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Riley v. Alameda County Sheriff’s Office

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fifth Division

December 17, 2019

William RILEY, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
ALAMEDA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE, Defendant and Respondent.

         [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 707] Superior Court of Alameda County, No. RG15791353, Hon. Ioana Petrou, Judge. (Alameda County Super. Ct. No. RG15791353)

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         COUNSEL

         Timothy P. Rumberger, Berkeley, and Law Offices of Timothy P. Rumberger, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

         Haapala, Thompson & Abern, Rebecca S. Widen, Jody Struck, Oakland, and Christopher M. Wolcott, for Defendant and Respondent.

          OPINION

         SIMONS, J.

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         [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 708] Vehicle Code section 17004.7[1] provides a public agency immunity from liability for collisions involving vehicles being pursued by

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peace officers if the agency "adopts and promulgates a written policy on, and provides regular and periodic training on an annual basis for, vehicular pursuits ...." (� 17004.7, subd. (b)(1); see also Ramirez v. City of Gardena (2018) 5 Cal.5th 995, 997, 236 Cal.Rptr.3d 374, 422 P.3d 1022');">422 P.3d 1022 (Ramirez ).) Plaintiff and appellant William Riley (Riley) was injured when a car being pursued by officers employed by defendant and respondent Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (Sheriff) ran a red light and collided with Riley’s motorcycle. The trial court granted the Sheriff summary judgment under section 17004.7. On appeal, Riley contends the court erred, arguing the Sheriff’s policy, promulgation of the policy, and training did not comply with section 17004.7. We affirm.

          BACKGROUND

         Because our decision does not turn on the circumstances of the underlying incident, we provide only a brief summary. On October 29, 2014, Riley was riding a motorcycle through a green light on High Street at International Boulevard in Oakland, when he was struck by a car fleeing from Sheriff’s deputies in marked cars.[2] The suspects in the car that struck Riley were suspected of theft and the car had been reported as stolen. Riley traveled on the hood of the car for some distance, until the car crashed. Riley suffered serious bodily injury.

          In October 2015, Riley filed suit against the Sheriff, individual deputies, and the suspects and other persons associated with them. In February 2016, Riley filed his Second Amended (and operative) Complaint (Complaint). In June 2016, defaults were entered against the suspects and others associated with them. In July 2016, the trial court sustained the Sheriff’s demurrer without leave to amend as to three of the causes of action in the Complaint. The court also dismissed the individual officers from the action.

         In April 2018, Riley filed a motion for summary adjudication, and, in May, the Sheriff filed a motion for summary judgment or adjudication. In December, the trial court granted the Sheriff’s motion for summary judgment and denied Riley’s motion, concluding the Sheriff is entitled to immunity under section 17004.7.

          The trial court entered judgment in favor of the Sheriff and this appeal followed.

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          DISCUSSION

         Riley contends the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because the Sheriff’s pursuit policy, promulgation of the policy, and training did not comply with section 17004.7. We reject his contentions.

         I. Summary of Section 17004.7

         " ‘Except as otherwise provided by statute,’ a ‘public entity is not liable for an [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 709] injury, whether such injury arises out of an act or omission of the public entity or a public employee or any other person.’ (Gov. Code, � 815, subd. (a).) [S]ection 17001 creates a statutory exception to public entities’ general tort immunity: ‘A public entity is liable for death or injury to person or property proximately caused by a negligent or wrongful act or omission in the operation of any motor vehicle by an employee of the public entity acting within the scope of his employment.’ ‘Section 17004.7 in turn limits the liability that ... section 17001 otherwise permits by affording immunity to public agencies that adopt and implement appropriate vehicle pursuit policies.’ " (Ramirez, supra, 5 Cal.5th at p. 999, 236 Cal.Rptr.3d 374, 422 P.3d 1022.)

         Subdivision (b) of section 17004.7 provides: "(1) A public agency employing peace officers that adopts and promulgates a written policy on, and provides regular and periodic training on an annual basis for, vehicular pursuits complying with subdivisions (c) and (d) is immune from liability for civil damages for personal injury to or death of any person or damage to property resulting from the collision of a vehicle being operated by an actual or suspected violator of the law who is being, has been, or believes he or she is being or has been, pursued in a motor vehicle by a peace officer employed by the public entity. [¶] (2) Promulgation of the written policy under paragraph (1) shall include, but is not limited to, a requirement that all peace officers of the public agency certify in writing that they have received, read, and understand the policy. The failure of an individual officer to sign a certification shall not be used to impose liability on an individual officer or a public entity."

