Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Surveillance video from a neighbor’s house showed two individuals walking from a truck to a burglarized house and then walking away, carrying sacks. Deputy Willett contacted Delrio and told him that a vehicle registered to him had been involved in a burglary. Delrio completed paperwork to report the vehicle stolen. Willett viewed the video and concluded that one of the individuals resembled Delrio, who was on parole. Sergeant Acosta went to Delrio’s house to conduct a parole search; officers located Delrio's cell phone. Acosta believed Delrio’s parole obligations required him to surrender his password; he stated, “you’re on parole. I need the passcode,” Delrio complied. A detective downloaded the contents of the phone before returning it. Minutes after the officers left his house, Delrio called and asked Acosta to return to the house, where Delrio showed Acosta a photograph from his cell phone in which Delrio was holding $100 bills and said the money was the proceeds from selling the stolen jewelry. Delrio told Acosta about his involvement in the burglary. Delrio unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence. The court of appeal affirmed. Any expectation of privacy he may have had did not outweigh the government’s interest in conducting the search because the officers had specific reasons to suspect he was involved in a residential burglary. View "People v. Delrio" on Justia Law

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E.B. has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The Contra Costa County public guardian sought the appointment of a conservator. The court denied E.B.’s objection to compelled testimony. At a trial, E.B. was called as one of three witnesses. He appealed from an order appointing the Public Guardian as his conservator and determining that his current placement in a mental health rehabilitation facility was the least restrictive and most appropriate placement. (Welf. & Inst. Code 5350, 5358(c)(1)). E.B. argued that he had a right to refuse to testify under the equal protection clause, because that right has been statutorily granted in proceedings to extend the commitment of persons found not guilty by reason of insanity, and he is entitled to the same protection. The court of appeal affirmed. LPS conservatees are similarly situated with NGI’s and with individuals subject to other involuntary civil commitments for purposes of the right against compelled testimony but the error was harmless. Even if the jurors had not observed E.B.’s demeanor on the stand, they would have known his diagnosis; that he was on three medications for his mental illness, one of which required white blood cell count monitoring; that he had been recently hospitalized for his mental illness; that when living on his own he had engaged in aberrant behavior; and that he resisted treatment and had limited insight into his mental health condition. View "Conservatorship of E.B." on Justia Law

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McDowell and Hutchison planned and executed a burglary and an attempted armed robbery of a drug dealer. Hutchison shot and killed the drug dealer. Although he was not the actual killer, McDowell was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole after a jury convicted him of, among other things, first-degree murder (Pen. Code 187(a)) and found true robbery-murder and burglary-murder special circumstances (190.2(a)(17)(A), (G)). After the California Supreme Court’s Banks (2015) and Clark (2016) decision, McDowell sought habeas corpus relief, challenging the special circumstance findings. The court of appeal denied relief, holding that the “major participant” and “reckless indifference to human life” findings are adequately supported. McDowell’s decision to arm himself with a palm knife should be viewed in combination with the particularly risky crime that he planned and led—a home invasion robbery of a methamphetamine dealer. McDowell’s proximity to the crime and opportunity to restrain Hutchison also increased his culpability. View "In re McDowell" on Justia Law

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Proposition 66, the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016, changed the procedures governing petitions for writs of habeas corpus in capital cases. It ended the practice of capital defendants initiating habeas proceedings in the Supreme Court, in favor of having the “court which imposed the sentence” decide the petitions in the first instance. (Pen. Code 1509(a).) Proposition 66 authorized the Supreme Court to transfer pending petitions to the sentencing court. After the passage of Proposition 66, the Supreme Court transferred Salcido’s pending petition to San Mateo County, where Salcido was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. The state sought transfer of the petition to Sonoma County, which is where Salcido was initially charged before the case was transferred due to pretrial publicity. The trial court granted the transfer. The court of appeal granted Salcido mandamus relief; his habeas petition must remain in San Mateo County. The Supreme Court, by transferring Salcido’s petition to San Mateo County pursuant to Proposition 66, has already determined that San Mateo County is the “court which imposed the sentence” and must decide the petition. No lower court may second-guess that decision. There is no statutory basis supporting the position that San Mateo County, as the sentencing court, may transfer the petition to another county. View "Salcido v. Superior Court of San Mateo County" on Justia Law

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After defendant's dog killed plaintiff's cat, the parties settled for $2,000 and a written agreement with a non-disparagement clause. However, defendant then posted a hostile message on a neighborhood blog about plaintiff, who responded by suing defendant and his wife for breach of contract, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendant and his wife filed an anti-SLAPP motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of defendant's anti-SLAPP motion and held that there was no public interest in defendant's internet post about plaintiff. In this case, neither party was in the public eye; none of their acts directly affected a large number of people beyond the three households; and there was no issue of public interest when the speaker's words were merely an effort to gather ammunition for another round in the speaker's neighborhood wrangle. View "Jeppson v. Ley" on Justia Law

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Adams pleaded no contest to inflicting corporal injury and was placed on formal probation. Defense counsel argued Adams did not have the ability to pay fines or fees; he was homeless and did not have a job. The court did not impose a $330 restitution fund fine or a probation revocation fine but imposed $40 court operations and $30 court facilities funding assessments, a $129.75 criminal justice administration fee, and a $25-per-month probation fee. Later, Adams pleaded no contest in another case for failing to register as a sex offender. Adams again received formal probation. The court imposed a $300 restitution fine plus $30 for administrative costs (Pen. Code 1202.4(b)(1), (l)); imposed but suspended a $300 probation revocation fine (Pen. Code 1202.44); imposed $40 court operations (Pen. Code 1465.8) and $30 court facilities funding assessments (Gov. Code 70373) but did not impose the criminal justice administration fee based on inability to pay. Later, the court revoked probation in both cases and sentenced Adams to prison. The previously-suspended probation revocation fine was ordered to be paid; two $300 parole revocation fines were imposed but suspended. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the trial court violated Adams’s federal due process rights by imposing fines and fees without assessing his ability to pay. The court reasoned that the 2019 decision, People v. Dueñas, was wrongly decided and factually distinguishable. View "People v. Adams" on Justia Law

