On 12/15/2017 MICHAEL A NICHOLS filed a Contract - Professional Negligence lawsuit against GERAGOS GERAGOS. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Stanley Mosk Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judge overseeing this case is GREGORY KEOSIAN. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.
Pending - Other Pending
Los Angeles County Superior Courts
Stanley Mosk Courthouse
Los Angeles, California
NICHOLS MICHAEL A.
NICHOLS GEORGIA A.
NICHOLS MINDY D.
MEISELAS BEN J.
GERAGOS & GERAGOS A CALIFORNIA PROFESS-
GERAGOS MARK J.
WIARD STEPHEN J.
GERAGOS & GERAGOS
RIVERSIDE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY
ENCINO BUSINESS PARK I
LAW OFFICES OF JAMES OSBORNE
KUNSTLER PETER M.
OSBORNE WILLIAM JAMES
KUNSTLER PETER MICHAEL
BRODSKY BARRY ZITRON ESQ.
KIRAKOSIAN GREG L.
HEADLEE EMILY CHRISTINE
SMITH DOUGLAS C.
8/16/2019: Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER (INFORMAL DISCOVERY CONFERENCE (IDC))
10/7/2019: Ex Parte Application - EX PARTE APPLICATION AN ORDER TO SUBMIT FURTHER BRIEFING
12/3/2019: Substitution of Attorney
1/10/2020: Notice - NOTICE NOTICE OF INFORMAL DISCOVERY CONFERENCE RE: DEFENDANTS' REQUEST FOR MENTAL EXAMINATION OF PLAINTIFF MICHAEL A. NICHOLS
2/27/2018: PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS -
4/11/2018: PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS -
4/11/2018: PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS -
5/2/2018: DEFENDANTS' REPLY BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF MOTION TO STRIKE PORTIONS OF COMPLAINT
1/22/2019: Request for Judicial Notice
1/22/2019: Declaration - Declaration of W. James Osborne
2/4/2019: Reply - Reply MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF MOTION TO QUASH DEPOSITION SUBPOENA FOR BUSINESS RECORDS TO PLAINTIFFS' COUNSEL AND REQUEST FOR SANCTIONS; DECLARATION OF W. JAMES OSBORNE
2/5/2019: Motion to Compel - Motion to Compel Motion to Compel Depo of PMK of Geragos & Geragos
2/26/2019: Notice Re: Continuance of Hearing and Order
3/14/2019: Order Appointing Court Approved Reporter as Official Reporter Pro Tempore
4/10/2019: Notice Re: Continuance of Hearing and Order
4/23/2019: Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER (HEARING ON MOTION TO COMPEL FURTHER DISCOVERY RESPONSES)
4/23/2019: Order Appointing Court Approved Reporter as Official Reporter Pro Tempore
5/29/2019: Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER (RULING ON SUBMITTED MATTER)
Hearing07/28/2020 at 09:00 AM in Department 61 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Jury TrialRead MoreRead Less
Hearing07/20/2020 at 09:00 AM in Department 61 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Final Status ConferenceRead MoreRead Less
Hearing05/20/2020 at 09:00 AM in Department 61 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Post-Mediation Status ConferenceRead MoreRead Less
Hearing04/14/2020 at 09:00 AM in Department 61 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Hearing on Motion for Summary JudgmentRead MoreRead Less
Hearing02/07/2020 at 11:00 AM in Department 61 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Informal Discovery Conference (IDC)Read MoreRead Less
DocketNotice (NOTICE OF INFORMAL DISCOVERY CONFERENCE RE: DEFENDANTS' REQUEST FOR MENTAL EXAMINATION OF PLAINTIFF MICHAEL A. NICHOLS); Filed by David Gammill (Defendant); Geragos & Geragos, a California Profess- (Defendant); Mark J. Geragos (Defendant) et al.Read MoreRead Less
Docketat 09:00 AM in Department 61, Gregory Keosian, Presiding; Post-Mediation Status Conference - Not Held - Advanced and Continued - by CourtRead MoreRead Less
DocketSubstitution of Attorney; Filed by Riverside County District Attorney (Non-Party)Read MoreRead Less
Docketat 2:22 PM in Department 61, Gregory Keosian, Presiding; Ruling on Submitted MatterRead MoreRead Less
DocketNotice of Ruling (Ruling Re Plaintiff Michael A. Nichols, Mindy K. Nichols's Motion to Compel Compliance with Subpoena to Riverside County District Attorney); Filed by ClerkRead MoreRead Less
DocketMinute order entered: 2018-02-27 00:00:00; Filed by ClerkRead MoreRead Less
DocketMinute OrderRead MoreRead Less
DocketPROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONSRead MoreRead Less
DocketNotice of Case Management Conference; Filed by ClerkRead MoreRead Less
DocketNOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCERead MoreRead Less
DocketORDER TO SHOW CAUSE HEARINGRead MoreRead Less
DocketOSC-Failure to File Proof of Serv; Filed by ClerkRead MoreRead Less
DocketSUMMONSRead MoreRead Less
DocketCOMPLAINT FOR LEGAL MALPRACTICE AND BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTYRead MoreRead Less
DocketComplaint; Filed by Georgia A. Nichols (Plaintiff); Michael A. Nichols (Plaintiff); Mindy D. Nichols (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
Case Number: BC687134 Hearing Date: June 30, 2020 Dept: 61
Plaintiffs Michael A. Nichols, Mindy K. Nichols, and Georgia A. Nichols’s Pitchess Motion is GRANTED in part. Production of Rae Fernandez’s complaints shall be limited to those related to her treatment of confidential informants, her involvement in warrant-based searches, and alleged thefts. The court will limit disclosure following in-camera review to information related to the conduct described above. Plaintiffs will not be permitted in the in camera proceeding, only the documents ordered disclosed shall be disclosed, a compliance date will be provided, and a protective order shall issue upon any order of disclosure limiting the use of the documents to these proceedings.
Evid. Code section 1043, subd. (a) requires that a party seeking disclosure of police officer “personnel records” file a particular motion, a Pitchess motion. (Cf. Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531.) “Personnel records” are defined as “primary records specific to each peace or custodial officer's employment, including evaluations, assignments, status changes, and imposed discipline.” (Pen. Code, § 832.5, subd (d)(1).)
The Pitchess provisions “take precedence over the general discovery rules outlined in the Code of Civil Procedure.” (Davis v. City of Sacramento (1994) 24 Cal.App.4th 393, 400.)
Evid. Code section 1043, subd. (b) details what a Pitchess motion shall include:
(1) Identification of the proceeding in which discovery or disclosure is sought, the party seeking discovery or disclosure, the peace or custodial officer whose records are sought, the governmental agency which has custody and control of the records, and the time and place at which the motion for discovery or disclosure shall be heard. (2) A description of the type of records or information sought. [And] (3) Affidavits showing good cause for the discovery or disclosure sought, setting forth the materiality thereof to the subject matter involved in the pending litigation and stating upon reasonable belief that the governmental agency identified has the records or information from the records.
“A finding of ‘good cause’ under section 1043, subdivision (b) is only the first hurdle in the discovery process. Once good cause for discovery has been established, section 1045 provides that the court shall then examine the information ‘in chambers’ in conformity with section 915 (i.e., out of the presence of all persons except the person authorized to claim the privilege and such other persons as he or she is willing to have present), and shall exclude from disclosure several enumerated categories of information, including: (1) complaints more than five years old, (2) the ‘conclusions of any officer investigating a complaint . . .’ and (3) facts which are ‘so remote as to make disclosure of little or no practical benefit.’” (City of Santa Cruz v. Municipal Court (“Santa Cruz”) (1989) 49 Cal.3d 74, 83.)
“Section 1043 clearly requires a showing of ‘good cause’ for discovery in two general categories: (1) the ‘materiality’ of the information or records sought to the “subject matter involved in the pending litigation,” and (2) a ‘reasonable belief’ that the governmental agency has the ‘type’ of information or records sought to be disclosed.” (Santa Cruz, supra, 49 Cal.3d at p. 83.) Courts have described that as a “relatively low threshold” for discovery, but have also noted that section 1045’s protective provisions offset that low threshold. (Id. at p. 83–84.)
