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Estate of Levingston v. County of Kern

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 22, 2017

ESTATE OF DONALD MALIK LEVINGSTON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF KERN, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR A PROTECTIVE ORDER (DOC. 36)

          JENNIFER L. THURSTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs contend the defendants are liable for the wrongful death of Donald Levingston, who while in the custody of the Kern County Sheriff's Department. Plaintiffs contend the County has long been on notice that deputies “repeatedly violate[] the Constitutional rights of citizens by subjecting them to searches and arrests without probable cause, causing citizens to be subjected to excessive force, fabricating information in reports, ” and more. (Doc. 31 at 7, ¶ 7) Plaintiffs assert Sheriff Donny Youngblood is liable for the wrongful death of Mr. Levingston, and seek to impose “supervisory liability” under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See Id. at 8, 15, 20)

         Defendants seek a protective order to prevent the deposition of Sheriff Youngblood. (Doc. 36) Plaintiffs oppose the entry of a protective order, arguing Defendants fail to carry the burden to demonstrate a protective order is proper. (Doc. 37) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants motion for a protective order is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs are the surviving wife of Decedent Donald Levingston, his minor children and the estate of Mr. Levingston. (See Doc. 31 at 2) Plaintiffs assert that on February 26, 2015, deputy David Manriquez with the Kern County Sheriffs Department “initiated a traffic stop of the decedent… for allegedly failing to stop at a posted stop sign at about 6:14 p.m.” (Id. at 5, ¶ 18) Plaintiffs assert that Levingston, an African-American male, “had numerous prior contacts” with Manriquez prior to the traffic stop, and “had been harassed… on an on-going basis based upon his race” by sheriffs deputies. (Id.) According to Plaintiffs, during the stop, Manriquez “opined that [Levingston] was under the influence of a central nervous system stimulant and advised him that he was under arrest.” (Id. at 6, ¶ 20) Plaintiffs assert that Manriquez “believed … .[he] had swallowed a lethal dose of narcotics.” (Id.) Manriquez handcuffed and searched Levingston, and no substances were found.

         Plaintiffs allege that while Manriquez was “transporting Levingston to the Central Receiving Facility, became apparent to Manriquez that Levingston was experiencing a severe medical emergency.' (Doc. 31 at 6, ¶ 21, emphasis omitted) However, Plaintiffs contend that “[i]n lieu of obtaining immediate emergency medical care, ” the deputy “stopped first at a Walgreen's parking lot, ” where he notified dispatch that Levingston “was being uncooperative.” (Id., ¶ 22) Plaintiffs allege Manriquez then drove a fire station “to wait for assistance from additional officers to assist” in the arrest. (Id.) In addition, Hall Ambulance was called to perform an evaluation of Levingston, and paramedic Brenda Robinson went to the fire station. (Id., ¶ 23)

         According to Plaintiffs, Levingston was not given “thorough and complete medical evaluation.” (Doc. 31 at 6, ¶ 24) In addition, Plaintiffs allege that “[d]espite clear indications that [Levingston] was in need of immediate medical care, ” he was transported to the Kern County Central Receiving facility in Downtown Bakersfield. (Id.) Plaintiffs assert Levingston exhibited “symptoms of an extreme and serious medical emergency” while being booked. (Id. at ¶ 25)

         Plaintiffs assert that “almost four hours after the initial stop, ” Manriquez transported Levingston to Kern Medical Center. (Doc. 31 at 7, ¶ 26) They contend that Levingston “was foaming at the mouth and incoherent” by the time he arrived at Kern Medical Center. (Id.) He was pronounced dead at 12:13 a.m. on February 27, 2016. (Id., ¶ 27)

