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Santos v. Kisco Senior Living, LLC

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

July 22, 2016

MARIA DELALUZ SANTOS, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
KISCO SENIOR LIVING, LLC et al., Defendants and Appellants.

         APPEAL from a judgment and order of the Superior Court of San Diego County No. 37-2013-00057882- CU-PO-NC Robert P. Dahlquist, Judge.

Page 863

         COUNSEL

         Carothers Disante & Freudenberger, Dave Carothers, Karimah J. Lamar and Jing Y. Li for Defendants and Appellants.

         Law Offices of Ramona R. Hallam, Ramona R. Hallam; Law Office of Deborah E. Brady-Davis and Deborah E. Brady-Davis for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Page 864

         OPINION

         AARON, J.

         I.

         INTRODUCTION

         After a series of thefts from residents at a residential community for the elderly called Cypress Court, police advised Cypress Court's management to install video cameras and place bait money in some of the residents' apartments, in an attempt to catch the thief. After doing so, on July 18, 2012, Cypress Court's resident relations director, defendant Tamara Gutierrez, determined that bait money that had been planted in a box in an elderly person's apartment had been removed. That same day, Gutierrez and Cypress Court's executive director, appellant Ricky Lansford, reviewed surveillance video that potentially implicated respondent Maria Delaluz Santos, who worked at Cypress Court as a resident assistant. Lansford and Gutierrez decided to call police.

         Within a couple of hours, police arrived at Cypress Court and reviewed the video. After viewing the video, the police interviewed and searched Santos. Santos denied committing the theft and was not found to be in possession of the bait money. While the police were at Cypress Court, Lansford signed a form provided to him by a police officer, which effectuated a citizen's arrest of Santos. The officer gave Santos a notice to appear on the charge of petty theft and escorted her from the facility. The district attorney subsequently filed a criminal complaint against Santos, but, in December 2012, the charges were dismissed.

         Santos filed this action in July 2013 against Gutierrez, Lansford, and two entities that either partially owned or managed Cypress Court, appellants Kisco Senior Living, LLC and KRC ESC Corp. (collectively "Kisco"), alleging numerous causes of action, including assault and battery, defamation, malicious prosecution, negligence, false arrest and intentional infliction of emotional distress. After the close of evidence, defendants moved for nonsuit and a directed verdict with respect to all of Santos's claims. The trial court granted the motion for nonsuit with respect to all of the claims asserted against Gutierrez, and all of the claims against the remaining defendants with the exception of the false arrest and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims. The jury returned a verdict against Kisco and Lansford (collectively "appellants") on the false arrest claim and in favor of appellants on the

Page 865

intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.[1] The jury awarded Santos $65, 965 in damages, and the trial court entered a judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict.

         Appellants filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) in which they claimed that they were absolutely immune from Santos's false arrest claim pursuant to an immunity provision (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 15634)[2] in the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (the Act) (§ 15600 et seq.). Appellants argued that the undisputed evidence established that Lansford was a mandated reporter under the Act, that Santos's claim was based on Lansford's "action of furthering the investigation [into elder abuse] by signing the citizen's arrest form, " and that section 15634 prevents mandated reporters from being held liable for acts that "stem[ ] from [the] duty to report suspected financial abuse of an elder." The trial court denied the motion, stating that the court was "not persuaded... that the mandated reporter immunity... bar[s] the false arrest claim...."

         On appeal, among other contentions, appellants claim that the undisputed facts establish that they are absolutely immune from Santos's false arrest claim and that the trial court erred in denying their motion for JNOV on this ground.[3] We agree. The sole published appellate case applying section 15634 concludes that the immunity provided in the statute is "sweeping in its breadth." (Easton v. Sutter Coast Hospital (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 485, 491 [95 Cal.Rptr.2d 316] (Easton).) Further, in reviewing cases construing a nearly identical immunity provision for mandated reporters in the context of child abuse (Pen. Code, § 11172), this court has stated, "Without exception, our appellate courts have concluded that immunity is a key ingredient in maintaining the Act's integrity and thus have rejected efforts aimed at narrowing its protection." (Stecks v. Young (1995) 38 Cal.App.4th 365, 375 [45 Cal.Rptr.2d 475].) For example, courts have concluded that mandated reporters may not be sued either for "conduct committed in furtherance of diagnosing whether abuse occurred, " (Arce v. Childrens Hospital Los Angeles (2012) 211 Cal.App.4th 1455, 1492 [150 Cal.Rptr.3d 735] (Arce)), or for "communications between the reporter and the public authorities responsible

Page 866

for investigating or prosecuting... abuse." (Robbins v. Hamburger Home for Girls (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 671, 679 [38 Cal.Rptr.2d 534] (Robbins).)

