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Valdez v. City of Phoenix

United States District Court, D. Arizona

October 21, 2019

Lorenza Valdez, Plaintiff,
City of Phoenix, et al., Defendants.



         This case arises out of the death of Francisco Valdez. His mother, Plaintiff Lorenza Valdez, asserts state law wrongful death and § 1983 claims against Defendants City of Phoenix and Officers Christian Perez, Shawn Magness, and Austin Stephenson. Doc. 1. Defendants move for summary judgment (Doc. 32) and Plaintiff has not responded. Based on the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the motion.[1]

         I. Summary Judgment Standard.

         A party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rule 56 further provides:

If a party fails to . . . properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may . . . consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion [or] grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials - including the facts considered undisputed - show that the movant is entitled to it[.]

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(3). Thus, the party opposing summary judgment “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [the party's] pleadings, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 n.11 (1986) (emphasis added); see LRCiv 56.1(b) (requiring the party opposing summary judgment to present evidence that establishes a genuine issue of material fact). Even without Plaintiff having made such a showing, the Court will consider the merits of Defendants' motion.

         II. Undisputed Facts.

         Defendants moved for summary judgment on March 8, 2019. Doc. 32. Plaintiff has not responded to the motion despite being warned that the failure to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact may entitle Defendants to judgment as a matter of law under Rule 56. Doc. 34. Based on Defendants' statement of facts and supporting evidence (Doc. 33), the following facts are undisputed for purposes of summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(3).

         On March 23, 2017 Officers Perez, Magness, and Stephenson responded to a domestic violence disturbance at Plaintiff's trailer. Doc. 33 ¶ 19. Plaintiff had called 911 when her son, Francisco Valdez, appeared to be under the influence of drugs and became aggressive. Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff did not inform the 911 operator or the Officers that Francisco had a mental illness nor that he had not been taking his prescribed medication. Id. ¶¶ 18, 21.

         Officers Perez, Magness, and Stephenson confronted Francisco as he was lying on the couch wearing only boxer shorts (id. ¶¶ 23-28), and they allowed him to go into the bedroom to get dressed (id. ¶ 28). As the Officers were following Francisco into the bedroom, Plaintiff informed them that Francisco had a warrant out for his arrest. Id. ¶ 30. Officer Perez went outside with Plaintiff to verify whether Francisco in fact had a warrant, while Officers Magness and Stephenson remained inside with Francisco. Id. ¶ 32.

         Once dressed, Officer Magness asked Francisco to return to the couch. Id. ¶¶ 33-34. As Francisco walked toward the couch, he abruptly entered the kitchen and retrieved a knife from a drawer. Id. ¶¶ 35-36. He lifted his hand holding the knife and charged toward Officer Magness, who fell back into a glass table that shattered underneath him. Id. ¶¶ 37-38. Francisco then turned toward Officer Stephenson and charged at him with the knife, causing Officer Stephenson to back away and trip over a couch behind him. Id. ¶¶ 40-41. After recovering from his fall through the glass table, Officer Magness saw Francisco attacking Officer Stephenson with stabbing motions that made it appear as if Francisco had stabbed Officer Stephenson. Id. ¶¶ 41-42. Officer Magness then fired several shots that hit and killed Francisco. Id. ¶ 43. A knife was found near Francisco's body and was covered in blood stains, later matched to Francisco's DNA. Id. ¶¶ 47, 48.

         III. Discussion.

         A. Plaintiff's Wrongful Death Claim.

         Plaintiff asserts a state law wrongful death claim in count one of her complaint. Doc. 1 ¶¶ 48-51. An action for wrongful death is a statutory negligence action requiring a showing that the alleged tortfeasor breached a reasonable standard of care. See A.R.S. ยง 12-612. The Defendant officers correctly contend that they are entitled to ...

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