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Cota v. City of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

October 29, 2014

JAVIER COTA, Plaintiff,
CITY OF SAN DIEGO, et al., Defendants.


CYNTHIA BASHANT, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF 54-1. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES IN PART and GRANTS IN PART Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.


On June 4, 2011, Plaintiff Javier Cota ("Cota") and his nephew, Jamie Cota ("Jamie"), went to a bar in San Diego's Gaslamp District, where Cota drank about five alcoholic drinks. Pl.'s Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 1:9-11, ECF 65. After the bar closed at 2:00 a.m., Cota and Jamie met two unidentified women and joined them in a pedicab. Id. at 1:21-25. The women directed the pedicab back to their car. Id. Cota and his nephew waited in the pedicab for the women to go to their car, believing that after they went to the car the women would return. Id. at 26-28, 2:1. Cota then saw two men in dark clothing talking to the women and overheard one of the women say, "I'm not interested. Leave me alone." Id. at 2:10-13. Cota believed the men were "hitting on" the women. Id. at 2:20. From ten to fifteen feet away, Cota called out to the men, "why are you acting like dipshits to the women." Id. at 2:27.

From that distance away, Cota believed the men were Target security guards. Id. at 2:28; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 2:15-18, ECF 54-1 (citing Pl.'s Dep.). In fact, the men were San Diego Police Officers, Defendants Justin Mattly and Ariel Savage (collectively referred to as "Officers"). Pl.'s Opp'n 2:28; Defs.' Mot. 2:15-16 (citing Pl.'s dep.). Cota claims that the Officers' police car was thirty feet away with its blue and red lights off and that he did not hear the Officers ask the women if they intended to drive. Pl.'s Opp'n 4:5-6, 2:8.

After Cota called to the Officers, Officer Mattly told Cota to get out of the pedicab, arresting him for public intoxication pursuant to California Penal Code ยง 647(f). Id. at 3:9; Defs.' Mot. 3:6-7. The Officers arrested Cota because he yelled at them, appeared intoxicated, and they believed he might become violent or interfere with their investigation of the women. Pl.'s Opp'n 9:1-13. Cota admits he felt intoxicated and drunk at the time of the arrest. Defs.' Mot. 4:10 (citing to Pl.'s Dep.). However, Officer Savage did not ask Cota how much he drank that night until after he was arrested and did not ask him if he intended to drive. Pl.'s Opp'n 3:12-17. Officer Mattly admitted he arrested Cota before he smelled alcohol or knew of the possibility that Cota would drive a car. Id. at 9:8-10.

After the Officers arrested Cota, they placed him in the police car without double-locking his handcuffs, a measure that could have prevented them from tightening around his wrists. Id. at 4:7-16. On the way to the Volunteers for America Detox Center ("Detox"), the Officers drove erratically, turned the radio up, and could not hear Cota when he complained that the handcuffs were painful. Id. at 4:12-13. Cota attempted to reduce the pain by lying down in the police car, which gave the appearance that he had "passed out." Id. at 4:11-12.

After arriving at Detox, Cota informed the Officers that the handcuffs were painful. Consequently, the Officers loosened and double-locked Cota's handcuffs. Id. at 4:15-16.The Officers told Cota that they would not charge him with public intoxication if he checked into Detox. Cota refused, stating he wanted to speak to the Officers' supervisor. Id. at 4:16-18. The Officers took Cota back to police headquarters so Cota could speak to Defendant Sergeant Christopher Sarot to complain about the circumstances of his arrest. Id. at 4:19-21. Because Sergeant Sarot did not tell Cota the reason for his arrest, Cota requested to speak with the Lieutenant. Id. at 4:25-27. While speaking with Defendant Lieutenant Daniel Christman, Cota requested that Christman conduct an internal investigation regarding his arrest. Id. at 5:6-9. Lieutenant Christman denied the request and directed Cota to fill out a Citizens Complaint Form ("CCF"). Id.; Defs.' Mot. 5:27-28. Both Sergeant Sarot and Lieutenant Christman reported that Cota portrayed signs of intoxication, which included: bloodshot eyes, lack of eye-contact, inability to give lucid answers, and the smell of alcohol. Defs.' Mot. 4:19-25, 5:17-25.

After Cota filled out the CCF, the Officers took him back to Detox where he checked himself in. Pl.'s Opp'n 5:10, 6:22-26. According to an employee at Detox, Cota did not stumble, was able to pay the service fee, and was cooperative when he checked in. Id. at 6:21-28, 7:3.

To follow up on the June 4th incident, Cota spoke with Defendant Chief William Lansdowne's assistant, Defendant Officer Boyd Long, and traveled to San Diego to speak with Chief Lansdowne regarding his CCF. Id. at 7:16-18. Both Chief Lansdowne and Officer Long would not discuss the investigation with Cota because Cota had filed a lawsuit against the San Diego Police Department. Id. at 8:2-20.

Pursuant to the CCF, Defendant Sergeant Righthouse conducted an internal affairs investigation. Defs.' Mot. 6:2-3. He interviewed Cota, Jamie Cota, Officer Mattly, Officer Savage, and approximately fifty pedicab drivers. Id. at 7:15-16. Sergeant Righthouse also obtained closed-circuit footage from a pub that captured Cota and the Officers on the street. Id. at 7:13-14. The Citizens Review Board reviewed Sergeant Righthouse's findings and agreed the arrest was lawful and justified. Id. at 7:20-23.

Defendants now move for summary judgment on all causes of action alleged by Plaintiff. Plaintiff has agreed to dismiss the civil conspiracy and negligent employment claims. Pl.'s Opp'n 22:1-5, 26:2-3.


Summary judgment is appropriate on "all or any part" of a claim if there is an absence of a genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (" Celotex "). A fact is material when, under the governing substantive law, the fact could affect the outcome of the case. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 735 (9th Cir. 1997). A dispute about a material fact is genuine if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. One of the principal purposes of Rule 56 is to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24.

The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. "The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish, beyond the pleadings, that there is a genuine issue for trial." Miller v. Glenn Miller Prods., Inc., 454 F.3d 975, 987 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324).

"When the party moving for summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, it must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial. In such a case, the moving party has the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of fact on each issue material to its case." C.A.R. Transportation Brokerage Co., Inc. v. Darden Restaurants, Inc., 213 F.3d 474, 480 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoted by Miller, 454 F.3d at 987).

"In contrast, when the non-moving party bears the burden of proving the claim or defense, the moving party can meet its burden by pointing out the absence of evidence from the non-moving party. The moving party need not disprove the other party's case." Miller, 454 F.3d at 987 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325). "Thus, [s]ummary judgment for a defendant is appropriate when the plaintiff fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to[his] case, and on which [he] will bear the burden of proof at trial.'" Miller, 454 F.3d at 987 (quoting Cleveland v. Policy Management Sys. Corp., 526 U.S. 795, 805-06 (1999) (internal quotations omitted)).

A genuine issue at trial cannot be based on disputes over "irrelevant or unnecessary facts[.]" See T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). Similarly, "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position is not sufficient." Triton Energy Corp. v. Square D. Co., 68 F.3d 1216, 1221 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).[2] The party opposing summary judgment must "by [his or her] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P 56(e)). That party cannot "rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his or her] pleadings." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

The Court is not obligated "to scour the records in search of a genuine issue of triable fact." Keenan v. Allan, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing Richards v. Combined Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1995)). "[T]he district court may limit its review to the documents submitted for the purposes of summary judgment and those parts of the record specifically ...

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