FULLERTON, CA—Municipal law firm Jones Mayer represented peace officers from the West Covina Police Department in a recent civil rights case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorney Melissa Ballard made oral arguments before the Court in a special sitting held on February 15, 2023, at the University of San Diego.
The case, Briseno v. City of West Covina (No. 22-55100), came to the Ninth Circuit on appeal after the District Court for the Central District of California granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of the police officer defendants. The plaintiff in the case, Ruben Briseno, pled no contest and was convicted of resisting arrest following a March 2018 altercation with the defendant officers. He sued his arresting officers for excessive force under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, along with other claims, demanding general, special, punitive damages, and attorneys fees.
The District Court granted the officers’ motion for summary judgment on grounds that Briseno’s claims were barred under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). The rule established in Heck states that when “judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence . . . the complaint must be dismissed.” 512 U.S. at 487.
In the Briseno case, the Ninth Circuit upheld the District Court’s conclusion that the claims were barred by Heck. Briseno’s conviction for resisting arrest relied upon the lawfulness of the officers’ actions. Following Heck, the Ninth Circuit concluded that summary judgment in favor of the City and officers was appropriate.
“This was a meritless case that the City of West Covina was able to successfully conclude on behalf of its officers,” Ms. Ballard said. “The case demonstrates that Heck v. Humphrey is a sound area of law municipalities and law enforcement agencies can rely upon to defend against unwarranted litigation.”
An academic context at the University of San DIego
Ms. Ballard noted that the special sitting at the University of San Diego gave oral arguments a novel context. Students at the university’s law school attended the session, during which the Court of Appeals heard arguments for four cases. “The space was smaller than a normal courtroom,” Ms. Ballard said. “It removed the usual distance from the judges, which was a special experience.” To protect the integrity of the case, students were not allowed to ask questions about the proceedings they watched.
About Jones Mayer
The law firm of Jones Mayer is devoted to serving public entities throughout California. Its clients include city and county governments, councils of government, state and local law enforcement agencies, utility districts, and more. The firm has offices in Fullerton and Citrus Heights. To learn more about Jones Mayer please visit jones-mayer.com or call (714) 446-1400. Attorney Melissa Ballard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org