UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
February 11, 2013
TRISTEN PILATO AND WILLIAM THOMAS, PLAINTIFFS,
JOSHUA RHODES, MICHAEL HAMILTON, VANCE STOLTE, AND DOES 1-25, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jesus G. Bernal United States District Judge
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Motion filed on December 6, 2012]
The Court has received and considered all Defendants' papers filed in support of their Motion for Summary Judgment. A hearing on this matter took place on February 11, 2013, and all arguments presented have been considered by the Court. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' unopposed motion for summary judgment will be granted and judgment will be entered against Plaintiffs.
A. Plaintiffs' Allegations
Plaintiffs Tristen Pilato ("Pilato" )and William Thomas ("Thomas") filed a complaint on January 18, 2012. (Compl., Doc. No. 1.) The complaint alleges three claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Joshua Rhodes ("Rhodes"), Michael Hamilton ("Hamilton"), Vance Stolte ("Stolte"), and Does 1-25. Rhodes and Hamilton are Deputies with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and are supervised by Stolte, a Sergeant. (Compl., ¶¶ 4-5.) They are sued in their individual and official capacities. (Compl., ¶ 4.)
The complaint alleges that Defendants investigated Plaintiffs for narcotics trafficking between January 20 and February 3, 2011. (Compl., ¶ 9.) Plaintiffs allege that Defendants used a cooperating informant named "Kelly
C." to develop probable cause to secure a search warrant for Plaintiffs' residence. (Id.) According to the complaint, Rhodes contacted Kelly C. on January 19, 2011 and asked her to go to Plaintiffs' home in response to a Craigslist ad. (Compl., ¶ 12b.) Plaintiffs allege Rhodes told Kelly C., "[A]ll I need you to do is tell me you saw drugs," and "I can get a warrant to enter the premises." (Id.) On January 20, 2011, Pilato invited Kelly C. to Plaintiffs' home that evening. (Comp., ¶ 12c.) Kelly C. met Plaintiffs at their home, and the complaint alleges that at no time did Plaintiffs display, intimate they possessed or had access to any controlled substances. (Comp., ¶ 12d.)
The complaint alleges that Kelly C. reported to Defendants that she had learned no information that would support a finding of probable cause to search Plaintiffs' home. (Compl., ¶ 13.) Plaintiffs assert that Defendants tried to convince Kelly C. to report she had seen controlled substances, but she declined to falsify evidence. (Id.)
Plaintiffs allege that on February 3, 2011 Rhodes, with the knowledge and consent of Hamilton and Stolte, submitted an affidavit to a Riverside County Superior Court Judge seeking a search warrant for Plaintiffs' home. (Compl., ¶ 10.) The affidavit, according to the complaint, stated that Kelly C. "observed controlled substances while in Plaintiffs' home and/or that Plaintiffs had admitted to her that they were engaged in the distribution of narcotics." (Id.) The complaint maintains that these assertions were false and Defendants knew them to be false. (Compl., ¶ 11.)
On February 3, 2011, a Riverside County Superior Court Judge issued the search warrant for Plaintiffs' residence authorizing a search for, among other things, methamphetamine and associated paraphernalia and chemicals. (Compl., ¶ 14.) At 3:30pm the same day, Defendants and at least five other law enforcement officers executed the warrant. (Compl., ¶ 15.) Plaintiffs allege that "none of the evidence the Defendants were looking for was located." (Compl., ¶
Pilato was arrested and booked on charges of possession and use of a controlled substance, violating Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 11377(a), 11350(a), and 11550(a). (Compl., ¶ 16.) Thomas was arrested and booked on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of Cal. Penal Code § 12021(a)(1). (Id.) Plaintiffs assert they spent 20 hours in custody. (Id.)
Plaintiffs allege that as of the date of the complaint, the Riverside County District Attorney's Office had not filed charges against them. (Compl., ¶ 17.)
B. Procedural Background
In their complaint filed on January 18, 2012, Plaintiffs allege the following claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) fabrication of false evidence in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments ("First Claim"); (2) unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment ("Second Claim"); and (3) unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment ("Third Claim"). (Compl., ¶¶ 18-38.) In addition to general and statutory damages, Plaintiffs request exemplary and punitive damages because Defendants acted maliciously and with reckless and callous disregard for Plaintiffs' rights. (Compl., ¶¶ 25, 32, 38.)
