United States District Court, E.D. California
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND
DENYING IN PART MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF 107, 108,
LAWRENCE J. O'NEILL, UNITED STATES CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE
PRELIMINARY STATEMENT TO PARTIES AND
in the Eastern District of California carry the heaviest
caseloads in the nation, and this Court is unable to devote
inordinate time and resources to individual cases and
matters. Given the shortage of district judges and staff,
this Court addresses only the arguments, evidence, and
matters necessary to reach the decision in this order. The
parties and counsel are encouraged to contact the offices of
United States Senators Feinstein and Harris to address this
Court's inability to accommodate the parties and this
action. The parties are required to reconsider consent to
conduct all further proceedings before a Magistrate Judge,
whose schedules are far more realistic and accommodating to
parties than that of U.S. Chief District Judge Lawrence J.
O'Neill, who must prioritize criminal and older civil
trials set before Chief Judge O'Neill trail until he
becomes available and are subject to suspension mid-trial to
accommodate criminal matters. Civil trials are no longer
reset to a later date if Chief Judge O'Neill is
unavailable on the original date set for trial. Moreover,
this Court's Fresno Division randomly and without advance
notice reassigns civil actions to U.S. District Judges
throughout the Nation to serve as visiting judges. In the
absence of Magistrate Judge consent, this action is subject
to reassignment to a U.S. District Judge from inside or
outside the Eastern District of California.
January 1, 2016, plaintiff Michael Valdez
(“Plaintiff”) was stopped while riding his
bicycle by Hanford Police Department Officer Larry Leeds
(“Leeds”), who used his patrol car to effectuate
the stop. ECF No. 109 at 7. As a result of that stop,
Plaintiff filed this action, alleging various claims under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”) and state law.
See generally ECF No. 77. Plaintiff later amended
his action to include further § 1983 claims, based on
subsequent actions allegedly taken by Hanford Police
Department (“Hanford PD”) officers and its
purported agents after the initial filing of this case. ECF
No. 77 at ¶¶ 47-72, 111-147. Before the Court are
three motions for summary judgment, one from Plaintiff and
two from Defendants. ECF Nos. 107, 108, 109. The Court finds
it appropriate to rule on the motions without oral argument.
See Local Rule 230(g). For the following reasons,
the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the motions.
January 1, 2016, Plaintiff was stopped while riding his
bicycle by Defendant Leeds following a pursuit. ECF Nos.108-6
at 2; 109 at 7. Leeds used his patrol car to effectuate the
stop, with the exact physics of the stop disputed between
Plaintiff and Leeds, though undisputed that, one way or
another, Plaintiff ended up off his bicycle. Id.
Also contested is whether Plaintiff physically resisted
Leeds' efforts to arrest him once Plaintiff was off his
bicycle. ECF Nos. 77 at ¶¶ 27-29; 108-6 at 2.
Neither side disagrees that Leeds imparted strikes to
Plaintiff's head and body-to gain Plaintiff's
compliance according to Leeds. ECF No. 108-6 at 2. Plaintiff,
however, casts those strikes as excessive force. ECF No. 77
at ¶¶ 83, 94. Plaintiff brings a § 1983 claim
against Leeds for excessive force for both the bicycle stop
and the body strikes, as well as a claim of battery. ECF No.
77 at ¶¶ 80-87, 93-99. Plaintiff also brings a
Monell claim against Hanford Police Department,
Leeds' employer, for the bicycle stop. Id. at
received a medical evaluation and treatment following his
interaction with Leeds, and he was released to be booked into
Kings County Jail with discharge instructions to see an
ophthalmologist approximately three days later. ECF Nos. 107
at 4-5; 115 at 5-6. Plaintiff contends that the jail's
private entity medical provider, NaphCare, was deficient in
its rendering of care once Plaintiff was booked because
NaphCare did not send Plaintiff to see a specialist until two
weeks after his admission to the jail and because Plaintiff
was sent to an optometrist instead of an ophthalmologist. ECF
No. 77 at ¶ 42. Neither Plaintiff nor NaphCare disputes
that Plaintiff had a preexisting eye injury at the time of
his interaction with Leeds. ECF Nos. 107 at 2-4; 115 at 3-5.
