167 F.3d 514 (9th Cir. 1999), 97-55353, Ruvalcaba v. City of Los Angeles

Docket Nº:97-55353.
Citation:167 F.3d 514
Party Name:1999 Daily Journal D.A.R. 1269 Gabriel RUVALCABA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF LOS ANGELES; Daryl Gates, Martin Coon, (# 21604) in both their personal and official capacities, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:February 05, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Page 514

167 F.3d 514 (9th Cir. 1999)

1999 Daily Journal D.A.R. 1269

Gabriel RUVALCABA, Plaintiff-Appellant,


CITY OF LOS ANGELES; Daryl Gates, Martin Coon, (# 21604) in

both their personal and official capacities,


No. 97-55353.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

February 5, 1999

Argued and Submitted Aug. 6, 1998.

Page 515

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 516

Donald W. Cook, Los Angeles, California, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Katherine J. Hamilton, Assistant City Attorney, Los Angeles, California, for the defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California; Consuelo B. Marshall, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-90-2797-CBM.

Before: FLETCHER, BOOCHEVER, and THOMPSON, Circuit Judges.

BOOCHEVER, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff Gabriel Ruvalcaba was seriously injured during his arrest and apprehension by a Los Angeles Police Department ("LAPD") canine unit. Ruvalcaba brought this action in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that he was the victim of excessive force during his arrest, and that his treating physician at the jail dispensary was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. He sued, among others, the City of Los Angeles (the "City"), LAPD Chief Daryl Gates ("Gates"), Officer Martin Coon (the canine officer who arrested Ruvalcaba), and Dr. Arthur Sakamoto (the physician who treated Ruvalcaba at the jail dispensary). The district court severed Ruvalcaba's claims against Officer Coon and Dr. Sakamoto from those against the City and Gates. At the close of the evidence, the district court granted Dr. Sakamoto's motion for directed verdict. The jury then returned a verdict in favor of Ruvalcaba against Officer Coon. The district court dismissed the remaining claims against the City and Gates because of the jury's special finding that Officer Coon's use of the dog did not violate Ruvalcaba's constitutional rights.

Ruvalcaba appeals, seeking to have his claims against the City and Gates reinstated, and the grant of directed verdict to Dr. Sakamoto reversed. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.


Ruvalcaba was an ex-employee of the Mayan Theater and was living there at the time of his arrest. At approximately 2:30 a.m. on May 28, 1989, Ruvalcaba returned to the theater after a night of heavy drinking and went to sleep in the manager's office. Around 3:00 a.m., Los Angeles Police Officers Moore and Morales responded to a burglary call at the Mayan Theater. They were

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told by theater employees that an ex-employee had locked himself inside the theater, armed with a pipe and possibly a gun. The officers requested a canine unit.

Standing outside and in front of the theater, Officers Moore and Morales announced themselves as police officers and stated, "The dogs are coming. Give yourself up." The warnings were given in both English and Spanish. The front theater doors were locked with a chain, but the doors could be opened about six to eight inches. The officers stuck their heads through the doors, and announced again in both English and Spanish that the police had arrived and a canine unit had been called. The officers then repeated the same warnings a third time, this time from inside the rear door of the theater.

About an hour later, Officer Martin Coon arrived with his police dog, Smokey. Officer Coon was told by Officers Moore and Morales that they had given several warnings that a canine unit had been called. With no further warning, Officer Coon and Smokey entered the theater through the rear entrance, followed by Officers Moore and Morales. Smokey was unleashed during the search. After searching most of the theater, Smokey alerted near the office where Ruvalcaba was located. Officer Coon opened the door to the office and allowed Smokey to go in, again with no warning that a police dog was present. Officer Coon followed Smokey into the office.

At this point, the stories of Officer Coon and Ruvalcaba differ. Officer Coon testified that as Smokey approached Ruvalcaba, Ruvalcaba, who was on all fours, lunged at Smokey, grabbed him and attempted to fling Smokey into the wall. Ruvalcaba then lost his balance and fell into the desk. The fight lasted only a few seconds. Officer Coon testified that during the entire time of the struggle, he yelled continuously at Ruvalcaba to stop fighting the dog. Officer Coon denied ever kicking or striking, or even touching Ruvalcaba.

