United States District Court, S.D. California
JOHN W. JENNISON, Plaintiff,
SAN DIEGO COUNTY SHERIFF DEPUTY C. CRAWFORD, et al., Defendants.
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA
HONORABLE LARRY ALAN BURNS United States District Judge.
Jennison filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis to
commence an action against two police officers for falsely
arresting him for driving under the influence. Courts may
authorize the commencement of an action without prepayment of
fees where a litigant makes a showing that they're unable
to pay. 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Jennison satisfied that
requirement. But the Court “shall dismiss the case at
any time if it determines that” the action is
“frivolous, ” “fails to state a claim on
which relief may be granted, ” or “seeks monetary
relief against a defendant who is immune.” Id.
The Court finds that Jennison hasn't stated a plausible
claim that he's entitled to relief under federal law.
year ago, Jennison had a 40 oz. beer with lunch. Within three
hours of consuming that mammoth drink, he was on the road
driving his automobile. While navigating narrow turns on
Highway 76, Jennison crossed the double lines on the road to
avoid fishtailing-he says his station wagon was carrying a
desk and a wheelchair. Officer Crawford saw Jennison driving
on the wrong side of the road so he pulled him over.
observed that Jennison's eyes were
"red/watery” and he “detect[ed] the smell of
alcohol" on him. Jennison admitted that he had recently
consumed a 40 oz. beer, but maintained that he was
deliberately crossing the double lines to avoid fishtailing.
California Highway Patrol Officer Ontiveros soon arrived on
administered field sobriety tests and “detected six (6)
clues” of intoxication under the “horizontal gaze
nystagmus” test (HGN). Jennison maintains that he
performed the other field sobriety tests without a problem,
but concedes that his blood alcohol content (BAC) was
“arguably” between “.04 and .059" at
the time of the field sobriety tests. He refused to submit to
Ontiveros arrested Jennison for driving under the influence.
When the officer dropped Jennison off at the Vista Detention
Center-about two to six hours later-Jennison had his blood
alcohol content tested. The results showed a BAC of .03.
Jennison was released.
has now sued the officers alleging five state law claims and
one federal claim for an unreasonable seizure in violation of
his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment.
state a claim for an unreasonable seizure, or false arrest,
Jennison needed to allege that the officers lacked probable
cause for arresting him. "Probable cause arises when an
officer has knowledge based on reasonably trustworthy
information that the person arrested has committed a criminal
offense." McSherry v. City of Long Beach, 584
F.3d 1129, 1135 (9th Cir. 2009). Even accepting
Jennison's version of the story as true, he's failed
to plead facts that show the officers lacked probable cause.
begin with, Jennison's complaint contains admissions that
he violated two California laws. Jennison admits that he was
driving on the wrong side of the road. Cal. Veh. Code §
21460(a). Based on that violation alone, Officer Crawford had
probable cause to stop Jennison and issue him a citation.
Jennison therefore hasn't plausibly alleged that Officer
Crawford lacked probable cause.
also admits that he was driving after consuming 40 oz. of
alcohol-that's roughly four drinks. He doesn't deny
that when the officer pulled him over he had red and watery
eyes, thick speech, smelled like alcohol, and that the
officer detected six signs of impairment using the HGN test.
Jennison even concedes that his BAC may have been as high as
.59 during the stop. Probable cause is based on
probabilities, Illionis v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 232
(1983), and Jennison's symptoms of intoxication and
admission that he had been drinking, coupled with his refusal
to submit to a breathalizer, provided probable cause for
Officer Ontiveros to arrest him for drunk driving. Cal. Veh.
Code § 23152.
maintains that he can explain all of these guilty
circumstances: He was on the wrong side of the road to avoid
fishtailing; his eyes were red from staring at a computer
screen; his speech was thick because he bites his tongue; the
HGN test may not have been accurate because he was sitting
down; he smelled like alcohol because he drank at lunch, but
he's a big guy-his BAC couldn't have been that high.
Even assuming all of these explanations ring true, they
don't eradicate probable cause. Likewise, they are
unlikely to surmount the officers' obvious defense of
also advances a second, more insidious theory of police
misconduct-that what's really going on here is that
Officer Crawford is out to get him. Jennison alleges that
before this arrest, Officer Crawford had encountered him
while serving a warrant at the motor home compound where
Jennison lives. According to Jennison, Crawford asked him if