Metropolitan News-Enterprise 

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Page 3


S.C. Will Not Revive County Official’s Suit Against Cooley Over Search




The California Supreme Court yesterday declined to review a Court of Appeal ruling rejecting damage claims by a Los Angeles County official and his wife against District Attorney Steve Cooley.

The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, denied review in County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court (West) (2009) 181 Cal.App.4th 218.

This district’s Div. Three ruled Dec. 23 that the defendants had prosecutorial and sovereign immunity against claims by Charles and Alane West over searches of Charles West’s home and Alane West’s business.

Charles West was, at the time, director of real estate under then-County Administrative Officer David Janssen, while Alane West was a principal of two companies, Interstate Equities II LLC and Primare. Charles West is also a lawyer.

The Wests claimed the county violated their civil rights and breached a duty to safeguard property taken in the searches. The searches were part of a public corruption probe into allegations that a developer had been given unlawful assistance in his effort to obtain contracts to build three large office buildings and lease them to the county.

Newspaper reports in 2005 said investigators from Cooley’s office were seeking evidence, including proposals, bids, contracts, correspondence or computer files, connecting Charles West with the West Los Angeles development firm Sonnenblick-Del Rio.

Administrative Leave

West was placed on administrative leave on the day of the searches, which authorized investigators to look for evidence of communications between Charles West and Sonnenblick-Del Rio. Several computers that were seized were returned to the Wests, along with other property, but the Wests claimed in their complaint that items were damaged.

The Wests also claimed they were confronted by 10 to 12 individuals “with semiautomatic guns drawn and cameras rolling at dawn’s early light” on the day investigators searched their home. The couple say they were patted down in front of neighbors and had their passports seized and held for several months, depriving them of their constitutional right to travel.

The Wests pled causes of action for violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and the analogous Civil Code Sec. 52.1, and for breach of involuntary bailment, but the Court of Appeal said the defendants were immune under both state and federal law.

The state claims, Justice Richard Aldrich said, failed under Government Code Secs. 821.6 and 815.2, immunizing counties and employees who conducted investigations against liability for injuries caused “by acts committed by the officers to institute or prosecute a judicial or administrative proceeding” if “the conduct of the officers while instituting or prosecuting the proceeding was within the scope of their employment.”

Aldrich went on to say that Cooley was also immune as to the federal cause of action, in which it was alleged that he violated the plaintiffs’ rights because his policies, custom, procedures, and failure to adequately train staff led to the unlawful retention and damaging of the plaintiffs’ property.

The justice explained that under California law, the district attorney, in formulating such policies and procedures, acted as a state, rather than a county, official, and as a state official has absolute immunity under the Eleventh Amendment and the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

Other Action

In other conference action, the justices:

•Declined to block a class action charging Kaiser Foundation Health Plan with violating the Unfair Competition Law by denying speech and behavioral therapies to children with autism spectrum disorders.

The court denied review of the Jan. 27 ruling of Div. Seven of this district’s Court of Appeal in Arce v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. (2010) 181 Cal.App.4th 471, in which the court held that the complaint raised issues that are properly resolved in a class action, and that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias erred in dismissing the case on the ground that the court would be required to resolve individual issues with respect to the medical necessity of the therapies.

The issue, Justice Laurie Zelon explained, was not whether the therapies sought by the plaintiff were medically necessary, but whether the defendant discriminated against autistic children by categorically denying the treatment. Kaiser claims that one of the requested treatments, known as Applied Behavior Analysis, is not covered because it need not be performed by a licensed physician, and that the other requested therapies were non-medical.

•Agreed to decide whether faxed copies of certified court records are admissible to establish that a prior conviction qualifies as a serious or violent felony for purposes of the Three-Strikes Law. The Fourth District’s Div. Three held in People v. Skiles (2010) 190 Cal.App.4th 1363 that copies were admissible.

•Agreed to decide whether a Department of Fish and Game warden was permitted to conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle whose driver appeared to the warden to have taken lobster illegally.

The Fourth District’s Div. One, in a 2-1 decision, said the search was not validated by Fish and Game Code Sec. 1006, which permits wardens  to search “[a]ll boats, markets, stores and other buildings, except dwellings, and all receptacles, except the clothing actually worn by a person at the time of inspection, where birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, or amphibia may be stored, placed, or held for sale or storage.”

Nor was the search permitted by or by Sec. 2012—which requires presentation upon law enforcement demand of “[a]ll licenses, tags, and the birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, or amphibians taken or otherwise dealt with under this code, and any device or apparatus designed to be, and capable of being, used to take birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, or amphibians....”—the Court of Appeal said in People v. Maikhio (2010) 180 Cal.App.4th 1178.


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