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Ruth Dunn-Prago v. San Diego Police Officer

April 24, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Larry Alan Burns United States District Judge


Ruth Dunn-Prago*fn1 alleges that on the night of July 30, 2009 four San Diego police officers entered her home without probable cause, falsely arrested and detained her, and in the process physically battered her. Her complaint doesn't get much more specific than that. (SAC ¶¶ 4--5.) She accuses the officers of: (1) violating her rights under United States and California law; (2) assault and battery; (3) false arrest and imprisonment; and (4) negligence. She also accuses the City of San Diego itself of violating her civil rights.

The Defendants tell a completely different-and factually much richer, much more organized-story. To broadly summarize: The police officers were doing surveillance work in the vicinity of Dunn-Prago's home, looking for drug or gang-related activity. They saw what they believed was a drug transaction between two men. When they approached and tried to talk to one of the men, he fled into Dunn-Prago's open garage. They pursued him, and in the course of trying to apprehend him Dunn-Prago interfered, both vocally and physically. She was arrested, put in the back of a police car, and ultimately released with a citation, which she signed, for interfering with and battering a police officer.

Now before the Court is the Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

I. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). As the moving party, it is the Defendants' burden to show there is no factual issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To meet this burden, they must show that Dunn-Prago lacks evidence to support her claims. Id. at 325. If they can do that, Dunn-Prago must set forth "specific facts" to show there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

The Court considers the record as a whole and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to Dunn-Prago. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 531 (9th Cir. 2000). The Court may not make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Rather, the Court determines whether the record "presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251--52. Not all alleged factual disputes will serve to forestall summary judgment; they must be both material and genuine. Id. at 247--49. "If conflicting inferences may be drawn from the facts, the case must go to the jury." LaLonde v. County of Riverside, 204 F.3d 947, 959 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted).

II. First Cause of Action - Deprivation of Civil Rights (Against Individuals)

The scope of Dunn-Prago's first cause of action isn't exactly clear. Generically titled "Deprivation of Civil Rights" in her complaint, it "arises under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 1983 and 1988 of Title 42 of the United States Code as hereinafter more fully appears, under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments."

(SAC ¶ 1.) The inclusion of the Fourteenth Amendment is confusing. Dunn-Prago appears to have three constitutional grievances. First, Defendants entered her home without probable cause. Second, Defendants used excessive force when they arrested her. Third, Defendants arrested her without probable cause. The first grievance obviously arises under the Fourth Amendment, and the second and third grievances do too. See Young v. County of Los Angeles, 655 F.3d 1156, 1161 (9th Cir. 2011) ("Claims for excessive force are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures."); Dubner v. City and County of San Francisco, 266 F.3d 959, 964 (9th Cir. 2001) ("A claim for unlawful arrest is cognizable under § 1983 as a violation of the Fourth Amendment . . . ."). Dunn-Prago has thrown the Fourteenth Amendment into the pot but done nothing to articulate what the substance of the Fourteenth Amendment violation is.*fn2

A. Unlawful Entry

Dunn-Prago lives at 1475 50th Street in San Diego. This block of 50th Street runs north-south. On the south end, it dead-ends into a cul-de-sac, and Dunn-Prago's home is at that dead-end. On the north end, it meets Federal Boulevard, which runs east-west. A couple of blocks east of 50th Street is Euclid Avenue, and several blocks west of 50th Street is 47th Street. There is no dispute that on the night in question the individual Defendants, who are members of the San Diego Police Department's "Street Gang Unit and Gang Suppression Team," were doing surveillance work on and around Federal Boulevard between 47th Street and Euclid-an area that encompasses the block of 50th Street on which Dunn-Prago lives.

Defendant Mark Bennett, specifically, was working undercover on Dunn-Prago's block. Between approximately 10:00 and 10:30, Bennett saw what he believed was a drug transaction between a man loitering in front of Dunn-Prago's home and a car that stopped in the middle of the street in front of it. (Bennett Decl. ¶¶ 7--9.) This man was later identified as Lamont Kyle. Bennett's belief was informed by his experience that "1475 50th Street and the adjacent cul-de-sac area had a history of narcotics and gang related activity." (Bennett Decl. ¶ 5.) In fact, one week prior officers had recovered a firearm in the area from two men who gave 1475 50th Street as their address, and the Dodge Magnum they had been driving was parked near 1475 50th Street that night. (Franchina Decl. ¶ 6; Oh Decl. ¶ 6; Sharki Decl. ¶ 6.)

Dunn-Prago argues that Defendants' portrayal of her neighborhood is both prejudicial and without foundation, but she offers no evidence whatsoever to paint a different picture of it. Instead, she just takes Defendants to task for not producing any police reports that prove the association between her home and criminal activity. (Opp'n Br. at 3.) She also asserts that "[t]here was no hand-to-hand drug transaction," but relies only on the fact that Bennett didn't identify the driver of the car or its make and model. (Id.) These kinds of reflexive denials of Defendants' pleadings aren't enough to survive summary judgment. If Dunn-Prago wants to ...

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