Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In Northern California SF Challenges Oakland for Top 1983 Action of the Day

In the Northern District of California, football reason is a good time for inventive civil rights actions.

Castillo v. Oakland involves a group of San Francisco 49ers fans who went to the Oakland Coliseum to see their team play the Oakland Raiders, get stuck in the middle of several fights in section 124 and allegedly be attacked by a police officer. Police Officer Bryant Ocampo responded to a call that there was a fight in section 124.  He arrived to find a security guard restraining Mr. Castillo and handcuffed him.  Mr. Castillo claims he was beaten and his elbow broken in the incident.  Officer Ocampo disputes that.  Oddly, the plaintiff is moving for summary judgment stating that there was no indication that the arrest of Mr. Castillo had any probable cause in violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.  Officer Ocampo reponds that he never arrested Mr. Castillo, rather he performed an investigatory stop under Terry v. Ohio which only required reasonable and articulable suspicion.  Judge Susan Illston noted that both parties disagreed about what the environment was like in the stadium at the time, the amount of force Officer Ocampo, and the nature of Mr. Castillo's detention.  Therefore she denied the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment.

In Chait v. San Francisco, Mr. Chait claims that the state and several police officers took three rolex watches from his pawnshop without due process of law in violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.  Catherine Sun claims that she actually owns the watches, that she reported them stolen to the defendants when she saw them at the plaintiff's store and that she wants them back under California law.  Ms. Sun alleges that she filed a claim to retrieve the watches at the police station, and that someone would contact her when there would be a hearing on the matter. That never happened and the plaintiff received the watches back from the police.  At this stage Judge William Alsup granted Ms. Sun's motion to intervene.

Johnson v. Kalb is the reciprocal of Woodruff v. Awoke that this blog discussed earlier.  Here the plaintiff, a prisoner pro se, is suing the defendant for false arrest.  Judge Maxine M. Chesney explained that a prisoner cannot proceed on a false arrest claim for a crime for which that individual was convicted unless the conviction is overturned or the individual is exonerated under Heck v. Humphrey (U.S. 1994) ("One element that must be alleged and proved in a malicious prosecution action is termination of the prior criminal proceeding in favor of the accused.")  Judge Chesney dismissed the action with leave to amend if the plaintif can show he prevailed in the prior criminal action.

DeJohnette v. Hubbard involves a lengthy complain involving twenty-six defendants over a period of four years.  Judge Maxine M. Chesney commented:
Thereafter, the Court dismissed the complaint under Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on the ground the allegations in the complaint were so lengthy, repetitive and unnecessarily detailed that the Court could not readily determine whether plaintiff stated cognizable claims for relief against any of the named defendants.
Rather than simply amend the complaint, Mr. DeJohnette simply asked for extensions of time.  Judge Chesney appeared fed up at this:
Moreover, the instant action was filed approximately twenty-two months ago, plaintiff has been afforded more than a year to file an amended complaint that meets the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, of which more than seven months are attributable to his most recent pleading, and the Court has twice explained in detail to plaintiff what he must do in order to avoid dismissal.
She dismissed the case without prejudice and closed the docket requiring Mr. DeJohnette to start again.

Scott v. Clawson is an action by a prisoner pro se against the sheriff who allegedly made threats to him and searched his cell for no good reason.   Judge Richard Seeborg, evaluating the case on an initial screening under 28 U.S.C. Section 1915(a) stated that these allegations, even if true, fail to arise to a civil rights action.  He dismissed the case without prejudice and closed the docket requiring Mr. Scott to start again.

Sunnergren v. Ahern is somewhat unusual pro se prisoner lawsuit.  As Judge Lucy Koh explains:
Normally, when a pro se prisoner plaintiff files a federal civil rights action, the Court undertakes an initial screening of the complaint to determine what, if any, claims are cognizable. Then, if the Plaintiff was proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court would order service upon the named Defendants and direct the Defendants to file a dispositive motion. Here, however, Plaintiff filed a civil rights complaint on June 21, 2010. On July 12, 2010, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. On July 30, 2010, Defendants appeared in this action and filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)....
As Judge Koh notes in footnote one, this interesting procedural decision waives all service of process rights under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12.  Factually, Mr. Sunnergren claims Sheriff Ahern came into his cell and attacked him breaking his glasses.  The Sheriff then put him in handcuffs and threatened to beat him more.  Mr. Sunnergren ran away yelling for help when Sheriff Ahern caught him threw him into some stairs and beat him until other officers arrived and removed him.  Judge Koh stated that these allegations are a complaint upon which relief can be granted and denied the motion to dismiss.

In Wang v. Dental Board of California, the plaintiff was a dentist accepting Denti-Cal before the agency believed he was engaged in fraud.  Mr. Wang, proceeding pro se, claims that he was persecuted for being an immigrant that didn't understand the proceedings, nonetheless, the prosecutor dropped the charges against him.  Judge Charles R. Breyer stated that there were two groups of claims 1) those against prosecutors and 2) those against witnesses for perjuring themselves.  Judge Breyer explained that both groups have immunity from suit.  He dismissed the claims with prejudice.

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