United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
BAO XUYEN LE, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Tommy Le; HOAI “SUNNY” LE; and DIEU HO, Plaintiffs,
REVEREND DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. COUNTY; and KING COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF CESAR MOLINA, Defendants.
S. ZILLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiffs' motion to
certify defendants' interlocutory appeals as frivolous,
docket no. 196. Having reviewed all papers filed in support
of, and in opposition to, plaintiffs' motion, the Court
DENIES the motion for the reasons stated in this Order,
STRIKES the pretrial conference and the trial date, and STAYS
this case pending appeal.
Minute Order entered May 24, 2019, docket no. 190, the Court
denied defendant King County Deputy Sheriff Cesar
Molina's motion for summary judgment seeking qualified
immunity as a matter of law. In the Minute Order, the Court
identified disputes of material fact that preclude summary
judgment with respect to Deputy Molina's assertion of
qualified immunity, namely whether Tommy Le was
“armed” at the time he was shot by Deputy Molina,
whether a reasonable officer in the same situation as Deputy
Molina would have believed Tommy Le posed an immediate threat
to the safety of the officers or others at the scene, and
whether the use of less drastic measures was feasible. See
Minute Order at 2 (docket no. 190). The Court did not
indicate whether or not Deputy Molina might be entitled to
qualified immunity at a later date, but rather made clear
that factual questions relating to the shooting of Tommy Le
prevented the Court from deciding the issue one way or the
other prior to trial.
28, 2019, Deputy Molina filed a Notice of Appeal, docket no.
191. Defendant Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. County
(“King County”) also filed a Notice of Appeal,
docket no. 193. In their motion, plaintiffs request a
certification that Deputy Molina's appeal is frivolous,
and they seek to go to trial as scheduled on June 10, 2019.
Plaintiffs did not separately argue until their reply brief
that King County's appeal is frivolous. Although
plaintiffs are correct that King County could be held liable
even if Deputy Molina secures qualified immunity, the Court
would not, for reasons of judicial economy, bifurcate this
matter or proceed to trial on plaintiffs' claims against
King County while Deputy Molina's appeal is pending.
Thus, the status of this case depends solely on whether
Deputy Molina may pursue his appeal, and the Court makes no
ruling concerning whether King County's appeal is
“inextricably intertwined” with Deputy
Molina's claim of qualified immunity, see Notice of
Appeal (docket no. 193), or raises matters over which the
Ninth Circuit has interlocutory jurisdiction.
immunity balances two important interests: the need to hold
public officials accountable when they exercise power
irresponsibly, and the need to shield officials from
liability when they perform their duties reasonably.
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). It
provides “immunity from suit rather than a mere defense
to liability, ” and it is effectively lost if a case is
erroneously permitted to go to trial. Id. Thus, a
district court's denial of qualified immunity on legal
grounds is treated as a final decision subject to
interlocutory appeal. See Knox v. Sw. Airlines, 124
F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1997). Deputy Molina's appeal
from the Court's denial of qualified immunity would
divest the Court of jurisdiction with respect to
plaintiffs' claims against Deputy Molina unless his
appeal is frivolous. See Chuman v. Wright, 960 F.2d
104, 105 (9th Cir. 1992). If the Court were to certify, in
writing, that Deputy Molina's interlocutory appeal is
frivolous, then this matter could proceed to trial in the
absence of a stay granted by the Ninth Circuit. See
Id. at 105 & n.1; see also Rodriguez v. Cty.
of Los Angeles, 891 F.3d 776, 790-92 (9th Cir. 2018).
appeal is “frivolous” if “the results are
obvious, or the arguments of error are wholly without
merit.” E.g., Vasquez-Brenes v. Las Vegas Metro.
Police Dep't, 2015 WL 1268026 at *1 (D. Nev. Mar.
19, 2015). An interlocutory appeal would not be available,
and therefore frivolous, “when the district court
determines that factual issues genuinely in dispute preclude
summary adjudication” as to a plea of qualified
immunity. Ortiz v. Jordan, 562 U.S. 180, 188 (2011);
Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 319-20 (1995). In
contrast, an interlocutory appeal is permitted, and thus not
frivolous, if the qualified immunity analysis “do[es]
not require resolution of factual disputes.”
Rodriguez, 891 F.3d at 791. The Ninth Circuit has
explained that it
may adjudicate “legal” interlocutory appeals;
that is, we may properly review a denial of qualified
immunity where a defendant argues . . . that the facts, even
when considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff,
show no violation of a constitutional right, or no violation
of a right that is clearly established in law.
Ames v. King County, 846 F.3d 340, 347 (9th Cir.
Molina argues that, even assuming the facts “in the
light most favorable” to plaintiffs, see Tolan v.
Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 655-57 (2014), the Court may rule,
as a matter of law, that the constitutional right at issue
was not “clearly established” at the time of the
alleged violation and that the qualified immunity doctrine
bars plaintiffs' claims against him. During oral argument
on his motion for summary judgment, and again in opposition
to plaintiffs' motion to certify his appeal as frivolous,
Deputy Molina indicated that he accepts the facts as
presented by plaintiffs for purposes of determining whether
he is entitled to qualified immunity in advance of trial. See
Tr. at 7:22-25, 10:3-6, 12:2-4, 18:24-19:1 (May 16, 2019),
Ex. 1 to Gosselin Decl. (docket no. 203); Def.'s Resp. at
4 (docket no. 202). Deputy Molina contends that his appeal
raises only legal challenges to the Court's denial of his
motion for summary judgment, and that he is therefore
entitled to appeal. See Johnson v. Cty. of Los
Angeles, 340 F.3d 787, 791 n.1 (9th Cir. 2003)
(“we have jurisdiction over interlocutory appeals that
concern qualified immunity even when ‘the determination
of qualified immunity depends upon disputed issues of
material fact' so long as ‘we assume the version of
the material facts asserted by the non-moving party to be
Court continues to believe, based on the record in this
matter, that genuine disputes of material fact preclude a
finding of qualified immunity in advance of trial; however,
the Court DECLINES to rule that Deputy Molina's appeal on
this issue is “frivolous” within the meaning of
Chuman. To the extent that Deputy Molina does not
contest the facts as outlined by plaintiffs, but nevertheless
contends that qualified immunity precludes plaintiffs'
action against him, he is entitled to appeal the Court's
denial of qualified immunity prior to trial.
foregoing reasons, the Court ORDERS:
(1) Plaintiffs' motion to certify defendants'
interlocutory appeals as frivolous, docket ...