         According to Plaintiffs, the County has “long been on actual notice that… Deputies have repeatedly violated the Constitutional rights of citizens by subjecting them to searches and arrests without probable cause, causing citizens to be subjected to excessive force, fabricating information in reports, providing false and/or intentionally misleading information in Internal Affairs investigations and have otherwise caused citizens to be subjected to the violation of their Constitutional rights.” (Doc. 31 at 7, ¶ 28) Plaintiffs contend these “customs, policies, patterns and/or practices are the product of a culture of tolerance… in which the end result, i.e., arrest and/or prosecution, takes precedent over following the rules and policies dictated by the Constitutions of the United States of America and the State of California.” (Id., ¶ 29) Further, Plaintiffs assert that there is “policy rooted in deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of African Americans, ” such as Levingston, demonstrated by “the hiring, retention, and promotion of … deputies who routinely engage in civil rights violations and/or who have encouraged, authorized and/or condoned said practices.” (Id. at 7-8, ¶ 30)

         Plaintiffs allege Sheriff Youngblood “is responsible for the supervising [of] all… deputies d/or agents responsible for providing care to persons in the custody” of the sheriff. (Doc. 31 at 20-21, ¶ 87) They contend the acts of Manriquez-including being deliberately indifferent to the serious medical need of Levingston and discriminating against Levingston on the basis of race- “were the direct and proximate result of customs, practices, and policies of Defendant Donny Youngblood.” (Id. at 15, 21, ¶¶ 64, 88) Plaintiffs assert:

Such policies, customs and/or practices include but are not limited to an ongoing pattern of deliberate indifference, including the following: the failure to establish a protocol for deputies to recognize and identify the general indicators of mental illness and or severe narcotics intoxication so that appropriate actions can be taken; the failure to establish a protocol for taking into custody civilians suspected of being under the influence of a central nervous system stimulant, including but not limited to methamphetamine; the failure to implement a protocol or procedure to take persons who are experiencing a serious medical emergency, including but not limited to persons exhibiting severe signs of narcotics intoxication and/or mental health disorders be transported to a local emergency room or a mental health facility for evaluation rather than arrest said persons for purposes of incarceration; the failure to establish protocols or policies to safely take into custody, those persons showing signs of severe narcotics intoxication and/or mental health disorders; the failure to act upon clearly life-threatening symptoms and reports; the failure to provide appropriate training to deputies to ensure adequate evaluation and treatment for seriously ill persons taken into custody; and the failure to implement a policy to ensure that deputies would contact and summon appropriate medical treatment in a timely manner.

(Id. at 15-16, ¶ 65) Plaintiffs also contend there was an ongoing pattern and policy of Youngblood to engage in “racial profiling whereby probable cause is fabricated to effectuate the arrests of African-American civilians.” (Id. at 21, ¶88-89). Plaintiffs allege that County policy-makers, such as Sheriff Youngblood, “tacitly encouraged, ratified and/or approved of the acts and/or omissions alleged herein, and knew that such conduct was unjustified and would result in violations of constitutional rights.” (Id. at 16-17, 21, ¶¶ 68 and 92)

         Based upon the foregoing facts, Plaintiffs identify the following causes of action in their First Amended Complaint: (1) wrongful death; (2) deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, health, and safety in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; (3) municipal liability for violations of Plaintiffs' rights of health and safety; (4) supervisory liability for violations of Plaintiffs' rights of health and safety; (5) discrimination on the basis of race in violation in the Fourteenth Amendment; (6) municipal liability for violations of the right to be free from discrimination; (7) supervisory liability for the violations of the right to be free from discrimination; and (8) intentional infliction of emotional distress. (See generally Doc. 31 at 8-24) Sheriff Youngblood is identified as a defendant to the first, fourth, and seventh causes of action.

         Defendants now seek a protective order to preclude the taking of Sheriff Youngblood's deposition. (Doc. 36) According to Defendants, the deposition would qualify as an “apex” deposition given the sheriff's status as “a high ranking elected government official.” (Id. at 5) Plaintiffs filed their opposition to the motion on June 7, 2017 (Doc. 37), to which Defendants filed a reply on June 14, 2017. (Doc. 38)

         II. Scope of Discovery and Depositions

         The scope and limitations of discovery are set forth by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In relevant part, Rule 26(b) states:

Unless otherwise limited by court order, parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged manner that is relevant to any party's claim or defense - including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or other tangible things . . . For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the accident. Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b). Relevant evidence is defined as “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. Relevancy is interpreted “broadly to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could ...


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