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Morales v. City of North Las Vegas

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 19, 2014

CITY OF NORTH LAS VEGAS, et al., Defendants.


JAMES C. MAHAN, District Judge.

Presently before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. # 61). Plaintiff has filed a response (doc. # 93) and defendants have filed a reply (doc. # 96).

Also before the court is plaintiff's countermotion for summary judgment. (Doc. # 76). Defendants have filed a response (doc. # 79) and plaintiff has filed a reply (doc. # 97).

I. Background

This action stems from the murder of Sergio Hugo Morales-Paredes ("Morales") while being held in the pre-trial custody of the North Las Vegas Detention Center ("NLVDC").

On March 16, 2009, Morales was arrested on the grounds of St. Christopher's School in North Las Vegas, Nevada, for trespass and loitering on the grounds of a playground or school where children congregate, in violation of NRS §§ 207.200 and 207.270, respectively. The individual who placed the call, Debbie Barnaby, told the responding officers that Morales had refused to leave when asked.

When questioned, Morales told the responding officers that he was on school grounds because he was formerly a teacher and enjoyed hanging around schools. After further questioning, Morales indicated that he was attracted to young girls. It was apparent to the officers that Morales was mentally ill to some degree. Officers investigated the latter statement but did not find any evidence that it was anything more than "mere fantasy." Morales was not arrested for a sexually related offense.

Morales was booked into the NLVDC for the trespassing and loitering charges that same day. As part of the booking process he was medically screened by Sheila Black ("Black"), a nurse employed by NaphCare, Inc. Morales admitted to Black that he had mental problems which he managed with medication, but that he was not taking those medications at that time. Black recommended that Morales be housed in administrative segregation because his medical illness made him unfit for general population. Black also determined that Morales could have a cell mate within administrative segregation, and noted that he spoke very little English. Over the next several days, Morales' condition improved with the medication.

Defendant Prescilla Tenuta ("Tenuta") is a classification officer at the NLVDC. Her job responsibilities include reviewing a detainee's file (including their medical screening evaluation), interviewing that person, and making a determination as to how to classify and where to house the inmate.

On March 31, 2009, Armando Munoz-Ornales ("Munoz") was detained at the NLVDC on an immigration offense. During the booking process, Munoz began showing signs of mental illness and was classified for segregation by Tenuta. Tenuta noted that Morales had no cell mate, both Morales and Munoz were Spanish speaking, neither had any apparent gang affiliation, and neither had a known history of violent behavior. Tenuta relayed this information to her supervisors on duty, defendants Giarmo and Woolman. Based on these observations, Tenuta assigned Munoz to Morales' cell.

Morales and Munoz were celled together around 11:00 p.m. on April 1, 2009. Approximately three and a half hours later, Morales was found dead in the cell. The coroner identified the immediate causes of death as asphyxia, manual strangulation, blunt force trauma to the head, and ligature strangulation.

During the initial investigation, Munoz confessed to the killing. Munoz told detectives that Morales had told him he was going to kill him and that he was in fear for his own life. Munoz did not make any reference to Morales' sexual preferences.

Acting as special administrator and as the father and heir of the estate of Sergio Hugo Morales-Paredes, Sergio Morales Sr. ("plaintiff") has filed an amended complaint alleging causes of action for: (1) violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all defendants in their official and individual capacities; (2) wrongful death in violation of NRS 41.085 against all defendants; (3) negligent training, supervision, and retention against the City of North Las Vegas and defendants Forti, Chronister, Powell, and Woolman; and (4) municipal liability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

II. Legal Standard

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary adjudication when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A principal purpose of summary judgment is "to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

In determining summary judgment, a court applies a burden-shifting analysis. "When the party moving for summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, it must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial. In such a case, the moving party has the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of fact on each issue material to its case." C.A.R. Transp. Brokerage Co. v. Darden Rests., Inc., 213 F.3d 474, 480 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted).

In contrast, when the nonmoving party bears the burden of proving the claim or defense, the moving party can meet its burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence to negate an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323-24. If the moving party fails to meet its initial burden, summary judgment must be denied and the court need not consider the nonmoving party's evidence. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159-60 (1970).

If the moving party satisfies its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue of material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). To establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that "the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. P. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 631 (9th Cir. 1987).

In other words, the nonmoving party cannot avoid summary judgment by relying solely on conclusory allegations that are unsupported by factual data. See Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). Instead, the opposition must go beyond the assertions and allegations of the pleadings and set forth specific facts by producing competent evidence that shows a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324.

At summary judgment, a court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The evidence of the nonmovant is "to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255. But if the evidence of the nonmoving party is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. See id. at 249-50.

III. Discussion

Each party moves for summary judgment in its favor as to all claims. The material facts relating to each defendants' conduct are essentially undisputed.

(1) Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all defendants in their official and individual capacities.

Plaintiff's first cause of action is against all defendants in their official and individual capacities, alleging that Morales' Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. In response, defendants ...

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