Plaintiffs seek production of the following documents from the Palm Springs Police Department (“PSPD”), each limited to the five years prior to December 31, 2013:
Personnel, administrative, or criminal complaints concerning Officer Rae Fernandez (“Fernandez”);
Officer Fernandez’s performance evaluations;
Fernandez’s ethical training records;
Background investigation and personal history statement for Fernandez;
Records concerning Fernandez’s termination from PSPD;
Plaintiffs argue that Fernandez’s misconduct formed an essential part of their underlying civil rights action against Palm Springs, in which they would have prevailed but for Defendants’ malpractice. (Motion at pp. 7–8.) Plaintiffs reason that, in order to show that Defendants’ negligence caused their damage, they have to prove the merits of the underlying case. (Motion at p. 12.) “When a client seeks to recover damages for his attorney's negligence in the prosecution or defense of the client's claim, the client must prove causation-that but for that negligence a better result could have been obtained in the underlying action.” (Piscitelli v. Friedenberg (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 953, 973, internal quotation marks omitted.) Thus “[p]roof that [plaintiff] would have prevailed in the underlying [action] required a determination of the merits of that underlying proceeding in the malpractice trial.” (Ibid.; see also Kemper v. County of San Diego (2015) 242 Cal.Ap.4th 1075, 1089–90 [a malpractice plaintiff must put on a “case-within-a-case” to show causation of damages].) Thus the materials in Fernandez’s personnel file will reveal, Plaintiffs hope, the culpability of PSPD, and the viability of their now-defunct civil rights claims. (Motion at pp. 12–13.)
PSPD argues that Plaintiffs have failed to articulate what their precise causes of action were in the underlying action, and thus have failed to show that the documents requested would be useful to prove the claims. (Opposition at pp. 6–8.) PSPD further argues that the categories of documents are not limited to the kind of misconduct that Plaintiffs allege against Fernandez, and are thus overbroad. (Opposition at pp. 8–9.) PSPD also argues that Plaintiffs cannot seek documents related to excessive force without producing a police report under Evidence Code § 1046. (Opposition at p. 10.)
PSPD’s argument as to the vagueness of Plaintiffs’ underlying causes of action is unpersuasive. PSPD’s opposition itself provides a succinct summation of the alleged underlying conduct for which Plaintiffs seek corroboration:
Here, Plaintiffs have alleged that Officer Fernandez was involved in a scheme perpetrated by her husband, Officer Gil Fernandez, in which he filed affidavits in support of a search warrant for Plaintiffs' business and home that knowingly contained false information stating Plaintiffs were involved in trafficking drugs, which led to Plaintiffs' false arrest and the seizure of money and other property. Further, Plaintiffs allege that Officer Fernandez stole personal property from Plaintiffs, including an expensive mirror, and disclosed Plaintiffs' status as confidential police informants to local gang members in violation of PSPD policy.
(Opposition at pp. 8–9.) Plaintiffs thus may seek information regarding Fernandez’s similar treatment of citizens and informants.
PSPD is correct, however, that a broad inquiry into all prior officer misconduct or civil rights complaints is overbroad. “[A] showing of good cause must be based on a discovery request which is tailored to the specific officer misconduct that is alleged. Thus, when a defendant asserts that his confession was coerced, a discovery request that seeks all excessive force complaints against the arresting officer is overly broad[.] [I]nstead only complaints by persons who alleged coercive techniques in questioning are relevant.” (California Highway Patrol v. Superior Court (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 1010, 1021, internal citations, quotation marks, and alterations omitted.) Thus Plaintiffs are not entitled, as they suggest in Reply, to all complaints suggesting Fernandez’s “pattern and practice of violating citizens’ civil rights.” (Reply at p. 4.) They are rather entitled to a narrower scope of complaints: those related to Fernandez’s treatment of confidential informants, her involvement in warrant-based searches, and her alleged thefts. (Reply at p. 4.)
Good cause supports the production of the other categories of information sought, at least for the purpose of in-camera review. Performance evaluations, training records, background information known to PSPD, and Fernandez’s termination records, may contain information relevant to a pattern of Fernandez’s conduct (defined narrowly as that similar to the conduct alleged in the underlying civil rights case) and PSPD’s knowledge of same. Plaintiffs’ explanation of their theory of the case has met the “low threshold” of showing good cause for these records. (Santa Cruz, supra, 49 Cal.3d at pp. 83–84.) The court via in-camera review may winnow the documents ultimately to be produced to those of practical benefit to Plaintiffs’ case by reference to their articulated theory of Fernandez’s misconduct, i.e. those related to Fernandez’s treatment of confidential informants, her involvement in warrant-based searches, and her alleged thefts, if any.
