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Degroot v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 5, 2017




         On September 25, 2015, Plaintiffs Andrew Harry DeGroot and Teresa DeGroot (“Plaintiffs”) filed an action in the Southern District of California against Border Patrol Agents Dustin Blatchley, Luis Gutierrez, Romel Madlangbayan, Edwin Mendivil, Enrique Penagos, Alberto Vallina, and the United States of America. (Doc. No. 1.) On February 16, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint (“FAC”), only asserting claims against Defendants Enrique Penagos and the United States of America (“Defendants”), alleging excessive force and failure to supervise under Bivens, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, violation of the Unruh Act, false arrest and imprisonment, and civil conspiracy. (Doc. No. 4.) On April 13, 2016, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' FAC. (Doc. No. 11.) On June 17, 2016, this Court granted Defendants' motion in part and dismissed both Bivens claims as time-barred. (Doc. No. 17.) The Court also dismissed Plaintiffs' Unruh Act claim and civil conspiracy claims. (Id.) The Court also dismissed all claims against Defendant Penagos, substituting the United States (“Defendant”) in his place. (Id.) On July 20, 2016, Defendant filed an answer to Plaintiffs' FAC. (Doc. No. 18.) On July 17, 2017, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims. (Doc. No. 36.) Defendant argues that DeGroot's arrest was supported by probable cause, and consequently, all of Plaintiffs' causes of action should fail as a matter of law. (Id.) On July 24, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 37.) Along with their opposition, Plaintiffs filed a motion for default judgment, arguing that Defendant had failed to answer their claim of assault and battery. (Doc. No. 38.) On July 31, 2017, Defendant filed a reply to Plaintiffs' opposition. (Doc. No. 40.) On August 3, 2017, the Court denied Plaintiffs' motion for default judgment and allowed Defendant to file a motion to amend the pleadings. (Doc. No. 42.) On August 10, 2017, Defendant filed a motion to amend their answer. (Doc. No. 43.) Plaintiff did not oppose the motion to amend.

         On September 5, 2017, the Court held a hearing to address both the motion to amend and the motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 44.) At the hearing, Attorney Michael Garabed appeared for the Defendant and Attorney Victor Torres appeared for the Plaintiffs. (Doc. No. 44.) At the hearing, Plaintiffs confirmed that they did not oppose the motion to amend and Defendant subsequently filed the amended answer. (Doc. No. 45.)


         On March 27, 2013, Plaintiff Andrew DeGroot (“DeGroot”) was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint while driving a tractor-trailer. (Doc. No. 29-3 at 2.) As DeGroot drove through the inspection area, he displayed his middle finger to the agents on duty and used his cellular telephone to record a video of them. (Id. at 1.) Agent Penagos approached the vehicle and asked DeGroot to stop recording and to put the camera down. (Id. at 3.) DeGroot refused to comply and, after an altercation with Agent Penagos, was arrested. (Id. at 4, 6-8.)

         On May 15. 2013, DeGroot was indicted by a grand jury for violating 18 U.S.C. 111(a)(1). (Doc. No. 26-1 at 2; ECF Doc. 1 (Indictment) in Case No. 13-cr-1769.) Four months later, DeGroot was found not guilty of this charge. (Doc. No. 26-1 at 2); U.S.A. v. DeGroot, No. 13-cr-01769-L-1 (ECF No. 62, Verdict). Plaintiffs subsequently sued the United States and various border patrol agents, alleging violations of Degroot's federal and state rights. (Doc. No. 1; Doc. No. 4.)

         Plaintiffs' remaining claims include state law tort actions for false arrest and imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. (See Doc. No. 17.) Defendant moves for summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. No. 36 at 2.) Plaintiffs oppose, arguing that questions of fact remain. (Doc. No. 37.)



         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1) generally allows parties leave to amend their pleadings as a matter of right within 21 days after service. “In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The Ninth Circuit has instructed that this policy is “to be applied with extreme liberality.” Owens v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan, Inc., 244 F.3d 708, 712 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Morongo Band of Mission Indians v. Rose, 893 F.2d 1074, 1079 (9th Cir. 1990)). In applying Rule 15, courts consider various factors including “bad faith, undue delay, prejudice to the opposing party, futility of amendment, ” and whether there were previous amendments. Johnson v. Buckley, 356 F.3d 1067, 1077 (9th Cir. 2004).


         Summary judgment is proper if the moving party shows there is no genuine dispute of material fact and they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). There is no genuine dispute if “the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of producing evidence showing they are entitled to summary judgment. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 330. The moving party can satisfy this burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's case that the nonmoving party bears the burden of proving at trial. Id. at 323. If the moving party satisfies their initial burden, then the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to introduce evidence showing there is a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 331. A fact is material when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To satisfy its burden, the non-moving party “may not rest upon mere allegations or denials of his pleadings.” Id. Rather, the nonmoving party “must present affirmative evidence . . . from which a jury might return a verdict in his favor.” Id. Facts and inferences are to be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. U.S. v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

         III. ...

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