Wednesday, February 12, 2003
S.C. Won’t Revive Holden Suit Against Sheriff’s Lieutenant
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The state Supreme Court yesterday declined to review the dismissal of a suit by Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden against a Los Angeles County sheriff’s lieutenant and the county.
No justice at yesterday’s conference voted to grant review of the Nov. 21 decision of Div. Four of this district’s Court of Appeal. The conference is normally held on Wednesdays, but was moved up this week because today is a court holiday.
Justice Norman Epstein, in an unpublished opinion for the Court of Appeal, said there was no evidence that Lt. Ronnie Williams engaged in outrageous conduct, or breached any duty to Holden, at a 1998 meeting in a Pasadena restaurant.
Holden claimed to have suffered severe emotional distress after Williams told him that a criminal case against Holden’s then-daughter-in-law might “go away” if he paid extortion money.
But the councilman’s admission that Williams did not encourage him to pay the money, and in fact told him that he would be “compromised” if he did pay it, is fatal to Holden’s contention that Williams committed an intentional tort by making the statement, Epstein said.
Williams said he asked a Sheriff’s Department colleague to set up a meeting after a community activist told him he had information regarding the case against Michelle Holden, who had been charged with having sex with a 15-year-old boy who babysat for her children.
She eventually pled no contest and was placed on probation for three years. She and Pasadena Councilman Chris Holden, Nate Holden’s son, were later divorced.
The Pasadena meeting involved Williams, Nate and Chris Holden, and three others. According to Nate Holden’s deposition, Williams said that there had been a threat against the Holden family, but that the threat—and possibly the criminal case—could be taken care of.
“Money will make it go away,” was Williams’ statement, Holden testified. “All you have to do is pay money and it will go away.”
Holden sued for violation of his civil rights, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Murphy granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
The trial judge was correct, Epstein said.
There was no negligence, the justice explained, because there was no breach of duty. A peace officer, like a civilian, is not liable for damages for failing to rescue someone from a peril the defendant did not create, Epstein wrote.
Nor did Williams commit an intentional tort, the justice declared, because “at most, he passed on word of a threat and suggested that money might make the threat and the lawsuit against appellant’s daughter-in-law go away.”
This was not the type of “outrageous,” “extreme,” “atrocious,” or “utterly intolerable” behavior that California law requires a plaintiff to prove in order to recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the jurist concluded.
In other action at yesterday’s conference, the court:
•Agreed to resolve a conflict between courts as to the proper venue for a habeas corpus petition challenging a decision of the Board of Prison Terms that an inmate is unsuitable for parole.
The high court accepted review of last December’s decision in In re Roberts, 104 Cal.App.4th 151, in which this district’s Div. Four held that such cases should be heard where the inmate is housed, or was housed at time of parole denial. That panel disagreed with Div. Six, which held in In re Sena (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 836 that any such challenge should be heard in the county where the inmate was sentenced.
•Declined to hear a challenge to local government immunity for injuries to innocent bystanders resulting from police pursuits. The family of an Orange County man struck by a trash dumpster during Westminster officers’ pursuit of a stolen vehicle questioned the city’s pursuit policy, as well as whether the policy was complied with in the particular instance, but the Court of Appeal held last November in Nguyen v. City of Westminster, 103 Cal.App.4th 1161, that the alleged non-compliance did not negate the statutory immunity.
No justice voted to grant review.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company