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Chaudhry v. City of Los Angeles

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 19, 2014

RUKHSANA CHAUDHRY; MOHAMMAD AFZAL CHAUDHRY; USMA CHAUDHRY; MOHAMMAD UMAR CHAUDHRY; ESTATE OF MOHAMMAD USMAN CHAUDHRY; ISLAMIC SHURA COUNCIL OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, Plaintiffs-Appellants, And INTERFAITH COMMUNITIES UNITED FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF LOS ANGELES; JOSEPH CRUZ; DAVID ROMO; COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES; LOS ANGELES COUNTY CORONER DEPARTMENT; ANTHONY HERNANDEZ; LAKSHMANAN SATHYAVAGISWARAN, Defendants-Appellees, And LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT; WILLIAM BRATTON, Defendants. RUKHSANA CHAUDHRY; MOHAMMAD AFZAL CHAUDHRY; USMA CHAUDHRY; MOHAMMAD UMAR CHAUDHRY; ESTATE OF MOHAMMAD USMAN CHAUDHRY; ISLAMIC SHURA COUNCIL OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, Plaintiffs-Appellees, And INTERFAITH COMMUNITIES UNITED FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF LOS ANGELES, Defendant-Appellant, And JOSEPH CRUZ; DAVID ROMO; COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES; LOS ANGELES COUNTY CORONER DEPARTMENT; ANTHONY HERNANDEZ; LAKSHMANAN SATHYAVAGISWARAN; LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT; WILLIAM BRATTON, Defendants. RUKHSANA CHAUDHRY; MOHAMMAD AFZAL CHAUDHRY; USMA CHAUDHRY; MOHAMMAD UMAR CHAUDHRY; ESTATE OF MOHAMMAD USMAN CHAUDHRY; ISLAMIC SHURA COUNCIL OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, Plaintiffs-Appellees, And INTERFAITH COMMUNITIES UNITED FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH CRUZ, Defendant-Appellant, And CITY OF LOS ANGELES; DAVID ROMO; COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES; LOS ANGELES COUNTY CORONER DEPARTMENT; ANTHONY HERNANDEZ; LAKSHMANAN SATHYAVAGISWARAN; LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT; WILLIAM BRATTON, Defendants

Argued and Submitted, Pasadena, California January 6, 2014

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. D.C. No. 2:09-cv-01592-RGK-RZ. R. Gary Klausner, District Judge, Presiding.

Olu K. Orange (argued), Orange Law Offices, Los Angeles, California; Donald W. Cook and Robert Mann, Mann & Cook, Los Angeles, California; Paula Dee Pearlman, Disability Rights Legal Center, Los Angeles, California; Ameena Mirza Qazi, Council on American-Islamic Relations, California, Anaheim, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Blithe Smith Bock (argued), Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, Los Angeles, California; Jules Solomon Zeman (argued), Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP, Los Angeles, California; Alison McIlvaine Turner (argued) and Timothy T. Coates, Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland LLP, Los Angeles, California; Patricia E. Ellyatt, and Kenneth Maranga, Maranga & Morgenstein, Woodland Hills, California, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: William A. Fletcher, Milan D. Smith, Jr., and Paul J. Watford, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 1100

W. FLETCHER, Circuit Judge:

Early in the morning of March 25, 2008, Mohammad Usman Chaudhry (" Usman" ) was shot and killed by Los Angeles Police Officer Joseph Cruz. Los Angeles County Department of the Coroner (" the Coroner" ) took custody of Usman's body, but it did not notify his family of his death for twenty-one days. This delay prevented Usman's family from burying him in accordance with their religion.

These events gave rise to a suit involving many plaintiffs, many claims, and many defendants. In this opinion, we address some of the issues, affirming in part and reversing in part. In a memorandum disposition filed concurrently with this opinion, we affirm on the remainder of the issues.

