Pickett v. Nguyen et al, No. 3:2015cv04421 - Document 38 (N.D. Cal. 2016)

Court Description: ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' 32 MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT by Hon. William H. Orrick. Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment is granted as to the claims for unlawful detention, unlawful arrest, and unlawful search. (jmdS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 12/22/2016)
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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 GLENN PICKETT, 7 Case No. 15-cv-04421-WHO Plaintiff, 8 v. 9 RICHMOND POLICE OFFICER NGUYEN, et al., 10 Re: Dkt. No. 32 Defendants. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT 12 INTRODUCTION 13 Plaintiff Glenn Pickett (“Pickett”) brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging 14 defendants Officer Nguyen (“Nguyen”) and Officer Hodges (“Hodges”) violated Pickett’s rights 15 under the Fourth Amendment when on June 15, 2014, Nguyen stopped Pickett for an expired car 16 registration tab, arrested him for drug possession and resisting arrest, and searched his car and the 17 locked luggage in his car. Defendants move for partial summary judgment on Pickett’s claims for: 18 (1) unlawful detention, (2) false arrest, and (3) unlawful search. Motion for Partial Summary 19 Judgment (Dkt. 32).1 Because Pickett fails to raise disputed issues of material fact precluding 20 summary judgment on these claims, defendants’ motion is GRANTED. 21 BACKGROUND 22 While on patrol on June 15, 2014, Nguyen (an officer with the Richmond Police 23 Department) observed a green Saturn with an expired registration tab. Declaration of Khoa 24 Nguyen (“Nguyen Decl.”) (Dkt. 32-2) at ¶ 2. Nguyen conducted a registration check, which 25 showed the car was in fact unregistered. Id. Nguyen illuminated his overhead lights to conduct a 26 27 28 1 Pickett also asserts claims for excessive force related to his June 15, 2014 arrest and unlawful detention related to a separate stop on July 7, 2014. Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) at 5-6. Those claims are not at issue on this motion. 1 traffic stop. Id. Pickett was driving the car (and was its sole occupant). He was returning home 2 from the grocery store. Declaration of Glenn Pickett (“Pickett Decl.) at ¶ 5 (Dkt. 34-1). He is on 3 disability and at the time of the stop was taking prescription medication as well as marijuana for 4 pain from a recent surgery. Transcript of Video Deposition of Glen Pickett (“Pickett Depo.” Dkt. 5 No. 32) at 46, 107. Pickett pulled over to the side of the road. Id. ¶ 4. Officer Hodges arrived on 6 the scene at that time as backup. Id. 7 When Nguyen approached the car, he noticed that Pickett was sweating (although it was 8 cold outside) and nervously fidgeting. Nguyen Decl. ¶ 4. Nguyen asked Pickett for his license, 9 proof of registration, and insurance, which Pickett went to retrieve from his car’s glove compartment. Id. When Pickett opened the glove compartment, Nguyen could see in plain view 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 several prescription drug bottles. Id. Hodges, who was standing on the passenger side of the 12 vehicle, notified Nguyen that he could see the prescription bottles as well as marijuana in the 13 glove compartment. Id. Pickett does not dispute that he opened the glove compartment, does not 14 dispute that in the glove compartment there were prescription drug bottles in plain view of the 15 officers, and does not dispute that there was marijuana in the glove compartment.2 In his 16 deposition, Pickett admitted there was marijuana in his car. He said that he had a small amount in 17 a “zip” bag “under the seat” and some in a plastic prescription bottle. Pickett Depo. Tr. at 106 – 18 107. In light of his observations and Pickett’s behavior, Nguyen asked Pickett to turn off the 19 20 engine of his vehicle, which Pickett refused to do, and to exit the vehicle, which Pickett also 21 refused to do. Id. ¶ 5. After a confrontation and after Pickett was out of the vehicle, he was 22 placed in handcuffs. Id. ¶ 6. At some point prior to searching the vehicle – it is not clear from the record when– Nguyen 23 24 spoke with Pickett and Pickett admitted that there was marijuana and prescription drugs in the 25 vehicle. Id. ¶ 7. During his deposition, Pickett admitted that he thought he remembered telling the 26 27 28 2 Pickett declares only that “upon being pulled over and detained, I was immediately ordered to get out of my car and I was placed under arrest by Hodges who held my arm tightly behind my back to place handcuffs on me.” Pickett Decl. ¶ 8. 2 1 officers about “everything” that was in the car, specifically Norco and a little bit of marijuana. 2 Pickett Depo. Tr. at 149. 