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Moreno v. Quemuel

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Second Division

September 17, 2013

MARK C. MORENO, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
ROWELL SAN-LUIS QUEMUEL, Defendant and Respondent.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. BC452431, Debre Katz Weintraub, Judge. Affirmed.

Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison, Vincent James DeSimone, Michael D. Seplow and Erin M. Pulaski for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Collins Collins Muir Stewart, Melinda W. Ebehar and Catherine M. Mathers for Defendant and Respondent.

ASHMANN-GERST, Acting P. J.

We hold that when a peace officer opens his or her door as a precursor to exiting a patrol car and making contact with a motorist during a traffic stop, the peace officer is in “immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law” for purposes of the immunity set forth in Vehicle Code section 17004.[1] In that situation, the peace officer cannot be held liable for opening his or her door in the path of a motorcyclist and causing injury. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court properly applied section 17004 when it granted summary judgment in favor of respondent and defendant Rowell San-Luis Quemuel (Quemuel), a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, against plaintiff and appellant Mark C. Moreno (Moreno).

The judgment is affirmed.

FACTS

Quemuel is a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff. On March 26, 2010, he was driving a marked patrol car and saw a motorist fail to obey a one-way street sign. Quemuel activated his red and blue overhead lights and pursued. Moreno, who was riding a motorcycle, saw the overhead lights from two or three blocks away. The motorist pulled over to the curb on Sunset Boulevard. As part of the traffic stop, Quemuel opened his driver side door so he could exit the patrol car and make contact with the motorist. Moreno collided into the car door.

Alleging that Quemuel opened his door in violation of section 22517, [2] Moreno sued Quemuel for negligence and negligence per se.

Quemuel moved for summary judgment based on the theory that he was immune from liability based on, inter alia, section 17004. The trial court granted the motion. This appeal followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

An order granting summary judgment is subject to de novo review. (Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 317, 334.) So too is statutory interpretation. (Goodman v. Lozano (2010) 47 Cal.4th 1327, 1332.) When interpreting a statute, “our primary goal is to determine and give effect to the underlying purpose of the law. [Citation.]” (Ibid.) If the meaning of a statute is unmistakable, that meaning must be accepted. But if a statute is unclear or ambiguous, we may interpret its language in light of the statutory scheme, objects to be achieved, evils to be remedied, legislative history, public policy, and contemporaneous administrative construction. (Pacific Palisades Bowl Mobile Estates, LLC v. City of Los Angeles (2012) 55 Cal.4th 783, 803.) In addition, we may consider the consequences that will flow from a particular interpretation. (California Ins. Guarantee Assn. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 1328, 1338.)

DISCUSSION

Section 17004 provides immunity for a public employee who causes injury while operating an authorized emergency vehicle “when in the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law[.]” We give the word “immediate” its commonsense interpretation, meaning something that is ...


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