On February 23, 2012, Defendants answered the complaint and asserted several affirmative defenses. (Doc. No. 6.) On December 6, 2012, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the Alternative, Partial Summary Judgment. ("MSJ," Doc. No. 43.) Along with their MSJ, Defendants filed a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("SUF," Doc. No. 43-2), a declaration of Michael Hamilton (Doc. No. 43-3), and a declaration of Stephanie J. Tanada, attaching Exhibits AG. (Doc. No. 43-4.) Plaintiffs have not filed any opposition papers with the Court. Defendants replied on December 25, 2012. ("Reply," Doc. No. 50.)
On December 25, 2012, Defendants filed a Reply to "Plaintiff's Statement of Genuine Dispute of Defendants' Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment, Or Partial Summary Judgment." ("Second Reply," Doc. No. 51.) Counsel for Defendants state that on December 22, 2012 they received a copy of an email from Plaintiff Tristen Pilato sent to the courtroom deputy of Magistrate Judge Parada. (Reply at 1-2.) The email contained an attachment with a document entitled "Plaintiff's Statement of Genuine Dispute," ("SGD") which Defendants attached to their Second Reply as Exhibit 1. (Reply at 2.)
Plaintiffs' SGD was not e-filed or hand filed with the Court in violation of Fed. R. Civ. P. 5(d). The SGD does not appear on the docket, nor was a paper copy delivered to chambers as required by Local Rule 5-4.5. Plaintiffs did not serve the SGD on Defendants as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 5(a). (Reply at 2.) Under L.R. 5-4.1, all documents must be filed electronically using the Court's CM-ECF system. "Sending a document by e-mail does not constitute an electronic filing." L.R. 5-4.1. Since the SGD was not properly filed with the Court, the Court will consider the MSJ unopposed. See L.R. 7-12 ("The Court may decline to consider any memorandum or other document not filed within the deadline set by order or local rule.").
Even if the Court were to consider Plaintiffs' Statement of Genuine Dispute, it would not change the outcome of this motion. First, Plaintiffs claim many of Defendants' facts are "questionable" or "possibly disputed." These are not proper terms to dispute the facts in question, and therefore these facts are deemed undisputed. Second, for those facts where a dispute is properly noted, few citations to evidence are provided and no supporting evidence is attached to the document. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257 (1986) ("[T]he plaintiff must present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment."). In the few places where Plaintiffs include citations to Defendants' depositions, Plaintiffs fail to append the cited pages to their document, making it impossible for the Court to review the alleged supporting evidence. Therefore, Plaintiffs' Statement of Genuine Dispute fails to put forth any affirmative evidence sufficient to place any of Defendants' material facts in dispute.
Finally, Plaintiffs are reminded that they are represented by counsel, and therefore should not contact the Court pro se. L.R. 83-2.9.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
A motion for summary judgment shall be granted when 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(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The moving party must show that "under the governing law, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.
Generally, the burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that it is entitled to summary judgment. Margolis v. Ryan, 140 F.3d 850, 852 (9th Cir. 1998); Retail Clerks Union Local 648 v. Hub Pharmacy, Inc., 707 F.2d 1030, 1033 (9th Cir. 1983). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying the elements of the claim or defense and evidence that it believes demonstrates the absence of an issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
When the non-moving party has the burden at trial, however, the moving party need not produce evidence negating or disproving every essential element of the non-moving party's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Instead, the moving party's burden is met by pointing out there is an absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's case. Id.
The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue of material fact that must be resolved at trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The non-moving party must make an affirmative showing on all matters placed in issue by the motion as to which it has the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; see also William W. Schwarzer,
A. Wallace Tashima & James M. Wagstaffe, Federal Civil Procedure Before Trial, 14:144. "This burden is not a light one. The non-moving party must show more than the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence." In re Oracle Corp. Securities Litigation, 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252). "The non-moving party must do more than show there is some 'metaphysical doubt' as to the material facts at issue." In re Oracle, 627 F.3d at 387 (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)).
A genuine issue of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court construes the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Barlow v. Ground, 943 F.2d 1132, 1135 (9th Cir. 1991); T.W. Elec. Serv. Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630-31 (9th Cir. 1987).
