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David Blanton v. County of Sacramento; Sacramento County Sheriff's Department; Chris Bittle

July 6, 2012

DAVID BLANTON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO; SACRAMENTO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT; CHRIS BITTLE; DONALD BRICKER; AND CRYSTAL FISHER BRADNAX, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Summary Adjudication (ECF No. 45). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted in full.

BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff David Blanton ("Blanton") was a licensed Adult Residential Administrator, who operated an adult residential care facility. (First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), ECF No. 9, Paragraph 12). Defendant Crystal Fischer Bradnax ("Fischer") was employed by Blanton at his facility. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Either late at night on July 3rd or early in the morning of July 4th, 2007,*fn2 Blanton caught Fischer stealing cleaning products from the care facility and spoke with her about the thefts. (Id.) Fischer was sent home and placed on administrative leave without pay. (Id.)

Within hours, Fischer reported to the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department ("SCSD") that Blanton had brandished and accidentally discharged a firearm inside the residential home. Specifically, she informed Officer Kenneth King ("Officer King")*fn3 of the incident. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Officer King then contacted his supervisor, Defendant Officer Donald Bricker ("Officer Bricker") and requested a welfare check on the residents of the facility. (Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts ("PR-SUF"), ECF No. 51, Attachment 1, ¶ 9).

On July 4th, Officer Bricker and his Deputy Officer, Defendant Chris Bittle ("Officer Bittle"), went to the facility, interviewed Blanton and investigated his care facility. (Id. at ¶ 11.) During the investigation, Officer Bricker took notes of his investigation and his interview with Blanton. (PR-SUF at ¶ 18.)

According to Blanton, he did not admit to the police officers to have fired a gun in the facility. (Id. at ¶ 12.) However, the police officers investigating the incident's reports indicate that Blanton did, in fact, admit to having accidentally discharged the firearm.*fn4

In Officer King's July 4, 2007,report of his investigation of the incident, he reported that Fischer stated that, "[w]hile we were talking, Blanton picked up the gun and was putting the magazine in the handle when all of a sudden the gun went off.

The bullet went through the entertainment center in the front room..." (Request for Judicial Notice*fn5 ("RJN"), ECF No. 49, Ex. 2 at 5.) Consistent with Fischer's description of the event, according to Bricker's report, Blanton admitted that he was in the home earlier checking up on one of his employees and when he was leaving the house he picked up his gun from a cabinet shelf and the gun fired one round into the wooden entertainment center. Blanton showed us where the bullet struck the wood entertainment center and showed us the wood debris on the floor. It appeared a single bullet struck the wood cabinet system and did not exit the house or travel into any other area of the home. (Id. at 8-9.) Officer Bittle also included a summary of Blanton's statement to him, in which Blanton allegedly said, among other information about the incident, that:

After I arrived tonight I placed the gun on the shelf of the entertainment center and removed the magazine to make it safe, I had the magazine in my pocket and the gun was just laying on the shelf by itself without a holster.

I picked the gun up and I must have had my finger on the trigger because the gun fired one round. The bullet hit the wood entertainment center and caused wood to splinter onto the floor.

I was really surprised the gun fired because I had removed the Magazine and I didn't think it would fire without it, but I guess I was wrong. After the gun fired my worker Crystal became pretty shaken up and I could tell she was concerned. I told her to take the rest of the night off and I would stay at the home in her place. She left and didn't say anything.

None of the residents were awake when the gun fired and none woke up after the incident. The bullet hit the wood and stayed in the frame of the cabinet.

After Crystal left I cleaned up a little, put my gun away and went to bed.

I did not point the gun towards Crystal and I never picked it up to show it to her I'm sure she knows I have the gun because I bring it with me every time I come to the house.

According to Defendants Officers Bittle and Bricker as well as the summary of Blanton's statement, Blanton informed them that the gun was in his bedroom. (Bricker Decl. at ¶ 21.) When they retrieved the gun after asking for Blanton's permission, they found it unsecured. (Id. at ¶ 22.)

Officer Bricker and Officer Bittle concluded that Blanton's gun had discharged, but that no crime had been committed. (Bricker Decl. at ¶ 23.) After Officer King spoke with Fischer, he created the incident report.*fn6 (Id. at ¶ 23-24.) Likewise, Officer Bricker completed his report within 24 hours after the interview with Blanton and the investigation of Blanton's care facility. (Id. at ¶ 25.)

On July 5th, Fischer reported the incident to Alta Regional Services ("ALTA"), which coordinates services for developmentally disabled individuals and administers placement of residents in various care homes on behalf of the State of California Department of Health and Human Services ("DHHS"). (PR-SUF at ¶ 33-34.) John Redman ("Redman"), a representative of ALTA, spoke with Fischer. (Id. at ¶ 35.) Fischer indicated to Redman that Blanton had brandished a gun on the night of July 3rd and had discharged the gun in the care facility. (Id. at ¶ 36.) ALTA then initiated an investigation into Fischer's claims. (Id. at ¶ 37.) That same day, Mr. Redman made a site visit and interviewed Blanton. (Id. at ¶ 38.) When asked by the ALTA representatives, Blanton denied that he discharged the gun. (Id. at ¶ 39.)

Redman called the SCSD as part of his investigation of Fischer's complaints. Officer Bricker returned Redman's call, informing him that an accidental discharge did occur and a report on the matter was being prepared.*fn7 (Id. at ¶ 41.)

After learning of the police report and the SCSD conclusion that the gun had been discharged, ALTA removed residents from Blanton's care facility. (Id. at ¶ 44.)

Blanton appealed the removal, contending that no firearm was discharged. (Id. at ¶ 45.)

In October, ALTA held a hearing regarding the removal of residents from the care home. (Id. at ¶ 46.) Blanton was represented by counsel and presented evidence to support his contention that the police reports were inaccurate and that he did not discharge a gun in the care facility. (Id. at ¶ 47.) Officer Bricker and Officer King both testified at the hearing and were subject to examination by ALTA and Blanton's counsel. (Id. at ¶ 48.) ALTA determined based on the hearing that the gun had in fact been discharged, that Blanton was in violation of applicable law and that the removal of residents was proper.*fn8

(Id. at ¶ 51.) Blanton appealed the decision. (Id. at ¶ 52.)

On February 7th, 2008, the California Department of Social Services ("CDSS") held a subsequent administrative hearing to consider Blanton's appeal from the ALTA decision. (See generally ECF No. 49, Ex. 3.(Department of Social Services Order ("DSSO"))). Blanton was again represented by counsel and Defendants Fischer, Officer Bittle and Officer Bricker all testified and were subject to cross-examination. (DSSO at p. 2; PR-SUF at ¶ 54-56.)

The Department of Social Services affirmed the ALTA findings in a written decision concluding that Blanton was in violation of applicable state codes and that his license to operate an adult care facility must be revoked. (DSSO at p. 14.) Specifically, the court held that, "As set forth in the Factual Findings and Legal Conclusions as a whole... the Department proved by a preponderance of the evidence that, on July 4, 2007, respondent [Blanton] discharged his gun in the licensed facility..." (Id.) Blanton did not seek judicial review of that decision. (Id. at ¶ 60.)

On July 9th, 2009, Blanton filed his complaint in this Court, with jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1343, which confers jurisdiction on this Court to hear suits brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. (ECF No. 2.) Jurisdiction is also conferred by 28 U.S.C. §1331. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ...


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