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Alegrett v. City and County of San Francisco

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 13, 2014



MARIA-ELENA JAMES, Magistrate Judge.


In this lawsuit, Plaintiff Eduardo Enrique Alegrett ("Plaintiff") brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and related state law claims against Defendants City and County of San Francisco (the "City"), San Francisco Police Department ("SFPD"), SFPD Chief of Police Greg Suhr, and Officer Matthew Sullivan (collectively, "Defendants"), relating to his arrest on February 27, 2012. Compl., Dkt. No. 1. Defendants move for Partial Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's second, third, seventh and ninth claims for relief, arguing that Plaintiff cannot establish municipal liability or standing for purposes of an injunction. Dkt. No. 43. Plaintiff filed an Opposition on December 17, 2013. Dkt. No. 52. Defendants filed their Reply on December 24, 2013. Dkt. No. 59. Having carefully considered the papers submitted by the parties, relevant legal authority, and the record in this case, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion for the reasons explained below.


A. Factual Background

On February 27, 2012, Officers Ralph Kugler and Hamdy Habib of the SFPD responded to a call of a battery in progress at 88 Perry Street. Defs.' Req. for Jud. Notice ("RJN"), Ex. A (Preliminary Hearing ("Prelim.)) 96:7-11; Russi Decl. Ex. A (Sullivan Depo.) 18:12-19:12, Ex. B (Incident Rpt.), Dkt. No. 47. When they arrived at the building, the suspect had left. Prelim. 42:3-6, 96:21-27; Incident Rpt. The officers interviewed witnesses, who stated that Plaintiff had assaulted and battered a neighbor and the building manager. Prelim. 12:26-14:4, 37:3-11, 40: 16-27, 43: 20-26; Russi Decl. Ex. C (Brown Depo.) 14: 12-25, 24: 5-13, Dkt. No. 46. Plaintiff returned during the interview.[1] Prelim. 44:1-9, Brown Depo. 24: 5-13. Plaintiff told Officer Kugler that he had a gun and that he was going to use it. Prelim. 96:21-97:11; Russi Decl. Ex. D (Kugler Depo.) 31:25-32:14. Plaintiff concealed his hand behind his back while he made these statements. Id. (Kugler Depo.) 31:25-32:14.

Officer Kugler drew his firearm and then requested backup by pressing the emergency button on his radio. Prelim. 98:3-7; Kugler Depo. 31:25:32:14. Officer Habib, who had been outside retrieving some forms, responded to the third floor after hearing Officer Kugler's request for help. Prelim. 115:3-27. The officers tackled Plaintiff and got him to the ground. Kugler Depo. 38:15-39:3. Plaintiff refused to submit to an arrest. Kugler Depo. 39:1-5; Russi Decl. Ex. E (Habib Depo.) 10:14-11:6; Prelim. 117:1-21. On the ground, Plaintiff struggled with the officers, who did not know whether Plaintiff had a gun. Kugler Depo. 31:25-32:14; Prelim. 99:27-100:23. Officer Habib sprayed Plaintiff in the face with pepper spray. Habib Depo. 15:25-16:2; Prelim. 118:11-21. The pepper spray did not appear to have any effect on Plaintiff. Kugler Depo. 8:19-9:11. Plaintiff also told the officers that he had AIDS, spit on the officers, clawed at Officer Habib's face, and attempted to bite the officers. Kugler Depo. 13:25-14:3; Habib Depo. 10:14-11:1, 13:10-14:8, 18:16-23; Prelim. 100:4-101:7. During this encounter, Plaintiff wiped the pepper spray off of his own face and onto Officer Habib's face, obscuring the officer's vision, and preventing him from effectively assisting Officer Kugler in restraining Plaintiff's arms. Habib Depo. 15:14-16:4, 16:21-17:17.

Officer Sullivan and his partner, Officer Peralta, responded to the officers' call for back up. Sullivan Depo. 18:12-19:21. When Officer Sullivan arrived on the third floor, he immediately could tell that pepper spray had been deployed because he smelled it and felt the effects. Sullivan Depo. 20:20-21:5; Prelim 75: 7-27. He ran down the hallway and saw Officers Kugler and Habib struggling to gain control of Plaintiff. Sullivan Depo. 9:5-22; Prelim. 76:5-22. Officer Kugler told Officer Sullivan that Plaintiff was biting and spitting and that he said that he had a gun. Sullivan Depo. 9:25-10:4. Officer Sullivan attempted to gain control of Plaintiff's hands, but could not get them away from his chest. Id. 10:5-14. Officer Sullivan then hit Plaintiff in the head ten times with a closed fist in order to distract Plaintiff so that the officers could get him under control and into handcuffs. Id. 9:23-10:14, 12:1-13:4; Prelim. 76:23-77:8, 77:24-79:17. The tactic worked, and Plaintiff was arrested. Kugler Depo. 22:17-23:7. A portion of the incident was captured on a cell phone video by civilian witnesses. Lagos. Decl. Ex. 3 and 4, Dkt. No. 53.

