Wednesday, March 31, 2010
C.A. Tosses Suit by Man in Day Labor Site Altercation
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday threw out a Montebello teacher’s suit claiming police in San Diego brought criminal charges to silence his arguments that day labor sites lead to child prostitution and should be shut down.
Div. One held in an unpublished opinion that officers who cited John Monti for nine misdemeanors—including battery, commission of a hate crime and filing a false police report—after a November 2006 confrontation between Monti and day laborers were entitled to immunity.
Monti, who claims day laborers have been living in outdoor migrant camps that are the scene of illegal activities, had stopped at a day labor site to take photographs and hand out fliers to potential employers concerning the practice of hiring illegal immigrants when he was involved in a physical altercation with some of the laborers.
Police promptly arrested Jose Balzaga, whom they identified from the pictures Monti took. However, both sides maintained the other attacked first, and police released Balzaga after questioning.
Monti then appeared on Fox News’ now-defunct “Hannity & Colmes” show, airing his side of the incident and claiming police were not taking it seriously. He displayed a poster containing photographs of seven of the men involved in the incident, including Balzaga, in a four-minute story that continuously bore the caption “MANHUNT AT THE BORDER.”
Shortly after the program aired, Monti said, he received notice in the mail that he was facing criminal charges, but a jury later found him not guilty.
The seven men depicted in Monti’s poster sued Monti, Fox News and San Diego Minutemen leader Jeff Schwilk, charging violations of their civil rights and defamation. San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Styn, however, eliminated the claim against Fox as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, and a divided panel of Div. One affirmed in May.
Monti filed a cross-complaint against the plaintiffs, the San Diego Police Department and a pro-immigration activist who allegedly tried to persuade police to arrest Monti. He claimed the officers who investigated the 2006 incident and cited him were liable under Civil Code Sec. 52.1(b) for interfering with his free speech rights under the state and federal constitutions.
The department demurred, and Styn sustained, concluding that the officers were entitled to immunity under Government Code Sec. 821.6 because their investigation was part of a judicial proceeding within the scope of their employment.
Div. One affirmed in an opinion by Justice Cynthia Aaron, who noted that Monti alleged only that police “charged” him.
Aaron wrote also that Styn did not abuse his discretion in denying Monti leave to amend, noting that Monti failed to demonstrate that he could allege a cause of action for false imprisonment based on false arrest.
The justice noted that California’s grant of statutory immunity from liability for malicious prosecution to police officers does not extend to false arrest and imprisonment, but said Monti’s acknowledgment that the officers never physically arrested him was fatal to his case.
Justices Richard D. Huffman and Alex C. McDonald joined Aaron in her opinion.
The case is Monti v. City of San Diego, D054430.
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