         Subdivision (c) of section 17004.7 contains "detailed requirements" for pursuit policies. (Ramirez, supra, 5 Cal.5th at p. 999, fn. 1, 236 Cal.Rptr.3d 374, 422 P.3d 1022');">422 P.3d 1022.) The section specifies twelve "minimum standards" that "[a] policy for the safe conduct of motor vehicle pursuits by peace officers shall meet ...." (� 17004.7, subd. (c).) As relevant in the present case, minimum standard number seven is "Determine the factors to be considered by a peace officer and supervisor in determining speeds throughout a pursuit. Evaluation shall take into consideration public safety, peace officer safety, and safety of the occupants in a fleeing vehicle." (Ibid. ) And minimum standard number eight is "Determine

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the role of air support, where available. Air support shall include coordinating the activities of resources on the ground, reporting on the progress of a pursuit, and providing peace officers and supervisors with information to evaluate whether or not to continue the pursuit."

         Subdivision (b) of section 17004.7 requires a public agency to provide "regular and periodic training" regarding its pursuit policy, and section 17004.7, subdivision (d), defines that as "annual training that shall include, at a minimum, coverage of each of the subjects and elements set forth in subdivision (c) and that shall comply, at a minimum, with the training guidelines established pursuant to Section 13519.8 of the Penal Code." Penal Code section 13519.8 provides that the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST Commission) "shall implement a course or courses of instruction for the regular and periodic training of law enforcement officers in the handling of high-speed vehicle pursuits." (See also Pen. Code, � 13500, subd. (a); Ramirez, supra, 5 Cal.5th at p. 999, fn. 1, 236 Cal.Rptr.3d 374, 422 P.3d 1022');">422 P.3d 1022.) Penal Code section 13519.8, subdivision (b), provides that "The course or courses of basic training for law enforcement officers and the guidelines shall include adequate consideration of" 15 [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 710] specific subjects, including "speed limits."[3]

         Penal Code section 13519.8, in addition to providing for development of the training guidelines referenced in Section 17004.7, subd. (d), also provides for the development of vehicle pursuit guidelines (Guidelines). Thus, section 13519.8, subdivision (a)(1) of the Penal Code states, "The commission shall implement a course or courses of instruction for the regular and periodic training of law enforcement officers in the handling of high-speed vehicle pursuits and shall also develop uniform, minimum guidelines for adoption and promulgation by California law enforcement agencies for response to high-speed vehicle pursuits. The guidelines and course of instruction shall stress the importance of vehicle safety and protecting the public at all times, include a regular assessment of law enforcement’s vehicle pursuit policies, practices, and training, and recognize the need to balance the known offense and the need for immediate capture against the risks to officers and other citizens of a high-speed pursuit. These guidelines shall be a resource for each agency executive to use in the creation of a specific pursuit policy that the agency is encouraged to adopt and promulgate, and that reflects the needs

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of the agency, the jurisdiction it serves, and the law." The POST Commission’s Guidelines are available online; they were published in 1995 and most recently revised in February 2007.[4] Section 17004.7, subdivision (e) references the Guidelines, stating "The requirements in subdivision (c) are consistent with the 1995 California Law Enforcement Vehicle Pursuit Guidelines developed by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training pursuant to Section 13519.8 of the Penal Code that will assist agencies in the development of their pursuit policies."

         "The requirement of adoption of a written policy [that] complies with section 17004.7, subdivision (c) obviously was intended to provide entity control over the pursuing officers during a pursuit. [Citation.] The requirement of entity control, we believe, in turn was intended to reduce the number and frequency of unreasonably dangerous pursuits and the resulting accidents." (Payne v. City of Perris (1993) 12 Cal.App.4th 1738, 1747, 16 Cal.Rptr.2d 143');">16 Cal.Rptr.2d 143 (Payne ); see also McGee v. City of Laguna Beach (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 537, 542, 65 Cal.Rptr.2d 506');">65 Cal.Rptr.2d 506 (McGee ) ["The immunity is designed to encourage police departments to adopt express safe pursuit guidelines, thereby reducing the frequency of accidents."].)

         [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 711] In 2005, section 17004.7 was amended to its current form, partially in response to a court of appeal decision that observed that the statute granted "a ‘get out of liability free card’ to public entities that go through the formality of adopting such a policy. There is no requirement the public entity implement the policy through training or other means. Simply adopting the policy is sufficient under the current state of the law." (Nguyen v. City of Westminster (2002) 103 Cal.App.4th 1161, 1168, 127 Cal.Rptr.2d 388 (Nguyen ); see also Ramirez, supra, 5 Cal.5th at pp. 999-1000, 236 Cal.Rptr.3d 374, 422 P.3d 1022');">422 P.3d 1022; Stats. 2005, ch. 485, � 11, pp. 3825-3827 [Sen. Bill 719 (2005-2006 Reg. Sess.) ]; Sen. Comm. on Judiciary, Analysis of Sen. Bill 719, as amended May 5, 2005, at p. 7 [discussing Nguyen ]; Sen. Comm. on Pub. Safety, Analysis of Sen. Bill 719, as amended May 19, 2005, at p. K [same].) In Ramirez, at page 1000, 236 Cal.Rptr.3d 374, 422 P.3d 1022');">422 P.3d 1022, the ...


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