Wright v. Beck, No. 19-55084 (9th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff filed suit against various parties under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process after the police department destroyed some of his firearms by smelting them. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants sued in their individual capacities. The district court also concluded that plaintiff could not maintain his Monell failure-to-train claim against the municipal defendants and granted summary judgment in favor of them.
The Ninth Circuit held that a rational trier of fact could find that plaintiff's due process rights were violated when his firearms were seized and destroyed. In this case, given the fact that plaintiff continued to assert a claim of right to the firearms and reasonably believed that the LAPD was still reviewing the documentation he provided, he was entitled to know that the LAPD intended to seek an order permitting destruction of the remaining firearms at issue. A reasonable jury could find that plaintiff was entitled to notice, and Officer Edwards, who filed the application for an order to destroy the firearms and failed to provide plaintiff with notice, violated plaintiff's due process rights. Furthermore, the panel had no doubt that Officer Edwards had fair notice that his conduct violated plaintiff's due process right to notice, and thus Officer Edwards was not entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, the panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment on this claim. The panel also reversed plaintiff's Monell failure-to-train claim against Defendants Beck, Feuer, and the City. The panel affirmed the judgment as to Defendants Aubry and Tompkins, remanding for further proceedings.
Court Description: Civil Rights. The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s summary judgment in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging, in part, that law enforcement officials violated plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment due process rights when they seized and destroyed a portion of his firearms collection. Officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”) executed a search warrant and seized plaintiff’s collection of over 400 firearms. Plaintiff spent the next decade trying to recover the collection, asserting he owned the firearms lawfully. The LAPD voluntarily returned approximately eighty firearms, but kept the rest because, in its determination, plaintiff had not submitted sufficient proof that he owned them. While the parties were still negotiating, LAPD officer Edwards applied to the Los Angeles County Superior Court for an order granting permission to destroy the firearms, without giving plaintiff notice that he intended to seek such an order. Having obtained the order, the LAPD destroyed the firearms by smelting them. The panel held that plaintiff did not argue he was entitled to notice beyond what due process mandated, as defendants asserted. Had plaintiff abandoned the firearms and the requisite time had lapsed under California Penal Code section 34000(a), perhaps the LAPD could have applied ex parte for a destruction order without giving notice of its WRIGHT V. BECK 3 intended action. But given that plaintiff continued to assert a claim of right to the firearms and reasonably believed that the LAPD was still reviewing the documentation he provided, he was entitled to know that the LAPD intended to seek an order permitting destruction of the remaining firearms. The panel held that a reasonable factfinder could conclude that officer Edwards violated plaintiff’s due process rights. The panel had no doubt that officer Edwards had fair notice that his conduct violated plaintiff’s due process right to notice, and therefore he was not entitled to qualified immunity. The panel rejected defendants’ arguments that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed on alternative grounds, including assertions that defendants were entitled to derivative quasi-judicial immunity, that plaintiff released his property interest in the collection, and that a state order precluded the determination that plaintiff was entitled to notice. The panel affirmed, however, the district court’s conclusion that LAPD officers Aubry and Tompkins were entitled to summary judgment because there was no evidence linking them to the alleged due process violation. Because the panel reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment due process claim, the panel also reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on plaintiff’s failure-to-train claim brought under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), which the district court characterized as derivative of plaintiff’s due process and Fourth Amendment claims. In a separate memorandum disposition, the panel affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on 4 WRIGHT V. BECK a defense of qualified immunity on plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim.