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Michael Williamson v. California Highway Patrol

April 17, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court

Order Granting Defendant Vinyard's Motion for Summary Judgment

Plaintiff Michael Williamson brings this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Defendant California Highway Patrol ("CHP") Officers Travis Garrow and Derek Vinyard violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiff also asserts claims for negligence and "intentional tort." Presently before the Court is the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Vinyard. Following full briefing, the Court heard oral argument on the motion on Monday, April 9, 2012. Upon consideration, for the reasons explained, the Court GRANTS Officer Vinyard's motion

Factual Background

At the time of the incident which forms the basis of this action, Plaintiff was a 57-year-old man who had recently suffered a stroke. Because of the stroke, Plaintiff had physical disabilities requiring him to use a cane.*fn1 On the evening of January 30, 2009, CHP Officers Garrow and Vinyard were on duty, in uniform, and on patrol in a marked patrol car. [Declaration of Derek Vinyard in Support of MSJ ("Vinyard Decl."), ¶ 3.] Shortly after 11:00 p.m., the officers received a radio call from CHP dispatch reporting a motor vehicle accident in the parking lot of the Denny's Restaurant on Camino Canada, in El Cajon. [Id., ¶ 4.] The officers responded to the call, and Officer Garrow made contact with Plaintiff, who was sitting the in the driver's seat of a Toyota pickup truck in the parking lot. [Id., ¶ 5.] Officer Vinyard contacted the owner of the parked vehicle Plaintiff reportedly struck. [Id.]

While Officer Vinyard spoke to the owner of the other vehicle and collected information about her vehicle, Officer Garrow put Plaintiff through a series of field sobriety tests. [Id., ¶ 6.] When Plaintiff failed the field sobriety tests, Officer Garrow told him he was being placed under arrest. [Id.; Deposition of Michael Williamson ("Williamson Depo."), Exhibit B to Plaintiff's Opposition, at 61:4-23.] Officer Garrow told Plaintiff to turn around, and then instructed him to put his cane down. [Williamson Depo., at 67:2-25.] Plaintiff told Officer Garrow he could not put down the cane*fn2 , but Officer Garrow told him again to put it down. [Id. at 67:25-68:3; 79:17-19 (Officer Garrow told him twice to put down the cane).] When Plaintiff did not put the cane down, Officer Garrow kicked it out from underneath him, causing him to fall. [Id. at 68:4-6.]

At the time of the interaction between Plaintiff and Officer Garrow, Officer Vinyard was standing next to Plaintiff's truck, preparing a vehicle inventory form. [Vinyard Decl., ¶ 7.] Officer Vinyard overheard Officer Garrow instruct Plaintiff several times to drop the walking cane that was in his right hand. Officer Vinyard then turned his attention toward Officer Garrow and Plaintiff when he heard Officer Garrow repeat the instruction to drop the cane. [Vinyard Decl., ¶¶ 8-9.] Out of concern for Officer Garrow's safety, Officer Vinyard started walking toward Plaintiff and Officer Garrow to offer assistance. [Vinyard Decl., ¶ 9.] After taking just a few steps, when he was between 10 to 15 feet away, Officer Vinyard saw Plaintiff bend forward at the waist and fall to the ground. [Vinyard Decl., ¶ 10 (stating he was 15 feet away when Plaintiff fell); Traffic Collision Report, Narrative/Supplemental, p. 7 of 9 (unsworn narrative of Officer Garrow stating that Officer Vinyard was approximately 10 feet away when Plaintiff fell to the ground); Williamson Depo. at 69:9-14 (stating Plaintiff does not know where Officer Vinyard was).] Officer Garrow, who was behind Plaintiff at the time, also fell to the ground. [Vinyard Decl., ¶ 10.]

Officer Vinyard immediately assisted Officer Garrow in lifting Plaintiff to his feet and placing him in handcuffs.*fn3 [Vinyard Decl., ¶ 11.] Plaintiff did not believe he was injured when he was on the ground, when he was helped up by the officers, or when he was placed in the patrol car. [Williamson Depo. at 86:8-19.] However, Plaintiff in fact suffered a fracture of his left arm.

Procedural History

Plaintiff filed his complaint in San Diego County Superior Court, and Defendants removed the action. There have been no prior motions filed in the case. Discovery is closed and the pretrial conference is scheduled for July 9, 2012.

Legal Standard

Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings and materials demonstrate "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A material issue of fact is a question a trier of fact must answer to determine the rights of the parties under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. The court must review the record as a whole and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Hernandez v. Spacelabs Med. Inc., 343 F.3d 1107, 1112 (9th Cir. 2003). However, unsupported conjecture or conclusory statements are insufficient to defeat summary judgment. Id.; Surrell v. Cal. Water Serv. Co., 518 F.3d 1097, 1103 (9th Cir. 2008).


1. Claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Defendant Vinyard moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's ยง ...

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