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Nazarzai v. County of Orange

United States District Court, C.D. California, Southern Division

December 30, 2019

ZULMAI NAZARZAI, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF ORANGE, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION WITH FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          HON. ANDREW J. GUILFORD UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Whenever the Government reaches its strong arm down to put someone in jail, important issues are always raised. Especially when it's done without a jury for a failure to pay money. For nearly six years. In a case where a public defender would have been helpful from the start, but was not originally provided.

         Plaintiff Zulmai Nazarzai seeks damages for his nearly six-year civil contempt imprisonment ordered by a state court judge for the failure to pay $360, 540. He also seeks damages for religious discrimination.

         After a five day bench trial, the Court considered providing its Findings of Fact and Conclusions Law orally and immediately. Instead, the Court concluded that the matter needed additional briefing, followed by this written Memorandum of Decision. The Court now provides its Findings of Fact, which show the difficulties that have been imposed on Mr. Nazarzai. The Conclusions of Law that follow, however, ultimately establish that a defense judgment is required in this case.

         In July 2009, a civil complaint was filed by the State of California against Mr. Nazarzai and others for unfair business practices. (Dkt. No. 100 at 2; Dkt. No. 108 at 14.) The state court issued a preliminary injunction that was served on Mr. Nazarzai. (Dkt. No. 100 at 2.) Under the terms of the preliminary injunction, Mr. Nazarzai disclosed cash assets totaling $370, 540. (Id.) On July 1, 2010, the court ordered Mr. Nazarzai to turn over $360, 540 within a day. (Id.) Mr. Nazarzai didn't turn over the money, and on July 19, 2010, the court issued an order to show cause regarding contempt. (Id.)

         After several proceedings and a contempt trial, in December 2010, the court ordered Mr. Nazarzai jailed until he paid $360, 540 or until the conclusion of the underlying proceedings. (Id.) Mr. Nazarzai testified that the cash disappeared while under the control of his ex-fiancé, Sharon Fasela (See Dkt. No. 107 at 31.) For many years, Mr. Nazarzai sought his release from jail through the state and federal court system. (Dkt. No. 100 at 2-3.) By December 2012, the trial court issued a second turnover order for the same amount of money. (Id. at 4.)

         In March 2014, Mr. Nazarzai attempted suicide. (See Dkt. No. 99 at 14.) In December 2014, the trial court appointed a public defender for Mr. Nazarzai. (Id. at 18.)

         To support this, Mr. Nazarzai stated under penalty of perjury that he: had no assets in excess of $500; owned no real property; owned no personal property in excess of $500; owed no interest in any motor vehicle, boat, or aircraft; owned no bank accounts in any financial institution; owned no stocks or bonds; owned no security interests; owned no promissory notes or other negotiable instruments; held no judgments against others; owned no businesses; wasn't a beneficiary or any estate or trust; owned no interest in any insurance policy; owned no annuities; and had no other appreciable assets. (See Dkt. No. 108 at 11.) Based on that evidence, the trial court provided a public defender. (Id.)

         Mr. Nazarzai continued to seek his release in state and federal courts. (Dkt. No. 100 at 8.) He repeatedly argued that his incarceration violated California Penal Code Section 19.2. (Dkt. No. 100 at 3-8.) In 2015, the California Court of Appeal found that Plaintiff wasn't committed within the meaning of Section 19.2 to a length of time in jail for civil contempt, but instead was incarcerated for an indefinite period until he followed the trial court's orders within the meaning of California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1219(a). (See Dkt. No. 91 at 16-17.) Section 1219(a) states, “When the contempt consists of the omission to perform an act which is yet in the power of the person to perform, he or she may be imprisoned until he or she has performed it, and in that case the act shall be specified in the warrant of the commitment.” (Id.)

         During his time in jail, Mr. Nazarzai also made multiple complaints regarding religious discrimination against his Islamic faith. (Dkt. No. 99 at 4-9.) Further, Mr. Nazarzai testified at trial that his young daughter may have outgrown his lap in the years he was imprisoned, but his love for his daughter and the pain he felt being away from her never left him. (Dkt. 108 at 13.)

         In September 2016, the California Court of Appeal ordered the trial court to set aside and vacate a February 2016 order denying Mr. Nazarzai's petition for writ of habeas corpus and request for an evidentiary hearing. (Dkt. No. 100 at 8.) The Court of Appeal ordered the trial court to hold an evidentiary hearing with in 45 days and decide whether: (1) Mr. Nazarzai had the present ability to comply with the December 2012 turnover order, (2) a substantial likelihood existed that continued confinement would accomplish the purpose of the December 2012 turnover order, and (3) Mr. Nazarzai's continued conferment had not become punitive rather than coercive. (Id.) On October 28, 2016, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing as ordered by the California Court of Appeal. (Id.)

         Finally, on November 4, 2016, the trial court released Mr. Nazarzai from custody. (Id.) Less than a year later, Mr. Nazarzai filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and 42 U.S.C. Section 2000cc-1, requesting monetary damages against Defendants the County of Orange, the Orange County Sherriff's Department (“OCSD”), former Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, and Deputy Ben Garcia. (Dkt. No. 1 at 11.)

         The Court now turns to the applicable law. To bring a Section 1983 claim against a municipal entity for the actions of its employees or agents, Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) requires that a plaintiff show: (1) the constitutional violation at issue was the result of a governmental policy or a longstanding practice or custom; (2) the individual defendant who committed the constitutional violation was an official with final policy-making authority; or (3) an official with final policy-making authority ratified the unconstitutional act. See Gillette v. Delmore, 979 F.2d 1342, 1346-47 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) and others).

         To bring a Section 1983 claim against defendants in their individual capacities, a plaintiff must allege that a defendant, while acting under color of state law, caused a deprivation of the plaintiff's federal rights. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (citations omitted); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989) (citation omitted). There is no vicarious liability in Section 1983 lawsuits. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009). Thus, government officials, whether subordinates or supervisors, may be held liable under ...


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