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Campos v. County of Kern

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 7, 2017

COUNTY OF KERN, et al., Defendants.


         This matter came before the court on March 15, 2016, for hearing of defendants' motion for summary judgment. At that hearing, Deputy County Counsel Marshall Fontes appeared telephonically on behalf of the defendants, County of Kern, Jason Ayala, and Joshua Bathe, and attorney Greg W. Garotto appeared telephonically on behalf of plaintiff, Keanu Ethan Campos. Oral argument was heard and defendants' motion was taken under submission.

         For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.


         The evidence before the court on summary judgment establishes the following. On August 8, 2013, plaintiffs father, Luis Gabriel Campos (“decedent”), was arrested and booked into the Kern County Jail Receiving Facility (“Kern County Jail”) as a pre-trial detainee. (Doc. No. 19 at 3.) Decedent had a history of exhibiting suicidal behavior, and had been placed on suicide watch during his prior incarcerations at the Kern County Jail which occurred in 2012. (Doc. No. 40-10.) After being arrested and booked into the county jail on August 8, 2013, the decedent harmed himself by intentionally hitting his head against his cell bar doors, and was subsequently moved to a padded cell located in the basement of the Kern County Jail. (Doc. No. 36-5 at 90-91.)

         On the morning of August 10, 2013, decedent was moved to the Kern County Jail B-Deck. (Id. at 90.) B-Deck is an area of the jail that houses both general population inmates and detainees on suicide watch. (Id. at 97-98.) The area has three primary suicide cells designated as: B4-1, B4-2, and B4-3, located along the No. 4 hallway of the facility. (Id. at 87.) Cells B4-2 and B4-3 have loop cameras that monitor those cells, but cell B4-1 does not. (Doc. No. 40-7 at 8.) Decedent was placed in cell B4-1. (Doc. No. 36-5 at 90-91.)

         Kern County Jail has policies in place addressing procedures with respect to suicidal detainees. (Doc. No. 38 at 8, ¶ 20.) Those policies require that such inmates wear paper clothing and that Kern County Jail officers monitor suicidal prisoners twice every thirty minutes, recording their observations in an inmate observation logbook. (Id. at 9-10, ¶¶ 22, 24.)

         Deputies Sean Collier and Christopher Saldana were working in the B-Deck area from 11 p.m. August 9, 2013, to 7 a.m. August 10, 2013, when decedent was transferred to cell B4-1. (Id. at 11, ¶¶ 25-26.) Deputies Collier and Saldana monitored decedent twice every thirty minutes and noted their observations of him in an inmate observation logbook. (Id. at 16, ¶ 41.) Deputy Saldana performed the last shift check of decedent in his cell at 6:52 a.m. on August 10, 2013. (Id. at 17, ¶ 42.)

         At 7:00 a.m., Deputies Ayala and Bathe relieved Deputies Saldana and Collier on the B-Deck. (Id. at 21, 24, ¶¶ 52, 60.) Deputy Ayala performed a face count of all detainees on B-Deck at the beginning of that shift, and has declared that he observed decedent laying on his bed, apparently asleep, at that time. (Doc. No. 36-5 at 25-28.) Deputy Ayala then obtained the nursing call list, and went to visit decedent's cell to ask if he still wanted to be seen by a nurse. (Id. at 32.) At that time, approximately 7:07 a.m. on August 10, 2013, Ayala found decedent sitting in his cell with a cord noose fastened around his neck and tied to the cell bars. (Id. at 36; Doc. No. 40-2 at 3-4.) The noose was fashioned from a section of the electrical cord of a fan located in the hallway outside of decedent's cell. (Doc. No. 40-2 at 9.) The fan had part of a black electrical cord attached to it, but the end not attached to the fan was frayed with the wires exposed and had grey duct tape wrapped around it. (Doc. No. 40-2 at 9.) The cell bars of decedent's cell were measured to be thirty five inches from the vertical pole of the fan, (Doc. No. 40-2 at 9), and eighteen inches from the portion of the fan closest to the cell, (Doc. No. 40-7 at 5). Deputy Ayala immediately called a medical priority and, together with Deputy Bathe, unfastened the cord from decedent's neck and lowered him to the floor. (Doc. Nos. 38 at 24, 27-28, ¶¶ 59, 68, 70; 40-2 at 5.) Deputy Bathe began administering CPR until the nurse arrived at 7:26 a.m. and took over resuscitative measures. (Doc. Nos. 38 at 27-8, ¶¶ 68, 70; 40-2 at 4.) Decedent was declared dead at 7:43 a.m. (Doc. No. 40-2 at 5.)


