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Call v. Badgley

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 16, 2017

JASON CALL, Plaintiff,
v.
SA MATT BADGLEY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN PART AND DISMISSING REMAINING STATE LAW CLAIMS RE: DKT. NOS. 77, 94

          HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR. United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jason Call brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California law against Humboldt County and individual officers employed by the State of California, Humboldt County, and the City of Eureka (collectively, “Defendants”), following the execution of a search warrant at his home.[1] Pending before this Court are two motions for summary judgment filed by the State of California defendants, Dkt. No. 77, and the Humboldt County and City of Eureka defendants, Dkt. No. 94. For the reasons articulated below, the motions are GRANTED IN PART. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining causes of action, all of which arise under state law, so those causes of action are DISMISSED without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         The relevant facts giving rise to this lawsuit are generally undisputed, except where indicated below.

         1. Obtaining Search Warrant

         In 2011, State Defendant Nelsen of the California Department of Justice was investigating non-party Ryan Hutson as a suspected marijuana broker between cultivators and wholesale suppliers. Dkt. No. 77-3 ¶¶ 12-13. At the time, Nelsen was the Commander of the North State Marijuana Investigation. Id. ¶ 5. During the investigation, Nelsen saw Hutson park her car at Plaintiff's house at Bayside Cutoff in March 2011. Dkt. No. 77-4 at BNE-0071. Someone then walked toward Plaintiff's residence with a duffel bag. Id. Hutson was seen closing the trunk of her car and leaving Plaintiff's residence soon after. Id. Twenty-five minutes later another officer observed her at a different residence at Stanford Circle; she talked on her cell phone, retrieved a brown paper shopping bag from her trunk, and carried it close to her body as she entered another residence. Id. Nelsen further claimed that he drove by Plaintiff's house on at least three occasions and smelled the odor of marijuana. Id. at BNE-0072. Plaintiff, however, posits that the house is situated too far back from the street for Nelsen to have smelled marijuana. See Dkt. No. 83 at 15.

         In October 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration submitted administrative subpoenas for the PG&E records for locations linked with Hutson during the officers' surveillance of her, including Plaintiff's residence at Bayside Cutoff and Stanford Circle. Dkt. No. 77-4 at BNE-0073-74. The PG&E records from mid-August to mid-October 2011 for Stanford Circle and Westgate suggested high usage consistent with indoor growing operations. Id. at BNE-0074. The records for Plaintiff's residence suggested slightly higher-than-normal usage, but were not solely indicative of an indoor growing operation. Id. In December 2011, Nelsen obtained a search warrant for additional PG&E records for Plaintiff's residence from 2009 through the date of the warrant. Id. at BNE-0078. Over these 24 months, power usage was consistent with indoor marijuana cultivation. Id. Usage for other locations associated with Hutson was similarly high. Id. at BNE-0078-79. In December 2011, a confidential informant told Nelsen that Hutson was still “very active in the sales of marijuana” and had higher prices than other marijuana brokers. Id. at BNE-0080. In January 2012, Nelsen learned from the Employment Development Department that several of the individuals linked to Hutson in the investigation, including Plaintiff, did not have any records of employment, state disability, or unemployment payments from January 2010 through September 2011. Id. at BNE-0081.

         Nelsen then prepared a search warrant application for several locations, including Plaintiff's residence. In the application, Nelsen specifically acknowledged the age of the information, stating that it was his belief that the warrant would still “provide evidence of the events reported in this affidavit despite the lapse of time between the events described and the anticipated search . . . .” Id. at BNE-0088 (emphasis added). On the basis of this information, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Timothy Cissna issued a search warrant on January 12, 2012. Id. at BNE-0096. The warrant permitted a search of, inter alia, Plaintiff's residence, cars, and person. Id. at BNE-0097-99. The warrant further permitted the search for and seizure of marijuana, cultivation aids and equipment, containers in which any of those items could be found, indicia of the sales of trafficking of marijuana, including ledgers and receipts, firearms, financial documentation, computers, telephones, wiring, and U.S. currency. Id. at BNE-100-103.