A. Plaintiffs' Failure to Oppose Defendants' MSJ
"Any party who opposes [a motion for summary judgment] shall serve and file with the opposing papers a separate document containing a concise 'Statement of Genuine Disputes' setting forth all material facts as to which it is contended there exists a genuine dispute necessary to be litigated." L.R. 56-1. Where, as here, a party fails to file opposing papers or evidence, the Court "may assume that the material facts as claimed and adequately supported by the moving party are admitted to exist without controversy." L.R. 56-3; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) ("If a party . . . fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may: . . . (2) consider the fact undisputed for the purposes of the motion; (3) grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials -- including the facts considered undisputed -- show that the movant is entitled to it. . . ."). Thus, without an opposition or evidence from Plaintiffs, the Court applies standards consistent with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and determines whether Defendants' evidence demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Henry v. Gill Indus., Inc., 983 F.2d 943, 949-50 (9th Cir. 1993).
B. Defendants' Facts and Evidence
Rhodes has been a police officer for twelve years and has worked for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department since 2001. (SUF ¶ 1; Tanada Decl., Exh. C at 10.) For about five years, Rhodes has been assigned to the Special Enforcement Team ("SET"), first in Moreno Valley and then in Temecula. (SUF ¶ 2, Exh. C at 15-16.) The SET is a proactive investigative unit that focuses on gang and narcotics enforcement. (SUF ¶ 2, Exh. C at 16.)
Rhodes has received training on narcotics and search warrant preparation. Rhodes completed a forty-hour Peace Officer Standards and Training course on narcotics, several classes from the California Narcotics Officer Association, and a drug abuse recognition class with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. (SUF ¶ 4; Exh. C at 18; Exh. D at 3.) Rhodes also completed a sixteen-hour search warrant preparation and execution class by the Riverside Sheriff's Department. (Exh. D at 230.)
Part of Rhodes' duties on the SET included researching Craigslist to find evidence of crimes involving trading drugs for sex. (SUF ¶ 6; Exh. C at 39.) Rhodes searched for keywords that are code words used for narcotics, such as "party favors," "Tina," "roll," and "party and play." (SUF ¶ 6; Exh. C at 40-41.) Between July 25 and July 31, 2010, Rhodes found an advertisement indicating a male and female were looking for another female to party with in the area of Temecula/Murrieta. (SUF ¶ 7; Exh. D at 232.) Rhodes sent an email to the poster, posing as a female and received a reply from firstname.lastname@example.org. (SUF ¶ 8; Exh. C at 56.) Rhodes completed a computer check of the name Tristen Pilato and located an address and a physical description. (SUF ¶ 9.) Rhodes matched the picture and physical description on Pilato's California identification card to her description in the Craigslist ad. (SUF ¶ 10.) Rhodes tried to set up a meeting via email in July 2010, but the poster would not send an address without verifying the responder was a female. (SUF ¶ 11.)
Rhodes continued to see the same or similar advertisements at least two to three times per month between July 31, 2010 and January 15, 2011. (SUF ¶ 12.) Rhodes believed the ads were posted by the same person because the same photos were used. (Id.) Each of the ads mentioned "party favors." (SUF ¶ 14.)
In January 2011, Rhodes saw more ads with the same photos. (SUF ¶ 15.) Rhodes printed out ads posted on December 31, 2010, January 12, 2011, January 15, 2011, and January 20, 2011. (Exh. C at 61-62; Exh. D at 236-240.) Each ad mentions "party favors" or "favors." (Id.) In addition to stating there were "plenty of favors to share," the January 20, 2011 ad described the poster as a "34-year old married bi female" with "long dark brown hair and seductive brown eyes" who was looking for an "all girl encounter." (SUF ¶ 19; Exh. D at 240.) The ad required "girls only" and "voice verification is a must." (Id.)
On January 21, 2011, Rhodes decided to contact the poster of the January 20, 2011 ad. (SUF ¶ 15; Exh. C at 62.) Rhodes sent an email under the alias "Samantha Anderson" asking "So is ur husband still out of town? Have u found anyone?" (SUF ¶ 16; Exh. D at 241.) Later that evening, Rhodes received a response from email@example.com with a phone number. (SUF ¶ 20.; Exh. D at 241.)
Due to the poster's request for a female, Rhodes enlisted the assistance of Community Service Officer Suzi Lopez ("Lopez") to contact the poster by phone. (SUF ¶ 20; Exh. D at 233.) Lopez texted the number provided, and the respondent identified herself as Tristen. (Exh.