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Kerbs was found not guilty by reason of insanity of assault with a deadly weapon and was committed to the state hospital system for a maximum of four years. Other than two limited periods of conditional release, his commitment was extended over 20 years. The state sought to again extend the commitment. Dr. Mancusi testified as an expert in violence risk assessment, psychodiagnostic assessment, and psychological treatment. She had been Kerbs’s unit psychologist for about four and one-half years. She testified that Kerbs, then 61 years old, suffered from schizophrenia, and that “lacking engagement in treatment and lacking insight into his mental disorder,” Kerbs did “continue to pose a significant risk for violence without sufficient support and supervision.” Kerbs had made statements that concerned her and had expressed an intention to continue his medication. Mancusi believed that his risk in the community without supervision was in the high range. On cross-examination, Mancusi acknowledged that she had never seen Kerbs “place his hands on anyone,” but she had “witnessed him act in an intimidating manner.” The court extended his civil commitment under Penal Code section 1026.51 for two years. The court of appeal reversed. The expert testimony did not show either that Kerbs ever physically harmed another while confined or that he has difficulty controlling “dangerous behavior,” so the court’s finding of dangerousness was not supported by substantial evidence. View "People v. Kerbs" on Justia Law

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Brome started with the California Highway Patrol in 1996; he transferred offices twice. Other officers subjected Brome, who was openly gay, to derogatory comments; singled him out for pranks; and refused to provide him with backup assistance. Brome filed administrative complaints, including with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The incidents continued. Brome won the Solano Area Officer of the Year Award in 2013, but the Patrol never displayed his photograph, in a break from office practice. Through 2014, Brome complained to his superiors. The problems continued and Brome feared for his life during enforcement stops, experienced headaches, muscle pain, stomach issues, anxiety, and stress, and became suicidal. Brome went on medical leave and filed a successful workers’ compensation claim. He took industrial disability retirement. The court dismissed his claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov. Code 12900), as untimely, rejecting Brome’s claim that he was constructively discharged. The court of appeal reversed. The filing of the workers’ compensation claim could equitably toll the one-year deadline for filing his discrimination claim; equitable tolling would not prejudice the Patrol. After years of harassment, Brome was struggling to recover; although 11 months elapsed, Brome can meet the good faith requirement. While it is not the only possible conclusion, there is enough evidence for a reasonable trier of fact to conclude that the Patrol knowingly permitted the conditions and should have known that a reasonable employee would resign. View "Brome v. California Highway Patrol" on Justia Law

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Douglas Roger, an orthopedic surgeon, sued respondents Riverside County (the County) and its sheriff’s department after they falsely reported he had been charged with a felony. In an earlier civil action, the Riverside Superior Court held Roger in civil contempt for refusing to produce his patients’ medical records in discovery, and remanded him to jail, where he spent 52 days in custody. When the sheriff’s department booked him into custody, they incorrectly entered his civil violation in their electronic database as a felony charge, and then reported that inaccurate charge to the California Department of Justice (DOJ), creating a false criminal record for Roger. Among other things, he alleged he lost a lucrative hospital contract he had maintained for the previous 12 years as a result of the respondents’ error. The trial court sustained respondents’ demurrer to Roger's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim and later disposed of the remaining causes of action at the summary judgment stage. The court concluded Roger had failed to state a section 1983 claim as a matter of law because he had not alleged facts “establishing the nature of [respondents’] training program” and therefore failed to allege the training was so obviously inadequate as to amount to deliberate indifference to inmates’ civil rights. The court dismissed the defamation claims because the undisputed evidence showed Roger had failed to comply with the claim presentation requirements in the Government Claims Act by filing a late claim for damages with the County. The court concluded the writ claim failed because the undisputed evidence showed respondents had fixed the error in Roger’s record during the litigation, and therefore their recordkeeping errors amounted to a past wrong, not a present controversy. Finally, the court concluded there was no legal basis for declaratory relief because respondents were under no ministerial duty to act— that is, to maintain correct records. On appeal, Roger challenged the court’s dismissal of each of his claims. After review, the Court of Appeals determined there was merit to all of Roger's claims and reversed judgment. View "Roger v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that a security guard sexually harassed them with his metal detecting wand during the courthouse entry screening process. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment against plaintiffs, holding that substantial evidence supported the trial court's fact finding. The trial court found that plaintiffs failed to prove sexual harassment by a preponderance of the evidence. Rather, the trial court found clear and convincing evidence there had been no sexual harassment. In this case, the screening procedures are public and monitored by video; few witnesses saw the allegedly inappropriate wanding; and the video evidence clearly refutes plaintiffs' claims. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the trial court committed legal error by failing in the statement of decision to apply and to cite three cases; because substantial evidence supports the finding there was no hostile environment sexual harassment, it was unnecessary for the trial court to make findings about when Ventura Superior Court knew about non-harassing conduct; the trial court in fact did make the findings plaintiffs complained were omitted; claims of error regarding the trial court's decision and conduct as evidence of gender bias were rejected; and challenges to the statement of decision rejected. View "Schmidt v. Superior Court" on Justia Law