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Molina v. City of Visalia

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 22, 2016

REYNALDA MOLINA, individually; JACQUELINE MENDEZ-MADUEÑA, individually; G.M., a minor; and N.A.C., a minor, and each of them, by and through their Guardian Ad Litem VERONICA AYON, Plaintiff,
CITY OF VISALIA, a municipal corporation; ADAM COLLINS; DANIEL ROBERTS; DIRK ALFANO, individually and in their official capacity; and DOES 4 through 100, inclusive, Defendants.


         On June 20, 2014, plaintiffs Reynalda Molina and Jacqueline Mendez-Madueña with minors G.M. and N.A.C. through guardian ad litem Veronica Ayon filed the currently operative second amended complaint ("SAC") against the City of Visalia, Officer Adam Collins, Officer Daniel Roberts, Officer Dirk Alfano, and DOES four through one hundred. (Doc. No. 40.) The action stems from a high speed chase involving the police, during which shots were fired that resulted in deaths of Ruben Molina and Edwardo Madueño. The SAC alleges causes of action for: (1) unreasonable search and seizure and use of excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) substantive due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) wrongful death under California Government Code §§ 815.2(a), 820(a) and California Civil Code § 43; (4) negligence survival action; (5) negligence under California Government Code § 815.2(a); and (6) assault and battery under California Government Code § 815.2(a). (Id.)

         On March 21, 2016, defendants filed a partial motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 56 seeking judgment in their favor as to: (1) any § 1983 claims relating to the high speed chase itself; (2) all claims against defendant Officer Alfano; and (3) all claims brought on behalf of plaintiff N.A.C. (Doc. No. 90.) Plaintiffs filed an opposition to defendants' motion for partial summary judgment in which plaintiffs sought a modification of the scheduling order to allow them to conduct additional discovery in order to oppose defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. Nos. 92 and 93.) Defendants filed a reply. (Doc. No. 94.) On April 19, 2016, the court heard oral arguments.

         At that hearing, plaintiffs' counsel represented that they had obtained additional evidence that Madueña held N.A.C. out as his child, but that this evidence was not before the court. Accordingly, the court provided plaintiffs' counsel ten days to submit a declaration with additional evidence with respect to this issue. (Doc. No. 96.) On April 29, 2016, plaintiffs submitted the declaration of Veronica Ayon and briefing arguing that the hearsay rule did not apply to the contents of Ayon's declaration. (Doc. No. 97.) On May 6, 2016, defendants filed a reply. (Doc. No. 98.) The motion was then taken under submission.

         For the reasons explained below, defendants' motion for partial summary judgment will be denied.

         Summary Judgment Standards

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party "shows that 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).

         Under summary judgment practice, the moving party "initially bears the burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." In re Oracle Corp. Securities Litigation, 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party may accomplish this by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically store information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admission, interrogatory answers, or other materials" or by showing that such materials "do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), (B).

         When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, "the moving party need only prove that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Oracle Corp., 627 F.3d at 387 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325.). See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B). Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should be granted, "so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment, . . ., is satisfied." Id. at 323.

         If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, see Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1433, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987).

         In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that "the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631. Thus, the "purpose of summary judgment is to ‘pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citations omitted).

         "In evaluating the evidence to determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact, " the court draws "all reasonable inferences supported by the evidence in favor of the non-moving party." Walls v. Central Costa County Transit Authority, 653 F.3d 963, 966 (9th Cir. 2011). It is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 602 F.Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D. Cal. 1985), aff'd, 810 F.2d 898, 902 (9th Cir. 1987). Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted).


         Defense counsel has submitted the parties' joint statement of undisputed material facts ("JSUMF"). (Doc. No. 90-3.) Plaintiffs' counsel has also submitted a separate statement of disputed facts in opposition to the pending motion. (Doc. No. 92-1.) The parties have also submitted declarations signed under penalty of perjury by their respective counsel indexing evidence to be considered on summary judgment. (Doc. Nos. 90-2 and 922.) As indicated above, with leave of court, plaintiffs filed a supplemental declaration by Veronica Ayon, Madueña's sister and duly appointed guardian ad litem for plaintiff N.A.C., after the hearing on the pending motion. (Doc. No. 97.) The evidence submitted by counsel for the pending motion for summary judgment establishes the following.

         1. N.A.C. is Madueña's biological daughter. (Doc. No. 92-18.)

         2. When N.A.C. was first born, Madueña believed N.A.C. was fathered by another man. (Doc. No. 97, at 3.)

         3. About two months after N.A.C. was born, around September 2010, Madueña traveled to Sacramento to visit N.A.C. to determine if she was his child. (Id.) During the visit, Madueña spent $80 to buy N.A.C. two pairs of shoes. (JSUMF 21.)

         4. When he returned from Sacramento, Madueña told his parents, siblings, and sister, Veronica Ayon that N.A.C. was indeed his child. (Doc. No. 97, at 3.) He acknowledged that N.A.C. looked just like him and has his eyes and the same smile. (Id. at 3-4.)

         5. Madueña only visited N.A.C. this one time before he passed away. (JSUMF 20-21.)

         6. On October 26, 2012, Officers Collins and Alfano were in a police cruiser when Officer Collins saw a car fail to come to a stop at a stop sign. (Doc. No. 90-2, at 14; JSUMF at 1.)

         7. The car was driven by Madueña, with Molina as the passenger in the front seat, and Nicholas Chavez, Robert Ruiz, and Shanele Alvarado as passengers in the back seat. (JSUMF 2.)

         8. The officers activated the emergency lights on their police vehicle to initiate a stop, but Madueña did not pull over. (JSUMF 3.)

         9. Madueña instead drove west down Highway 198 sometimes reaching speeds of ...

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