3 3 While Pickett was sitting on the curb, defendants searched Pickett’s vehicle, including a 4 locked bag in Pickett’s backseat. Nguyen Decl. ¶ 7; Pickett Decl. ¶¶ 10-12. During the search, 5 defendants discovered six bottles of prescription medication and marijuana in a clear plastic bag. 6 Nguyen Decl. ¶ 7; see also Pickett Decl. ¶ 12 (“during the search, the defendants discovered 7 medication that had been legally prescribed to me by a doctor.”). Pickett was arrested and taken 8 into custody for resisting arrest and possession of drugs. Pickett Decl. ¶ 14; Answer ¶ 12. The 9 charges were later dismissed and Pickett was released from custody. Pickett Decl. ¶ 14. LEGAL STANDARD 10 Summary judgment on a claim or defense is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of 13 law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In order to prevail, a party moving for summary judgment must show 14 the absence of a genuine issue of material fact with respect to an essential element of the non- 15 moving party’s claim, or to a defense on which the non-moving party will bear the burden of 16 persuasion at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant has 17 made this showing, the burden then shifts to the party opposing summary judgment to identify 18 “specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. The party opposing summary 19 judgment must then present affirmative evidence from which a jury could return a verdict in that 20 party’s favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 257 (1986). On summary judgment, the Court draws all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the 21 22 non-movant. Id. at 255. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, “[c]redibility 23 determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the 24 facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Id. However, conclusory and speculative testimony 25 does not raise genuine issues of fact and is insufficient to defeat summary judgment. See Thornhill 26 3 27 28 “Q: Did you ever say anything to the officers about the marijuana that was in your car? A: I don’t remember. Maybe. I don’t remember. I probably did. I think I remember telling him everything that was there. I told him that there was Norco because I was on disability. I may have told him that there was a little bit of marijuana in there.” 3 1 Publ’g Co., Inc. v. GTE Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 738 (9th Cir.1979). DISCUSSION 2 3 4 I. UNLAWFUL DETENTION Defendants move for summary judgment on Pickett’s unlawful detention claim, arguing 5 that his detention was justified as part of a traffic stop to investigate the expired vehicle tags. Mot. 6 4-5. Pickett opposes, arguing that there was no justification for defendants to detain Pickett for a 7 minor traffic infraction because it was too dark for defendants to see his expired tags and that it 8 was only after pulling over plaintiff that defendants discovered the expired tags. Oppo. at 4. 9 “Temporary detention of individuals during the stop of an automobile by the police, even if only for a brief period and for a limited purpose, constitutes a ‘seizure’ of ‘persons’ within [the 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 Fourth Amendment].” Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809 (1996). A traffic stop therefore 12 must not be “unreasonable” under the circumstances and must be supported by reasonable 13 suspicion. Id. at 810; United States v. Choudhry, 461 F.3d 1097, 1100 (9th Cir. 2006) (“A traffic 14 violation alone is sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion.”). As pertinent here, an expired 15 vehicle registration justifies a traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment. See Delaware v. Prouse, 16 440 U.S. 648, 663 (1979); James v. Hayward Police Dep't, No. C 10-4009 SI PR, 2012 WL 17 1895952, at *7 (N.D. Cal. May 23, 2012) (“undisputed evidence shows that defendants [] made a 18 lawful traffic stop of the car in which James was a passenger based on reasonable suspicion that 19 the driver had failed to register the car and pay the required fees as indicated by the expired 20 vehicle registration tag”). 21 Nguyen observed Pickett’s green Saturn with an expired registration tab on the license 22 plate and ran a check to confirm the expired status before pulling Pickett over. Nguyen Decl. ¶ 2. 23 Pickett presents no evidence to raise a dispute of material fact concerning Nguyen’s knowledge or 24 conduct prior to the stop. Pickett admits that his registration was expired in violation of California 25 law. Pickett Depo. Tr. 45-46. Pickett cannot defeat summary judgment by simply speculating that 26 it was too dark for Nguyen to have seen the expired tab or that Nguyen did not know the 27 registration was expired until after Pickett was stopped. Pickett Decl. ¶¶ 6, 7. 28 On a motion for summary judgment, evidence presented by the parties must be admissible. 4 1 Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007); Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(e). 