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Zone Sports Center, LLC v. Rodriguez

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 26, 2016

ZONE SPORTS CENTER, LLC, a California limited liability corporation; HEIDI BARBIS, as guardian ad litem for CLAIRE BARBIS, a minor, Plaintiffs,
v.
BEN RODRIGUEZ, an individual, Defendant.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF ZONE SPORTS, LLC’S STANDING UNDER THE FOURTH AMENDMENT

          SHEILA K. OBERTO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiffs Zone Sports Center, LLC (“Zone”) and Claire Barbis, by and through her guardian ad litem Heidi Barbis (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), filed this civil rights suit against Defendant Benjamin Rodriquez (“Defendant”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. At the pretrial conference held June 23, 2016, the Court ordered the parties to brief the issue of whether Zone has standing under the Fourth Amendment as to any of the four properties searched on May 28, 2009, pursuant to a warrant supported by Defendant’s affidavit. For the reason’s set forth below, the Court finds that Zone does not have standing under the Fourth Amendment as to any of the four properties.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On May 27, 2009, Defendant, a criminal investigator for the California Department of Insurance Fraud, sought a search warrant for four locations: 3950 N. Cedar Avenue, Fresno, CA 93711, and 4020 N. Cedar Avenue, Fresno, CA 93711(two businesses); 4000 N. Cedar Avenue, Fresno, CA 93711 (a storage building); and 2536 W. Stuart Avenue, Fresno, CA 93711 (the Barbises’ family home) (collectively “the Properties”). Defendant believed that the searches would uncover evidence of insurance fraud, various types of workers’ compensation fraud, and unemployment insurance code violations. The warrant was signed by a Superior Court Judge, based upon a Statement of Probable Cause submitted by Defendant. The Statement of Probable Cause contained information attributed to Detective Rhames, a detective with the Fresno Police Department. The search warrant sought to seize various pieces of electronic equipment and various types of business records. On May 28, 2009, at approximately 7:30 a.m., the search warrant was executed at all four locations. Detective Rhames visited all four locations during the execution of the search warrant.

         III. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The amended complaint listed the following Plaintiffs: Milton Barbis; Heidi Barbis; their daughter, Claire Barbis; Fresno Rock Taco, LLC; The Fine Irishman, LLC; and Zone Sports Center, LLC. The claims of Milton and Heidi Barbis, Fresno Rock Taco, and The Fine Irishman were dismissed by this Court because they were not disclosed to the Bankruptcy Court as required by law. (Docs. 35 (dismissing claims because Barbises had not disclosed their claims on their schedule of assets); 64 (dismissing claims because the LLCs were wholly owned by Milton Barbis and John Benjamin -- individuals who had filed for bankruptcy -- and were not disclosed to the bankruptcy court).) Zone was not dismissed from the complaint because the Court found a genuine dispute remained as to whether it was judicially estopped from bringing its claims.[1] (Doc. 64, p. 6.) The Court also dismissed all claims against defendants Detective Rhames and the City of Fresno. (Doc. 64.) At this time, the only remaining claims in this case are Plaintiff’s claims for violation of the Fourth Amendment.

         Presently before the Court is the issue of whether Zone Sports Center has Fourth Amendment standing as to the Properties searched pursuant to the warrant.

         IV. RELEVANT LAW

         Under the Fourth Amendment, “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause. . . .” U.S. CONST. amend. IV. Application of this right “depends on whether the person invoking its protection can claim a justifiable, a reasonable, or a legitimate expectation of privacy that has been invaded by government action.” Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 740 (1979) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         A person has standing to sue for a violation of this particular “right of the people” only if there has been a violation “as to him, ” personally. Mancusi v. DeForte, 392 U.S. 364, 367 (1968). In other words, Fourth Amendment standing, unlike Article III standing, “is a matter of substantive [F]ourth [A]mendment law; to say that a party lacks [F]ourth [A]mendment standing is to say that his reasonable expectation of privacy has not been infringed.” United States v. Taketa, 923 F.2d 665, 669 (9th Cir. 1991). This follows from the Supreme Court’s famous observation that the Fourth Amendment “protects people, not places.” Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351 (1967).

         To prevail on a Fourth Amendment claim, plaintiffs must allege sufficient facts to show that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the object of the search. A reasonable expectation of privacy exists when: (1) a person “manifest[s] a subjective expectation of privacy in the object of the challenged search”; and (2) “society [is] willing to recognize that expectation as reasonable.” California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207, 211 (1986) (citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 360 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring)); see also United States v. McKennon, 814 F.2d 1539, 1543 (11th Cir. 1987) (the subjective prong is a factual inquiry).

         Plaintiffs must also allege sufficient facts to show that their expectation of privacy was objectively reasonable. A legitimate expectation of privacy “by definition means more than a subjective expectation of not being discovered.” United States v. Whaley, 779 F.2d 585, 590 (11th Cir. 1986) (internal quotation omitted). Determining the legitimacy of a privacy expectation entails a balancing of interests -- no single factor is determinative. Oliver, 466 U.S. at 177. Although there is no “talisman that determines in all cases those privacy expectations that society is prepared to accept as reasonable, ” O’Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709, 715 (1987), courts may consider “the uses to which the individual has put a location . . . and our societal understanding that certain areas deserve the most scrupulous protection from government invasion, ” Oliver v. U.S., 466 U.S. 170, 178 (1984); see also McKennon, 814 F.2d at 1543 (the objective prong is a question of law).

         “Privacy does not require solitude. . . . [E]ven ‘private’ business offices are often subject to the legitimate visits of coworkers, supervisors, and the public, without defeating the expectation of privacy unless the office is ‘so open to fellow employees or the public that no expectation of privacy is reasonable.’” United ...


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