         2. Executing Search Warrant

         Members of the Humboldt County Sherriff's Office, Humboldt County Drug Task Force, and the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, attended a pre-search briefing conducted by Nelsen. See, e.g., Dkt. No. 77-3 ¶ 17. Nelsen explained the nature of the investigation, the substance of the probable cause supporting the search warrant, the scope of the search warrant, as well as everyone's respective assignments. Id.; see also Dkt. No. 77-2, Ex. B at 147-49.

         On the morning of January 19, 2012, Plaintiff woke to banging on his front door. Dkt. No. 84 ¶ 14. Someone said “search warrant, open the door.” Id. ¶ 16. After Plaintiff opened the door and asked why the officers were there, an officer “shoulder bunt[ed]” Plaintiff. Dkt. No. 84 ¶ 18. Plaintiff explained that his front door opens outward and the officer hit him on his right shoulder and “shoved past him” to get inside. Dkt. No. 77-2, Ex. A at 91. He did not seek medical attention or sustain any injuries as a result. Id. at 93.

         In response to Plaintiff's repeated questions about why the officers were there, another officer pointed a gun at Plaintiff's stomach and said that was “top secret information.” Dkt. No. 84 ¶ 20. Humboldt County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant Hanson then handcuffed Plaintiff with his hands behind his back and ordered Plaintiff to sit down. Dkt. No. 94-7 ¶ 4; Dkt. No. 84 ¶¶ 21, 24. While Plaintiff was handcuffed and attempting to comply, another officer pointed a gun at Plaintiff's chest. Dkt. No. 84 ¶ 24. Plaintiff sat down immediately in response, with his back against the wall. Id. ¶¶ 24-25.

         Directly to Plaintiff's left was a glass door to the room of one of his roommates. Dkt. No. 84 ¶ 25. Several officers told Plaintiff's roommate, who was standing behind the glass door, to open the door. Dkt. No. 77-16 ¶ 4. He did not immediately comply. Id. The officers did not know if he was armed or alone. Id. At least one other officer, California Department of Justice Special Agent Cervelli, [2] was concerned that he might be arming himself. Id. Another officer, Humboldt County Deputy Sheriff Mendes, [3] found a nearby skateboard and broke the glass door. Id. Glass from the door hit Plaintiff, who was still sitting next to the door. Dkt. No. 84 ¶ 26. Plaintiff noticed a cut on his foot that he believes is from the glass. Id. After securing Plaintiff's roommate, the officers took them both to the living room, where a third occupant was already being detained. Id. ¶¶ 26-28. Hanson watched over the three during the duration of the search. Id. ¶ 28.

         The officers searched the house and found 78 marijuana plants, a triple beam scale, individually packaged marijuana, prescription pills, and multiple firearms. Dkt. No. 77-6 ¶ 16. According to Plaintiff, his entire house had been ransacked by the officers: some had urinated all over his bathroom, tracked broken glass throughout the house, and left the contents of drawers, closets, and cabinets all over the house; officers also left disposable gloves inside Plaintiff's house and outside in his yard. Dkt. No. 84 ¶ 38.

         At some point following the discovery of the marijuana plants, California Department of Justice Special Agent Badgley entered the living room and asked Plaintiff for the combination to the safe in his bedroom. Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiff said he wanted a lawyer. Id. According to Plaintiff, at this point Badgley told him that he was under arrest for violations of Health and Safety Code §§ 11358, 111359, and 11350. Dkt. No. 77-6 ¶ 16-18; Dkt. No. 84 ¶ 29. Plaintiff had told Badgley and Hanson, however, that the marijuana was legal because his doctor had prescribed the use of medical cannabis and had issued him an Informed Medical Consent & Verification (“IMCV”) under California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (“CUA”), permitting the cultivation and possession of marijuana. Dkt. No. 84 ¶¶ 5-6, 13, 30-32. Plaintiff's IMCV was also posted in several locations in his home, including on the wooden frame that contained the growing marijuana plants. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. It states that Plaintiff can possess up to 99 mature plants and 19 pounds of cannabis for his personal use. See Dkt. No. 84-1. Plaintiff only later heard the sound of his safe being opened. Dkt. No. 84 ¶ 29. In it, the officers found prescription pills that Plaintiff admitted were not prescribed to him. Dkt. No. 77-6 ¶ 16; Dkt. No. 77-2, Ex. A at 145-46.

