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Mateos v. County of Sonoma

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

December 21, 2018

Rafael Mateos Sandoval; Simeon Avendano Ruiz, individually and as class representatives, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
County of Sonoma; Sonoma County Sheriff's Office; Steve Freitas, Defendants, and City of Santa Rosa; Santa Rosa Police Department; Tom Schwedhelm, Defendants-Appellants. Rafael Mateos Sandoval; Simeon Avendano Ruiz, individually and as class representatives, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
County of Sonoma; Sonoma County Sheriff's Office; Steve Freitas, Defendants-Appellants, and City of Santa Rosa; Santa Rosa Police Department; Tom Schwedhelm, Defendants. Rafael Mateos Sandoval; Simeon Avendano Ruiz, individually and as class representatives, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
County of Sonoma; Sonoma County Sheriff's Office; Steve Freitas; City of Santa Rosa; Santa Rosa Police Department; Tom Schwedhelm, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted September 11, 2018 San Francisco, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court Nos. 3:11-cv-05817-TEH, 3:11-cv-05817-TEH, 3:11-cv-05817-TEH for the Northern District of California Thelton E. Henderson, Senior District Judge, Presiding

          Timothy T. Coates (argued) and Alison M. Turner, Greines Martin Stein & Richland LLP, Los Angeles, California; Robert L. Jackson, Assistant City Attorney, City Attorney's Office, Santa Rosa, California; for Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees City of Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa Polic Department, and Tom Schwedhelm.

          Anne L. Keck (argued), Keck Law Offices, Santa Rosa, California; Richard W. Osman, Bertrand Fox Elliott Osman & Wenzel, San Francisco, California; for Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees County of Sonoma, Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, and Steve Freitas.

          Donald W. Cook (argued), Los Angeles, California; Alicia Roman, Law Office of Alicia Roman, Santa Rosa, California; for Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

          Morris G. Hill, Senior Deputy; Thomas E. Montgomery, County Counsel; Office of County Counsel, San Diego, California; for Amicus Curiae California State Association of Counties.

          Before: J. Clifford Wallace, Johnnie B. Rawlinson, and Paul J. Watford, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY [*]

         Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed the district court's summary judgment and its denial of class certification in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law by two plaintiffs whose vehicles were impounded for 30 days because they had not been issued California driver's licenses.

         California Vehicle Code § 14602.6(a)(1) provides that a peace officer may impound a vehicle for 30 days if the vehicle's driver has never been issued a driver's license. California authorities interpreted section 14602.6 as applying to individuals who had never been issued a California driver's license. Applying this interpretation, law enforcement officials impounded plaintiffs' vehicles for 30-days even though plaintiffs attempted to have friends with valid California licenses take possession of the vehicles.

         Citing Brewster v. Beck, 859 F.3d 1194, 1196-97 (9th Cir. 2017), the panel first noted that 30-day impounds under section 14602.6 are seizures for Fourth Amendment purposes and that the only issue in this case was whether the impounds were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The panel held that although the state's interest in keeping unlicensed drivers off the road provided a "community caretaking" exception to the Fourth Amendment, the application of the exception turned on the facts and circumstances of each case. The panel determined that defendants had failed to provide any justifications for the impounds other than general arguments that such impounds were justified as a deterrence or penalty. The panel rejected these arguments, at least on the facts of this case, and held that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment for plaintiffs on their Fourth Amendment claims.

         The panel affirmed the district court's summary judgment for plaintiffs on their claim that the County of Sonoma and the City of Santa Rosa were liable for money damages as final policymakers who caused the constitutional violations. The panel held that the impoundment of plaintiffs' vehicles was not caused by state law, but by the defendants' policies of impounding vehicles when the driver had never been issued a California driver's license.

         The panel affirmed the district court's denial of class certification for lack of commonality and typicality. The panel held that because a 30-day impoundment is only unconstitutional when it continues in the absence of a warrant or any exception to the warrant requirement, the district court correctly concluded that members of the proposed classes would not be able to establish a Fourth Amendment violation based solely on the 30-day impounds. The district court further did not abuse its discretion by finding the plaintiffs atypical.

         The panel affirmed the district court's summary judgment in favor of defendants on the California Bane Act claim. The panel held that under the circumstances of this case, it was legally unclear whether the 30-day impounds were "seizures" at all within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment until this Court issued a decision in Brewster in 2017. The plaintiffs' vehicles were impounded in 2011, well before this date, and at that point the County and City could not have had the requisite specific intent to violate the plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights.

         Concurring, Judge Watford stated that California Vehicle Code § 14602.6 is constitutionally deficient not because it runs afoul of the Fourth Amendment, as the Court held in Brewster, but because the post-seizure hearing it affords does not comply with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

          OPINION

          WALLACE, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         California state law provides that a peace officer may impound a vehicle for 30 days if the vehicle's driver has never been issued a driver's license. Relying on this statute, local authorities in California impounded two vehicles because their drivers had not been issued California driver's licenses. The drivers then sued the municipalities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state civil rights law, contending that the impounds violated the Fourth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on plaintiffs' state law claims, denied class certification, and granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs on their section 1983 claims. The defendants now appeal from the district court's summary judgment on the section 1983 claims; the plaintiffs cross-appeal from the denial of class certification and summary judgment on the state law claims. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

         I. California Vehicle Code § 14602.6(a)(1) provides:

Whenever a peace officer determines that a person was . . . driving a vehicle without ever having been issued a driver's license, the peace officer may either immediately arrest that person and cause the removal and seizure of that vehicle or, if the vehicle is involved in a traffic collision, cause the removal and seizure of the vehicle without the necessity of arresting the person in accordance with [other law]. A vehicle so impounded shall be impounded for 30 days.

         Drivers whose vehicles are impounded under this section are entitled to notice and a storage hearing, at which they may challenge the impoundment. Id. ยง 14602.6(a)(2). The storage agency must release the vehicle to the driver ...


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