Plaintiff has no recollection of the incident underlying this case. Undisputed Material Facts ("UMF") No. 6, Dkt. No. 49. The last memory he has was about a week before this incident, and the next memory he has is being in the hospital after the incident happened. Id. However, Plaintiff pled guilty to charges arising out of this incident. Russi Decl. Ex. F. (Alegrett Depo.) 162:14-22.

B. Undisputed Facts

The SFPD has a policy that prohibits the use of unreasonable force. UMF No. 1. The City trains officers to comply with the POST guidelines on use of force, which prohibit the use of unreasonable force. Id. No. 5. POST is the statewide standard for peace officer training. Id.

The SFPD has policies and procedures in place for investigating and disciplining officers for misconduct, including for using excessive force. Id. No. 2. The Office of Citizen Complaints ("OCC") is an independent agency of the City created by Section 4.127 of the San Francisco Charter. Id. OCC is charged with investigating citizen complaints concerning the conduct of on-duty police officers. Id. Each complaint received by the OCC is fully investigated by a staff of trained investigators. Id. Complaints of misconduct are not in and of themselves proof that such misconduct was committed. Id. Complaints may be meritless, frivolous, mistaken, or otherwise without legal or factual basis. Id. Where a complaint is investigated and substantiated, the OCC will make a finding sustaining such complaint, and refer the officer to the SFPD for discipline. Id. The officer may contest that finding through a Department or Police Commission hearing process. Id. If OCC recommends sustaining a complaint and the Department declines to discipline the officer or if OCC believes more severe discipline should be imposed, OCC has the option of bringing disciplinary charges against the officer before the Police Commission. Id.

The SFPD has a long standing written policy that complaints of misconduct be taken seriously and that such complaints be systematically reviewed in order to learn of officer behavior or patterns that need to be addressed. Id. No. 3. The policy is contained in the Department General Order 3.19 (Early Intervention System) and 5.01(N) (Reporting and Investigating Use of Force), which addresses San Francisco Police officers who receive complaints of excessive force. Id. The Early Intervention System policy dictates the Department's handling and response to officers who fall within its guidelines. Id. The policy identifies officers with a pattern of behavior and requires an elevated course of counseling and training for those officers who meet certain criteria within the policy. Id. Officers come within the scope of the program based on the number of citizen complaints, documented uses of force, and other potential indicators. Id.

The SFPD also has a specialized unit called Internal Affairs that investigates complaints of misconduct, including complaints of excessive force, made by employees or officers of the SFPD against officers. Id. No. 4.

C. Disputed Facts

Plaintiff asserts that the SFPD has an unwritten de facto custom or practice that ignores the official written use of force policy and encourages the use of unreasonable force in contravention of the SFPD's written policy. Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts No. 1, Dkt. 52-1. Plaintiff contends that the SFPD has a policy, custom, or practice of failing to train officers to recognize citizens with mental or emotional breakdowns. Id. No. 2. Plaintiff also contends that SFPD has a policy, custom, or practice of failing to train officers to appropriately respond to citizens in crisis who are armed (whether or not they are a threat to another person) to de-escalate the situation and/or to obtain compliance with officer commands. Id. No. 3.

D. Procedural Background

On October 29, 2012, Plaintiff filed the present Complaint, asserting eight causes of action: (1) a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") alleging excessive force against Officer Sullivan; (2) a Section 1983 Monell [2] claim against Chief Suhr and the City; (3) an assault claim against Officer Sullivan; (4) a battery claim against Officer Sullivan; (5) a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against Officer Sullivan; (6) a negligence claim against Officer Sullivan; (7) a Section 1983 Monell claim against Chief Suhr and the City based on negligent hiring, training, discipline, and supervision; (8) a claim of violation of California Civil Code § 52.1, alleged against Officer Sullivan and the City; and (9) a Section 1983 Monell claim against Chief Suhr and the City for injunctive and declaratory relief.

On December 3, 2013, Defendants filed the present Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to: (1) the Section 1983 Monell claims against the City and Chief Suhr in the Second and Seventh Causes of Action; (2) the assault claim against Officer Sullivan in the Third Cause of Action; and (3) the claim for declaratory and injunctive relief in the Ninth Cause of Action.[3]

Plaintiff filed an Opposition on December 17, 2013. Opp'n, Dkt. No. 52. Plaintiff did not oppose Defendant's motion as to the Third (Assault) and Seventh ( Monell - Failure to Train or Discipline) claims for relief. Opp'n, Dkt. no. 52, at 17. Plaintiff also stated that he no longer asserts ...

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