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Rodriguez v. County of Los Angeles

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Second Division

July 2, 2013

FREDDY RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES et al., Defendants and Respondents.

APPEALS from judgments of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. No. BC446932 Kenneth R. Freeman, Judge.

Robert Mann and Donald W. Cook for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Joseph A. Langton, Deputy County Counsel; Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester, LLP and Steven J. Renick for Defendant and Respondent County of Los Angeles.

Lynberg & Watkins, S. Frank Harrell and Alexandru D. Mihai for Defendant and Respondent County of Orange.

ASHMANN-GERST, J.

Appellant Freddy Rodriguez sued respondents the County of Los Angeles and the County of Orange (collectively county defendants) as vicariously liable under Government Code section 815.2 for false imprisonment by sheriff’s deputies, after he was held in custody for 11 days pursuant to a bench warrant issued for another person. Relying on Venegas v. County of Los Angeles (2004) 32 Cal.4th 820 (Venegas), the trial court found that appellant’s claims were barred because a sheriff acts as a state agent as a matter of law in determining whether to hold someone in custody. Because Venegas dealt with federal claims under the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 1983) (section 1983), and we are confronted with a state law claim, we follow Sullivan v. County of Los Angeles (1974) 12 Cal.3d 710 (Sullivan), which held that a county can be held vicariously liable for false imprisonment by county employees.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Second Amended Complaint

The operative second amended complaint (SAC) alleges the following: On October 23, 2009, around 7:30 p.m., appellant was stopped by police for driving while talking on a cell phone. He handed over his driver’s license, which showed his name as Freddy Pantoja Rodriguez, his registration, and his proof of insurance. After the two officers held a discussion, appellant was told to step out of his car, and one of the officers said, “We got you now Ramos.” Appellant replied that his name was Rodriguez, not Ramos. One of the officers slammed him against a wall and asked if he had any weapons or tattoos, to which he replied “no.” The officer then looked under appellant’s shirt, and placed him in the patrol car.

It turns out that more than 20 years earlier, a no-bail bench warrant was issued by the Orange County Superior Court for the arrest of another man for a parole violation. The bench warrant stated the name as “RODRIGUEZ Alfredo Ramos.”[1]

Appellant was taken to the Los Angeles Police Department. He told the booking officer his true name, and asked that his fingerprints and photograph be taken. His requests were initially ignored, and he was told there was an outstanding warrant for him issued by the superior court in Inglewood for his nonappearance on a citation for a dog leash violation.

Appellant was finally fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a cell at the Los Angeles Police Department. Because October 23, 2009 was a Friday, appellant remained in custody at the department until Monday, October 26, 2009. On that day, he was taken to court in Inglewood, where he pled guilty to the dog leash infraction and was sentenced to time served.

Appellant was not released, but taken to the Los Angeles County jail, where he was called by the name of Ramos. He was subjected to physical abuse by jail personnel, including having apples thrown at him, and forced to paint cells and hallways during the night, despite having informed jail personnel that he had diabetes and high blood pressure.

On October 30, 2009, appellant was transported to the Orange County jail, where he repeated that he was not the person named in the bench warrant. He was placed in a gang cell and feared for his life. On November 2, 2009, appellant appeared in court in Orange County, where it was adjudicated that he was not the person named in the bench warrant, ...


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