Unpublished Disposition, 884 F.2d 1394 (9th Cir. 1989)

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U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit - 884 F.2d 1394 (9th Cir. 1989)

No. 83-5535.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Withdrawn from submission Nov. 9, 1983.

Resubmitted Aug. 31, 1989.

Decided Aug. 31, 1989.

Before HUG and FLETCHER, Circuit Judges, and JOHN C. COUGHENOUR,*  District Judge.


Jerry Emery De La Cruz appeals the district court's dismissal of his civil rights suit against four officers of the Los Angeles Police Department alleging that these officers caused the destruction of his automobile and thereby deprived him of a fair trial. This case was withdrawn from submission pending completion of state court proceedings. We now resubmit and affirm.

On November 1, 1980, De La Cruz drove his car into a group of persons standing along the roadway in the City of Sunland, California. As a result of the impact, three people were killed and two others were injured. The police impounded De La Cruz's car that same day. On November 5, the police released custody of the car. On December 22, 1980, the car was destroyed for scrap metal.1 

On February 12, 1982, De La Cruz was convicted of three counts of murder in the second degree and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon. The California court of appeal reversed and remanded for a new trial. De La Cruz was convicted at the conclusion of the second trial, and the court of appeal affirmed. The state criminal action is now final.

In the California court of appeal, De La Cruz argued that his conviction should be vacated because the police deprived him of a fair trial and thus due process by failing to preserve his car for use as evidence in his criminal trial. The California court of appeal rejected De La Cruz's argument in part because the police department afforded De La Cruz's lawyer ample opportunity to examine the car between November 5, 1980 and December 22, 1980. De La Cruz does not dispute that the police afforded his lawyer access to the car.

De La Cruz's civil rights suit involves the same claim as his unsuccessful criminal appeal, namely, that the police department deprived De La Cruz of a fair trial by failing to preserve his car for use as evidence. In Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 101 (1980), the Supreme Court held that a federal court in a Sec. 1983 case is precluded from relitigating issues "decided after a full and fair hearing in a state court."2  De La Cruz argues that we should not accord preclusive effect to the California court of appeal's decision. He contends that his lawyer's conflict of interest prevented him from fairly and fully litigating his due process claim. Even if we assumed that De La Cruz's lawyer had a conflict of interest, we would accord preclusive effect to the California court of appeal's decision. Since it was undisputed that the police afforded De La Cruz's lawyer ample opportunity to examine the car, the California court of appeal clearly was compelled to hold that the police did not deprive De La Cruz of a fair trial. Compare Arizona v. Youngblood, 109 S. Ct. 333, 337 (1988) ("We think that requiring a defendant to show bad faith on the part of the police both limits the extent of the police's obligation to preserve evidence to reasonable bounds and confines it to that class of cases where the interests of justice most clearly require it, i.e., those cases in which the police themselves by their conduct indicate that the evidence could form a basis for exonerating the defendant."). The quality of the legal representation De La Cruz received has no bearing on the merit of his civil rights action against the police officers.

The case is resubmitted.

We affirm the district court's dismissal of De La Cruz's civil rights action.


Hon. John C. Coughenour, District Judge for the Western District of Washington, sitting by designation


This disposition is not appropriate for publication and may not be cited to or by the Courts of this Circuit except as provided by Circuit Rule 36-3


The Black and White Garage took possession of the car on November 3, 1980. Because no storage charges had been paid, the garage began lien sale proceedings on November 14, 1980. After the garage sent notices of the lien sale and received no responses, it destroyed the car for scrap metal


In determining whether to give preclusive effect to a state court's resolution of an issue, a federal court must look to the preclusion rules of the state in question. Miofsky v. Superior Court, 703 F.2d 332, 336 (9th Cir. 1983). Under California law, a party is estopped from raising an issue already decided in a prior case if (1) the issue decided in the first action is identical with that presented in the instant action; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits in the first action; (3) the party against whom the judgment is asserted was a party to the first action; and (4) the issue was necessary to the disposition of the first action. Bernhard v. Bank of America, 19 Cal. 2d 807, 810-11, 122 P.2d 892, 894 (1942); Mountain Home Properties, Inc. v. Pine Mountain Lake Association, 135 Cal. App. 3d 959, 964, 185 Cal. Rptr. 623, 625 (1982); Perez v. City of San Bruno, 27 Cal. 3d 875, 883, 616 P.2d 1287, 1291, 168 Cal. Rptr. 114, 118 (1980). All four of these conditions are met in this case