Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Prosecutor Immune From Wrongful Detention Claim—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A man who claims he was wrongly incarcerated because a Riverside County deputy district attorney negligently blocked his release cannot sue the prosecutor because of common-law immunity, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The court affirmed a judgment in favor of Deputy District Attorney Donald Jakubowski. Riverside Superior Court Judge Harold Hopp sustained the prosecutor’s demurrer to a complaint filed by Valentino Bocanegra.
The plaintiff alleged that that when he was stopped by Palm Springs police in July 2011, and produced his driver’s license, which had the name “Jose M. Gonzalezbocanegra,” he was arrested on a misdemeanor warrant. The warrant was for a person named “Jose Gonzalez,” who was not him, the plaintiff alleged.
He was booked into several facilities, the last of which was the Los Angeles County Jail. Despite his protestations that he was not the person named in the warrant, he said, and his requests that officials check his driver’s license, social security number, fingerprints and booking photos, and the fingerprints and booking photos of the fugitive, he was not released until after he had been sodomized by a violent sexual predator in whose cell he was placed.
Set Up Claim
Deputies, he claimed, set him up to be assaulted in retaliation for his complaints regarding false imprisonment and failure to release him to attend a court hearing. He was eventually released, he said, following a hearing at which the judge apologized to him, even though Jakubowski was at the hearing and argued that he was, in fact, the person named in the warrant.
He sued the City of Palm Springs, Riverside and Los Angeles counties, the prosecutor, and a Riverside County sheriff’s deputy.
Presiding Justice Manuel Ramirez said the demurrer was properly sustained, although the defense erred in arguing statutory, rather than common-law, immunity.
He cited Falls v. Superior Court (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 1031, in which the court held:
“Almost as venerable as immunity for judges is immunity for prosecutors….When a quasi-judicial officer, such as a prosecutor, acts within his official capacity he, like a judicial officer, enjoys absolute immunity.”
In an unpublished portion of the opinion, Ramirez explained that Jakubowski did not enjoy statutory immunity from liability “for an injury caused by the act or omission of another person.” It was clear from the language of the complaint, he said, that the plaintiff was not seeking to hold the prosecutor responsible for the conduct of the Los Angeles deputies who allegedly blocked him from attending a hearing, but was “alleging that Jakubowski failed to free him when he had the ability to do so and when he was on notice of the need to do so; accordingly, Jakubowski himself proximately caused the continuation of the false imprisonment that the deputies had already initiated.”
Justice Art McKinster concurred, while Justice Jeffrey King concurred separately.
He argued that the demurrer should have been sustained on the ground that the complaint alleged no actionable conduct on the prosecutor’s part, since the alleged false imprisonment was based on a warrant issued by the clerk, while the prosecutor did not request issuance of the warrant and had no duty to question it.
The case is Bocanegra v. Jakubowski, E060453.
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