Task Force member Michael Muscutt drove off with Natividad Medical Center for a pre-booking medical examination. At the hospital, medical staff 10 noted a deformity of Plaintiff's right tibia, and x-rays revealed a displaced fracture of Plaintiff's

Plaintiff knew that Defendants Hickey and Jefferson were law enforcement officers when he 15 noticed them approaching the stairs of the apartment complex and whether he fled to avoid being 16 apprehended by the police. Defendants maintain that Hickey and Jefferson identified themselves 17 as officers and that Plaintiff jumped off the balcony in order to evade them. They point out that in 18 his deposition testimony, Plaintiff acknowledged that he was on parole on the night of his arrest 19 and that the conditions of his parole required him to stay away from Ermila Cortez, who lived in 20 the apartment complex. Plaintiff also acknowledged that he had a parole warrant for failing to 21 report to his parole officer. Defendants thus argue that Plaintiff knew that Hickey and Jefferson 22 were law enforcement officers and jumped from the balcony to avoid apprehension. In contrast, Plaintiff claims that he believed Hickey and Jefferson were coming to attack him and that he 24 jumped from the balcony railing because he feared for his life. He contends that Hickey and Jefferson rapidly approached the stairs with guns drawn and did not identify themselves as law 26 enforcement officers. Plaintiff also claims that he did not know whether there was an active 27 domestic violence restraining order prohibiting him from visiting the apartment complex. 28

B.Disputed Facts

The disputed issues of fact center on three main areas. First, the parties dispute whether Second, the parties dispute whether the EMT-firefighters recommended that Plaintiff be transported in an ambulance with cervical spine ("C-spine") restraints to immobilize him and 3 prevent further injury, or "cleared" Plaintiff for transport via patrol car. Plaintiff maintains that at 4 least one of the EMTs recommended to Defendants Hickey and Hoskins that Plaintiff be placed in C-spine precautions and transported in an ambulance, and that Defendants rejected this 6 recommendation and had the ambulance called off. Defendants, on the other hand, claim that the 7

EMT-firefighters never recommended that Plaintiff be placed in C-spine precautions, that they 8 cleared Plaintiff to be transported by law enforcement personnel, and that Fire Captain Ash called 9 off the ambulance of his own volition. Defendants contend that, at most, one of the EMT-10 firefighters may have offered, to an unidentified officer, to place Plaintiff in C-spine precautions, such precautions should be taken.

without actually recommending that

Third, the parties dispute facts surrounding Plaintiff's walk to the patrol car, including the 13 distance he was required to walk, how much of his weight Defendants supported, and how much 14 pain Plaintiff appeared to be experiencing. Plaintiff claims that when the officers placed him on 15 his feet, he made a grunting sound "like sucking air through his teeth" and felt a pop that coincided 16 with a sharp increase in pain. Pl.'s Opp'n 8. He claims that during the walk to the patrol car, he 17 complained loudly that his legs hurt, told the officers that he could not walk, and was visibly 18 limping. Plaintiff, who weighed about 195 to 220 pounds at the time, also claims that Defendants 19 supported only about thirty percent of his weight, and that he was forced to walk approximately 75 20 to 100 feet to the patrol car. In contrast, Defendants claim that Plaintiff did not act like a person 21 who was in excruciating pain and argue that arrestees often complain of pain, whether or not they 22 have been seriously injured. They claim that the officers supported a substantial portion of

Plaintiff's weight and estimate that Plaintiff was assisted in walking between 25 and 50 feet to the 24 patrol car.

II.Legal Standard

Summary judgment should be granted if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 321 (1986). Material facts are those which may affect the outcome of the case, and a 2 dispute as to a material fact is "genuine" only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable trier of 3 fact to decide in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 4

(1986). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court draws all reasonable inferences that may be 5 taken from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). "[T]he district court does 7 not assess credibility or weigh the evidence, but simply determines whether there is a genuine 8 factual issue for trial." House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 559-560 (2006).

material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 331. The moving party can satisfy this burden in two ways.

The moving party has the initial burden of production for showing the absence of any "First the moving party may submit affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. Second, the moving party may demonstrate to the Court that the 13 nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving 14 party's claim." Id. Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden of production, the burden 15 of proof shifts to the non-movant to show that that there is a genuine issue of material fact. A party 16 asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed must support that assertion by either citing to particular 17 parts of materials in the record or by showing that the materials cited by the moving party do not 18 establish the absence of a genuine dispute. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The non-movant must go beyond 19 its pleadings "and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and 20 admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). 22

III. Discussion

of Plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free of unreasonable searches and

A.Section 1983 Claim

Plaintiff's federal cause of action asserts a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations seizures.*fn1 SAC ¶ 34. Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim is alleged against both Defendant Monterey

County and individual Defendants Hickey and Hoskins.

considered "persons" for purposes of Section 1983 and may be held liable for monetary damages in 6 cases where "the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy 7 statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's 8 officers." 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). A local government may not be sued under a theory of 9 respondeat superior for injuries inflicted solely by its employees or agents. Monell,436 U.S. at 10 demonstrate that the government's official policy or custom was the "moving force" responsible for infliction of her injuries. Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. In his opposition brief and at oral argument,

1. Monell liability of Monterey County

Under Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, local governments are 691; Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006). Rather, a plaintiff must Plaintiff conceded that discovery revealed no policy or custom on the part of Monterey County that 14 led to the alleged constitutional violations. Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. for Summary Judgment 15

("Pl.'s Opp'n") 1, ECF No. 71. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS summary ...

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