Client Successes Apr 19, 2017

City and Police Officer Victorious in Malicious Prosecution and Seizure Case

BB&K Attorneys Christopher Pisano and Dana Vessey Prevail on Motion for Summary Judgment

Best Best & Krieger LLP attorneys Christopher Pisano and Dana Vessey prevailed on a motion for summary judgment on behalf of the City of Colton and one of its police officers in a case that stemmed from a complicated story about the purchase of a truck, and the alleged theft of license plates and its impounding. The motion for summary judgment was granted this month by Judge Christina A. Snyder of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Plaintiff Ronald Collins sued the City of Colton and one of its detectives in February 2015. The City prevailed on a partial motion to dismiss earlier in the case, and the only claims remaining were based on an alleged unreasonable seizure and malicious prosecution against the detective, and an alleged failure to investigate against the City.
Collins purchased a truck from a dealer in Colton in 2013. He later sued the dealer, claiming the truck was defective. Meanwhile, there was a dispute as to the truck being an out-of-state purchase, as Collins indicated he was returning to his home in Alabama to avoid paying sales tax. However, when the dealer learned that California license plates he had directed an employee to remove were still on the truck and in Collins’ possession in California, he called law enforcement. Eventually, the City’s detective became involved when the dealer filed a police report, and the detective seized the truck as evidence in an investigation over alleged theft of the plates. Collins was charged and held to answer following a preliminary hearing, but ultimately, the District Attorney voluntarily dismissed the criminal prosecution on the ground that there was not enough evidence to proceed.
Complicating the civil suit, Collins attempted to use the District Attorney’s voluntarily dismissal as a basis to support a malicious prosecution and improper seizure case against the City. The case was further complicated by the fact that the City’s detective and the auto dealer had a shared hobby and knew each other from other investigations at the car dealership. Collins alleged that the City’s detective used his status as an officer of the law to help out his “friend” in the suit over the defective truck.
The City filed a motion for summary judgment on several grounds, including that the evidence supported a probable cause finding to seize the truck and to refer the case to the District Attorney, even if the District Attorney later decided not to proceed. The City further argued that the criminal court’s finding of probable cause at the preliminary hearing barred Collins from pursuing the action based on judicial estoppel. In dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Snyder found that there was sufficient evidence of probable cause for Morenberg to seize the truck and investigate Collins for allegedly stealing the license plates, and that Collins was precluded based on judicial estoppel.
The case is Collins v. City of Colton, 15-CV-01771.

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