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Peterson v. Miranda

United States District Court, D. Nevada

July 7, 2014

LINDA PETERSON; et. al, Plaintiffs,
v.
KEVIN MIRANDA; et al, Defendants.

ORDER

LARRY R. HICKS, District Judge.

Before the court is defendants Roberto Morales ("Morales"), Tina Zuniga ("Zuniga"), Mark Robbins ("Robbins") and Cynthia Ruelas ("Ruelas") (collectively "moving defendants") motion for summary judgment. Doc. #233.[1] Plaintiffs Linda and Francis Peterson ("the Petersons") filed an opposition (Doc. #240) to which moving defendants replied (Doc. #252).

I. Facts and Procedural History

This action arises from the tragic death of the Petersons' daughter, Angela Peterson.

On November 28, 2009, non-party Rebecca Wamsley ("Wamsley"), a dispatcher for defendant the Clark County School District ("CCSD") Police Department ("department"), hosted a holiday party at her home and invited members of the department and their family.

Defendant Zuniga attended the holiday party with her daughter and her daughter's eighteen (18) year old boyfriend, defendant Kevin Miranda ("Miranda"). Despite being underage, Miranda drank alcohol provided at the party. Miranda then left the party intoxicated, ran a red light, and crashed his parents' truck into a vehicle driven by Angela Peterson, killing her. Miranda subsequently pled guilty to a category B felony, and is currently serving an eighty (80) month prison sentence.

On October 20, 2011, the Petersons filed a complaint for wrongful death against all defendants. Doc. #1, Exhibit 1. On June 5, 2013, the Petersons filed a second amended complaint against defendants alleging thirteen causes of action: (1) negligence against all defendants; (2) negligence against Eric Miranda and Chary Alvarado Miranda ("Miranda's parents"); (3) violation of NRS § 41.440 against Miranda's parents; (4) violation of NRS § 41.1305 against defendants Zuniga, Ruelas, Robbins, and Morales; (5) constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against CCSD and all CCSD employee defendants; (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress against all defendants; (7) negligent infliction of emotional distress against all defendants; (8) negligent hiring, retention, and supervision against CCSD; (9) ratification against CCSD; (10) respondeat superior against CCSD; (11) punitive damages against CCSD and all CCSD employee defendants; (12) punitive damages against Miranda; and (13) civil conspiracy against CCSD and all CCSD employee defendants. See Doc. #172. Thereafter, moving defendants filed the present motion for summary judgment. Doc. #233.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only 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 moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In assessing a motion for summary judgment, the evidence, together with all inferences that can reasonably be drawn therefrom, must be read in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); County of Tuolumne v. Sonora Cmty. Hosp., 236 F.3d 1148, 1154 (9th Cir. 2001).

The moving party bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion, along with evidence showing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). On those issues for which it bears the burden of proof, the moving party must make a showing that is "sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party." Calderone v. United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir. 1986); see also Idema v. Dreamworks, Inc., 162 F.Supp.2d 1129, 1141 (C.D.Cal. 2001).

To successfully rebut a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must point to facts supported by the record which demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact. Reese v. Jefferson Sch. Dist. No. 14J, 208 F.3d 736 (9th Cir. 2000). A "material fact" is a fact "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Where reasonable minds could differ on the material facts at issue, summary judgment is not appropriate. See v. Durang, 711 F.2d 141, 143 (9th Cir. 1983). A dispute regarding a material fact is considered genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248. The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient to establish a genuine dispute; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. See id. at 252.

III. Discussion

Moving defendants seek summary judgment on the Petersons' first cause of action for negligence; fourth cause of action for violations of NRS § 41.1305; fifth cause of action for constitutional violations under § 1983; sixth cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress; seventh cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress; eleventh cause of action for punitive damages; and thirteenth cause of action for civil conspiracy. See Doc. #233. The court shall address each cause of action below, beginning with the constitutional claims.

A. Constitutional Violation Under § 1983

Section 1983 provides a remedy to individuals whose constitutional rights have been violated by a person acting under color of state law. See Burke v. County of Alemeda, 586 F.3d 725 (9th Cir. 2009). In order for an individual to bring a successful Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim, the plaintiff must show that the challenged conduct (1) was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (2) deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Marshall v. Sawyer, 301 F.2d 639, 646 (9th Cir. 1962). To establish that a person was "acting under the color of law, " a plaintiff must show that: (1) defendant's conduct was performed while acting, purporting to act, or pretending to act in the performance of official duties; (2) defendant's conduct must have had the purpose and effect of influencing the behavior of others; and (3) the challenged conduct must have been related in some meaningful way either to defendant's governmental status or to the performance of his duties. Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1068-69 (9th Cir. 2006).

In their second amended complaint, the Petersons allege three separate claims under Section 1983: (1) constitutional violations relating to conduct by CCSD employees at the holiday party; (2) constitutional violations relating to a cover-up by CCSD employees after the holiday party; and (3) a denial of access to the courts claim. See Doc. #172. Moving defendants seek summary judgment as to all three claims. However, on January 10, 2014, the court dismissed the Petersons' denial of access to the courts claim in the court's order granting in-part and denying inpart the CCSD and other CCSD defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 202). See Doc. #254. Therefore, the court shall only address the remaining two Section 1983 claims.

1. Holiday Party

In their complaint, the Petersons allege that the off-duty CCSD employees attending Wamsley's holiday party were acting under color of state law when they failed to stop defendant Miranda, an underage attendee of the party, from drinking and that his resulting intoxication was a direct cause of their daughter's death. See Doc. #172.

Generally, a private, non-sponsored party held by a state employee does not immediately transform into a state-sponsored event if other state employees are invited and present. Rather, there must be some additional evidence of conduct by the off-duty CCSD employees attending the party that would constitute the performance of official duties. See Anderson, 451 F.3d at 1068. Here, it is undisputed that neither defendant Zuniga nor defendant Ruelas engaged in any conduct at the party that would constitute the performance of an official duty. Both Zuniga and Ruelas were employed by CCSD as police dispatchers for the department. The Petersons' allegations that Zuniga and Ruelas provided alcohol to Miranda and other minors has no relationship to their positions or job duties. Their duties include dealing with calls to the department and interacting with department police officers, and there is no ...


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