E at 84.) It appears that these texts occurred prior to the email exchange in which firstname.lastname@example.org provided her phone number. However, it is undisputed that the phone number Lopez texted was associated with Plaintiff Tristen Pilato. (SUF ¶ 23.) Lopez exchanged several text messages with that number on January 21, 2011 relating to drug use. (SUF ¶ 23; Exh. E.) One text stated, "[W]e have pure mdma...which is pure xtc...plus regular tabs." and another asked "[H]ow do you like ur tina? Smoke...or snort?" (Exh. E at 92.) Lopez also received a text inviting her to an address which a computer check revealed to be Tristen Pilato's residence. (SUF ¶ 22; Exh. D at 233.)
Between January 28, 2011 and February 3, 2011, Rhodes continued to see postings using the same modus operandi as those above. (SUF ¶ 25.) On February 3, 2011, Rhodes received a text from the person he believed to be Pilato regarding "killer tina." (SUF ¶ 26.)
Rhodes began writing up a search warrant application for the address provided via text around January 21, 2011. (SUF ¶ 24.) In Rhodes' affidavit to the application, he states that based on the facts described he believes "Tristen Marie Pilato is furnishing narcotics for the purpose of sexual pleasure from her residence . . . ." (Exh. D at 234; Exh. C at 70.) Rhodes believes Sergeant Stolte reviewed the warrant application, and then Rhodes brought it to a judge. (Exh. C at 77-78.) A Judge for the Riverside County Superior Court found probable cause for the issuance of the search warrant and signed and issued the warrant on February 3, 2011. (SUF ¶ 27; Exh. D at 228.)
Stolte is a sergeant in charge of the Special Enforcement Team. (Exh. G at 12.) He is responsible for day-to-day management of the team. (Id.) The team keeps him abreast of what they are working on, but he only knew "bits and pieces" of Rhodes' investigation of Tristen Pilato. (SUF ¶ 30; Exh. G at 13-14.) Rhodes' investigation did not require Stolte's personal attention or supervision, and it was not required that he be notified of Lopez' involvement. (SUF ¶ 29; Exh. G at 15.) Hamilton was not actively involved in Rhodes' investigation that led to the search warrant for the premises associated with Plaintiffs. (SUF ¶ 32; Hamilton Decl., ¶ 3.)
After the search warrant was signed, Rhodes put together a team to execute the warrant. (Exh. C at 76.) Everyone on the SET team was present at the execution of the warrant, including Rhodes, Hamilton, and Stolte.
(SUF ¶ 33; Exh. C at 77.) Stolte commanded the team. (SUF ¶ 34.)
The team found both Pilato and Thomas at the residence. (Exh. C at 77-78.) During the search of the house, the team found a pipe for smoking methamphetamine, the illegal drug ecstasy, potted marijuana plants, and a loaded handgun. (SUF ¶ 35.) Plaintiff Thomas was not legally permitted to possess a firearm, and Plaintiff Pilato was aware of this fact. (SUF ¶ 35, Exh. A at 5; Exh. B at 5.) Pilato appeared to Rhodes to be under the influence of a controlled substance while she was arrested. (Exh. C at 87.) She was fidgety, could not sit still, her speech was a little rapid, and her breath was rancid. (Id.) Thomas did not exhibit symptoms of intoxication. (Id.)
After the search was complete, Pilato and Thomas were arrested and booked into the county jail. (Exh. C at 88.) Pilato and Thomas provided blood or urine samples for testing. (SUF ¶ 36.) Pilato's sample came back positive for methamphetamine. (SUF ¶ 36; Exh. F.)
Defendants' asserted facts and supporting evidence are sufficient for the Court, lacking the benefit of any evidence or argument submitted by Plaintiffs, to find there is no triable issue of material fact as to any of Plaintiffs' claims. The Court considers below whether the undisputed facts entitle Defendants to judgment as a matter of law on each of Plaintiffs' claims.
A. Fabrication of False Evidence
In their first claim, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated their constitutional rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to be free from criminal charges on the basis of deliberately fabricated evidence by the government. As explained in Devereaux v. Abby, Plaintiffs must establish at least one of the following: "(1) Defendants continued their investigation of [them] despite the fact that they knew or should have know that [they were] innocent; or (2) Defendants used investigative techniques that were so coercive and abusive that they knew or should have known that those techniques would yield false information." 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir.2001). Plaintiffs proceed on the first theory, arguing that Defendants knew Plaintiffs were not drug distributers or manufacturers, nevertheless, they colluded to develop and use evidence they knew was false to establish probable cause to effectuate the search warrant. (Compl. at 8.)