PSPD finally argues that the in-camera hearing must be conducted outside the presence of Plaintiffs and their counsel (See Evid. Code 915, subd. (b)), that the court must thereafter disclose only the documents deemed worthy of disclosure, and not reveal the scope of the information not disclosed (See Herrera v. Superior Court (1985) 172 Cal.App.3d 1159, 1163), that that the court should provide a compliance date for disclosure reasonably into the future, to allow PSPD time to potentially seek a writ of mandate, and that a protective order should be entered directing that the information disclosed be used only in this proceeding. (Opposition at pp. 10–12; see Alford v. Superior Court (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1033, 1042 [“[B]ecause disclosure of information contained in such records is permitted only on a showing of materiality to a particular case, to interpret the statute as allowing a defendant to share such information with other defendants would defeat the purpose of the balancing process.”].) These arguments are supported by authority and Plaintiffs have not objected to them. Accordingly, Plaintiffs will not be permitted in the in camera proceeding, only the documents ordered disclosed will be disclosed, a compliance date will be provided, and a protective order shall issue upon any order of disclosure limiting the use of the documents to these proceedings.
The Motion is therefore GRANTED in part, as to documents related to Fernandez’s treatment of confidential informants, her involvement in warrant-based searches, and her alleged thefts, if any.
Plaintiffs to give notice.
Defendants Geragos & Geragos, Mark J. Geragos, Ben J. Meiselas, Stephen J. Wiard, David GAmmill, and James Wong’s Motion for Summary Judgment or Adjudication is GRANTED as follows:
GRANTED as to the issue of Defendants’ duty to prosecute claims based on the purported invalidity of the search warrant executed on July 17, 2012;
GRANTED as to the issue of Defendants’ duty to prosecute Plaintiffs’ Monell claim;
GRANTED as to the issue of Defendants’ duty to prosecute state law tort and breach of contract claims in the underlying litigation;
GRANTED as to the issue of Defendants’ duty to seek recovery of the cash seized during the search;
GRANTED as to all claims alleged against David Gammill;
DENIED as to Defendants’ duty to prosecute Plaintiffs’ state-created danger claim.
A party may move for summary judgment “if it is contended that the action has no merit or that there is no defense to the action or proceeding.” (Code Civ. Proc. § 437c, subd. (a).) “[I]f all the evidence submitted, and all inferences reasonably deducible from the evidence and uncontradicted by other inferences or evidence, show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law,” the moving party will be entitled to summary judgment. (Adler v. Manor Healthcare Corp. (1992) 7 Cal.App.4th 1110, 1119.) A motion for summary adjudication may be made by itself or as an alternative to a motion for summary judgment and shall proceed in all procedural respects as a motion for summary judgment. (Code Civ. Proc. § 437c, subd. (f)(2).)
The moving party bears an initial burden of production to make a prima facie showing of the nonexistence of any triable issue of material fact, and if he does so, the burden shifts to the opposing party to make a prima facie showing of the existence of a triable issue of material fact. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 850; accord Code Civ. Proc. § 437c, subd. (p)(2).)
Once the defendant has met that burden, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action or a defense thereto. (Aguilar, supra, 25 Cal.4th at 850.) The plaintiff may not rely upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleadings to show that a triable issue of material fact exists but, instead, shall set forth the specific facts showing that a triable issue of material fact exists as to that cause of action or a defense thereto. (Ibid.) To establish a triable issue of material fact, the party opposing the motion must produce substantial responsive evidence. (Sangster v. Paetkau (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 151, 166.)
LEGAL MALPRACTICE & BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY
“The failure to provide competent representation in a civil or criminal case may be the basis for civil liability under a theory of professional negligence. In a legal malpractice action arising from a civil proceeding, the elements are (1) the duty of the attorney to use such skill, prudence, and diligence as members of his or her profession commonly possess and exercise; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a proximate causal connection between the breach and the resulting injury; and (4) actual loss or damage resulting from the attorney’s negligence.” (Jones v. Whisenand (2017) 8 Cal.App.5th 543, 550.)
