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Acosta v. California Highway Patrol

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

September 23, 2019

CRISTOBAL ACOSTA, Plaintiff,
v.
CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL, et al., Defendants.

         ORDER SUA SPONTE RECONSIDERING ORDER DENYING THE PARTIES’ REQUEST TO CONTINUE TRIAL (ECF 74), GRANTING THE PARTIES’ REQUEST TO CONTINUE TRIAL (ECF 64); SUA SPONTE RECONSIDERING ORDER DENYING MOTION TO REMAND TO STATE COURT (ECF 80), GRANTING MOTION TO REMAND TO STATE COURT (ECF 66)

          BETH LAB SON FREEMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Upon review of Plaintiff’s Reply in Support of Motion to Remand Entire Action to State Court (Reply, ECF 79) and as discussed during the September 17, 2019 case management conference, the Court has sua sponte RECONSIDERED its Order Denying The Parties’ Request to Continue Trial (ECF 74) and now GRANTS the parties’ request to Continue Trial and Related Dates at ECF 64. In light of the now-continued trial date, the Court has further sua sponte RECONSIDERED its Order Denying Motion to Remand (ECF 80) and now GRANTS Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand Entire Action to State Court at ECF 66. Trial dates are hereby VACATED and the case is REMANDED to state court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from a police shooting incident. Plaintiff, Mr. Acosta, was sitting in his car at the side of the road with a mechanical breakdown that caused “backfiring.” Two California Highway Patrol (“CHP”) officers-responding to an on-duty CHP sergeant’s report of an explosion from the car or possible “shots fired”-opened fire, believing that the loud sounds coming from Plaintiff’s car were gunfire. One of the bullets struck Plaintiff, who was in fact not armed and had committed no crime. Plaintiff sued the CHP and three CHP officers (collectively, “Defendants”).

         On September 6, 2018, this Court issued a Case Management Order, setting trial to begin on September 30, 2019-six months later than the trial date requested by the parties.[1] ECF 34. In the same order, the Court set the final pretrial conference on August 22, 2019. Id.

         Defendants filed their motion for summary judgment on January 24, 2019, seeking judgment in their favor on all claims. See ECF 45. The Court held a hearing on Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on May 2, 2019. On June 24, 2019, the Court issued its Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, dismissing all of Plaintiff’s federal claims, leaving only Plaintiff’s state-law claims for battery and negligence. Summary Judgment Order, ECF 58. Plaintiff has chosen not to appeal the Court’s Summary Judgment Order. ECF 66 at 3.

         Per the Court’s Standing Order re Civil Jury Trials, the parties were required to file certain documents at least 14 days before the final pretrial conference. When the parties failed to file those papers, the Court issued an Order to Show Cause why sanctions against both sides should not issue. ECF 63. On the same day, August 16, 2019, the parties filed a joint stipulation requesting the trial to be continued to June 3, 2020. ECF 64 at 1. In justifying their request, the parties explained that their focus had been on the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment and efforts to settle the litigation. ECF 64-1 at 2. Therefore, “in an effort to reduce the costs of litigation to all parties and the burden on the Court, ” the parties had agreed to postpone discovery and other litigation efforts pending the Court’s decision on summary judgment and the outcome of the settlement conference held on August 15, 2019. Id.

         A few days later, the parties filed timely responses to the Court’s Order to Show Cause. See ECF 67; ECF 68. On August 19, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand the Entire Action to State Court. ECF 66. Three days later, on August 22, 2019, the Court held its final pretrial conference. After the pretrial conference, the Court discharged the Order to Show Cause based on the parties’ written responses and statements at the hearing. ECF 74. In the same order, the Court denied the parties’ joint request to Continue Trial and Related Dates, finding that the parties had failed to show diligence and therefore did not demonstrate good cause to continue the trial date. Id.

         On September 3, 2019, Defendants filed their opposition to the motion for remand. ECF 78. Plaintiff replied on the same day. Reply, ECF 79. On September 12, 2019, the Court inadvertently issued an on order denying the motion to remand before reviewing Plaintiff’s Reply and the accompanying declaration. Plaintiff promptly brought this error to the Court’s attention and the Court immediately set a case management conference. The case management conference was held on September 17, 2019. ECF 83.

         In the Reply, Plaintiff explains that counsel for the parties jointly made a miscalculation – they decided to delay expert disclosures until after the Court issued its Summary Judgment Order, based on the “prediction” that “the ruling would result in an appeal and/or a remand of the state-law claims, ” meaning that in either scenario, trial would not go forward in September 2019. Reply at 3. At the September 17, 2019 conference, counsel for both parties confirmed the substance of this conversation. As it is so often the case, what followed did not match parties’ “prediction.” The Court granted summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s federal claims, but not the state-law claims of negligence and battery. Plaintiff chose not to appeal the Summary Judgment Order. Also, the settlement conference held before Judge DeMarchi did not result in settlement. Consequently, mere weeks before trial, the parties found themselves with no expert discovery.

         At the September 17, 2019 conference, counsel explained that after the Court’s pretrial conference, both parties diligently worked to retain expert witnesses, prepare expert reports, and take depositions. Despite those efforts, however, Plaintiff’s expert witness on the issue of damages, a neuropsychologist, is unavailable to provide live testimony at trial. Instead, the jury is to watch a video of the expert witness’s deposition. For their part, Defendants have retained their expert witnesses, prepared reports (at extra cost due to the rushed schedule), and are prepared to present live expert testimony at trial.

         II. PARTIES’ REQUEST TO CONTINUE TRIAL

         The Court has now reviewed Plaintiff’s Reply (and the accompanying declaration) and heard the parties’ positions at the September 17, 2019 case management conference. Upon further reflection, the Court finds that a rigid application of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16 would result in avoidable and unnecessary prejudice to Plaintiff. It is settled that district courts have broad discretion to control the course of litigation under Rule 16. Hunt v. Cty. of Orange, 672 F.3d 606, 616 (9th Cir. 2012). Thus, ...


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