At issue is whether that interaction or NaphCare's
allegedly deficient care, or both or neither, exacerbated the
injury. ECF Nos. 107 at 1-2; 115 at 9-10. Plaintiff brings a
Monell claim against NaphCare. ECF No. 77 at
Plaintiff alleges that once he filed his original § 1983
complaint in this case, he experienced an uptick in police
surveillance of himself and his home, and increased
interaction with police officers that he characterizes as
retaliatory harassment. ECF No. 77 at ¶¶ 47-72,
111-147. Plaintiff contends that this behavior culminated
with police obtaining a search warrant for his home,
motivated solely by animus towards Plaintiff. Id. at
¶¶ 70, 114; 114 at 20. Police allegedly found drugs
at Plaintiff's home, and he was arrested, which Plaintiff
characterizes as a retaliatory arrest. ECF Nos. 77 at ¶
70; 114 at 20. Plaintiff was later arrested on additional
charges of witness intimidation, which police allege are
related to the drug case and Plaintiff alleges are, again,
retaliatory. ECF Nos. 77 at ¶ 72; 108-6 at 2; 114 at 20.
The drugs and witness intimidation charges are still pending.
ECF No. 77 at ¶ 71.
brings a § 1983 claim against various officers and
Hanford PD, alleging retaliatory violation of his First
Amendment rights. ECF No. 77 at ¶¶ 111-122.
Plaintiff also brings a Bane Act claim and claims under the
California Constitution. Id. at ¶¶
details and facts will be supplied as needed.
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a
“court shall grant summary judgment if the 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). At summary judgment, a court's
function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth
but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.
See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
249 (1986). The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in
favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility
determinations or weigh the evidence. See Id. at
255; see also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). But if the evidence of
the nonmoving party is merely colorable or is not
significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 249-50.
is “material” if its proof or disproof is
essential to an element of a plaintiff's case.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23
(1986). A factual dispute is “genuine” “if
the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. at 248. “Where the record taken as
a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for
the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for
trial.” Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co., Ltd. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal
moving party bears the initial burden of informing the Court
of the basis for its motion, and of identifying those
portions of the pleadings and discovery responses that
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact
for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving
party meets its initial burden, the nonmoving party must go
beyond the pleadings and, by its own affidavits or discovery,
set forth specific facts showing that there is some genuine
issue for trial in order to defeat the motion. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
mentioned, due to its extraordinary caseload, this Court will
not dissect and discuss exhaustively the pending cross
motions. With few exceptions, only the arguments raised by
the parties are addressed, and the Court's analysis and
explanations are limited to those issues and facts necessary
Police Defendants' Motion for Summary
individually named police officers (Leeds, Patrick Jurdon,
Dale Williams, Christifer Barker, Jared Cotta) and Hanford PD
(collectively, “Defendants”) contend that they
should be granted summary judgment on all of Plaintiff s
Fourth Amendment claims under the Heck
doctrine and that they should be granted summary
judgment on all First Amendment claims based on a lack of
evidence. See ECF No. 108. The Court begins with the
claims potentially affected by the Heck doctrine.
The Fourth Amendment Claims
pled guilty to two counts of violating California Penal Code
§ 148(a)(1) (“§ 148(a)(1)”) on February
27, 2019, related to his interaction with Leeds and another
officer, Chad Allen (“Allen”), who is not named
as a defendant in this suit. ECF No. 108-2 at Ex. 101.
Section 148(a)(1) prohibits obstructing, delaying, or
resisting a police officer in the lawful discharge of her
duties. Cal. Penal Code § 148. Plaintiffs plea came
after a jury had been seated and seemingly heard testimony in
Plaintiffs criminal trial on the counts involved in his plea,
as well as other counts related to the events of January 1,
2016. ECF No. 108-2 at Ex. 101. Specifically,
Plaintiff pled guilty to willfully and unlawfully resisting,
delaying, and obstructing Leeds, and separately to willfully
and unlawfully resisting, delaying and obstructing Allen.
Id. Neither the plea colloquy nor any other document
in the present record specifies the exact conduct associated
with each of those pleas. Id.
the Heck doctrine, a plaintiff is barred from
bringing suit under § 1983 if “a judgment in favor
of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of
his conviction or sentence.” Heck v. Humphrey,
512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). California applies a similar
doctrine, and “[t]he California Supreme Court has not
distinguished between the application of Heck to
§ 1983 claims and the application of analogous
California law to state-law claims.” Hooper v.
County of San Diego, 629 F.3d 1127, 1134 (9th Cir.
2011). Thus, Plaintiff's two guilty pleas bar § 1983
and state law claims if prevailing on those civil claims
would undermine the integrity of his convictions, by, for
example, negating an element of the crime. Heck, 512
U.S. at 486-87 n.6.
conviction under § 148(a)(1) requires, as a necessary
element, that “the police officer was acting lawfully
in the discharge or attempted discharge of her duties at the
time the defendant resisted, delayed, or obstructed the
officer.” Rodriguez v. City of Modesto, No.
