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Barajas v. City of Rhonert Park

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 10, 2016

RAUL BARAJAS, et al., Plaintiffs,
CITY OF ROHNERT PARK, et al., Defendants.


          MARIA-ELENA JAMES United States Magistrate Judge.


         Pending before the Court is Defendant City of Rohnert Park’s (the “City” or “Defendant”) follow-up Motion for Summary Judgment addressing the City’s potential Monell[1] liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 regarding the “Randolph rule” stemming from the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006). Def.’s Mot., Dkt. No. 71; see also Defs.’ Br. in Supp. of City’s Mot. (“City Br.”), Dkt. No. 76.[2] The Court has carefully considered the parties’ positions, reviewed the record and supporting documents in this case, and explored the relevant legal authorities. Ultimately, the Court DENIES the City’s Motion; however, as explained below, the Court also sua sponte certifies two issues for interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b): (1) whether the Randolph rule applies to this case, and (2) whether reasonable suspicion was required for the search in this case.


         On February 5, 2016, the Court issued an Order on the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment. Order re: Mots. for Summ. J. (“MSJ Order”), Dkt. No. 59; see Barajas v. City of Rohnert Park, ___F.Supp.3d___, 2016 WL 454068 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 5, 2016). For purposes of this Order, the Court incorporates the statement of facts from the MSJ Order (see “Background” section at pages 1-4). Simply put, this case is based on allegations that police officers conducted a suspicionless search of a probationer’s home over the objection of the probationer’s co-residents, Plaintiffs Elva and Raul Barajas (“Plaintiffs”)[3], despite the fact that the probationer himself had agreed to “warrantless” searches as a condition of his probation. The probationer is not a plaintiff in this case; only the co-residents bring suit.

         In the MSJ Order, the Court found, among other things, that the Supreme Court’s decision in Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006), applies in the context of probation searches such as the one in this case. See MSJ Order at 10-13; 18-22. In Randolph, the Supreme Court held that “a physically present inhabitant’s express refusal of consent to a police search is dispositive as to him, regardless of the consent of a fellow occupant.” 547 U.S. at 122-23. Put another way, the Supreme Court explained that “a warrantless search of a shared dwelling . . . over the express refusal of consent by a physically present resident cannot be justified as reasonable as to him on the basis of consent given to the police by another resident.” Id. at 120 (footnote omitted) (holding search invalid under Fourth Amendment when a physically-present occupant expressly objected to a search, notwithstanding the consent of a fellow occupant). As the Randolph Court explained, “in the balancing of competing individual and governmental interests entailed by the bar to unreasonable searches, . . . the cooperative occupant’s invitation adds nothing to the government’s side to counter the force of an objecting individual’s claim to security against the government’s intrusion into his dwelling place.” Id. at 114-15 (citation omitted). In comparing the individual’s interest in protecting the sanctity of his home, the Court found “[d]isputed permission is [] no match for this central value of the Fourth Amendment, and the State’s other countervailing claims do not add up to outweigh it.” Id. at 115. Consequently, this Court examined the “totality of the circumstances” of the search in this case, weighed the competing interests of the City and Plaintiffs, and found the Randolph rule “applied to the facts in this case as the government’s limited interests in conducting this search do not outweigh Plaintiffs’ continued interest in the privacy in their home.” MSJ Order at 19, 22.

         Ultimately, the Court found that “[b]ased on th[e] record, a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiffs can prove Defendants violated their Fourth Amendment rights by entering their home and conducting a warrantless and suspicionless search of their joint premises over their express objections.” Id. at 22. In doing so, the Court noted the record was unclear about precisely when police officers entered Plaintiffs’ home as compared to when Plaintiffs objected to the officers’ request to enter. Id. at 17-18. If the officers entered the home over Plaintiffs’ objections, the Court found a rational jury could conclude the search was unreasonable under Randolph; however, if the officers entered the home before Plaintiffs objected, the Court found the officers’ lack of reasonable suspicion alone did not make the search unconstitutional under United States v. King, 736 F.3d 805 (9th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 1492 (2014). MSJ Order at 18-28. According to the majority in King, “[u]nder California law, Defendant’s agreement to the warrantless search condition as part of his state-court probation was an agreement to be subject to suspicionless searches.” 736 F.3d at 806 n.3. Thus, while Plaintiffs had sought summary judgment on the ground that lack of reasonable suspicion made the search unconstitutional, the Court found the probationer’s warrantless search condition meant he consented to suspicionless searches; as such, “if a jury found Officer Tatum entered the home before Plaintiffs objected, [the probationer]’s consent justified a suspicionless search of the home he shared with them.” MSJ Order at 24-28 (but also noting, “[t]his finding does not necessarily mean the search was automatically reasonable simply because of [the probationer]’s consent; it means only that the Court cannot grant Plaintiffs summary judgment on the ground that reasonable suspicion was categorically required to perform this search.”). In sum, the Court found “a reasonable jury could conclude it was unreasonable for the officers to enter Plaintiffs’ home over their objections without a warrant and without reasonable suspicion.” Id. at 32.

