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Gant v. County of Los Angeles

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

November 24, 2014

Kelvin Gant, an individual; Reginald Lenard Smith; Jose Alexander Ventura, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
County of Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department; City of Los Angeles; City of Chino; Chino Police Department; County of San Bernardino; San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, Defendants-Appellees.

Argued April 9, 2014

Submitted May 19, 2014 Pasadena, California

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California D.C. No. 2:08-cv-05756-GAF-PJW Gary A. Feess, District Judge, Presiding

Donald W. Cook (argued) and Robert Mann, Mann & Cook Law Offices, Los Angeles, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Michael Allen, Lawrence Beach Allen & Choi, P.C., Glendale, California, for Defendants-Appellees County of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and City of Los Angeles.

Scott Eric Caron (argued), Lawrence Beach Allen & Choi, P.C., Glendale, California, for Defendants-Appellees County of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and County of San Bernardino.

Lisa S. Berger, Deputy City Attorney, Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, Los Angeles, California, for Defendant-Appellee City of Los Angeles.

Jules Solomon Zeman (argued), Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP, Los Angeles, California, for Defendants-Appellees City of Chino and the Chino Police Department.

James H. Thebeau (argued), Deputy County Counsel, County of San Bernardino, San Bernardino, California, for Defendants-Appellees County of San Bernardino and San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

Before: Sidney R. Thomas, Milan D. Smith, Jr., and Morgan Christen, Circuit Judges.

SUMMARY[*]

Civil Rights

The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's judgment and remanded in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Kelvin Gant and Jose Alexander Ventura who alleged that they were mistakenly arrested and detained based on warrants intended for other people.

The panel held that Gant failed to show that the Los Angeles defendants' failure to enter his judicial clearance, showing his prior exonerations, into the County Warrant System database violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of Gant's Fourth Amendment claim against the Los Angeles City and County defendants.

Addressing Gant's Fourteenth Amendment wrongful detention claim, the panel held that because Gant did not allege that he told the Los Angeles County defendants that he had a judicial clearance form or that he brought the issue of mistaken identity to their attention, and because Gant was detained for the purpose of receiving process and did receive a prompt hearing, the district court correctly dismissed Gant's Fourteenth Amendment claim against the Los Angeles County defendants.

The panel held that Ventura's Fourth Amendment wrongful detention claims against the Los Angeles City and County defendants and the San Bernardino defendants were foreclosed by Rivera v. County of Los Angeles, 745 F.3d 384 (9th Cir. 2014). The panel further held that Ventura did not meet his burden of showing that his mistaken arrest by the City of Chino Police Department was more than a single, "isolated or sporadic" incident.

Addressing Ventura's Fourteenth Amendment claim against the San Bernardino defendants, the panel held that Ventura failed to raise a material issue of fact about whether defendants have a policy of not requiring fingerprint comparisons after detainees complain they have been mistakenly arrested or whether accessing alternate police record systems would necessarily have revealed that Ventura was not the warrant's true subject.

Reversing the district court's dismissal of Ventura's Fourteenth Amendment against the Los Angeles County defendants and the district court's dismissal of the California Bane Act claims against the City of Chino defendants, the panel held that (1) the conflicting evidence about whether Ventura complained to Los Angeles County defendants that they had the wrong person raised a genuine issue of material fact; and (2) a trier of fact could conclude that Chino police officers' quick, insistent questioning was intended to coerce Ventura.

OPINION

CHRISTEN, CIRCUIT JUDGE

This is a case of mistaken identity arising from the separate arrests and detentions of Kelvin Gant and Jose Alexander Ventura based on warrants intended for other people. Appellants filed over twenty federal and state law claims alleging that various defendants issued flawed warrants, improperly arrested them, or improperly detained them. The district court ruled against all of appellants' claims in orders granting defendants' motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We reverse the district court's judgment on Ventura's Fourteenth Amendment § 1983 claim against the L.A. County defendants and Ventura's Bane Act claim against the Chino defendants. We otherwise affirm the district court's rulings.[1]

BACKGROUND

The defendants in this case are the County of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department ("the L.A. County defendants"), the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department ("the L.A. City defendants"), the City of Chino and the Chino Police Department ("the Chino defendants"), and the County of San Bernardino and the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department ("the San Bernardino defendants").