         On October 9, 2014, plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) in this action, bringing claims against the County of Kern as well as deputies of the Kern County Sherriff's Department. (Doc. No. 19.) Therein, plaintiff asserts claims against individual defendant deputies under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 premised on alleged infringement of decedent's Eighth[1] and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as violations of plaintiff's own Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from unwarranted interference in family relationships. (Id. at 1, 8-9.) In addition, plaintiff's FAC includes a § 1983 claim for municipality liability against Kern County. (Id. at 7). Finally, the FAC asserts a wrongful death claim against all defendants under California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.60. (Id. at 8.)

         Plaintiff seeks to recover funeral and burial expenses, special damages, and punitive damages pursuant to California's survival statute, California Civil Procedure Code § 377.34. (Id. at 9.) Plaintiff also seeks damages under California's wrongful death statute, California Civil Procedure Code § 377.61, and the award of attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. (Id.)

         On February 10, 2016, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 36.) Plaintiff filed his opposition on February 29, 2016. (Doc. Nos. 37-39.) Defendants filed their reply on March 8, 2016. (Doc. No. 41.) Following the hearing on March 15, 2016, the court directed the parties to file additional briefing clarifying their positions on summary judgment with respect to plaintiff's wrongful death claims. (Doc. No. 44.) Defendants filed their supplemental brief on March 24, 2016, (Doc. No. 45), and plaintiff filed their opposition thereto on March 30, 2016, (Doc. No. 48).


         Defendants advance six arguments in support of their motion for summary judgment. First, defendants seek summary judgment in their favor as to plaintiff's survival claims based on alleged violations of the decedent's constitutional rights, arguing that the evidence on summary judgment establishes that the individual defendants did not demonstrate deliberate indifference to decedent's condition. (Doc. No. 41.) Second, defendants seek judgment in their favor on plaintiff's § 1983 claims based on violations of plaintiff's own Fourteenth Amendment right to familial association, arguing that there is no evidence that defendants had the requisite purpose to harm. (Doc. No. 36-1 at 2.) Third, defendants argue that, even if plaintiff could demonstrate a violation of constitutional rights, the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. (Id.) Fourth, defendants argue that plaintiff has not come forward on summary judgment with any evidence of unconstitutional policies, practices, or customs, sufficient to support a claim of municipal liability against defendant Kern County. (Id.) Finally, defendants argue that summary judgment should be granted in their favor as to plaintiff's state law wrongful death claims. (Doc. No. 45.)[2]

         In opposing defendants' motion for summary judgment, plaintiff advances the following arguments. (Doc. No. 37.) First, plaintiff contends that the evidence on summary judgment reflects that defendants did demonstrate deliberate indifference to decedent's constitutional rights by failing to adequately monitor him while he was on suicide watch. (Id. at 8-10.) Second, plaintiff argues that the individual defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity because a constitutional right was violated and no reasonable officer could believe that defendants' actions were lawful. (Id. at 15-16.) Third, plaintiff asserts there was a longstanding custom or practice of failing to follow Kern County Jail policies with respect to suicidal inmates, as well as an inadequate training program for Kern County Sheriff's officers overseeing suicidal detainees at the jail and suggests that the county's policies and jail design was deficient. (Id. at 13-15.) Finally, in the supplemental opposition brief, plaintiff refutes defendants' arguments concerning the wrongful death claims, arguing that the evidence before the court on summary judgment establishes that defendants Ayala and Bathe were negligent, and that liability against these defendants is not precluded by state law immunity for public entities under either California Government Code § 844.6(a)(2) or § 845.2. (Doc. No. 48 at 3-5.)[3]


         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).

         On a motion for summary judgment, 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 meet its burden 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 burden, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. 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).

         When 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 Cty. 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.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. 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.'” Id.


