Monday, August 26, 2019
Panel Reinstates Action Alleging Fresno Police Deny Equal Protection by Giving Short Shrift to Reports Of Threats of Physical Harm by One Party to an Interpersonal Relationship to the Other Party
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A federal lawsuit claiming that the Fresno Police Department and individual officers display indifference to reports by females and domestic violence victims—with the dereliction resulting in the death of one woman, at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, and the blinding in one eye of another woman, who was rendered a quadriplegic, after being shot by her estranged husband—has been reinstated.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a memorandum opinion, on Thursday reversed a summary judgment in favor of the defendants on an equal protection claim. That judgment was rendered by District Court Judge Dale A. Drozd of the Eastern District of California on Jan. 9, 2018.
The plaintiffs are the estate of Cindy Raygoza, who was fatally stabbed by Michael Reams on July 14, 2014, and Pamela Motley, who was ambushed by her spouse, Paul Motley, as she came out of her parents’ home on April 12, 2014.
(Police, in response to calls from neighbors, arrived while Reams was stabbing Raygoza and fired fatal shots at him; Paul Motley killed himself after shooting his wife.)
It is alleged by Raygoza’s estate that the decedent contacted the Fresno Police Department (“FPD”) on Feb. 24, 2014, to report that Reams had broken into her home and attempted to choke her. One officer who responded purportedly proceeded to “criticize her choices of men,” advised her to avoid Reams, and warned that if she didn’t, any future calls concerning his conduct would be viewed as her “crying wolf” and she “would not receive any responses” from the FPD.
Motley takes the position that the FPD was remiss in not arresting her husband in light his threat five days before the shooting to kill her if she did not return to him. It is alleged that the responding officers made offensive and sexist remarks to her.
She also faults the FPD’s failure to make an arrest following her husband’s various violations of a domestic violence restraining order.
District Court Order
In rejecting the equal protection claim, Drozd said:
“Here, defendants persuasively argue that plaintiffs have failed to present evidence on summary judgment supporting the required showing of discriminatory effect. There is no evidence before the court on summary judgment suggesting that the FPD treats men or non-domestic violence victims any differently than the crime victims who have brought this action. Plaintiffs merely state in their opposition brief that ‘[t]he officers’ recurring failures to follow state law and best practices stand in stark contrast to the [FPD’s] handling of other cases.’…But plaintiffs do not direct the court’s attention to evidence with respect to the ‘other cases’ to which they refer, nor does the court find any such evidence before it. The court is therefore left with plaintiff’s conclusory assertion that crime victims Pamela Motley and Cindy Raygoza were somehow treated ‘differently’ than other similarly situated victims, with no explanation as to how this is so. Such conclusory assertions, unsupported by any evidence, are insufficient to survive a motion for summary judgment.”
He went on to conclude:
“[T]he events at issue in this case are tragic. However, because plaintiffs have failed to come forward with any evidence of a discriminatory effect, defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to plaintiffs’ Equal Protection claims must be granted.”
Ninth Circuit Decision
A three-judge panel—composed of Senior Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain and Circuit Judges Mary Margaret McKeown and Mark J. Bennett—said in reversing summary judgment as to the equal protection claim:
“The record includes contradictory accounts involving material facts. Drawing all inferences in favor of Motley and Raygoza’s estate and children, we conclude that there are genuine disputes of material facts about whether the FPD treats disfavored groups of crime victims—women and domestic violence crime victims—differently than similarly situated victims….Therefore, we reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the equal protection claim and remand the case for further proceedings.”
The panel did affirm Drozd’s rejection of a second claim, declaring:
“The substantive due process claim proposes a novel argument that an equal protection violation may serve as a basis for a substantive due process claim for the denial of the right to familial association. The Ninth Circuit has not considered this theory of substantive due process, and we do not need to reach it here. The allegations in the complaint do not allege state action or a state-created danger causing the deprivation of familial association….We affirm the district court’s dismissal of this claim.”
The case is Motley v. Smith, 18-15171.
Copyright 2019, Metropolitan News Company