Two arrest warrant systems are relevant to this appeal, and a brief explanation of both is necessary to understand the basis for appellants' claims. The first is the Wanted Persons System ("WPS") operated and maintained by the California Department of Justice ("CDOJ") to record and track warrants issued by California state courts. Any California law enforcement agency can query the WPS database, but only the agency that procured a warrant can update the entry for it. The second system is a separate County Warrant System ("CWS") operated and maintained by L.A. County to track and record warrants issued by Los Angeles County courts. All Los Angeles County-based law enforcement agencies can query CWS, but, like WPS, only the agency that procures a warrant can update the entry for it in CWS.

Arrest warrants can contain a subject's name, date of birth, address, physical descriptors, and unique identifiers, including Social Security numbers and various fingerprint-based identification numbers. The CDOJ assigns a fingerprint-based Criminal Investigation and Identification ("CII") number to its warrants. Los Angeles County agencies assign a fingerprint-based "L.A. Main" number to their warrants. CII and L.A. Main numbers can be used to generate an arrestee's criminal history, which can include the subject's full name, aliases, birth date, residential addresses, and Social Security and driver's licence numbers. CII and L.A. Main numbers can also be used to generate a subject's arrest, prosecution, and conviction histories.

When a person is booked into a California jail, his or her fingerprints are taken and electronically transferred to CDOJ through a process called "Live Scan." The CDOJ typically responds after a few minutes in one of two ways. If the arrestee's fingerprints are already on file, the subject's CII number and criminal history are sent to the arresting agency. If the arrestee's fingerprints are not on file, the CDOJ assigns the arrestee a new CII number and informs the arresting agency.

I. Appellants' Claims

A. Kelvin Gant

Kelvin Gant ("Gant") has been arrested on warrants issued for his non-identical twin brother, Kevin Gant, between five and seven times.[2] The claims Gant raised in this case stem from a mistaken arrest that occurred on April 29, 2008. Torrance police ran a warrant check in the course of questioning Gant about allegedly attempting to fraudulently obtain a refund for a movie ticket. The warrant had been obtained by the L.A. City defendants, who were responsible for inputting it into CWS. It named Gant's brother, "Kevin Thomas Gant" and included a CII number. Gant was arrested even though he showed the officer a "judicial clearance form" verifying that a warrant for "Kevin Gant" was not meant for him. Torrance police transferred Gant to the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.[3] In the booking process, a Live Scan report was obtained. It showed that Gant had a different CII number than the warrant's subject, Kevin Gant. It also included "Kevin Thomas Gant" and "Kevin T. Gant" as aliases associated with Kelvin Gant's fingerprints. Gant was detained overnight and released the following day after a court appearance. Gant does not allege that he told the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department he had a judicial clearance form.

B. Jose Alexander Ventura

On December 13, 2007, a Chino police officer stopped Jose Alexander Ventura for a minor traffic violation. The first fifteen minutes of the stop were audio-recorded. An officer ran a warrant check and discovered an outstanding 1994 warrant obtained by the L.A. City defendants for "Jose Ventura."[4] The police dispatcher described the warrant subject as a Hispanic male who was 6'1" tall, weighed 200 pounds, and had black hair and brown eyes. Ventura showed the officer a driver's license that indicated he was 5'6" tall and weighed 180 pounds.

On the audio tape, an officer can be heard asking Ventura to step out of his vehicle. After Ventura complied, another officer arrived and began questioning him. The audio of this questioning recorded Ventura agreeing with an officer's suggestion that he is 5'11". Ventura alleges that the officers knew he was 5'6" but coached him to "parrot back" that he was 5'11". It is clear from the audio recording that English is Ventura's second language. One of the ...


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