1:10-CV-01370-LJO-MJS, 2013 WL 6415620, at *4 (E.D. Cal. Dec.
9, 2013). “A police officer is not lawfully performing
her duties if she arrests an individual without probable
cause [ ] or uses unreasonable or excessive force on the
individual at the time the defendant's unlawful
resistance, delay or obstruction is occurring.”
Id. (omitting internal citation). Thus, an officer
may use reasonable force in response to a defendant's
§ 148(a)(1) violation, but if the officer responds with
excessive force, the claim will not be barred by
Heck. Rodriguez, 2013 WL 6415620, *4-5;
see also Hooper, 629 F.3d at 1130, 1133-34.
argument is straightforward: they contend that
Plaintiff's plea bars absolutely all Fourth Amendment
claims related to his stop and arrest in their entirety
because Plaintiff's plea necessarily dictates that Leeds
was acting lawfully throughout the course of events in
response to Plaintiff's unlawful behavior. ECF No. 108-6
at 8-10. Defendants cast Plaintiff's actions on January
1, 2016, as one continuous course of conduct. Id. at
counters in his opposition that his actions should be parsed
moment by moment, and that when so parsed, any of fourteen
separate actions could support Plaintiff's plea to
violating § 148(a)(1). ECF No. 114 at 12-15. Plaintiff
argues that his plea did not include a factual recitation of
which of the fourteen actions constituted the basis of his
plea; therefore, his specific claims are not Heck
barred, and no claims could be, in what can only be described
as a legal theory of “hide the ball” turned on
its head. Id. at 14-15. Further, Plaintiff's
complaint denies all resistive actions, which clearly stands
at odds and is incompatible with his guilty plea. ECF No. 77
at ¶¶ 27-29.
Plaintiff and Defendants devote valuable resources to arguing
over the meaning of Smith v. City of Hemet, 394 F.3d
689 (9th Cir. 2005), but the rule from Smith was
modified in later cases that are directly relevant to the
question at hand. In 2008, the California Supreme Court
decided Yount v. City of Sacramento, in
which a criminal defendant engaged in a continuous chain of
violative actions; subsequently pled guilty to violating
§ 148(a)(1); and afterwards brought § 1983 claims
against a police officer involved with his arrest. 43 Cal.4th
885 (2008). Despite the continuous course of events and
despite the defendant's plea, the California Supreme
Court sustained the defendant's § 148(a)(1)
conviction while finding the police officer's conduct was
both lawful and unlawful when broken down in a timeline.
Id. at 900. This Court discussed Yount and
the Ninth Circuit's acknowledgment of it:
The California Supreme Court distinguished the facts in
Smith from those in Yount, finding that
“unlike in Smith, Yount's acts of resistance were
part of one continuous transaction involving the
officers' efforts to effect his arrest and cannot be
segregated into an investigative phase and an independent
arrest phase.” Heck barred Yount's §
1983 claim to “the extent that [it] alleges that he
offered no resistance, that he posed no reasonable threat of
obstruction to the officers, and that the officers had no
justification to employ any force against him at the time he
was shot [.]” However, Yount's § 1983 claims
were not entirely barred by Heck, even though the
allegedly excessive force was used during “one
continuous transaction.” Rather, even if events
transpired in a “continuous chain of events, ”
multiple “factual contexts” could exist. One
might “giv[e] rise to criminal liability on the part of
the criminal defendant, and the second [might] giv[e] rise to
civil liability on the part of the arresting officer.”
. . .
The Ninth Circuit applied the lessons of Yount in
Hooper, 629 F.3d 1127. In that case, viewing the
evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff on a motion
to dismiss, plaintiff struggled briefly with an arresting K9
officer, but stopped resisting after the officer secured her
hands behind her back. Shortly thereafter, concerned because
spectators had gathered near his patrol vehicle, the K9
officer called his dog to “come here.” The dog
then ran toward plaintiff and bit her several times. Hooper
alleged that the dog bites constituted excessive force.
Because the conviction and the § 1983 claim were
“based on different actions during ‘one
continuous transaction' ” the Ninth Circuit
permitted the excessive force claim to proceed.
Rodriguez, 2013 WL 6415620, at *7 (citations
are incorrect that Plaintiff's plea absolutely bars all
claims related to his stop and arrest. Plaintiff's plea
dictates that Leeds and Allen engaged in some lawful police
conduct that was resisted, delayed, or obstructed. However,
under Yount and Hooper, that does not
necessarily entail that Leeds was engaged in lawful police
conduct throughout the course of events.
is similarly incorrect that his actions must be analyzed as
fourteen discrete actus rei. To do so would lead to
absurd outcomes, e.g., requiring a prosecutor to charge
fourteen counts of § 148(a)(1), one for each action.
