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Mills v. City of Covina

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

April 24, 2019

James Mills, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
City of Covina, a California municipal corporation; Kim Raney, in his official capacity as the Chief of the City of Covina Police Department; Terrance Hanou, Officer; Does, 1-100, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted March 8, 2019 Pasadena, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California David O. Carter, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:16-cv-07127-DOC-RAO

          Joseph M. Adams (argued), Adams & Pham APC, Costa Mesa, California; Thomas H. Schelly and Kevin A. Lipeles, Lipeles Law Group APC, El Segundo, California; for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Trisha E. Newman (argued), Tony M. Sain (argued), and Andrea K. Kornblau, Manning & Kass Ellrod Ramirez Trester LLP, Los Angeles, California, for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: Andrew J. Kleinfeld, Jacqueline H. Nguyen, and Ryan D. Nelson, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY [*]

         Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claims as time-barred and affirmed a judgment on the pleadings in favor of defendants in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that plaintiff was stopped and searched by police officers without probable cause, falsely arrested, and maliciously prosecuted.

         Plaintiff brought suit under § 1983 after a California Court of Appeal overturned his convictions for possession of a controlled substance and a smoking device on the grounds that the Superior Court erred by denying plaintiff's suppression motion.

         The panel held that plaintiff's claims for unlawful stop and detention, false arrest and false imprisonment were time-barred because Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) did not legally prevent plaintiff from commencing those claims during his criminal appeal and thus tolling under California Code of Civil Procedure § 356 was not triggered. The panel noted that plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claims accrued at the time he was searched and arrested and that under California law, the statute of limitations was tolled during the criminal proceedings in Superior Court, but not during the criminal appeal. The panel held that where, as in this case, a § 1983 claim accrues pre-conviction, the possibility that Heck may require dismissal of that "not-yet-filed, and thus utterly indeterminate, § 1983 claim," is not sufficient to trigger tolling under California Code of Civil Procedure § 356.

         Addressing the malicious prosecution and Monell liability claims, the panel found that collateral estoppel did not apply because a conviction or judgment that has been reversed on appeal and vacated lacks preclusive effect and cannot serve as collateral estoppel in a later proceeding. The panel nevertheless affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claims on the alternative ground that the reversal of plaintiff's conviction on basis of the exclusionary rule was not a favorable termination, for purposes of a malicious prosecution claim, because the reversal did not address plaintiff's guilt or innocence.

          OPINION

          R. NELSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         We consider whether the statute of limitations for a criminal defendant's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is tolled under California Code of Civil Procedure § 356 during the pendency of an appeal from a conviction, in light of the Supreme Court's rule in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). The district court held that § 356 does not toll Appellant James Mills's § 1983 claims and thus, all but two of Mills's claims are time-barred. Because Heck did not legally prevent Mills from filing his § 1983 claims during his criminal appeal, we agree with the district court. We also find Mills's remaining claims were properly dismissed, not because those claims are barred by collateral estoppel, but because reversal of Mills's conviction was not a favorable termination. We therefore affirm.

         I

         On April 14, 2013, Covina Police Department Officer Terrance Hanou pulled Mills over for a traffic stop after seeing Mills exit a hotel and drive to another hotel. Hanou claimed he pulled Mills over because his vehicle registration was expired. Mills alleges Hanou noticed Mills "for no reason other than his physical appearance-large framed, bald headed, Caucasian," and that when Hanou checked Mills's vehicle license, the database showed the registration was current.

         Hanou acknowledged Mills's registration was valid but asked to search Mills's car. Mills refused. Hanou then made two calls to his supervisor and asked Mills if there were any weapons in the vehicle. Mills informed Hanou of an unloaded shotgun in the cargo compartment.

          Hanou requested that Mills exit the vehicle and Mills complied. Hanou immediately handcuffed Mills, conducted a pat down search, and found $10, 000 cash on Mills's person. Hanou then searched Mills's vehicle and found the shotgun and an additional $7, 000 cash. After the search, Hanou arrested Mills claiming he found illegal drugs and "a smoking device" in Mills's vehicle.

         Prior to Mills's criminal trial, Mills moved to suppress evidence of the alleged drugs, arguing Hanou's search violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The California Superior Court denied the motion. At trial, Hanou testified he found drugs during the search. Mills testified "there were no drugs in his vehicle," "there was evidence that the drugs were planted," and Mills's counsel closed by stating, "Mr. Mills did not have drugs in his car. Those drugs were planted, and he's not guilty." On June 6, 2014, Mills was convicted of one count of possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine) and one count of possession of a smoking device and was sentenced to eighteen months' probation.

         On March 3, 2016, the California Court of Appeal overturned Mills's conviction. The Court of Appeal held, in an unpublished opinion, that Hanou violated Mills's Fourth Amendment rights by searching the vehicle without probable cause and therefore, the Superior Court erred by denying Mills's suppression motion. Because "[t]he methamphetamine Hanou recovered from the center console and the methamphetamine and methamphetamine pipe he recovered from the luggage formed the evidentiary basis for [Mills's] convictions ...


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