2 “Conclusory, speculative testimony in affidavits and moving papers is insufficient to raise genuine 3 issues of fact and defeat summary judgment.” Soremekun, 509 F.3d at 984; see also Nelson v. 4 Pima Community College, 83 F.3d 1075, 1081-82 (9th Cir. 1996) (“[M]ere allegation and 5 speculation do not create a factual dispute for purposes of summary judgment”). Pickett’s 6 unsupported assertion of what Nguyen could or could have not have seen or known prior to the 7 stop fails for a number of reasons. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 602, “a witness may testify to 8 a matter only if evidence is introduced sufficient to support a finding that the witness has personal 9 knowledge of the matter.” Pickett fails to show how he had personal knowledge of what Nguyen could see while driving behind Pickett’s vehicle. Pickett’s statement that it was too dark to see the 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 registration tab is purely speculative. There is no evidence to call into question Nguyen’s 12 testimony or his ability to see the expired tab on the night in question. Compare United States v. 13 White, No. 14-CR-00020-WHO-1, 2014 WL 5522072, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 31, 2014) (defendant 14 failed to rebut officer’s testimony that defendant’s headlights were illegal where defendant offered 15 only a vague assertion regarding the color of the headlights and provided no further evidence such 16 as “when the lamps were installed, what their model number or ‘type’ were, whether they were 17 OEM or after-market, or provide any other details.”), with Davis v. Clearlake Police Dep't, No. C- 18 07-03365 EDL, 2008 WL 4104344, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 3, 2008) (plaintiff raised triable issue of 19 fact as to whether defendant saw expired tag where plaintiff testified that “[t]here’s no way 20 possible [to see the expired tag] because in order to pump gas into a 1967 Cougar, the license 21 plates have to be folded down”). Pickett has not shown a dispute of material fact precluding summary judgment as to his 22 23 detention. It is undisputed that Pickett was driving with an expired registration, Pickett offers no 24 admissible evidence to rebut Nguyen’s testimony, and a detention for driving without a valid 25 registration is acceptable as a traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment. Defendants’ motion for 26 summary judgment on Pickett’s unlawful detention claim is GRANTED. 27 II. 28 FALSE ARREST To prevail on a section 1983 claim for false arrest, a plaintiff must demonstrate that there 5 1 was no probable cause for his arrest. Cabrera v. City of Huntington Park, 159 F.3d 374, 380 (9th 2 Cir. 1998). “Probable cause to arrest exists when officers have knowledge or reasonably 3 trustworthy information sufficient to lead a person of reasonable caution to believe an offense has 4 been or is being committed by the person being arrested.” United States v. Lopez, 482 F.3d 1067, 5 1072 (9th Cir. 2007). “Probable cause requires only a fair probability or substantial chance of 6 criminal activity, and we determine the existence of probable cause by looking at ‘the totality of 7 the circumstances known to the officers at the time.’” United States v. Alaimalo, 313 F.3d 1188, 8 1193 (9th Cir. 2002). Probable cause is an objective standard and an officer’s subjective intention 9 is immaterial in evaluating whether the arrest was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. John v. City of El Monte, 505 F.3d 907, 910-11 (9th Cir. 2007). “Whether probable cause exists 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 depends upon the reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the facts known to the arresting officer 12 at the time of the arrest.” Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 152 (2004). 13 Pickett argues that his arrest was illegal because he could not be arrested for simply driving 14 an unregistered car. Oppo. 4. Pickett’s argument fails for two reasons. First, an arrest for any 15 criminal offense, however minor, is sufficient under the Fourth Amendment. Atwater v. City of 16 Lago Vista , 532 U.S. 318, 354 (2001). In Atwater, the Court held that “[i]f an officer has 17 probable cause to believe that an individual has committed even a very minor criminal offense in 18 his presence, he may, without violating the Fourth Amendment arrest the offender.” 532 U.S. at 19 354. In other words, in order for an arrest to comply with the Fourth Amendment even a traffic 20 violation is sufficient. 