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civil tentative rulings


The court does not issue tentative rulings on Writs of Attachment, Writs of Possession, Claims of Exemption, Claims of Right to Possession, Motions to Tax Costs After Trial, Motions for New Trial, or Motions to Continue Trial.


Under California Rules of Court, rule 3.1308 and Local Rule 701, any party opposed to the tentative ruling must notify the court, and other parties, by 4:00 p.m. on the court day before the hearing of their intention to appear for oral argument. The court's notice must be made by facsimile to 559-733-6774.


Timestamp: 08/23/2014 at 2:27am



The Tentative Rulings for Monday, August 25, 2014 are:

 

Re:              DVP, LP v. Champ

Case No:     VCL165364

Date:           August 25, 2014

Time:          8:30 A.M. 

Dept.                    7 - The Honorable Bret Hillman

Motion:        Defendant’s Demurrer to Complaint

Tentative Ruling:  To Overrule Defendant’s Demurrer to Complaint and to Order Defendant to file his answer to the complaint on or before September 1, 2014.

Defendant asserts the Notice to Quit attached to the Complaint is facially defective apparently because Defendant is not a tenant.  On its face, the Notice to Quit relates to a former owner holding over after completion of foreclosure proceedings.  The notice appears to facially comply with statutory requirements of CCP 1161a.

If no one requests oral argument, under Code of Civil Procedure section 1019.5(a) and California Rules of Court, rule 3.1312(a), no further written order is necessary. The minute order adopting this tentative ruling will become the order of the court and service by the clerk will constitute notice of the order.

 

 

Re:              Satterfield v. County of Tulare, et al.

Case No:     253657

Date:           August 25, 2014

Time:          8:30 A.M. 

Dept.                    1 - The Honorable Melinda Reed

Motion:        Petition for Writ of Mandate

Tentative Ruling:  To Deny the Petition for Writ of Mandate.

Here, Timothy Satterfield seeks a writ of administrative mandate pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5. The writ is directed to respondent Tulare County Board of Supervisors (Board) and asks this court to vacate the Board’s decision to terminate Satterfield from his employment as a deputy sheriff and to direct the Board to act in accordance with that determination.

Satterfield was dismissed by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department for using excessive force on an inmate. Satterfield appealed the decision and an administrative hearing officer was assigned to hear the matter and recommend a disposition. The hearing officer issued a proposed written decision concluding that the evidence established Satterfield used unreasonable force and dismissal was appropriate. The Board subsequently adopted the hearing officer’s proposed decision in full and affirmed Satterfield’s dismissal.  

Satterfield contends the Board’s decision constitutes a prejudicial abuse of discretion because the hearing officer’s findings are not supported by the weight of the evidence and termination is excessive punishment based upon the misconduct, if any. For reasons that follow, the court disagrees and concludes the record evidence supports the hearing officer’s determination that Satterfield used unreasonable force and was properly dismissed. 

A permanent county employee’s right to employment is reviewed under the independent judgment test. (Strumsky v. San Diego County Employees’ Association (1974)  11 Cal. 3d 28, 34.) Under this standard, the court reweighs the evidence to determine whether the agency’s findings are supported by the weight of the evidence. (Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5(c).)  Weight of the evidence is synonymous with preponderance of the evidence. (Chamberlain v. Ventura County Civil Serv. Comm’n (1977) 69 Cal. App. 3d 362, 368.)

Satterfield has the burden to prove that the agency’s findings are not supported by the weight of the evidence. (Fukuda v. City of Angels (1999) 20 Cal. 4th 805, 817.) Further, there is a rebuttable presumption that the findings of the agency are correct. (Mason v. Office of Admin. Hearings (2001) 89 Cal. App. 4th 1119, 1130.) 

In weighing the evidence, the court is to be assisted by the findings of the Board. In fact, the findings of the Board have a strong presumption of correctness. (Drummey v. State Board of Funeral Directors (1939) 13 Cal. 2d 75, 85.) In Fukada, the Supreme Court reiterated its opinion in Drummey that considerable weight should be given to the findings of experienced administrative bodies made after a full and formal hearing, especially in cases involving technical and scientific evidence. (Fukada v. City of Angels, supra, 20 Cal. 4th at p.812.)

As to the use of reasonable force, the Sheriff’s Department’s Policy and Procedure Manual prohibits force beyond that which reasonably appears necessary given the facts and circumstances perceived by a deputy at the time of an event to effectively bring an incident under control. Reasonableness of the force used is to be judged from the perspective of a reasonable deputy on the scene at the time of incident. The policy is consistent with statutory and case law on the use of force. (See Penal Code section 835a; Graham v. Connor (1989) 490 U.S. 386, 396-397.)

In regard to termination, Rule 12 of the Tulare County Personnel Rules permits dismissal for conduct which reflects discredit upon the public service and/or employee and includes conduct which negatively impacts the effective performance of a county department. Rule 12 also allows for dismissal based upon a department’s own written policies. Under Cummings v. Civil Service Commission (1995) 40 Cal. App. 4th 1643, 1652, administrative bodies are vested with “high discretion” as to the penalty imposed for violating agency rules, and the penalty should not be disturbed unless an abuse of discretion is found.

