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Willis v. County of Sacramento

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 8, 2016

SINCLAIR WILLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO, a government entity; SACRAMENTO COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT, a government entity; SCOTT R. JONES, individually and in his official capacity as SACRAMENTO COUNTY SHERIFF; DAVID CUNEO, individually; ADAM TEDFORD, individually; and DOES 1 through 20, inclusive, individually, jointly, and severally, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          MORRISON C. ENGLAND JR., JUDGE.

         Sinclair Willis (“Plaintiff”) initiated this action against Defendants County of Sacramento (“County”), Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department (“Sheriff’s Department”), Sheriff Scott Jones, and Officers David Cuneo and Adam Tedford (collectively “Defendants”) seeking to recover for injuries Plaintiff suffered when he was shot during the course of a burglary. Plaintiff alleges violations of both state and federal law, and, over the course of the parties’ motion practice, the Court previously granted in part and denied in part multiple motions to dismiss filed by Defendants. ECF Nos. 15, 22. Presently before the Court is Defendants’ subsequent Motion for Summary Judgment directed at all but one remaining claim. ECF No. 31. For the following reasons, that Motion is GRANTED in its entirety.[1]

         BACKGROUND[2]

         On January 27, 2012, at just after two o’clock in the morning, three Sheriff’s Department Deputies, Defendants Tedford and Cuneo and a non-defendant deputy, responded to an alarm at an “It’s a Grind” coffee shop in Galt, California. When Tedford and Cuneo arrived at the scene, they found Plaintiff burglarizing the store.[3] Plaintiff had utilized a 16-pound sledgehammer to smash his way through the glass front entrance, and Plaintiff still had the sledgehammer in his possession when he saw that officers had surrounded his car. When Plaintiff realized that law enforcement had arrived, he ran to the back of the store, looking for an exit. According to Plaintiff, he also wanted to get rid of the sledgehammer because he did not want the officers to think he intended to harm them. Having no luck finding a rear exit, Plaintiff ran back to the front of the store, leaned the sledgehammer against the counter and ducked down behind it.

         Cuneo approached the front of the shop and, when he shined his flashlight through the store window, saw Plaintiff duck behind the counter inside. The officers announced over the radio that a burglary was in progress and entered the store to apprehend Plaintiff. Since it was dark inside the building, the officers used their flashlights to navigate down the customer side of the shop’s L-shaped counter. The short side of the “L” faced the front door, and the officers made their way to the back of the long side toward an opening in the counter that allowed access to the employee section. In the meantime, Plaintiff had also headed toward the back of the store on the opposite side of the counter. As the deputies made their way around the counter, however, Plaintiff quickly switched course and darted back in the opposite direction, running down the employee side of the counter toward the front of the store.

         Deputy Cuneo followed Plaintiff down the employee side, while Deputy Tedford ran back toward Plaintiff on the customer side. Still running, Plaintiff grabbed the handle of the sledgehammer from where he had left it leaning against the counter, and hopped the counter toward the front exit. Cuneo saw Plaintiff jump onto the counter holding in his right hand in the manner he would if he was going to swing it what the officer thought was an axe. Plaintiff does not dispute this version of events, but emphasizes that he did not make any swinging or turning movements at any time. Cuneo believed that Tedford, who was still running down the customer side of the counter with only his flashlight for illumination, was about to intercept Plaintiff at the front of the store and that Tedford did not know Plaintiff was armed, so Cuneo shot Plaintiff. Officer Cuneo fired his weapon three times, hitting Plaintiff with the first two shots and missing on the third.

         According to Plaintiff, he dropped the sledgehammer during the course of his attempted escape when he was still standing on top of the counter and then he felt the first shot in his hip. It is undisputed that Plaintiff dropped the hammer near where he hit the ground on the other side of the counter. Plaintiff landed on all fours and felt the second shot in his lower back when he was located approximately two feet from the broken storefront. Cuneo’s third shot missed Plaintiff, who, although hit twice, had by then managed to crawl through the shattered glass at the front of the store. Less than twenty seconds had elapsed from the time the officers entered the coffee shop until Plaintiff jumped the counter and was shot, and it took only two seconds for Plaintiff to hop the counter and exit the building.

         Once outside, Plaintiff ran another 50 to 100 feet before he claims he gave up and voluntarily went to the ground. According to Plaintiff, Officer Tedford then kicked him in the ribs. Officer Tedford, on the other hand, contends that he caught Plaintiff and pushed him to the ground, but never kicked Plaintiff. Plaintiff was thereafter arrested and treated for two weeks at Kaiser Hospital before being discharged and booked into the County Jail, where he received additional medical care. As a result of his injuries, Plaintiff filed a claim with the County, pursuant to the California Tort Claims Act, California Government Code section 905, which was later denied. That claim made no reference to being kicked by Deputy Tedford.

         Plaintiff subsequently filed his instant suit in state court, alleging causes of action under both state and federal law for: violation of his federal civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985; violation of his state civil rights pursuant to Cal. Civ. Code §§ 52.1 and 51.7; as well as state common law claims for battery, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring, supervision and retention.

         After removing the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1441, Defendants filed two separate motions to dismiss, which both alleged that Plaintiff had failed to state various cognizable claims. Those motions were granted in part and denied in part, leaving the following claims for adjudication through the Motion for Summary Judgment now before the Court: (1) a § 1983 excessive force claim against Cuneo and a Monell-type claim against the County for the shooting; (2) a battery claim against Cuneo and the County (vicariously) for the shooting; (3) an intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) claim against Cuneo and the County (vicariously) for the shooting; (4) a § 1983 claim against Tedford for allegedly kicking Plaintiff; (5) a battery claim against Tedford and the County (vicariously) for the kick; (6) an IIED claim against Tedford and the County (vicariously) for the kick; and (7) a § 1983 Monell-type claim against the County, also for the kick. Defendants now move for summary judgment as to each cause of action except the § 1983 claim against Tedford. That motion is GRANTED.

         STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure[4] provide for summary judgment when “the movant 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); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (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). One of the principal purposes of Rule 56 is to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24.

         Rule 56 also allows a court to grant summary judgment on part of a claim or defense, known as partial summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (“A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought.”); see also Allstate Ins. Co. v. Madan, 889 F.Supp. 374, 378-79 (C.D. Cal. 1995). The standard that applies to a motion for partial summary judgment is the same as that which applies to a motion for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also State of Cal., on Behalf of Cal. Dep't of Toxic Substances Control v. Campbell, 138 F.3d 772, 780 (9th Cir.1998) (applying summary judgment standard to motion for summary adjudication).

         In a summary judgment motion, the moving party “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying” the portions in the record “which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. 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. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968).

         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. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 251-52 (1986); Owens v. Local No. 169, Ass’n of W. Pulp & Paper Workers, 971 F.2d 347, 355 (9th Cir. 1992). The opposing party must also demonstrate that the dispute about a material fact “is ‘genuine, ’ that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In other words, the judge needs to answer the preliminary question before the evidence is left to the jury of “not whether there is literally no evidence, but whether there is any upon which a jury could properly proceed to find a verdict for the party producing it, upon whom the onus of proof is imposed.” Id. at 251 (quoting Improvement Co. v. Munson, 81 U.S. 442, 448 (1871)). As the Supreme Court explained, “[w]hen the moving party has carried its burden under Rule [56(a)], its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to ...


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