I. Background

Usman was a 21-year-old Muslim man. According to his family, he was autistic and often wandered from home. On March 25, 2008, Officer Cruz and his partner, Officer David Romo, saw Usman sleeping in front of an apartment building in Los Angeles. Suspecting that Usman might be a drug user, they stopped their police cruiser and approached him. Cruz asked Usman to show his identification. Usman complied. Cruz gave the identification to Romo, who returned to the cruiser to check for outstanding warrants. Cruz testified at trial that, while Romo was at the cruiser, Usman lunged at Cruz with a knife. Cruz drew his gun and fired four shots, three of which struck Usman in the chest and abdomen. When Romo returned from the cruiser, Cruz had a cut on his hand. Usman died at the scene.

The Coroner received Usman's remains and began to search for his next of kin. Usman's identification listed his address as the Celebration Theatre in West Hollywood, California. On March 25, the day of the shooting, someone at the Coroner ran a search in the records of the Department of Motor Vehicles (" DMV" ). The DMV printout contained three addresses: the address of the Celebration Theatre, an address in Los Angeles, and an address in Bellflower, California. Brian Elias, an investigator for the Coroner, visited the Celebration Theatre, but it was closed. Joyce Kato, another investigator, then took over the search. On March 27, Kato ran a " comprehensive" search on Accurint, a LexisNexis service for searching public records. That search disclosed several addresses connected with Usman's name. She made a note in the Coroner's file for Usman that the " only address consistently listed" was that of the Celebration Theatre.

The Bellflower address belonged to Usman's parents, Rukhsana and Mohammad Afzal Chaudhry (" the Chaudhrys" ). Kato " overlooked" that address and focused her search on the Celebration Theatre. She called and sent an email to the Theatre. On April 1, 2008, she sent a letter to the Theatre and began pursuing what turned out to be a false lead. On April 3, she requested information from the Los Angeles Police Department (" LAPD" ). She received a response on April 11 that indicated that Usman had listed the Celebration Theatre as his address. She received a response to her April 1 letter on April 15, but the response provided no useful information.

Page 1101

On April 15, she double-checked her paperwork and noticed the Bellflower address in the DMV printout. That same day, she ran that address in Accurint, identified the Chaudhrys, contacted Usman's mother by telephone, and notified her of his death.

In the twenty-one days between Usman's death and the notification of his family, his body decayed. His mother testified that when she saw Usman's body, " His skin was all over. I couldn't touch him or kiss him. . . . His ears was all over, skin was all over, just like a bird face. . . . [H]is skin was falling off just like a bird face . . . like a small shrink face. . . . There was no eye in the socket." She testified further, " They cut his body without our permission. That is the worst thing you do with our person. We never allow. If we are there, we never allow to cut his body." The delay in notification and the decay of Usman's body prevented the Chaudhrys from burying their son in accordance with the religious customs of Islam.

Usman's Estate (" Estate" ), Usman's siblings Usma and Mohammad Umar Chaudhry (" Usma and Umar" ), and the Chaudhrys sued various City and County defendants, seeking damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. Three organizational plaintiffs--Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (" ICUJP" ), the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California (" Shura" ), and the Los Angeles Community Action Network (" LACAN" )--also sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The City defendants were the City of Los Angeles and the LAPD (collectively " City" ), chief of police William Bratton, and Officers Cruz and Romo. The County defendants were the County of Los Angeles (" County" ), the Coroner, and Coroner officials Anthony Hernandez and Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran.

Plaintiffs brought claims against the City defendants under (1) the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; (2) 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for unreasonable seizure and excessive force under the Fourth Amendment; and (3) state law, for assault, battery, false imprisonment, and wrongful death. Plaintiffs brought claims against all the defendants under (1) § 1983, for violations of substantive due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and of free exercise under the First Amendment; (2) § 1983, for implementing unconstitutional policies or customs, in violation of Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978); (3) § 1983, for failure to train and for supervisory liability, in violation of City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989); (4) 42 U.S.C. § § 1985 and 1986, for conspiracy to violate the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments; (5) California law, for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress (" IIED" ), and conversion and trespass to chattels; and (6) California law, for violations of civil rights under the California Constitution and California Civil Code § § 51.5, 52(b), and 52.1.