Turning to the incident at issue, video evidence shows that on December 27, 2011, Satterfield and another deputy escorted several inmates through a tunnel between the courthouse and jail. The inmates were fully handcuffed with belly chains and shackled with leg irons. When the inmates reached the end of the tunnel, Satterfield motioned for them to turn and face the wall near the door to the entrance of the jail. The inmates stopped and faced the wall. After Satterfield opened the jail door, inmate Pablo Gomez turned and began to walk toward the door. At that point, Satterfield forcefully struck Gomez in the ribs with his baton. Once inside the jail, Gomez fell to the floor, remained motionless for a moment, then thrashed around and banged his head on lockers in an apparent temper tantrum. Gomez told officers investigating the incident that Satterfield’s blow knocked the air out of him.

Satterfield claims he struck Gomez because he felt Gomez was a threat. He contends Gomez assaulted the inmate next to him just prior to moving away from the wall and he felt Gomez was “coming at (him).”  However, Satterfield’s contention is not credible or persuasive based upon the record evidence.

As to Satterfield’s statements regarding the incident, the Sheriff’s Department’s Final Notice of Disciplinary Action states Satterfield told investigators he saw Gomez in his peripheral vision “leaning down and ramming his head into the inmate next to him, Nai Syvirathaphan.” Satterfield testified at the administrative hearing that after Gomez leaned down “and does this number” Gomez looked at Satterfield with a “grimacing-type face” and came toward Satterfield. He further indicated that Gomez moved away from the wall without permission in violation of Sheriff’s Department policy. Satterfield said Gomez knew the “routine” since he had previously been to court, and that he told Gomez to “get back on the wall” after striking him.

Contrary to Satterfield’s statements, there is nothing in the video that reflects Gomez made any threatening moves or gestures toward Satterfield or another inmate. In fact, the video shows the inmates were escorted without incident prior to the time Satterfield struck Gomez. While it is difficult to see Gomez’s face in the video, there also is no indication that Satterfield was outwardly concerned for his safety when he struck Gomez.

Furthermore, Satterfield’s expert witness, Don Stuart Cameron, did not provide persuasive testimony. He testified that Gomez turned, squared his shoulders to Satterfield, and lunged forward at the point when Satterfield struck him. There simply is nothing in the video reflecting that this happened. Nor is there anything in the video supporting Cameron’s testimony that it “looked as though (Gomez) was bumping the face or chest area” of the inmate standing next to Gomez prior to being struck by Satterfield.

Moreover, expert witnesses Sgt. Don Arnold and Capt. Robin Skiles from the Sheriff’s Department presented credible evidence that Satterfield’s actions in striking Gomez did not conform to department policy. Both witnesses testified that there were reasonable options available to direct Gomez back to the wall, such as using hand gestures or verbal commands. Sgt. Arnold accurately described the video evidence and convincingly opined that striking a fully restrained inmate under the circumstances presented here reflected excessive force.

Satterfield also contends that video evidence of inmate Syvirathaphan shows Gomez aggressively made contact with Syvirathaphan. The court disagrees. The video reflects a deputy talking to Syvirathaphan after the incident and Syvirathaphan bobbing his head, presumably showing the deputy how inmate Gomez made contact with him. Syvirathaphan’s head bob is not consistent with Satterfield’s allegation that Gomez “rammed” Syvirathaphan; and is consistent with Gomez’s and Syvirathaphan’s statements that Gomez put his head on Syvirathaphan’s shoulder as in a greeting, and not aggressively.

Satterfield’s argument that other circumstances reasonably caused him to be fearful of Gomez is also unavailing. Here, Satterfield checked Gomez’s restraints prior to the incident to ensure they were properly applied. Further, as previously noted, there is no credible evidence suggesting aggressive misconduct by Gomez. As such, Gomez’s status as a dangerous prisoner with alleged mental issues; Satterfield’s knowledge concerning other problems with restrained inmates; and a missing handcuff key are not circumstances that reasonably justify the amount of force used here.

Lastly, as to the issue of discipline, numerous prior disciplinary actions were taken against Satterfield throughout his employment with the Sheriff’s Department. The actions include suspension for not obeying a direct order; suspension for failing to follow proper investigative and arrest procedures; and demotion for engaging in unsafe conduct. Thus, the Board’s decision to terminate Satterfield was reasonable and within its discretion as an administrative body.

To conclude, an independent review of the record evidence establishes that the weight of the evidence supports the findings and conclusions of the hearing officer. Thus, the court finds that the Board did not abuse its discretion by dismissing Satterfield from his employment. Accordingly, the petition for writ of mandate is denied.

If no one requests oral argument, under Code of Civil Procedure section 1019.5(a) and California Rules of Court, rule 3.1312(a), no further written order is necessary. The minute order adopting this tentative ruling will become the order of the court and service by the clerk will constitute notice of the order.

 

 


This concludes the civil tentative rulings



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