         Nonetheless, the Court granted the individual Defendant officers qualified immunity for their decision to conduct a probation search of Plaintiffs’ home over their objections on the ground that Plaintiffs’ rights under these circumstances were not clearly established. Id. at 22-24 (citing Smith v. City of Santa Clara, 2013 WL 164191, at *8 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 15, 2013) (declining “to resolve the underlying constitutional question of whether the Fourth Amendment permits a probation search where another resident of the house is present and objects” but concluding the officers in that case were entitled to qualified immunity because it “would be reasonable to believe that a rule that applies to searches generally does not apply the same way to probation searches” and it was “not clearly established that Plaintiff’s refusal could or should trump the consent included as a condition of [the probationer’s] probation.”)).[4]

         Regarding the City’s Monell liability, however, the Court found that “as to the potential violation of the Randolph rule, . . . the parties have not sufficiently addressed Monell liability for this claim.” Id. at 36.[5] As the Court specifically noted, “[b]oth parties focused more on whether Randolph actually applied in this case but did not devote much argument or evidence as to whether the City’s action or inaction was the moving force behind the potential violation of the Randolph rule.” Id. Finding Randolph applied, the Court denied the City’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the Monell claim, but did so without prejudice to give the parties an opportunity to file further summary judgment briefing “concerning whether a City policy or custom was the moving force behind the potential Randolph rule violation.” Id. at 37. The Court would have simply granted the City summary judgment if it had found Randolph inapplicable, not given the City a further opportunity to file a follow-up motion about its policies and practices.

         The City has now filed that follow-up Motion, arguing that “[j]udgment of dismissal must be granted to the City because Plaintiff cannot prove under any set of facts that the City was the ‘moving force behind the potential Randolph rule violation.’” City Br. at 1; see Id . (“Plaintiff [sic] cannot prove that the Municipality ‘caused’ injury.”); id. at 5 (“For a Monell claim to be actionable, the municipality must cause (moving force) the constitutional deprivation both in law and in fact.”); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) (summary judgment is proper where there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [that] the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”).

         Plaintiffs respond with testimony from the City’s Rule 30(b)(6) witness, Chief of Police Brian Masterson, who testified that the search of Plaintiffs’ home “followed our agency policy” and that the officers were “supposed to go in” even if Plaintiffs objected to the search. Blythe Decl., Ex. A (“30(b)(6) Dep.”) at 11:55, 26:14-24, Dkt. No. 77-2. They contend this, along with other evidence, raises genuine questions of material fact as to whether the City’s policies or customs caused the potential constitutional violations in this case. See Pls.’ Opp’n, Dkt. No. 77; see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (the party opposing summary judgment can defeat the motion by “sett[ing] forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial” (internal quotations omitted)).


         At first blush, the City’s argument-that Plaintiffs cannot prove the City “caused” the potential constitutional violations in this case related to the Randolph rule-seems uncomplicated. But the City’s causation assertions are not so simple. In addition to challenging the traditional bases for application of municipal liability under § 1983, the City also contends Plaintiffs cannot prove such causation “because the Randolph rule as applied to probationary searches ‘was not clearly established’ and for all intents and purposes didn’t exist until February 5, 2016.” City Br. at 1. The City asserts it is entitled to summary judgment because it “could not ‘cause’ a constitutional violation for acts that were not unconstitutional at the time the officers conducted the search.” Id. at 12; see also City Reply at 9, Dkt. No. 78 (arguing “municipal immunity . . . . is warranted on this record” as “[r]easonable minds differ on the application of Randolph to the instant probation search” and “[a] definitive and final answer is a long way away.”). Plaintiffs disagree, arguing “it does not matter whether it was clearly established in November 2014 that Randolph applies to probation searches. Municipalities are not given immunity for unconstitutional policies and practices, even where implemented in good faith.” Pls.’ Opp’n at 12 (citations and footnote omitted).

         A.“Municipal ...

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