21 Pickett contends that the result here should be different because the violation of California 22 law at issue – driving with an expired registration – is a minor traffic infraction providing only for 23 a written citation and not for an arrest. Oppo. at 4-5 (citing People v. Medina, 110 Cal. App. 4th 24 171, 176 (2003) (a “driver stopped for a minor traffic infraction cannot be physically restrained 25 absent ‘specific and articulable facts’ that could support a rational suspicion that [the driver was] 26 involved in ‘some activity relating to crime”)). Pickett relies on Edgerly v. City & Cty. of San 27 Francisco, 495 F.3d 645 (9th Cir. 2007) (“Edgerly I”) to support his proposition officers could not 28 have arrested him when they only had probable cause that he was driving without a valid 6 1 registration. Oppo. 5. However, Pickett fails to note that Edgerly I was overturned by Edgerly v. 2 City & Cty. of San Francisco, 599 F.3d 946 (9th Cir. 2010) (“Edgerly II”). There, the Ninth 3 Circuit on rehearing held that while an arrest for a code violation was not authorized under 4 California law, the arrest nonetheless did not violate the Fourth Amendment and could not sustain 5 a Section 1983 claim. 599 F.3d at 956; see also Martinez-Medina v. Holder, 673 F.3d 1029, 1036 6 (9th Cir. 2010) (where deputy sheriff lacked authority under Oregon law to detain petitioners, his 7 violation of state law did “not constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment and, thus, cannot be 8 the basis for finding an egregious Fourth Amendment violation”). Second, Picket fails to acknowledge a critical undisputed fact: he was arrested for the 9 possession of illegal drugs and resisting arrest. The parties do not dispute that Pickett was 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 arrested for resisting arrest and illegal drug possession and not for driving with an expired 12 registration. Pickett Decl. ¶ 14; Compl. ¶ 12; Answer ¶ 12. Pickett’s arrest followed Nguyen’s 13 observation of Pickett’s behavior and the prescription bottles in the glove compartment, as well as 14 the information he received from Hodges’s about Hodges observation of the prescription bottles 15 and what Hodges suspected was marijuana in the glove compartment. Nguyen Decl. ¶ 4. The 16 question, therefore, is whether there was probable cause to arrest Pickett for illegal drug 17 possession.4 As noted above, Pickett fails to dispute Nguyen’s testimony that prior to the arrest Nguyen 18 19 and Hodges could see the prescription drug bottles and perhaps marijuana in the glove 20 compartment. Nguyen’s suspicions of possible illegal activity were raised by Pickett’s behavior, 21 including sweating and fidgeting. Id. In addition, Pickett testified that he “probably did” tell the 22 officers that both prescription pain medication and marijuana were in his car, Pickett Depo. 149, 23 which corroborates Nguyen’s testimony that Pickett admitted to him that there was marijuana and 24 4 25 26 27 28 The facts surrounding whether Pickett resisted arrest are in dispute but not material to the resolution of the motion as to the false arrest claim because where an arrest is lawful on any ground, whether other grounds also supported the arrest is irrelevant. See, e.g., Foster v. Metro. Airports Comm'n, 914 F.2d 1076, 1080 (8th Cir. 1990) (“If Baetz believed that Foster had committed a misdemeanor by refusing to move his car, and therefore had probable cause to arrest, it is immaterial that Baetz also thought, perhaps mistakenly, that he had probable cause to arrest Foster for verbally abusing him or tearing up the parking ticket.”). 7 1 prescription medication in his vehicle. Nguyen Decl. ¶ 7. It is not objectively unreasonable for 2 Nguyen to determine that there was illegal activity – unlawful drug possession – occurring. Cf. 3 James v. Hayward Police Dep't, No. C 10-4009 SI PR, 2012 WL 1895952, at *6 (N.D. Cal. May 4 23, 2012) (“the fact that defendants had personally witnessed what to a prudent person would have 5 appeared to be an illicit narcotics sale and then James' immediate flight was sufficient for the 6 defendants to believe that an offense had been committed”). Therefore, considering the totality of 7 the circumstances, there was probable cause to arrest Nguyen for drug possession. Because Pickett is unable to raise a material dispute of fact as to probable cause for his 8 9 arrest, Pickett’s false arrest claim under section 1983 fails and defendant’s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 III. 12 UNLAWFUL SEARCH Plaintiff argues that the search of the locked bag in his car was not justified by probable 13 cause and was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. However, two exceptions to the Fourth 14 Amendment’s general prohibition on warrantless searches apply to the undisputed facts here; the 15 search was supported by probable cause and the search was incident to arrest. 16 17 A. Probable Cause Police may search without a warrant if their search is supported by probable cause. 18 California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 579 (1991). There is probable cause if “there is a fair 19 probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place based on a 20 totality of the circumstances.” United States v. Soto–Zuniga, 837 F.3d 992, 1004 (9th Cir. 2016). 