“In a litigation malpractice action, the plaintiff must establish that but for the alleged negligence of the defendant attorney, the plaintiff would have obtained a more favorable judgment or settlement in the action in which the malpractice allegedly occurred. The purpose of this requirement, which has been in use for more than 120 years, is to safeguard against speculative and conjectural claims. It serves the essential purpose of ensuring that damages awarded for the attorney's malpractice actually have been caused by the malpractice.” (Viner v. Sweet (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1232, 1241.)
And as for fiduciary duty, it is the plaintiff’s burden to establish “a reasonable basis for the conclusion that it was more likely than not the conduct of the defendant was a substantial factor in the result.” (Knutson v. Foster (2018) 25 Cal.App.5th 1075, 1094.)
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ claims for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty fail because Plaintiffs’ claims were infirm from no reason owing to Defendants’ actions. (Motion at pp. 16–17.) Defendants subdivide Plaintiffs’ claims into the following and levy arguments against the feasibility of each of them: (1) state-created danger claim based on Plaintiffs’ alleged exposure as informants; (2) a section 1983 claim based on a warranted search; (3) a Monell claim against the City of Palm Springs; (4) state court claims for breach of contract, defamation, and others; and (5) a claim for seized $197,000. (Motion at pp. 11–12.)
“Because causation is a question of fact for the jury, it ordinarily cannot be resolved on summary judgment. In legal malpractice claims, the absence of causation may be decided on summary judgment only if, under undisputed facts, there is no room for a reasonable difference of opinion.” (Namikas v. Miller (2014) 225 Cal.App.4th 1574, 1583, internal quotation marks omitted.)
Plaintiffs argue that Defendants have failed to define the standard of care, and thus have derpvied the court of “any basis on which to grant the motion.” (Opposition at p. 13.) But it is not necessary to define the standard of care in order to discuss causation for the purposes of summary judgment. (See Namikas, supra, 225 Cal.App.4th at p. 1587–88 [affirming legal malpractice summary judgment ruling based on cauasation alone].) The court may proceed to address Defendants’ arguments.
1. State-Created Danger Claim
Plaintiffs’ complaint in the underlying action accused Palm Springs and officers of putting Plaintiffs in a “state-created danger” by exposing them, as informants, to the reprisals of criminals. (RJN Exh. 1, ¶ 37.)
“It is . . . well established that, although the state's failure to protect an individual against private violence does not generally violate the guarantee of due process, it can where the state action affirmatively places the plaintiff in a position of danger, that is, where state action creates or exposes an individual to a danger which he or she would not have otherwise faced.” (Kennedy v. City of Ridgefield (9th Cir. 2006) 439 F.3d 1055, 1061, internal quotation marks, citations, and alterations omitted.)
Defendants argue that the claim based on the above doctrine in the underlying action was doomed to fail because of the qualified immunity that state officials enjoy from constitutional suit. (Motion at p. 18.) “[W]hether an official protected by qualified immunity may be held personally liable for an allegedly unlawful official action generally turns on the objective legal reasonableness of the action, assessed in light of the legal rules that were clearly established at the time it was taken.” (Anderson v. Creighton (1987) 483 U.S. 635, 639, internal citations and quotation marks omitted.)
The fact that the right violated must be “clearly established” for the purposes of qualified immunity, Defendants argue, means that Plaintiffs’ claims based on the dangers of serving as an informant fail, because identifying a confidential informant in a police report is not established as a state-created danger. (Motion at p. 18.) Defendants rely on the appellate decision upholding summary judgment against Plaintiffs’ claims in the underlying action against Rae Fernandez, in which the court stated:
During the events in question, there was no established law that a police officer violates the state-created danger doctrine when she writes in a police report that she knew certain individuals and worked with them on a case, even when those individuals happen to be confidential informants. Even if Rae filing the police report affirmatively and with deliberate indifference placed Plaintiffs in danger [they] would not otherwise have faced, a reasonable police officer would not have known that this specific conduct was unconstitutional based on existing case law.