In contrast, Ruvalcaba testified that he was sleeping when he awoke to find the dog biting him. Ruvalcaba stated that he tried to fight off the dog by putting his hand into the dog's mouth and biting the dog back. Ruvalcaba stated that he could feel someone striking his head and chest, but could not identify the officer responsible for the blows.

Officer Coon called off the dog after Ruvalcaba was subdued. Moore entered the office to arrest Ruvalcaba and stated that he thought Ruvalcaba was lying on his stomach. When Moore put his knee on Ruvalcaba's chest and started to move Ruvalcaba's hands into proper position, Moore realized that Ruvalcaba was actually on his back. He turned Ruvalcaba over and then handcuffed him. Moore stated that he did not know if he broke Ruvalcaba's ribs when he knelt on him. After a quick pat down, Moore brought Ruvalcaba out of the theater and put him into the squad car. At approximately 5:15 a.m., the police took Ruvalcaba to the Parker Center jail dispensary for medical treatment. Ruvalcaba was moaning, almost incoherent, and complained of severe pain in his chest when Dr. Sakamoto, the treating physician at the jail dispensary, examined him. Dr. Sakamoto failed to take a medical history. He took Ruvalcaba's vital signs, which were normal, and reported that Ruvalcaba's breathing sounds were okay. Sakamoto testified that he routinely would "percuss and oscillate the chest," but there were no notations to that effect on the chart. He also cleaned and sutured two of the dog bite wounds, which were on Ruvalcaba's left forearm and thigh. Twelve hours later, Ruvalcaba was unable to get out of bed.

Approximately thirty-six hours after Ruvalcaba arrived at the jail dispensary, he was taken to County General Hospital where Dr. Julia Cameron examined him. At that time, Ruvalcaba had decreased breathing sounds on the right side of his chest, tenderness in the right rib area, and air in the subcutaneous tissue below his right arm. A chest X-ray confirmed that he had two fractured ribs, a collapsed lung, and blood was collecting inside his chest. Eighteen hours later, Dr. Cameron inserted a tube into the chest to collect the blood. Based upon her initial examination, Dr. Cameron noted that the dog bites were not severe but gave Ruvalcaba a prophylactic antibiotic to prevent infection.

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Ruvalcaba's expert, Dr. Peter Meade, testified that Ruvalcaba probably fractured his ribs before he entered the jail dispensary. Ruvalcaba's complaints of severe chest pains and his inability to get out of bed were consistent with fractured ribs, because an injury to the chest wall makes it hard to move. Additionally, the lung probably collapsed at the time of the injury.

The defendants' expert, Dr. Michel Leidner, explained that Sakamoto gave appropriate treatment by cleaning and suturing the wounds. He stated that the collapsed lung was not very serious, because Dr. Cameron waited eighteen hours before inserting the tube to drain the blood. He testified, however, that Sakamoto should have taken a medical history.

Sakamoto testified that Ruvalcaba's pain was consistent with the dog bites and inconsistent with fractured ribs because Ruvalcaba's breathing was "okay" and he did not show increased pain as he took a breath. Dr. Cameron testified that the air under the subcutaneous tissue could have developed after the injury.

Ruvalcaba sued Officer Coon and Dr. Sakamoto under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 1 Ruvalcaba alleged that Officer Coon violated his Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force in arresting him, and that Dr. Sakamoto violated his civil rights through Dr. Sakamoto's deliberate indifference in treating his serious medical needs. Ruvalcaba also sued the city of Los Angeles and its police chief, Gates, alleging that the LAPD's dog bite policy was unconstitutional. See Monell v. Dept. of Social Servs. of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978) (providing for municipal liability under § 1983 for injuries caused by the municipality's own unconstitutional or illegal policies).

Over Ruvalcaba's objections, the district court bifurcated the claims against Officer Coon and Dr. Sakamoto from the Monell claims against the City and Gates. Because the first phase of the trial would determine only whether Officer Coon used excessive force against Ruvalcaba, the district court precluded Ruvalcaba from offering any evidence to prove the existence of an unconstitutional dog bite policy under Monell. That evidence, the district court concluded, was relevant only to the second phase of the trial in which the Monell liability of the City and Gates would be determined. If, at the end of the first phase of the trial, the jury determined that Officer Coon did not violate Ruvalcaba's constitutional rights, then Ruvalcaba would have suffered no constitutional injury, and the Monell claims against Gates and the City would be dismissed as a matter of law. City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796...

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