21 “The Supreme Court has held that if probable cause justifies the search of a lawfully stopped 22 vehicle, it justifies the search of every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the 23 object of the search.” United States v. Pinela-Hernandez, 262 F.3d 974, 979 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing 24 United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 825 (1982) (concluding that “[b]ecause there was probable 25 cause to search the car, there was probable cause to open the trunk and to search the packages that 26 turned out to contain marijuana”). 27 Here, defendants had probable cause to search Pickett’s vehicle and his locked luggage in 28 the backseat based on the totality of circumstances: Nguyen’s observations of Pickett’s behavior, 8 the officers’ own observations of the prescription drugs bottles in the glove compartment, and 2 most critically, Picket’s admission that there were prescription drugs and marijuana in the car. 3 Nguyen declares that prior to searching the car Pickett admitted that there were prescription drugs 4 and marijuana in the car. In his deposition testimony, Pickett admitted to telling the officers about 5 the drugs, although the timing of when that admission was made is unclear. Pickett does not, 6 however, provide any clarity about the timing of his admission in his declaration. Therefore, there 7 are no facts in dispute about Nguyen’s knowledge that there was at least one type of illegal drug in 8 the car – marijuana – as well as prescription drugs prior to conducting the search. That 9 information gave officers probable cause to search the car and its contents, including the locked 10 bag. See, e.g., United States v. Soto-Zuniga, 837 F.3d at 1004 (the agents had probable cause to 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 1 search a vehicle where (1) the border patrol agent smelled marijuana, (2) the car had multiple air 12 freshners, (3) the agent observed a cigarillo wrapper and loose tobacco in the car, (4) Soto-Zuniga 13 seemed “agitated and anxious,” and (5) Soto-Zuniga admitted to smoking marijuana in the 14 vehicle); see also California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. at 580 (reaffirming United States v. Ross, 456 15 U.S. 798 (1982) that closed containers in a car could be searched where probable cause existed to 16 search the car). 17 18 B. Search Incident to Lawful Arrest Ignoring the probable cause stemming from his own admissions, Picket argues that the 19 search of his locked luggage in the car was unreasonable because after Pickett was removed from 20 the vehicle and cuffed, he no longer posed a threat to the officers or had the ability to interfere 21 with or destroy evidence. Oppo. 6-7. As such, he argues the search of his locked bag could not 22 fall under the “search incident to an arrest” warrantless search exception. As explained by the 23 Supreme Court in Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 338 (2009), a warrantless search may be 24 permissible if it is incident to a lawful arrest when the arrestee presents a threat to the safety of 25 officers or might tamper with evidence or in the “automobile context” when “it is reasonable to 26 believe that evidence of the offense of arrest might be found in the vehicle.” Id. at 335. Pickett 27 focuses only on the first Gant prong, and argues after he was cuffed he could not have been a 28 threat to the officers or present a risk of evidence tampering. Oppo. at 7. Pickett ignores the 9 1 second prong of Gant which allows a search if “it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains 2 evidence of the offense of arrest.” Gant, 556 U.S. at 351. Given what the officers saw and what 3 Pickett admitted, there was a reasonable basis to search the vehicle and the bag for evidence of the 4 crime that Pickett was arrested for; drug possession.5 CONCLUSION 5 Pickett fails to raise disputed issues of material fact concerning the circumstances 6 7 surrounding his detention, arrest, and the search. Based on the undisputed facts, defendants 8 lawfully stopped Pickett for a traffic violation, had probable cause to arrest Pickett for illegal drug 9 possession, and probable cause to search Pickett’s vehicle following his arrest. Accordingly, I GRANT defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment on the claims for unlawful detention, 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 unlawful arrest, and unlawful search. 12 IT IS SO ORDERED. 13 Dated: December 22, 2016 ______________________________________ WILLIAM H. ORRICK United States District Judge 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 5 28 Having concluded that defendants’ motion should be granted as to these three claims, I need not address defendants’ arguments for qualified immunity. 10