(Nichols v. Fernandez (9th Cir. 2017) 686 Fed.Appx. 532, 534–35, internal quotation marks, citations, and alterations omitted.) Defendants point to other cases involving criminal informants, in which it was held that government officials were not liable for dangers faced by criminal informants that the informants had themselves voluntarily undertaken. (See Gatlin ex rel. Estate of Gatlin v. Green (8th Cir. 2004) 362 F.3d 1089, 1093–94; Summar on behalf of Summar v. Bennett (6th Cir. 1998) 157 F.3d 1054, 1059.)
In their responses to interrogatories, Plaintiffs stated that officers had demanded they continue in their role as informants despite Plaintiffs’ protestations, and in a July 17, 2012 meeting with business owners and gang members had disclosed Plaintiffs’ identities as confidential informants, thus placing them in danger. (Motion Exh. E.) Defendants argue that this evidence, even had it been submitted in the underlying matter, would not have altered the outcome, because Plaintiffs had voluntarily exposed themselves to the risk of disclosure by becoming confidential informants. (Motion at p. 19.)
Plaintiffs argue, however, that the scope of unlawful conduct analyzed by the district and appellate courts was limited by Defendants’ negligence. Specifically, Plaintiffs note that the conduct considered for potential violations was limited to that occurring on or after July 25, 2012, two years before Defendants filed the case on July 25, 2014. (Opposition at pp. 14–15; Exh. D.) Thus if Defendants had filed the case earlier, the case would have encompassed other instances of officer misconduct, such as a July 20, 2012 instance in which officer Rae Fernandez asked Plaintiffs to drive a dangerous suspect to another location in order for that suspect to be arrested, or the July 17, 2012 meeting that Defendants describe in their own motion. (Opposition at pp. 14–15.) Plaintiffs also note that the district court, in granting summary judgment against them, had chosen to disregard Plaintiffs’ declarations because they were not signed under penalty of perjury, a procedural defect that Plaintiffs’ lay at the feet of Defendants. (Opposition at pp. 14–15; Exh. E at pp. 6–7.) Plaintiffs also argue that the “novel” nature of their claims was never disclosed to them. (Michael Nichols Decl. ¶ 26.)
Defendants’ qualified immunity argument is of limited effectiveness. The court in Nichols v. Fernandez did hold that Rae Fernandez’s conduct was protected by qualified immunity, but as the court noted, this analysis was limited to Fernandez’s alleged activity in disclosing Plaintiffs’ names in a police report, which was released only to the district attorney, the probation office, and Plaintiffs themselves. (Nichols, supra, 686 Fed.Appx. at pp. 534–35.) Both Defendants and Plaintiffs acknowledge that other alleged police misconduct was potentially at issue.
Defendants argue that none of the other conduct alleged of the police defendants in the underlying case could have supported liability because plaintiffs voluntarily assumed the risk of being informants. Yet Defendants’ authority states only that criminal informants assume the risks inherent in that role and which they voluntarily undertake. (See Doe v. City of Phoenix (D. Ariz. 2009) 2009 WL 4282275, at p. *5.) That same authority allows informants to bring suit against state officers who, by their affirmative conduct and with deliberate indifference, increase the risks for which an informant knowingly volunteers . (Id. at p. *5.) Defendants present no authority for the proposition that an officer’s disclosure of an informant’s identity during a public meeting constitutes a risk that an informant voluntarily undertakes. And even though it may be argued that Plaintiffs voluntarily agreed to transport a suspect to their point of arrest, Plaintiffs alleged in the underlying complaint that said transport was not undertaken voluntarily, but in mind of the officers’ threats of reprisals for failure to cooperate, and out of fear for same. (Opposition Exh. C at p. 5.) Thus either alleged act could have supported a claim under the state-created danger doctrine. Summary adjudication is DENIED as to these issues.
2. Search & Seizure
Defendants next argue that Plaintiffs’ section 1983 claim for unconstitutional search and seizure, which Plaintiffs claim Defendants omitted from the underlying complaint, would have failed, because the warrant was issued based upon a presumptively valid affidavit of probable cause. (Motion at pp. 20–21.) There is a presumption of validity for affidavits supporting search warrants. (See Franks v. Delaware (1978) 438 U.S. 154, 171.) “This presumption can be overcome if the party challenging the affidavit makes allegations of deliberate falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth, and those allegations are accompanied by an offer of proof. If these requirements are met, the allegedly false or reckless material must be set aside. If there remains sufficient content in the affidavit to support probable cause, the officer is qualifiedly immune.” (Forster v. County of Santa Barbara (9th Cir. 1990) 896 F.2d 1146, 1148.) “A police officer is qualifiedly immune from a suit for damages arising from an allegedly illegal arrest or search unless a reasonably well-trained officer in [his] position would have known that his affidavit failed to establish probable cause and that he should not have applied for the warrant.” (Ibid.)
