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Godinez v. Huerta

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 16, 2017

JORGE MALENO HUERTA, et al., Defendants.


          Cynthia Bashant United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Alma Godinez brings this §1983 action against Deputies Maleno Huerta (“Maleno”) and Lopez alleging: (1) unlawful entry without a warrant, (2) illegal search, (3) excessive force, (4) wrongful arrest, (5) wrongful detention, (6) violations of California Civil Code §52.1 and (7) malicious prosecution. (ECF No. 1.) Defendants move for summary judgment arguing: (1) plaintiff is collaterally estopped by findings at her preliminary hearing and probation revocation hearing; (2) insufficient evidence supports any cause of action for excessive force; (3) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; and (4) insufficient evidence supports any causes of action against Deputy Lopez. (ECF No. 23 (Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (“MSJ”)).) Ms. Godinez has opposed Defendants' motion. (ECF No. 25 (Response in Opposition to the MSJ (“Opp'n”)).)

         For the reasons stated below, the Court agrees that there is insufficient evidence to support Ms. Godinez's claims against Deputy Lopez, and that both officers are entitled to qualified immunity for the initial entry. The Court, however, denies Defendants' motion in all other respects as to Defendant Maleno.


         A. Deputy Maleno

         On February 2, 2015, Deputy Maleno responded to a call at Ms. Godinez's home. (ECF No. 29 ¶2 (Joint Statement of Undisputed Facts (“JSUF”)).) Kevin Thornton was outside the home and told Deputy Maleno that he lived at the home with his girlfriend Ms. Godinez. (MSJ, Ex. A at 75:18-21, 75:23-76:12 (Excerpts of Dep. Tr. of Deputy Maleno (“Maleno Dep.”)).) Mr. Thornton told Deputy Maleno he had gotten into an argument with his girlfriend, Ms. Godinez, and that he needed to retrieve his belongings from the residence. (MSJ, Ex. B at 45:6-8 (Excerpts of Dep. Tr. of Angela Lopez (“Lopez Dep.”)).) Mr. Thornton said the keys to his truck, which was parked outside the residence, were inside Ms. Godinez's apartment and he could not leave because Ms. Godinez had his truck keys. (MSJ, Ex. C ¶8 (Decl. of Michael David Blaylock (“Blaylock Decl.”)).)

         Deputy Maleno did nothing else to confirm that Mr. Thornton lived at the house. (Maleno Dep. at 77:17-20.) And, in fact, during an earlier dispatch call, Mr. Thornton had denied living with Ms. Godinez at this residence. (Opp'n, Ex. 13.)[1]

         Mr. Thornton and Dep. Maleno knocked at the front door, yelling that deputies were present and that Thornton only wanted to retrieve some belongings he had left at the home, but no one responded. (Lopez Dep. at 50:4-9, 50:24-25.) Deputy Maleno asked Mr. Thornton what he wanted to do next. Mr. Thornton asked if he could force his way in, and Deputy Maleno said he could if that was in fact his residence. (MSJ, Ex. D at 14:13-19 (Preliminary Hearing Transcript (“PH”)).) Mr. Thornton went around back, and Deputy Maleno accompanied him to make sure there were no arguments or physical violence. (Maleno Dep. at 76:16-18.)

         Mr. Thornton forced his way into the residence with his shoulder. (Id. at 85:2- 3.) When Mr. Thornton forced in the door, Ms. Godinez, who was right behind the door, was knocked to the ground. (Opp'n, Ex. 1 ¶9 (Decl. of Alma Godinez (“Godinez Decl.”)).) Deputy Maleno followed Mr. Thornton into the residence. What transpired next varies drastically depending upon whose testimony is found to be credible.

         Deputy Maleno testified that he initially saw Ms. Godinez on the floor with a bat near her. He asked if she was okay, approached her and offered to help her up. (Maleno Dep. at 85:11-15.) In response, she jumped to her feet, raised the bat up and yelled “get out.” (Id. at 86:11-13.) She then got into a “fighting stance” with the bat. (Id. at 90:16-18.) Deputy Maleno drew his Taser and demanded that she drop the bat several times. (Id. at 19:13, 19:19-20.) Ms. Godinez started a swinging motion with the bat and, in response, he fired his Taser. (Id. at 93:16-19.) The shock of the Taser shocked her enough so that she dropped the bat, but was not effective at penetrating her thick bathrobe so she did not drop to the ground the way he commanded. (PH at 19:5-9.) Because she refused his command to get down on the ground, he used his Taser again in “drive-stun mode” to get her to the ground so he could handcuff her. (Maleno Dep. at 99:18-20.)

         Ms. Godinez, on the other hand, states that after she was knocked to the floor by the forced entry, she remained on the floor. She denies standing up or grabbing the bat. (Godinez Decl. ¶10.) She states that she was “crab-walking” backwards with her bottom on the floor when Deputy Maleno fired the Taser at her. (Id.)

         Ms. Godinez was subsequently arrested and charged with (1) resisting or obstruction a police officer under California Penal Code §148(a)(1), and (2) assault on a peace officer with a deadly weapon, other than a firearm, by means likely to produce great bodily injury, pursuant to California Penal Code §245(c). According to Ms. Godinez, after her arrest, and while she sat in a patrol car outside her home, she saw Deputy Maleno go in and out of her house several times without her consent. (Godinez Decl. ¶18.)

         B. Deputy Lopez

         Deputy Lopez arrived on the scene after Deputy Maleno. (Lopez Dep. at 43:2- 3.) She overheard Mr. Thornton tell Deputy Maleno that he had gotten into an argument with his girlfriend, and that he needed to get his stuff out of the residence he shared with her. (Id. at 45:6-8.) Deputy Lopez stood with Deputy Maleno and Mr. Thornton as they knocked at the front door and shouted out that they merely wanted to retrieve belongings.

         When Deputy Maleno and Mr. Thornton went around back, Deputy Lopez waited by the front door until she heard Deputy Maleno yell, “Put the bat down” several times. (Id. at 52:16-18.) Deputy Lopez then ran around to the back of the house, but by the time she saw Ms. Godinez for the first time, Deputy Maleno had already fired his Taser. (Id. at 57:7-8.) She did not witness any of the Tasing or the events immediately leading up to the Tasing. (Id. at 59:23-24.)

         Deputy Lopez assisted Deputy Maleno in handcuffing Ms. Godinez. (Id. at 60:8-12.) Deputy Lopez testified that Ms. Godinez was not cooperating. (Id.) Ms. Godinez states that she did nothing to resist or fight the deputies. (Godinez Decl. ¶10.) Ms. Godinez states that, in applying the handcuffs, “Deputy Lopez dug her nails into my arms and roughly forced my arms behind my back, causing me a great deal of pain.” (Id.)

         C. Preliminary ...

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