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Leon v. San Jose Police Department

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

February 9, 2015

JOSEPH R. LEON, Plaintiff,


HOWARD R. LLOYD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Joseph R. Leon sues for alleged civil rights violations stemming from his arrest and conviction for possession and sale of narcotics. Now before the court is defendants' second motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff opposes the motion. All parties have expressly consented that all proceedings in this matter may be heard and finally adjudicated by the undersigned. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. Upon consideration of the moving and responding papers, as well as the arguments of counsel, the court grants the motion.


Unless otherwise indicated, the following background facts are undisputed.

In the late night hours of December 28, 2008, defendant Officers Kevin McClure and Brian Loftus were dispatched to plaintiff's residence in San Jose for possible domestic violence. When they arrived, plaintiff's father opened the door; and, according to Leon, officers walked into the house without permission. In response to the officers' query, plaintiff's father told them that plaintiff was in an upstairs bedroom. With guns drawn, the officers called for Leon, who came downstairs-at which time, officers handcuffed him and seated him on the couch. Leon says that he told them that he had an argument earlier with the brother of his girlfriend, Raquel Rosas, the suspected domestic violence victim. When officers asked if Rosas was at the residence, plaintiff's father directed them to an upstairs bedroom. Defendant McClure stayed with Leon while Loftus and other officers went upstairs.

Officers entered the bedroom where they observed a red flag with a Huelga bird hanging on one wall. Rosas, who was on juvenile probation with a search/seizure clause and gang conditions, denied any domestic violence. And, officers found no evidence of injury. While conducting a protective sweep of the area, however, they detected a strong odor of marijuana coming from the bedroom closet. After a search, officers found a stash of cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamines.

Leon and Rosas were arrested and charged with possession and sale of narcotics. As part of a negotiated plea agreement, Leon pled no contest to the narcotics charges (Cal. Health & Safety Code §§ 11351, 11359, 11378) and admitted to a criminal street gang enhancement. (Cal. Pen. Code § 186.22(b)(1)(a)). He served several months in jail and was placed on probation. The charges against Rosas subsequently were dismissed.

Leon filed the instant lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged false arrest/imprisonment; unlawful search and seizure; and negligence. His First Amended Complaint (FAC), the operative pleading, lists claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as California Civil Code section 52.1.

Defendants now move for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claims are barred by the collateral estoppel doctrine; (2) there was no Fourth Amendment violation, in any event; (3) plaintiff has no evidence supporting a claim for violation of his equal protection rights; (4) plaintiff has no evidence supporting Monell[1] liability; (5) defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; and (6) plaintiff has no viable state law claim. For the reasons discussed below, defendants' summary judgment motion is granted.


A motion for summary judgment should be granted if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion, and identifying portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, or affidavits which demonstrate the absence of a triable issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In order to meet its burden, "the moving party must either produce evidence negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim or defense or show that the nonmoving party does not have enough evidence of an essential element to carry its ultimate burden of persuasion at trial." Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Fritz Companies, Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000).

If the moving party meets its initial burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce evidence supporting its claims or defenses. See Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd., 210 F.3d at 1102. The non-moving party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's evidence, but instead must produce admissible evidence that shows there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. See id. A genuine issue of fact is one that could reasonably be resolved in favor of either party. A dispute is "material" only if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49.

"When the nonmoving party has the burden of proof at trial, the moving party need only point out that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'" Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325). Once the moving party meets this burden, the nonmoving party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, ...

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