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs had no evidence to introduce to overcome the presumptive validity of the warrant that led to the search in this case. (Motion at p. 21.) Defendants likewise argue that, because the search was valid, there could have been no claims for detentions or property damage that took place during the search. (Motion at pp. 20–21, citing Dalia v. U.S. (1979) 441 U.S. 238, 258 [“[O]fficers executing search warrants on occasion must damage property in order to perform their duty.”]; Michigan v. Summers (1981) 452 U.S. 692, 703 [detention of person whose property was subject to warranted search was valid while the search took place].)
Plaintiffs argue that evidence exists that could have overcome the presumptive validity of the search warrant. First, they point to the testimony of police practices expert Tom Yu, who testifies that the affidavit supporting the warrant at issue related the account of a confidential informant who stated he had performed a drug deal with “Mike,” without positively identifying whether Mike was in fact Michael Nichols. (Opposition at p. 17.) Plaintiffs also argue that the falseness of the warrant affidavit is demonstrated by the subsequent failure to turn up any illegal drugs on the properties search. (Opposition at p. 17.)
Plaintiffs’ evidence is insufficient to constitute a substantial showing that the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant in the underlying case contained false statements. In determining whether an affiant made intentionally or recklessly false statements to obtain a warrant, courts look for evidence that the affiant “in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the affidavits or had obvious reasons to doubt the accuracy of the information contained therein.” (U.S. v. Clapp (8th Cir. 1995) 46 F.3d 795, 801.) Here, the only fact that Plaintiffs claim support the falseness of the affidavit that were actually known to the affiant, Gil Fernandez, at the time of writing the affidavit, is his purported failure to positively identify Michael Nichols as the counter-party to a controlled drug buy. (Yu Decl. ¶¶ 8–9.) But there was no such failure in the affidavit; the confidential informant upon which the officer relied did not, as Plaintiffs imply, merely refer to the counter-party as “Mike,” but repeatedly identified Michael Nichols as the owner of the pawn shop described in the complaint, and indeed offered a physical description of Michael Nichols. (Motion Exh. S-2.) Likewise, the affidavit contains a description of the controlled buy in which the informant is searched for all goods before entering the business, is surveilled entering Plaintiffs’ business, and thereafter emerges with drugs they had not previously possessed, and which they stated they had obtained from Michael Nichols. (Motion Exh. S-2.) Although Plaintiffs point to the subsequent failure of the search to find evidence of illegal drugs, Plaintiffs present no evidence that this absence would have been known to the affiant officer when he made the affidavit. (Opposition at pp. 17–18.) Plaintiffs present no evidence that any statements contained in the warrant affidavit were false. Accordingly, Defendants are correct that no triable issues of fact exist as to whether they could have prevailed on this claim in the underlying action.
However, this argument addresses only Plaintiffs’ claims arising from the defectiveness of the warrant and its supporting affidavit. Defendants acknowledge that Plaintiffs levy other challenges to the adequacy of their representation, based not merely on the adequacy of the warrant but damages caused to their home during the search, as well as Mindy and Georgia Nichols' detention during same. (Motion at p. 20.) Defendants articulate no legal rationale as to how the validity of the warrant affected their ability to prosecute these latter claims.
Accordingly, summary adjudication is GRANTED as to the issue of Defendants’ duty to prosecute claims based on the purported invalidity of the search warrant executed on July 17, 2012.
3. Monell Claim
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ Monell claims against Palm Springs could not have prevailed because such claims against local governments under section 1983 require evidence of a policy or custom of unconstitutional conduct, and Plaintiffs have no such evidence here. (Motion at pp. 21–22; Monell v. Dept. of Social Services of City of New York (1978) 436 U.S. 658, 694 [“[I]t is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983.”].) Defendants rely on Plaintiffs interrogatory responses, which contain a conclusory statement that the alleged officer misconduct arose from Palm Springs policies and procedures. (Motion Exh. K at p. 12.) They also point to the testimony of Rae Fernandez, who stated that there was no Palm Springs policy against disclosing informant identities. (Motion Exh. Q at pp. 14–15, 68–69.)