The district court rejected most claims before trial. The court granted the City defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) as to plaintiffs' § 1983 claims for violations of equal protection, free exercise, and substantive due process; plaintiffs' § 1985 and § 1986 claims for conspiracy; and plaintiffs' state-law claims for IIED, negligence, discrimination, and violation of California Civil Code § 52.1. The court dismissed LACAN's only claim, which alleged unconstitutional discrimination against homeless and disabled people, because LACAN did not plead facts plausibly suggesting intentional discrimination. The court later granted summary judgment

Page 1102

to Officer Romo on all claims; to the County defendants on all claims; to the City defendants on all claims except the Estate's and the Chaudhrys' claims for wrongful death and assault and battery; and to Officer Cruz on plaintiffs' claim for conversion. The court held that Shura and ICUJP lacked organizational standing under Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Commission, 432 U.S. 333, 97 S.Ct. 2434, 53 L.Ed.2d 383 (1977), because there was no showing that Usman was a member of either organization. The court held further that Usman's siblings, Usma and Umar, lacked standing. It wrote, " Plaintiffs have failed to present any evidence indicating that Usma and Umar have a legally protected interest that falls into the category of an injury in fact."

The only remaining claims were the Estate's excessive force claim against Cruz, the Estate's assault and battery claim against the City, and the Chaudhrys' wrongful death claim against Cruz and the City. Those claims went to trial. At trial, the Estate and the Chaudhrys presented evidence contradicting Cruz's version of events. They presented evidence that Romo did not hear Cruz yell " knife" ; that Usman's DNA was not on the knife with which he allegedly attacked Cruz; that the knife was a " boot knife," a kind of knife typically carried by police officers; and that the pattern and trajectory of Cruz's gunshots showed he shot Usman while Usman was collapsing to the ground, rather than while he was advancing toward Cruz. The jury found for the Estate and the Chaudhrys. It found that Cruz used excessive force, that the excessive force caused Usman's death, and that Cruz acted " reckless[ly], oppressive[ly], or malicious[ly]." The jury awarded $700,000 to the Chaudhrys for their wrongful death claim under state law, and $1,000,000, based on Usman's pain and suffering, to the Estate for its excessive force claim under § 1983.

The City and Cruz filed renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial. The district court denied the motion for a new trial and denied the motion for judgment as a matter of law as to the $700,000 award. The district court granted the motion for judgment as a matter of law as to the $1,000,000 award. It held that California law prohibits recovery for pain and suffering in survival actions, and that this prohibition is incorporated into § 1983. See Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 377.34.

The Estate and the Chaudhrys sought attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) and California Civil Code § 52.1(h), requesting a total of $1,007,849.25. They also requested a contingency-fee modifier under California law. See Ketchum v. Moses, 24 Cal.4th 1122, 104 Cal.Rptr.2d 377, 17 P.3d 735, 744-46 (Cal. 2001). The district court awarded fees of $73,125.

Plaintiffs timely appealed most of the district court's orders granting the defendants' motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, its order vacating the Estate's $1,000,000 damages verdict, and its reduced attorneys' fees award. The City cross-appealed the attorneys' fees award. Cruz and the City initially appealed the Chaudhrys' $700,000 verdict but later conceded that this part of the verdict should stand.

II. Discussion

Plaintiffs waived claims against some defendants by not addressing them in their opening brief. See Kim v. Kang, 154 F.3d 996, 1000 (9th Cir. 1998). For the purposes of this appeal, the remaining defendants are the City and Cruz (collectively " the City defendants" ), and the County and the Coroner (collectively " the County defendants" ). The following claims have been ...


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