LBAC WINS UNLAWFUL SEARCH/EXCESSIVE FORCE CASE ON DISPOSITIVE MOTION

This unlawful search and excessive force case arose from a neighbor’s early-morning report that a gunshot was heard at Plaintiff’s home. Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to Plaintiff’s home to ascertain whether anyone had been shot. Based on prior contacts with Plaintiff, the deputies knew that Plaintiff had firearms in her residence. Plaintiff refused to allow the deputies inside. Eventually, the deputies forced the front door open, knocking Plaintiff to the ground. The deputies searched the home, and after confirming no one was injured and that none of the firearms appeared to have been discharged, the deputies left. Plaintiff was subsequently charged by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office with violating Penal Code § 148(a)(1) – resisting, obstructing, or delaying a peace officer. During the pendency of the criminal case, Plaintiff brought a Motion to Suppress Evidence under Penal Code § 1538.5, arguing that the deputies lacked a warrant or exigent circumstances to enter Plaintiff’s home. The criminal court denied Plaintiff’s motion, holding that the deputies’ entry into the home was reasonable. Subsequently, the criminal court dismissed the charge, because there was no evidence that Plaintiff used physical force against the deputies. Plaintiff then brought her 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit against the deputies and the County of Orange, alleging that they unlawfully entered her home and used unreasonable force. The District Court dismissed Plaintiff’s action on a pretrial Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, which argued that Plaintiff’s action was barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel, because the state criminal court previously decided that the deputies’ actions were lawful. Plaintiff has filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit, which is pending. Brown v. County of Orange, Case No. CV 10-3928 VBF(JEMx), Ninth Circuit case number Case No. 11-55897.