         All the seized evidence, except for the marijuana plants, was transported to the Redding Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement evidence vault. Dkt. No. 77-6 ¶ 19. Separately, non-party Humboldt County Deputy Sheriff Todd Fulton seized the plants themselves, retained samples as evidence, and marked the rest to be destroyed. Id. ¶ 20.

         Following the search of Plaintiff's house, Hanson prepared an Information Bulletin for the Humboldt County Sherriff's Department that said officers had “located a commercial indoor marijuana growing operation” at Plaintiff's address and had arrested Plaintiff “for cultivation and possession for sales of marijuana.” Dkt. No. 94-8, Ex. B (Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Information Bulletin); see also Dkt. No. 84 ¶ 45; Dkt. No. 94-7 ¶ 6. The bulletin was disseminated to the media, broadcast over radio and television, and made available online. Dkt. No. 84 ¶ 45.

         B. Procedural Posture

         In February 2015, the Humboldt Superior Court quashed the search warrants, finding that they were based on stale information. Dkt. No. 86-1. The court stated that the smell of marijuana, the “critical” factor in the magistrate judge's finding, was detected eight months prior to the issuance of the first PG&E warrant and more than nine months prior to the execution of the search warrant at issue here. Id.

         On June 1, 2015, Plaintiff brought this action in Humboldt County Superior Court against California State police officers Badgley and Nelsen (collectively, “State Defendants”); Humboldt County and Humboldt County sheriff and deputy sheriffs Downey, Hanson, Kirkpatrick, Massaro, Musson, and Quennell (collectively, “County Defendants”); and City of Eureka police officer Harkness (“City Defendant”). On July 21, 2015, Defendant Badgley removed the action to federal court. Dkt. No. 1 at 6.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper when a “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). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). And a dispute is “genuine” if there is evidence in the record sufficient for a reasonable trier of fact to decide in favor of the nonmoving party. Id. But in deciding if a dispute is genuine, the Court must view the inferences reasonably drawn from the materials in the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986), and “may not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations, ” Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 735 (9th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Shakur v. Schriro, 514 F.3d 878, 884-85 (9th Cir. 2008). If the Court finds that there is no genuine dispute of material fact as to only a single claim or defense or as to part of a claim or defense, it may enter partial summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         With respect to summary judgment procedure, the moving party always bears both the ultimate burden of persuasion and the initial burden of producing those portions of the pleadings, discovery, and affidavits that show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the moving party will not bear the burden of proof on an issue at trial, it “must either produce evidence negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim or defense or show that the nonmoving party does not have enough evidence of an essential element to carry its ultimate burden of persuasion at trial.” Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Cos., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000). “If a moving party fails to carry its initial burden of production, the nonmoving party has no obligation to produce anything, even if the nonmoving party would have the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial.” Id. at 1102-03.

         “If, however, a moving party carries its burden of production, the nonmoving party must produce evidence to support its claim or defense.” Id. at 1103. In doing so, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec., 475 U.S. at 586. A nonmoving party must also “identify with reasonable particularity the evidence that precludes summary judgment, ” because the Court's duty is not to “scour the record in search of a genuine issue of triable fact.” Keenan v. Allan, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996). If a nonmoving party fails to produce evidence that supports its claim or defense, the Court must enter summary judgment in favor of the movant. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Court first addresses the application of qualified immunity to the federal claims against Defendants and then addresses Plaintiff's state law claims.

         A. Qualified Immunity

         Qualified immunity is an entitlement, provided to government officials in the exercise of their duties, not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001). The doctrine of qualified immunity attempts to balance two important and sometimes competing interests - “the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quotation omitted). The doctrine thus intends to take into account the real-world demands on officials such as police officers in order to allow them to act “swiftly and firmly” in situations where the rules governing their actions are often “voluminous, ambiguous, and contradictory.” Mueller v. Auker, 576 F.3d 979, 993 (9th Cir. 2009). “The purpose of this doctrine is to recognize that holding officials liable for reasonable mistakes might unnecessarily paralyze their ability to make difficult decisions in challenging situations, thus disrupting the effective performance of their public duties.” Id.

         To determine whether an officer is entitled to qualified immunity, the Court must consider whether (1) the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right and (2) that right was clearly established at the time of the incident. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232. Courts are not required to address the two qualified immunity issues in any particular order, and instead may “exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the ...


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