Judge Rejects City’s Motion to Dismiss Case of Motorist Who Suffered Broken Leg During Violent Arrest

Published : Wednesday, April 3, 2019 | 5:34 AM

The lawsuit filed by Altadenan Christopher Ballew after he suffered a broken leg, an eye injury and lacerations during a violent confrontation with Pasadena police in November 2017 will move forward to a jury trial, a federal judge ruled last week.

The City of Pasadena had filed a motion to dismiss the case, but the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California declined in a March 29 decision.

Ballew, 21 at the time of the incident, sued the City and the Pasadena Police Department, Police Chief Phillip Sanchez and Officers Lerry Esparza and Zachary Lujan.

In practical terms, such a ruling signals a judge’s belief the case is neither frivolous or poorly crafted, and that there are issues to be clarified through oral and written argument.

Judge Fernando Olguin dismissed the City’s challenges to Ballew’s claims of unlawful detention based on race, excessive force, falsified reports, punitive damages, and municipal liability.

If language in the ruling is any indicator, the judge was none-too-pleased with some of the City’s legal work.

For example, in attempting to deflate Ballew’s claim of unlawful detention based on race, the City argued that bringing the claim under the 14th Amendment [equal protection under the law] was legally “wrongheaded and improper.”

The City’s argument was “meritless,” the judge said.

“[D]efendants” wrote Olguin, “are incorrect that it is improper to bring a claim for selective enforcement of traffic laws based on race under the Fourteenth Amendment, and their insistence on that point, particularly in light of Supreme Court precedent to the contrary, is not well taken.”

Olguin then admonished the City’s attorneys for using a quote in support of its equal protection argument, that was actually addressing a Fourth Amendment claim against illegal search and seizure.

“The court notes that defense counsel excluded the underlined words — the key words  — from the block quote set forth in defendants’ motion, without any indication that the quote had been altered,” Olguin stated.

“Such misrepresentations,” he continued, “only serve to undermine the credibility of counsel and any and all paper counsel submits to the court. The court warns defense counsel that such misrepresentations will not be tolerated, and expects that future filings will be thorough and accurate.”

Olguin wasn’t done.

The City argued that Ballew’s excessive force allegations refer to every act [of the altercation] in false or misleading ways and that his complaint essentially admits that he resisted the officers’ efforts to detain him.

The judge deemed the assertions “unpersuasive” and again took the City’s attorneys to task for poor composition:

“While earlier, defense counsel omitted the key words of a quote from a case – words that completely foreclosed defendants’ argument — here defense counsel simply ignores allegations in the second amended complaint that assert a viable excessive force claim.”

The judge did dismiss Ballew’s false arrest claim. He said the argument seemed to support a Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure claim and directed counsel to amend the complaint in that direction if so inclined.

The court also dismissed Ballew’s claim that medical care was delayed in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights, saying the complaint “lacks sufficient allegations as to the duration of the various delays or the reckless disregard with which defendants denied, delayed or interfered with plaintiff’s medical treatment.”

The judge offered Ballew’s counsel an opportunity to amend, “unless it is clear the complaint could not be saved by any amendment.”

The court denied the City’s claim that a Ballew allegation his case reports were falsified, failed to state a claim due to the “heightened pleading standard” when it comes to such claims.

Again, the judge called the Citys attorneys out for omitting a case from its motion that settled the issue, to the contrary, 15 years ago. In any event, the court said, Ballew states a “plausible claim that the defendant officers falsified reports that interfered with plaintiff’s rights.”

The City’s attorneys’ attempt to relieve the City of Pasadena from liability did not prosper.

Furthermore, the court sustained Ballew’s Ralph Act Claim, a California statute which provides that all persons in the state be “free from any violence, intimidation or threat of violence, committed against their persons or property because of their race.”

Finally, the court found Ballew was perfectly within his rights to make a claim for punitive damages.

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