Likewise, to find that there is no factual predicate in the
record for Plaintiff's plea in relation to Leeds, and
thus that no civil claims implicate the Heck
doctrine, completely eviscerates that doctrine. California
misdemeanor pleas do not require a specific factual
recitation for the record, In re Gross, 33 Cal.3d
561 (1983), but that does not mean no evidence as to the
conduct underlying the plea exists or that a defendant may
avoid the Heck bar by pleading guilty to a
misdemeanor rather than standing trial-such would be a
perverse incentive to plead, if one could avoid
Heck, and a reward to those engaging in multiple
acts of wrongdoing.
Hooper, the Ninth Circuit stated “a conviction
under California Penal Code § 148(a)(1) does not bar a
§ 1983 claim for excessive force under Heck
when the conviction and the § 1983 claim are based on
different actions during ‘one continuous
transaction.' ” 629 F.3d at 1134. As in
Hooper (and Yount), the chain of events
constituting Plaintiff's arrest was “one continuous
transaction, ” in that they derive from Leeds'
attempt to stop and arrest Plaintiff, and Plaintiff's
flight from and physical resistance to the same. See
Hooper, 629 F.3d at 1133. Accordingly, Plaintiff only
has viable claims under Heck to the extent that
different actions during the one continuous transaction give
rise to Plaintiff's convictions and Plaintiff's civil
Plaintiff contends that his plea to § 148(a)(1) in
relation to Allen is irrelevant to his civil action since he
did not name Allen as a defendant, Plaintiff is incorrect.
His plea in relation to Allen is both relevant and necessary
to the Court's analysis, in light of Hooper.
See also Yount, 43 Cal.4th at 896-97
(“Otherwise, a section 1983 plaintiff could routinely
circumvent the Heck bar through artful
pleading-e.g., by filing suit against fewer than all of the
potential defendants or by defining the civil cause of action
to encompass fewer than all of the criminal acts of
resistance.”). According to the record, Allen arrived
to assist Leeds when Leeds was struggling physically with
Plaintiff to gain Plaintiff's compliance and place
Plaintiff under arrest. ECF Nos. 109-3 at Ex. 4; 109-4 at
Exs. 1, 2, 16; 114 at 14; 114-3 at Ex. 36. Allen physically
assisted Leeds with Plaintiff's arrest. Id.
Thus, Plaintiff's plea in relation to Allen dictates that
Plaintiff's arrest was lawful and that his physical
resistance was unlawful. In other words, Allen was engaged in
lawful police conduct when he assisted with placing Plaintiff
plea colloquy and related records do not specifically
identify the factual basis for Plaintiff's plea in
relation to resisting Leeds. Hypothetically, this charge (and
the plea) could have stemmed from a number of “factual
contexts” or “different actions” in the one
continuous transaction. Was Plaintiff
resisting/obstructing/delaying while he was riding his
bicycle? Or, was the charge premised on the struggle that
ensued after Plaintiff was no longer on his bicycle?
Plaintiff's plea to resisting Allen helps narrow the
field of possibilities, at least for purposes of
Heck. That Leeds was engaged in lawful police
conduct during the struggle with Plaintiff is implied
because, ipso facto, Allen was engaged in lawful
police conduct when assisting Leeds with arresting Plaintiff.
It is not possible to assume otherwise and simultaneously
uphold the essential purpose of Heck: to ensure that
the outcome of a civil lawsuit would not undermine a criminal
conviction. In other words, a finding that Leeds was engaged
in unlawful conduct while Allen assisted Leeds would
necessarily undermine the lawfulness of Allen's conduct
as well, which is not permitted under Heck.
Moreover, Plaintiff's plea in relation to Leeds entails
Plaintiff's concession that, at some point, Leeds
employed reasonable force in response to Plaintiff's
unlawful resistance, delay, or obstruction.
Rodriguez, 2013 WL 6415620, at *4. Plaintiff cannot
avoid the implications of his plea, and artful pleading,
including the omission of certain defendants, will not allow
Plaintiff to avoid Heck. Yount, 43 Cal.4th
Court's conclusion is bolstered further by
Plaintiff's complaint. As relates to the time when Leeds
physically struggled with Plaintiff and Allen arrived on
scene, “Plaintiff[ ] did not allege facts showing how
the force at issue differed from or exceeded the reasonable
force Defendants lawfully could have employed to arrest
Plaintiff[ ] for [his] § 148(a)(1) violations.”