On July 29, 2020, following oral argument by Natalie Price, the California Court of Appeal issued a decision affirming summary judgment in favor of the County of Orange in Vanessa Hamilton v. Orange County Sheriff’s Department, a FEHA employment action alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. Plaintiff, who had been dismissed from the Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Academy for dishonesty and significant performance deficiencies, claimed that her dismissal had been racially motivated. The trial court found no evidence of any improper motive or racial bias, and the Court of Appeal agreed that the substantial record clearly established that the challenged dismissal had been based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons, thereby barring Plaintiff’s claims in their entirety.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, LBAC has successfully defended the County of Los Angeles in a series of cases filed that involve allegation of wrongful police conduct related to the outbreak. In Brandy, et. al. v. Villanueva, et. al., the NRA, gun retailers, shooting range operators, and gun owners filed suit in federal court and immediately brought an ex parte application for a temporary restraining order against the Sheriff, County Public Health Director, State of California, and City of Los Angeles for restrictions against the gun industry as a result of the COVID-19 public health orders. Following briefing prepared by Jin Choi and Paul Beach, on April 6, 2020, the court entered an order upholding the County’s public health orders and denying plaintiffs’ ex parte application. In Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws, Inc., et. al. v. California Department of Justice, et. al., an organization that advocates for inmate rights and two individuals filed a petition for writ of mandate and civil complaint in state court against the State of California, the Attorney General, the County, and the Sheriff. As a result of risks posed by COVID-19, the plaintiffs immediately brought an ex parte application or an order to relieve convicted sex offenders of their obligations under the California Penal Code to periodically register in person at sheriff stations. After Mike Allen prepared briefing and appeared at multiple hearings, on April 17, 2020, the court entered an order denying plaintiffs’ ex parte application. Finally, in May, 2020, in Coullors, et. al. v. County of Los Angeles, et. al., in a lengthy complaint close to 100 pages long, the ACLU and six law firms from across the country brought suit in federal court on behalf of nine inmate plaintiffs and two inmate advocacy organizations against the County and the Sheriff. The plaintiffs immediately brought an ex parte application that included dozens of declarations and almost 50 pages of points and authorities, but refused to extend the one-day deadline for the defense to file opposition papers. With limited time to prepare opposition papers, Justin Clark and Paul Beach, with the assistance of County Counsel, were able to successfully obtain a dismissal of the entire action.
On March 24, 2020, in Spangler v. County of Ventura, et al., a case handled by Rocco Zambito and Jim Eicher, LBAC successfully obtained affirmance of a lower court order granting summary judgment and awarding attorneys’ fees in favor of the County of Ventura. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff had alleged Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in a case arising out of a police chase involving a Ventura County Deputy Sheriff and the plaintiff’s adult son, who was observed riding a motorcycle and committing multiple traffic violations. While attempting to evade the Sheriff’s Deputy, the plaintiff’s son drove off a roadway and over a hillside, resulting in his death. On appeal, the plaintiff asserted that the District Court did not apply the proper standard in ruling on the plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment claim and erred in sanctioning the plaintiff for continuing to pursue frivolous claims. Following oral argument, which was Mr. Zambito’s first oral argument before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ever, the Court issued its decision affirming the District Court’s decision on all grounds, holding that the District Court correctly applied the “purpose-to-harm” standard in evaluating the plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment claim and did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorneys’ fees in favor of the County of Ventura.
On January 28, 2020, Natalie Price obtained summary judgment in favor of the County of Orange in a federal and state law discrimination and retaliation case, Vanessa Hamilton v. Orange County Sheriff’s Department, brought by a former Sheriff’s Department employee. Plaintiff argued that she was selected to work a mandatory overtime shift on account of her race and her previous lawsuit against the County (which LBAC also prevailed on summary judgment in September, 2018). Plaintiff further argued that, when she refused to work the mandatory overtime shift, the Department’s decision to terminate her was pretextual and racial discrimination and retaliation were the true motives. Ms. Price argued that Plaintiff had no evidence to support her contentions and that, even if there was some evidence, the indisputable evidence was that the Department terminated her because she failed to report for a mandatory overtime shift and she was untruthful with her supervisors and during the Internal Affairs investigation. Furthermore, even if Plaintiff could dispute the Department’s lawful reasons for terminating her employment, the County was still entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff could not establish that the County had a policy or custom of discrimination or retaliation.
On January 23, 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Fourteenth Amendment claim against the County of Los Angeles in Sakamoto, et al. v. County of Los Angeles. In this case, an elderly man was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence and detained for approximately 12 hours in the County jail before being released with a citation. His family members filed suit, alleging failure to protect, after the man failed to return home and was subsequently found dead not far from the jail. After obtaining voluntary dismissals of several state law claims and judgment on the pleadings for the remaining state law wrongful death claim, Emily Suhr and Raymond Sakai successfully obtained summary judgment as to the sole remaining Section 1983 claim by demonstrating that the County had no notice that the man would be unable to care for himself if released. In affirming the decision, the Ninth Circuit reiterated that no County employee acted with deliberate indifference to a known or obvious danger, precluding liability against the County.