         We conclude that section 15634 similarly protects mandated reporters from liability for conduct that is integrally related to a report of suspected elder abuse, and further conclude that the undisputed evidence establishes that Lansford's acts in this case constituted such conduct. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment and the trial court's order denying appellants' motion for JNOV and remand the matter to the trial court with directions to grant appellants' motion and enter judgment in favor of appellants.[4]

         II.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND[5]

         A. Thefts at Cypress Court

         Beginning in March 2012, there was a large increase in the number of thefts at Cypress Court.[6] Between March and July of that year, residents or their family members reported nine instances of theft to Gutierrez.

         On June 25, 2012, a resident, Mr. N., together with a family member, reported a series of thefts to Gutierrez that they believed had been occurring over a period of approximately a month. They told Gutierrez that $250 was missing from a lockbox in Mr. N.'s room and $45 was missing from his wallet. Cufflinks and a wedding ring were also missing. The police investigated the thefts.

         While investigating one of the thefts, police advised Gutierrez to speak with Detective Thompson of the Escondido Police Department concerning possible actions that Cypress Court could take concerning the thefts. Gutierrez and Lansford met with Detective Thompson. According to Gutierrez,

Page 867

         Detective Thompson recommended that Cypress Court purchase video cameras and "set up some bait money, " in an attempt to catch the thief. Gutierrez installed video cameras in some of the resident's apartments, including in Mr. N.'s.

         B. Gutierrez and Lansford suspect that Santos is responsible for the thefts

         On July 17, 2012, Gutierrez placed bait money inside an unlocked box in Mr. N.'s apartment. The following morning, Gutierrez went to Mr. N.'s apartment. Gutierrez looked inside the box and discovered that $40 was missing. Gutierrez then reviewed a video recording that "showed [Santos] near the [box] and touching the [box]."

         Gutierrez explained that the video camera from which the recording was taken was motion activated, that she had watched all of the recordings between the time the bait money was placed in the box and the time the money was discovered missing, and that Santos was the only person near the box during this time. Gutierrez acknowledged, however, that the camera did not detect all motions in the room. Although she was not certain that Santos had taken anything out of the box, Gutierrez considered Santos's behavior on the video to be "suspicious, " and felt that it "was necessary to report this to the police because [Gutierrez is] a mandated reporter."

         Gutierrez asked Lansford to review the video clip of Santos that Gutierrez considered suspicious. Gutierrez and Lansford reviewed the video recording together. After doing so, Gutierrez and Lansford agreed that they should call the police. Gutierrez placed the call.

         C. The police investigation

         At some point later that same day, Christi Torres, an employee in the human resources department at Cypress Court, went to a room in which Santos was working, directed Santos to come with her, walked Santos down to the lobby, and told Santos to wait in a chair in the lobby. Torres then went into Lansford's office, which was next to the lobby. Santos waited in the lobby as directed by Torres. After approximately two hours, Santos saw police officers arrive at Cypress Court.

         Santos's supervisor brought her into Lansford's office. The supervisor, Lansford, Torres, and some police officers were in the room. The officers asked Santos whether she had been in Mr. N's room. Santos acknowledged that she had been in Mr. N.'s room in order to get him out of bed, clean his room, and send him to breakfast. The officers asked Santos whether she had taken anything from Mr. N.'s room. Santos denied having taken anything.

Page 868

The officers then instructed Santos to empty her pockets, which she did. Santos took a cookie wrapper, a phone, some gloves, a pager and a radio out of her pockets. After the search, everyone left Lansford's office, except for Santos and one police officer. Santos asked the officer what she was being accused of. The officer responded, "They have nothing on you."

         A male police officer told Santos that they were going to have a female officer search her. Santos responded that she had $30 in her sock.[7] The serial numbers on the bills taken from Santos's sock did not match the serial numbers of the bait money. A female officer arrived and searched Santos. During the search, the officer touched Santos's breast area and waist area in a manner that Santos found offensive. None of the bait money was recovered during either of the searches, nor at any other time.

         D. Santos is arrested and charged with a crime, but charges are later dismissed

         At some point while the police were at Cypress Court, [8] Lansford signed a form that effectuated a citizen's arrest of Santos.[9] The citizen's arrest form is part of a July 18 arrest report that appears to be entitled, "San Diego Regional County Arrest/Juvenile Contact Report."[10] The first page of the two pages of the report that are in the record is written by Officer Lewis Shaver. The report states that the arrest occurred at 1:45 p.m. on July 18, 2012, lists Santos as the "arrestee, " states the charge "PC 488 petty theft, " and states that the victim of the offense is "Cypress Court Retirement."

         The second of the two pages of the report contains a box labeled "Citizen Arrest." The box states, "I have arrested ___." Santos's name is handwritten on the line. ...


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