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May v. San Mateo County

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

May 9, 2017

RICHARD EARL MAY, Plaintiff,
v.
SAN MATEO COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          RECONSIDERATION: ORDER VACATING SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Re: ECF No. 79]

          LAUREL BEELER United States Magistrate Judge

         ORDER

         1.

         The court previously partly granted the parties' crossing motions for summary judgment.[1] Among other things, the court granted the defendants summary judgment and held that defendant Chris Laughlin had probable cause to arrest plaintiff Richard Earl May for commercial burglary or criminal trespass.[2] The court thus dismissed the plaintiffs false-arrest claim with prejudice.[3]

         2.

         The plaintiff asks the court to reconsider that decision. Moving under procedural Rule 59(e), the plaintiff asks the court to hold, as a matter of law, that Deputy Laughlin lacked probable cause to arrest Mr. May for the crime of commercial burglary.[4] Alternatively, the plaintiff asks the court to deny the defendants summary judgment; in other words, to find that there is a jury question on the point.

         The plaintiff argues, hi sum, that the court failed to adequately consider whether Deputy Laughlin had probable cause to believe that Mr. May specifically intended to commit a felony. As an extension of this, the plaintiff argues that no facts show that Mr. May had this intent when he entered a structure on the property (partly because, according to the plaintiff, no facts show that he or anyone else did enter a structure). By failing to sufficiently consider specific intent, the plaintiff argues, the court ignored the mandate of Gasho v. United States, 39 F.3d 1420 (9th Cir. 1994). That case sets out the following probable-cause rule:

[W]hen specific intent is a required element of the offense, the arresting officer must have probable cause for that element hi order to reasonably believe that a crime has occurred. When specific intent is an element of the alleged offense, "[p]art of the probable cause analysis must be whether the officers could believe that [the person arrested] had the necessaiy intent."

Id. at 1428-29 (quoting Kennedy v. Los Angeles Police Dep 't, 901 F.2d 702, 705 (9th Cir. 1989)).

         The plaintiffs request is important. The "severity of the crime" for which Mr. May was arrested matters in assessing whether the force used against him was appropriate. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989). In this case, the nature of the crime will inform whether it was appropriate to set a police dog on Mr. May. So, as the plaintiff rightly says, it is important to be precisely conect about what crime Deputy Laughlin did and did not have probable cause to arrest Mr. May for. More exactly, it is important to decide whether Deputy Laughlin had probable cause to arrest Mr. May for the "wobbler" felony of commercial burglary.

         3.

         The court giants the plaintiffs' motion. It reverses its earlier decision, and now holds that the record does not permit summary judgment on whether Deputy Laughlin had probable cause to arrest Mr. May for commercial burglary. That issue will be left for the jury. The court will thus vacate its earlier decision in the defendants' favor on this issue. It reaches this decision for reasons slightly different from those that the plaintiff now advances. (Though which may be more in line with arguments that the plaintiff made earlier.)

         4.

         The court does not change its specific-intent assessment under Gaslio. The court still thinks that Deputy Laughlin could reasonably conclude that Mr. May was there with the intent to steal. (Though of course that proved to be untrue.) For clarity going forward, it might be useful to say that the court does not subscribe to the plaintiffs fuller application of Gaslio. The court tends to read Gasho as the defendants do. See (ECF No. 107 at 4-8.) Additional ...


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