Friday, February 24, 2012
Overdetention Not Enough to Trigger Claim Under Civil Rights Statute—Court of Appeal
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Overdetention of a jail inmate does not, by itself, trigger a right to damages and attorney fees under the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Four affirmed a judgment for more than $200,000 for common law false imprisonment against Los Angeles County, but said the plaintiff, Adetokunbo Shoyoye, cannot collect attorney fees under the Bane Act, which is Civil Code Sec. 52.1.
As amended in 1990, the statute creates a cause of action for equitable relief, damages, and attorney fees on behalf of any person “whose exercise or enjoyment of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of this state, has been interfered with, or attempted to be interfered with” by means of “threats, intimidation, or coercion,”
Shoyoye spent 19 days in the county jail in 2007, following his arrest on two outstanding warrants. The first warrant was for failure to appear on a citation for riding the subway without a ticket; the second resulted from an identity theft in which a former roommate used Shoyoye’s name and was convicted of grant theft.
Shoyoye resolved both matters in court, and was ordered released three days after his arrest. But when he asked jailers why he was not being released as ordered, he later testified, he was told that he was subject to a “DCL hold.”
He said he received the runaround when he asked anyone who would listen what a DCL hold was and why he had one. The county ultimately determined that he had been mistaken for a parolee headed to state prison because a clerical error resulted in that person’s information being attacked to Shoyoye’s paperwork.
The error was discovered after Shoyoye’s roommate contacted his employer, who contacted a state legislator, who contacted the chief of legislative affairs for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, who ascertained through the inmate locator system that Shoyoye and the parolee had been mistakenly assigned the same parole hold number.
Shoyoye sued following his release, and the jury found for him on both his false imprisonment and Bane Act claims. Jurors awarded $22,000 for his financial losses and $180,000 for emotional distress.
But Justice Stephen Suzukawa, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the Bane Act portion of the verdict, and the related fee award, had to be stricken.
“[W]e conclude that where coercion is inherent in the constitutional violation alleged, i.e., an over-detention in County jail, the statutory requirement of ‘threats, intimidation, or coercion’ is not met,” she wrote. “The statute requires a showing of coercion independent from the coercion inherent in the wrongful detention itself.”
The jurist went on, however, to reject the county’s contention that the damage award should be thrown out as well.
Because the false imprisonment finding was not erroneous, and the damages on that claim were identical to those awarded for the Bane Act violation, the damages award should stand, the justice said.
Attorneys on appeal were Gary S. Casselman and Danielle Casselman of Casselman Law Offices for the plaintiff and Thomas C. Hurrell and Melinda Cantrall of Hurrell Cantrall LLP for the defendant.
The case is Shoyoye v. County of Los Angeles, B223542.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company