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Cotta v. Robinson

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 27, 2014

YVONNE COTTA, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN COTTA AND AS GUARDIAN AD LITEM FOR MADISON COTTA; AND MADISON COTTA, A MINOR REPRESENTED BY GUARDIAN AD LITEM YVONNE COTTA, Plaintiffs,
v.
DAVE ROBINSON, Sheriff, et al., Defendants.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT (Doc. 48)

SANDRA M. SNYDER, Magistrate Judge.

On June 24, 2013, this Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 17). Subsequently, Defendants moved for reconsideration, repeating their arguments that (1) Plaintiff Yvonne Cotta lacks standing to bring claims as legal representative of the Estate of John Cotta; (2) Plaintiffs failed to comply with the notice requirements of the California Tort Claims Act (Cal. Gov. Code ยง 815); and (3) claims against public employees for negligent training, supervision, or control are improper as a matter of law. By its May 28, 2014 Order (Doc. 46), this Court granted Plaintiffs' request to file a Second Amended Complaint, which they did on that same date (Doc. No. 47). Now before the Court in the above-styled and numbered cause of action is Defendants' "Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint Wrongful Death-Negligence Claims, " filed June 11, 2014 (Doc. 48), by which Defendants repeat those same or similar arguments.

I. BACKGROUND

Factual Background[1]

According to the complaint, on June 29, 2010, Plaintiffs' decedent, John Cotta, [2] was a passenger in a car driven by Heath Parnell, a wanted parolee. After being spotted by police, Parnell led officers on a high speed chase through Kings County, which ended when police shot and wounded Parnell. Cotta surrendered and subsequently made at least two statements to investigators that inculpated Parnell.

Pending trial, Parnell and Cotta were confined in the Kings County jail. Because of the serious charges against him, Cotta was initially recommended for administrative segregation and protective custody. But since he had no history of violence or gang connections, on July 6, 2010, Defendant Sgt. S. Henderson ordered Cotta's placement in the jail's general population.

In February 2011, following pressure and intimidation from Parnell, Cotta asked to be celled with Parnell. Plaintiffs allege that Parnell wanted to minimize the likelihood of Cotta's cooperating with authorities or testifying against Parnell. Henderson approved the request but expressed skepticism. Parnell, who had a history of violent crime and a known association with Hell's Angels, had been cited for ten jail offenses; Cotta had been cited for five.

On January 16, 2012, Henderson approved continued housing of Cotta and Parnell in the same cell despite multiple jail offenses. Although Henderson warned Cotta and Parnell that further infractions would result in their being separated, they remained in the same cell until Cotta's death.

As Cotta and Parnell's joint trial approached, tensions between them increased. Their cell pod panic buttons tripped approximately thirty times. Reports indicated that Parnell's behavior was increasingly erratic through trial and while awaiting sentencing. Nonetheless, the co-defendants' custody status was never investigated or assessed.

In March 2012, Cotta and Parnell were tried jointly with separate juries. Ninety percent of the evidence was admitted against both defendants. Although Cotta did not testify against Parnell, his defense - that Parnell was the primary actor and Cotta an unwilling participant - was adverse to Parnell's defense.

The juries convicted both co-defendants. Scheduled to be sentenced on April 24, 2012, Parnell faced 180 years to life, plus ten years. On April 23, 2012, despite frequent rounds and audio monitoring, jail guards found Cotta dead in the cell he shared with Parnell, amidst evidence of trauma and violence.

Procedural History[3]

On July 30, 2012, the Estate of John Cotta, by its personal representative Yvonne Cotta, filed a claim for damage or injury with the County of Kings. On September 14, 2012, the Estate of John Cotta, Yvette Cotta, Yvonne Cotta, and Madison Marie Cotta submitted a claim pursuant to California Government Code Section 910 to Kings County.[4] Plaintiffs filed a complaint in this Court on March 12, 2013. On April 8, 2013, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which the Court granted in part and denied in part.

Defendants then moved for reconsideration on July 8, 2013 (Doc. 21), which the Court denied (Doc. 29). On July 5, 2013, the Court granted Plaintiffs' application for the appointment of Yvonne Cotta as guardian ad litem for Madison Cotta (Doc. 20). Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint on August 4, 2013 (Doc. 26). The Court granted Defendants an extension of time to file their response to Plaintiffs' amended complaint (Doc. 34). Defendants filed their answer to the ...


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