United States District Court, E.D. California
JOSE J. MARTINEZ, ELIDA ARIAS, JOSEPH D. MARTINEZ, and JESSE L. MARTINEZ Plaintiffs,
TIMOTHY WEBSTER, JASON COOK, THOMAS MOEBS, TOM FARA, DONNIE SCHWANDT, JOSEPH KNITTEL, and JOHN HALLFORD, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER RE: DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 31)
LAWRENCE J. O'NEILL, District Judge.
I. PRELIMINARY STATEMENT TO PARTIES AND COUNSEL
Judges in the Eastern District of California carry the heaviest caseloads in the nation, and this Court is unable to devote inordinate time and resources to individual cases and matters. Given the shortage of district judges and staff, this Court addresses only the arguments, evidence, and matters necessary to reach the decision in this order. The parties and counsel are encouraged to contact the offices of United States Senators Feinstein and Boxer to address this Court's inability to accommodate the parties and this action. The parties are required to reconsider consent to conduct all further proceedings before a Magistrate Judge, whose schedules are far more realistic and accommodating to parties than that of U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill, who must prioritize criminal and older civil cases.
Civil trials set before Judge O'Neill trail until he becomes available and are subject to suspension mid-trial to accommodate criminal matters. Civil trials are no longer reset to a later date if Judge O'Neill is unavailable on the original date set for trial. Moreover, this Court's Fresno Division randomly and without advance notice reassigns civil actions to U.S. District Judges throughout the nation to serve as visiting judges. In the absence of Magistrate Judge consent, this action is subject to reassignment to a U.S. District Judge from outside the Eastern District of California.
This case concerns the circumstances surrounding the March 4, 2011 detention of Plaintiffs Joseph D. and Jesse L. Martinez and the arrest of their father, Jose J. Martinez, by Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department (SCSD) officers Jason Cook, Thomas Moebs, Tom Fara, Donnie Schwandt, Joseph Knittel, and John Hallford and Stanislaus County Animal Control Officer Timothy Wester.
III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiffs filed their complaint on March 1, 2013, alleging that SCSD officers are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the seizure of Plaintiffs Joseph D., Jesse L., and Jose J. Martinez and search of their home and vehicle. Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiffs also allege that officers used excessive force in the detention and arrest of these plaintiffs. Id. SCSD Officers filed a motion for summary judgment on March 16, 2015 (MSJ), Doc. 31. Plaintiffs timely filed their opposition April 7, 2015. Mem. of P. & A.'s in Supp. in Opp'n (Opposition), Doc. 34. Defendants replied April 13, 2015. Defs.' Reply to Pls.' Opp'n. (Reply), Doc. 41. The motion was set for hearing April 21, 2015, but the hearing was vacated and the matter submitted for decision on the papers pursuant to Local Rule 230(g).
IV. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
On March 4, 2011, Wester arrived at Plaintiff's residence in Modesto, California to investigate a neighbor's complaint of a loose and threatening dog. Pls.' Statement of Disputed and Undisputed Facts (PSDUF), Doc. 35 # 1-2. Plaintiff Arias was issued a citation for a loose dog. PSDUF #2. Jose J. cursed at Wester. Id . Jose J. alleges that Wester then made a false police report against him, characterizing the cursing as "terrorist threats" and falsely indicating that Jose J. had a gun. Id. Plaintiff Arias recorded some of this interaction on her phone and then left the premises. Arias Decl., Doc. 37-6, ¶¶ 3, 9. Later that day, Officer Cook and several other SCSD officers, including Fara, Moeb and Schwandt, were dispatched to the residence to investigate the issue PSDUF # 3-4, 7, 11, 14. Wester had signed a citizen's arrest form, alleging that Jose J. made a criminal threat. PSDUF # 3. Officers were advised that the situation presented a possible "terrorist threat." PSDUF #6. Cook interviewed Wester and Jose. J. and his sons, Jessie L. and Joseph D. PSDUF #3-4. Officers perceived all three to be "irate and uncooperative." PSDUF #4, 8. Plaintiffs maintain that they had no choice but to obey commands as the officers had guns pointed at them. PSDUF #4, 8. All three were handcuffed while officers conducted a search of the area. PSDUF #4, 8. Jose J. alleges that Cook "slammed the patrol vehicle door" on his ankle as he was placed in the back of a patrol car. PSDUF #4-5. Plaintiffs allege that officers searched the residence and Jesse L.'s vehicle without a warrant. PSDUF # 8-9, 12. Officers state that they made a "security sweep" of the premises, but did not enter the residence. PSDUF # 10, 12. Cook placed Jose J. under arrest and transported him to jail. PSDUF #4. Arias was not present during these events. Arias Decl. ¶ 9. Officer Knittel was on-duty on March 4, 2011 but was not dispatched to the Martinez residence until after Jose J. was arrested and his sons were detained. PSDUF # 13.
V. STANDARD OF DECISION
Summary judgment is proper if the movant shows "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law; "irrelevant" or "unnecessary" factual disputes will not be counted. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
If the moving party would bear the burden of proof on an issue at trial, that party must "affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party." Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). In contrast, if the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on an issue, the moving party can prevail by "merely pointing out that there is an absence of evidence" to support the non-moving party's case. Id. When the moving party meets its burden, the non-moving party must demonstrate that there are genuine disputes as to material facts by either:
(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1).
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court does not make credibility determinations or weigh evidence. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Rather, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. Only admissible evidence may be considered in deciding a motion for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). "Conclusory, speculative testimony in affidavits and moving papers is insufficient to raise genuine issues of fact and defeat summary judgment." Soremekun, 509 F.3d at 984.
Defendants argue that the SCSD Officer Defendants are each entitled to summary judgment, but acknowledge that there are disputed factual issues regarding Plaintiff's claims against Wester, the animal control officer. MSJ 1-3.
Defendants argue that Knittel had no contact with any of the Plaintiffs and only appeared at the residence long enough to confirm that no assistance was needed; thus there is no basis for finding him liable for the search and seizure of Plaintiffs or their property. MSJ at 3. They present evidence in the form of Knittel's own testimony as support for this assertion. PSDUF # 13-14; Decl. of Joe Knittel, Doc. 31-5. Plaintiffs do not dispute these facts or oppose ...