The undisputed facts demonstrate that Plaintiffs were not innocent. Plaintiffs did, in fact, possess illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia, and a prohibited handgun. Plaintiffs admit these illegal items were found in their home.
Even assuming Plaintiffs were innocent, the undisputed facts do not reveal any evidence that Defendants continued their investigation despite reasonable facts demonstrating Plaintiffs' innocence. Defendants had sufficient facts to support a judicial finding of probable cause that Plaintiffs' residence contained evidence of a felony. Up to and including the execution of the search warrant, Defendants had substantial evidence tending to show that Plaintiffs were not innocent. Defendants corresponded via email and text with a person whose name, description, phone number, and physical address matched Pilato's. These communications included multiple coded references to Plaintiffs' illegal drug use and possession of illegal drugs in Plaintiffs' residence. Given this evidence, reasonable officers in Defendants' position would not have believed Plaintiffs were innocent.
In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege Kelly C., a confidential informant, reported to Defendants that she did not see any controlled substances in Plaintiffs' home. By extension, Plaintiffs argue that despite Kelly
C.'s evidence of Plaintiffs' innocence, Defendants continued to pursue a search warrant of Plaintiffs' home. First, "the district court is not required (or even allowed) to assume that the challenged factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint are true." Butler v. San Diego Dist. Attorney's Office, 370 F.3d 956, 963 (9th Cir. 2004). Even if Plaintiffs' allegations were true, Defendants possessed sufficient alternative evidence of Plaintiffs' illegal activity, detailed above, to reasonably believe that Plaintiffs were not innocent and to continue their investigation.
The Court concludes that Plaintiffs have failed to point to any evidence that Defendants continued their investigation although they knew or should have known that Plaintiffs were innocent. Devereaux, 263 F.2d at 1076. Thus, the Court finds that there is no genuine issue of material fact with respect to Plaintiffs' fabrication of evidence claim, and Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the First Claim.
B. Unreasonable Search
Plaintiffs Second Claim is that the search of Plaintiffs' home was unconstitutional because the warrant was obtained by judicial deception. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' inclusion in the warrant application of Kelly C.'s observations of controlled substances at Plaintiffs' residence was an instance of misrepresentation material to the finding of probable cause. (Compl. at 9.)
The Fourth Amendment protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend.
IV. To comport with the Fourth Amendment, "[a] search warrant . . . must be supported by an affidavit establishing probable cause." United States v. Mayer, 560 F.3d 948, 958 (9th Cir.2009) (internal citations omitted). In particular, the affidavit must establish a fair probability that contraband will be found at the particular place to be searched. Bravo v. City of Santa Maria, 665 F.3d 1076, 1083 (9th Cir.2011) (citing Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983)). A search "conducted pursuant to an ill-begotten or otherwise invalid warrant" may give rise to a constitutional claim for damages. Id. at 910.
A claim based on an invalid search warrant may be based on a claim of judicial deception; that is, the defendant misled the judge when applying for the warrant, and had the judge considered all of the facts, she would not have found probable cause. Chism v. Wash. State, 661 F.3d 380, 386 (9th Cir.2011). For such a judicial deception claim to survive summary judgment, a plaintiff must show that (1) a supporting affidavit "contained reckless or deliberate false statements and omissions" and (2) "the affidavit, once corrected and supplemented, would not have provided a magistrate judge with a substantial basis for finding probable cause." Id. at 388-89 (internal citations omitted).
The facts in the affidavit establish probable cause to search Plaintiffs' residence. As described above, Defendants connected numerous Craigslist ads using code words for illegal drugs with Pilato's email address, physical description, phone number, and home address. Further, Defendants engaged in a series of texts and emails discussing possession and use of ecstacy and methamphetamine with someone purporting to be Pilato. These communications reasonably confirmed Defendants' belief that illegal drugs would be found at Pilato's address. Thus, a reasonably prudent person with the same knowledge as Defendants could believe that drugs would be found at Plaintiffs' residence. Defendants' affidavit established probable cause sufficient to issue a search warrant.
