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Alberto Gutierrez v. Phillip Solano

January 17, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dean D. Pregerson United States District Judge


Presently before the court is Defendants Phillip Solano, County of Los Angeles, and Russell Verduzco's (collectively, "Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"). Having reviewed the parties' moving papers and heard oral argument, the court grants the Motion in part, denies the Motion in part, and adopts the following Order.


On May 28, 2008, Plaintiff Alberto Gutierrez ("Plaintiff") was arrested for allegedly threatening his wife, Defendant Mayela Gutierrez Gil ("Gil"). Shortly after, on June 2, 2008, Gil took out a restraining order against Plaintiff ("Restraining Order").

On June 13, 2008, two deputies for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department ("Sheriff's Department") responded to a call from Gil, regarding an alleged violation of the Restraining Order. The deputies prepared an incident report. Defendant Phillip Solano, a Detective for the Sheriff's Department, then investigated the matter. On June 19, 2008, Detective Solano interviewed Plaintiff. On June 24, 2008, Detective Solano interviewed Gil, who stated that Plaintiff had tried to call her or had driven by her work or home on ten occasions between May 31 and June 23, 2008. (Pls.' Resp. to Defs.' Separate Statement of Undisputed Facts ("SS") ¶¶ 1-8.)

According to Defendants, Detective Solano investigated another alleged violation of the Restraining Order on September 6, 2008. Detective Solano and a fellow detective allegedly interviewed Gil, her sister, and another witness, who stated that they had seen Plaintiff near Gil's residence. Detective Solano allegedly interviewed Plaintiff as well, on September 9, 2008. According to the Detective, Plaintiff denied having been near Gil's residence and stated that he had been far from the area with friends. Plaintiff, however, allegedly refused to provide Detective Solano with names and phone numbers to verify his story. Detective Solano and two other detectives therefore took Plaintiff into custody on September 11, 2008. Plaintiff posted bail on September 12, 2008, and the case was submitted to the District Attorney's Office for filing consideration.*fn1 (Id. ¶¶ 9-14, 17.)

On March 21, 2009, Defendant Russell Verduzco, a Sheriff's Department Deputy, responded to a report from Plaintiff that Gil had threatened him at a local gas station. According to Plaintiff, Deputy Verduzco called him after investigating the incident and told him that the Deputy had sufficient evidence from gas station surveillance tapes to arrest Gil. Deputy Verduzco, however, allegedly called Plaintiff again sometime later, telling Plaintiff that he had spoken with Detective Solano, and that Plaintiff "had better drop the complaint against" Gil or Deputy Verduzco "was going to make it his personal mission to make sure that 'it really got ugly' for Plaintiff." Defendants claim, to the contrary, that Deputy Verduzco simply investigated the incident, concluded from the gas station video that Plaintiff and Gil had no contact with each other, and therefore informed Plaintiff that he would not file a crime report. (Id. ¶¶ 22-24.) Plaintiff also alleges that he contacted Detective Solano repeatedly during the investigations, but that the Detective would not return his phone calls, and once walked away when Plaintiff tried to talk to him in person at the Sheriff's station, stating that he could not help Plaintiff. (Pls.' Ex. 3 in Supp. of Opp'n to Mot. ("Pls.' Ex. 3") at 117-18.)

Plaintiff went to trial on the aforementioned criminal charges in April 2010. (SS ¶ 18.) During testimony, it was apparently disclosed for the first time that Detective Solano and Gil had communicated via Facebook, an online social networking site. Specifically, Gil testified that she had accepted a "friendship request" from Detective Solano, and that Detective Solano had sent her a message that he "missed" her. Gil also testified that she and Detective Solano had "talked and conversed" about things other than the case. Further, Gil stated that she had told Detective Solano, during trial and apparently in violation of the judge's order not to talk to witnesses, that Plaintiff's counsel knew about the "'Facebook' issue." Also during the trial, Deputy Verduzco testified that he had spoken with Detective Solano about Plaintiff's report regarding Gil. (Pls.' Ex. 1 at 90-91, 12-17, 225.) On April 12, 2010, the jury acquitted Plaintiff. (SS ¶ 21.)

Plaintiff then filed this civil rights action against Defendants, on June 16, 2010. (Id. ¶ 25.) During a recent deposition, Detective Solano testified that the Facebook message he had sent to Gil read "como estas preciosa te estrano [sic] mucho." Detective Solano stated that, to him, this translates as "What's up, Babe, or how are you, babe or cutie or sweetie, haven't seen you or miss you." He also agreed that the literal translation -"how are you precious . . . I miss you a lot" - was a fair translation. Detective Solano further testified that he did not recall whether he or Gil had initiated the Facebook "friendship." (Pls.' Ex. 2 at 74-75, 81-82.)

In his Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"), Plaintiff alleges that Detective Solano and Gil "were involved in a romantic/sexual relationship." He further alleges that Detective Solano and Gil "carried out a plan to falsely arrest and charge [Plaintiff] with crimes so as to ensure that [Gil] would be given custody of their children in pending divorce proceedings." Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that Gil fabricated all of the alleged threats and Restraining Order violations, at the urging and with the assistance of Detective Solano and Deputy Verduzco. Likewise, Plaintiff alleges that the three Defendants concealed Deputy Verduzco's finding that Gil "was following and harassing Plaintiff." (SAC ¶¶ 11-14, 37.) Plaintiff contends that Detective Solano therefore arrested him without probable cause, and caused him: 1) "to be wrongfully imprisoned until he was able to secure bail"; 2) "to pay fees related to the bail"; and 3) "to hire criminal defense attorneys at great cost." (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff also alleges that he suffered great emotional and psychological pain and suffering, due to being "wrongfully arrested, charged with criminal acts, jailed, detained, prosecuted and tried." (Id. ¶¶ 25-28.)

Based on these facts, Plaintiff asserts three causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"): 1) that Defendant Solano violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by wrongfully arresting him without probable cause (Id. ¶¶ 19-30); 2) that Defendants Solano, Gil, and Verduzco conspired to violate his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, by causing him to be falsely arrested, charged, and made to stand trial (Id. ¶¶ 31-40); and 3) that Defendant County of Los Angeles is liable for the violations, because it has an "established custom and practice whereby [Sheriff's Department deputies] were permitted to, and regularly did, pursue and maintain intimate personal relationships with the victims in cases that they were investigating." (Id. ¶¶ 41-58). Plaintiff also alleges state law claims for false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Id. ¶¶ 59-80.)

Defendants filed this Motion for Summary Judgment on November 14, 2011, arguing that: 1) all of Plaintiff's claims are barred, because he was arrested based on probable cause; 2) Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims fail as a matter of law, because he was acquitted in his criminal trial; 3) Defendants Solano and Verduzco are entitled to qualified immunity; 4) Plaintiff's municipal liability claim fails because the County of Los Angeles had no unlawful custom or practice; and 5) Plaintiff's state law claims are time-barred. (Mot. at 3-4.)


Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and all ...

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