Monday, October 5, 2020
Opinion Affirms Denial of Motion to Dismiss, Rejects Contention That Statute Tolling Limitations Period for Suit Against an Officer by Incarcerated Person Does Not Apply to Monell Claim Against County
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed the denial of a motion by the County of Los Angeles to dismiss a civil rights action brought by a man who was severely beaten during an arrest by two deputies who uttered racial epithets, and who claims that the county had a policy of condoning the existence of racist cliques within the Sheriff’s Department.
The opinion rejects the county’s view that a California statute tolling the period for suing an officer while the plaintiff is behind bars does not apply to an action against a local governmental entity.
Appellant Sheldon Lockett is pursuing a Monell claim, which derives its name from the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York. That case holds that for municipal liability to exist in a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. §183, the employee committing a constitutional violation must have been implementing a policy or custom.
It is the nature of a Monell claim, the county argued, that renders inapplicable California Government Code §945.3, which Lockett contends tolled the two-year statute of limitation, under California law, for bringing his action.
Wording of Statute
Sec. 945.3 provides:
“No person charged by indictment, information, complaint, or other accusatory pleading charging a criminal offense may bring a civil action for money or damages against a peace officer or the public entity employing a peace officer based upon conduct of the peace officer relating to the offense for which the accused is charged, including an act or omission in investigating or reporting the offense or arresting or detaining the accused, while the charges against the accused are pending before a superior court.”
Lockett filed his civil rights action in 2018, two years and five months after the beating. He claimed the period for bringing suit was tolled while he was detained for eight months on an attempted murder charge that was dropped.
The county reasoned that §945.3 pertains to claims that are solely “based upon conduct of the peace officer” while a Monell claim is predicated on “the conduct of the department” in generating a policy or custom.
District Court Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Walsh of the Central District of California rejected the county’s view, and the county filed an solely interlocutory appeal from his denial of its motion to dismiss. In an opinion Friday upholding Walsh’s action, Circuit Judge Patrick J. Bumatay said:
“[I]is clear that the officers’ conduct is the ‘but for’ cause of Lockett’s Monell claim. Here, Lockett alleges that two deputies severely kicked, punched, and beat him with a baton during his arrest in violation of his right to be free from excessive force—a constitutional violation. In turn, Lockett’s Monell claim alleges that the County of Los Angeles allowed the proliferation of racially motivated gangs or cliques among Sheriff’s deputies, including the two deputies involved in his case, which resulted in the constitutional violation he suffered.”
Heart of Claim
“To succeed on the latter, Lockett must prove the former. Accordingly, the deputies’ conduct necessarily lies at the heart of Lockett’s Monell claim..., and his Monell claim is ‘based upon conduct of the peace officer[s]’ within the meaning of § 945.3. His claim was, thus, tolled while his attempted murder charge was pending.”
“Because there can be no Monell claim based on excessive force without an underlying constitutional violation by the officers, the peace officers conduct in violation of the Constitution here becomes the ‘necessary logical condition’ to formulate a Monell claim….Thus, California Government Code § 945.3’s ‘based upon’ language applies to Lockett’s Monell claim, and his claim was properly tolled until the dismissal of his criminal charges.”
According to the complaint, Lockett attempted to escape from two deputies who were harassing him with their guns drawn while he was outside his godmother’s house in Compton; the deputies radioed a false report Lockett was armed and fleeing from arrest; and once deputies seized him, they allegedly used racial slurs while punching, kicking, and beating him with their batons. One deputy allegedly rammed a baton in Lockett’s eye, causing permanent damage.
He was charged with attempted murder on Jan. 20, 2016, then released after the charge was dropped on Aug. 2, 2016. His suit was filed on July 3, 2018.
The case is Lockett v. County of Los Angeles, 19-55898.
Counsel for Lockett were Steven C. Glickman and Laura Tagmazian of Glickman & Glickman in Beverly Hills and John E. Sweeney of the Sweeney Firm in Beverly Hills. Representing the county were Jack F. Altura and Rickey Ivie of the Los Angeles firm of Ivie McNeill & Wyatt.
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