Plaintiffs counter that Defendants’ negligently failed to prosecute the Monell claim because they never mentioned the Coachella Valley Narcotics Task Force (CVNTF) in its Complaint, even though it had taken part in the allegedly improper search and seizure. (Opposition at p. 21.) But Defendants correctly argue that the Monell claims was dismissed, not because it was alleged against the wrong defendant, but because they lacked — and still lack — facts or evidence of a policy of constitutional violations. (Reply at p. 7.) Even as Plaintiffs contend that Defendants sued the wrong entity, they omit from their response the facts that would have rendered suit against that entity any less infirm than the suit against Palm Springs.
Accordingly, the motion is GRANTED as to the issue of Defendants’ duty to prosecute Plaintiffs’ Monell claim.
4. Breach of Contract & Tort
Defendants argue that all of Plaintiffs’ potential state-law tort and breach of contract claims, which Defendants did not pursue, were barred before Plaintiffs contacted them because Plaintiffs failed to present their claims to the government within applicable time periods. (Motion at pp. 22–23.)
Government Code § 945.4 states that “no suit for money or damages may be brought against a public entity . . . until a written claim therefor has been presented to the public entity,” and Government Code § 911.2 states that all claims for personal injury or property damage must be presented “not later than six months after the accrual of the cause of action.” (Gov. Code § 911.2, subd. (a).) Claims barred against a public entity are barred against public employees. (Gov. Code § 950.2.)
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs did not contact Defendants until January 2014, more than one year after Plaintiffs’ state law torts accrued. (Motion at p. 23.)
Defendants also argue that any claims for defamation and or fraud would have been barred by Government Code § 818.8, which provides immunity for public entities for the misrepresentations of their employees, and Government Code § 822.2, which provides qualified immunity for public employees unless they are guilty of actual fraud, corruption, or actual malice. (Motion at p. 24, n. 11.)
In opposition, Plaintiffs submit no argument against the above.
Accordingly, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Adjudication is GRANTED as to the issue of Defendants’ duty to prosecute state law tort and breach of contract claims in the underlying litigation.
5. Money Seized
Defendants argue that they cannot be liable for the failure to recoup money seized from Plaintiffs during a search because any such claim would have been barred before they were retained. (Motion at p. 24.)
Defendants argue that if a party wishes to make a judicial claim for seized assets, they must file a notice of claim challenging the seizure within a certain time after the DEA issues a notice of same. (18 U.S.C. § 983, subd. (a)(2)(B).) Failure to contest the forfeiture within the deadline results in the forfeiture becoming final. (18 U.S.C. § 1609, subd. (a).) But once a claim is filed, the seizing agency becomes obligated to file a complaint for forfeiture in court, or surrender the property. (18 U.S.C. § 983, subd. (a)(3)(A).)
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ former counsel elected a different remedy, whereby the claimant seeking return of their property files a petition for remission or mitigation of forfeiture with the agency, and the ruling official issues a ruling on the petition. (See 28 C.F.R. § 9.3.) Plaintiffs received notices of the seizure in 2012, and their petitions were denied in April 2014, after the time to seek judicial relief had passed. (Motion at pp. 25–26.)
Plaintiffs in Opposition counter that it was not Defendants’ business to seek a restitution of money seized, but to claim the lost $200,000 as damages resulting from an illegal search and seizure. (Opposition at pp. 18–19.)
Based on the above, there is no dispute as to whether Defendants ought to have sought the restitution or recovery of cash seized. Accordingly, summary adjudication is GRANTED as to the issue of Defendants’ duty to seek recovery of the cash seized during the search.
B. DAVID GAMMILL
Defendants finally argue that no liability may exist against Defendant David Gammill because he was not employed at the relevant firm until after the alleged malpractice occurred, in January 2016. (Motion at p. 26.) Plaintiffs submit no argument as to Gammill’s culpability in the underlying conduct, and in their separate statement acknowledge that Gammill was not employed by G&G throughout trial court proceedings in the underlying action.
The Motion is therefore GRANTED as to all claims alleged against David Gammill.
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