         I. Standing

         In dismissing plaintiff's original complaint with leave to amend, the previously assigned district judge concluded that plaintiff had failed to state a claim that he had suffered a constitutional injury. (Doc. No. 17 at 6.) Accordingly, before turning to defendants' motion for summary judgment, the court will first address the question of plaintiff's standing. “Standing is the determination of whether a specific person is the proper party to bring a particular matter to the court for adjudication, ” and a federal court is obliged to examine plaintiffs' standing pursuant to Article III of the United States Constitution regardless of whether or not the issue is raised by the litigants. See Erwin Chemerinsky, Federal Jurisdiction § 2.3, at 48 (1989); see also Juidice v. Vail, 430 U.S. 327, 331 (1977).

         Plaintiffs generally have standing to assert claims for the violation of their own legal rights and do not have standing to assert claims for the violations of the legal rights of other persons. See Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High School Dist, 768 F.3d 843 (9th Cir. 2014) (noting that, to establish Article III standing, a plaintiff must allege personal injury fairly traceable to defendant's allegedly unlawful conduct and likely to be redressed by the requested relief); United States v. Lazarenko, 476 F.3d 642, 649 (9th Cir. 2006) (explaining that “[p]rudential standing encompasses ‘the general prohibition on a litigant's raising another person's legal rights'”) (quoting Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 751 (1984)). However, there are exceptions to this general rule. For instance, an heir has standing to bring a § 1983 claim on a deceased person's behalf if permitted by the law of the state embracing the federal district court where the action is commenced. See Ramírez-Lluveras v. Pagan-Cruz, 833 F.Supp.2d 151, 157 (D. P. R. 2011) (citing Robertson v. Wegmann, 436 U.S. 584 (1978)). The party seeking to bring a survival action bears the burden of demonstrating that the applicable state's law authorizes a survival action, and that plaintiff meets that state's requirements for bringing such an action. See Moreland v. Las Vegas Metro. Police Dep t , 159 F.3d 365, 369 (9th Cir. 1998).

         Under California law, a survival action may be commenced by a decedent's successor in interest. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 377.30 (stating that “[a] cause of action that survives the death of the person entitled to commence an action or proceeding passes to the decedent's successor in interest”); see also Schwarder v. United States, 974 F.2d 1118, 1123 n.3 (9th Cir. 1992). A decedent's heir may therefore bring an action based upon claims the decedent would have been entitled to file for the decedent's own injuries. See Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 377.10. To bring such an action, a plaintiff must allege that they are bringing the survival claim in their representational capacity. Hayes v. Cnty. Of San Diego, 736 F.3d 1223, 1229 (9th Cir. 2013) (dismissing case, in part, because plaintiff claimed to be decedent's “sole surviving heir, ” but “failed to allege [being] her father's personal representative or successor in interest”); Moreland, 159 F.3d at 371 (dismissing case because “appellants did not allege in their complaint that they brought their claims in a representative capacity”). Additionally, once a plaintiff brings a survival cause of action, the plaintiff may properly join that action with a claim for wrongful death arising out of the same wrongful act or neglect, California Civil Procedure Code § 377.62(a), and may thereby bring claims to recover for injuries of the plaintiff caused by decedent's death. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 377.60.

         In his FAC, plaintiff brings § 1983 claims alleging violations of his own rights. (Doc. No. 19.) Plaintiff also brings survival claims alleging violations of decedent's legal rights under § 1983, specifically noting that he brings such claims as “the child, next of kin, heir at law, and Successor in Interest” of the decedent. (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff has joined a wrongful death claim to the action. (Id.) Because plaintiff alleges violations of his own legal rights based on defendants' allegedly unlawful conduct, and because the FAC alleges that plaintiff brings this action in his capacity as successor in interest to his father's estate, plaintiff meets federal standing requirements with respect to his § 1983 claims, and may also properly join these claims with a wrongful death claim. (Cf Doc. No. 17) (dismissing plaintiffs original complaint because “this Court can find no basis for interpreting the Complaint as alleging that Plaintiff brings the case in his capacity as successor in interest to his father's estate”).

         II. Section 1983 claims against individual defendants

         Plaintiff has brought this action in federal court pursuant to the Civil Rights Act which provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. To make out a valid claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege and show that (i) the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (ii) this conduct deprived a person of constitutional rights. See Monell v. Department of Social Servs.,436 U.S. 658, 690-695 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode,423 U.S. 362, 370-371 (1976); see also Jones v. Williams,297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002). “A person ‘subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that ...

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