Moreover, there is no evidence that Defendants' supporting affidavit included any false statements or omissions. Plaintiffs' allege that by including false statements by Kelly C. in the warrant application, Defendants deliberately misled the judge. However, the warrant application does not include any mention of or statements by Kelly C. or any other confidential informant. In addition, there is no evidence in the record that Defendants omitted facts "required to prevent technically true statements in the affidavit from being misleading." Bravo v. City of Santa Maria, 665 F.3d 1076, 1083 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing United States v. Stanert, 762 F.2d 775, 781, as amended, 769 F.2d 1410 (9th Cir.1985)).
Defendants had probable cause to search Plaintiffs' residence. Plaintiffs have not pointed to evidence in the record that creates a genuine issue of material fact regarding deliberate or reckless false statements in the warrant affidavit adequate to defeat summary judgment. Therefore, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on their Second Claim for unreasonable search.
C. Unreasonable Seizure
Plaintiffs' Third Claim is for false arrest or unreasonable detention. Plaintiffs allege that a reasonably prudent officer would have known that Plaintiffs were not subject to arrest or detention because there was no probable cause to believe they had committed a crime. (Compl. at 10.)
There are no undisputed facts that demonstrate Plaintiffs were detained prior to their arrest. It is conceivable from the facts that Plaintiffs were detained during Defendants' execution of the search warrant. This detention is clearly reasonable under Michigan v. Summers. 452 U.S. 692, 705 (holding that officers executing a search warrant for contraband have the authority "to detain the occupants of the premises while a proper search is conducted").
The Fourth Amendment requires that an arrest be supported by probable cause. Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 354 (2001); Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692, 700 (1981). An arrest is supported by probable cause if, under the totality of the circumstances known to the arresting officer, a prudent person would have concluded that there was a fair probability that the defendant had committed a crime. Luchtel v. Hagemann, 623 F.3d 975, 980 (9th Cir.2010); Beier v. City of Lewiston, 354 F.3d 1058, 1065 (9th Cir.2004).
Probable cause to arrest is an absolute defense to any claim under § 1983 against police officers for wrongful arrest or false imprisonment. Mustafa v. City of Chicago, 442 F.3d 544, 547 (7th Cir.2006); see also Cabrera v. City of Huntington Park, 159 F.3d 374, 380 (9th Cir.1998) ("To prevail on his section 1983 claim for false arrest ... [the plaintiff] would have to demonstrate that there was no probable cause to arrest him.").
The Court finds that Defendants had probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs. A valid search warrant existed allowing Defendants to enter Plaintiffs' home. Although the search warrant did not authorize Plaintiffs' arrest, incriminating evidence was found by Defendants during the search. Defendants found a pipe for smoking methamphetamine, the illegal drug ecstasy, and potted marijuana plants. That incriminating evidence provided Defendants the necessary probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs. See United States v. Brobst, 558 F.3d 982, 997 (9th Cir. 2009) ("[O]nce incriminating evidence is discovered by officers serving a valid search warrant, that evidence can provide probable cause for a warrantless arrest.") (citing United States v. Moreno, 891 F.2d 247 (9th Cir.1989)).
Since Defendants had probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs' false arrest claim. Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' Third Claim for unreasonable seizure is granted.
D. Qualified Immunity
The defense of qualified immunity protects "government officials ... from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). In Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001), the Supreme Court set forth a two-pronged test to determine whether qualified immunity exists. The threshold question is: "Taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do the facts alleged show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right?" Id. at 201. If no constitutional right was violated if the facts were as alleged, the inquiry ends and defendants prevail. See id. If, however, "a violation could be made out on a favorable view of the parties' submissions, the next, sequential step is to ask whether the right was clearly established . . . . 'The contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.' . . . The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted." Id. at 201--02 (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)). The Supreme Court recently emphasized the high burden that must be met for a plaintiff to overcome qualified immunity, replacing Anderson's language of "a reasonable offic[er]" with "every reasonable offic[er]" and stating that "existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate." Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S. Ct. 2074, 2083 (2011) (emphasis added).
Although Saucier required courts to address the questions in the particular sequence set out above, courts now have the discretion to decide which prong to address first, in light of the particular circumstances of each case. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009).
As shown in the three preceding sections, the undisputed evidence in the record does not establish any violations of Plaintiffs' Fourth, Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment rights. Defendants prevail on the first step of the Saucier analysis, so the Court need not proceed to the second step of the Saucier analysis. Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the qualified immunity defense.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS summary judgment in favor of Defendants on all three of Plaintiffs' claims.
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