Houston v. Bryan

Decision Date08 February 1984
Docket NumberNo. 83-1974,83-1974
Citation725 F.2d 516
PartiesRamon Mendez HOUSTON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Richard H. BRYAN, individually and as the Attorney General, State of Nevada; Larry D. Struve, individually and as the Chief Deputy Attorney General, State of Nevada; Robert Manley, individually and as the Chief Criminal Deputy Atty. General, State of Nevada; Brian Hutchins, individually and as the Deputy Attorney General, State of Nevada, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

John Rupp, Covington & Burling, Washington, D.C., for plaintiff-appellant.

Donald L. Christenson, Asst. U.S. Atty., Carson City, Nev., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada.

Before MERRILL and BOOCHEVER, Circuit Judges, and WYZANSKI *, District Judge.

MERRILL, Circuit Judge.

Appellant was a witness to a homicide committed in Humboldt County, Nevada, by four persons with whom he was then travelling. He was taken into custody by the sheriff of that county as a material witness on July 4, 1980. Bail was set by a magistrate and, unable to provide bail, Appellant was, on the magistrate's order, confined in the county jail. The magistrate acted pursuant to Nevada law, Nev.Rev.Stat. Sec. 178.494, which provides, in part:

Bail for witnesses. If it appears by affidavit that the testimony of a person is material in any criminal proceeding and if it is shown that it may become impracticable to secure his presence by subpena, the magistrate may require him to give bail for his appearance as a witness, in an amount fixed by the magistrate. If the person fails to give bail the magistrate may:

1. Commit him to the custody of a peace officer pending final disposition of the proceeding in which the testimony is needed;

2. Order his release if he has been detained for an unreasonable length of time; and

3. Modify at any time the requirement as to bail.

Appellant remained in jail from July 4, 1980 until August 17, 1981, during which period he gave testimony in the trial of one of the accused murderers. On two occasions the deputy district attorney sought to have Appellant's status as a material witness reviewed and requested an order from the court allowing Appellant's deposition to be taken so that he could be released. The first motion was denied. The second motion had not been acted upon when Appellant's release was obtained pursuant to a writ of habeas corpus issued by the United States District Court, 561 F.Supp. 1124, for the District of Nevada. In this action Appellant alleges that his detention was in violation of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. Secs. 1981, 1983, 1985(3), 1986 and 1988.

The defendants were composed of two groups: (1) the county defendants, consisting of the county, the district attorney, the deputy district attorney, the sheriff, the deputy sheriff, and Brian Hutchins, a deputy attorney general who had been appointed as special deputy district attorney for prosecution of the murder charges; (2) the state defendants, consisting of the attorney general, the chief deputy attorney general, the chief criminal deputy attorney general, and Hutchins in his capacity as state officer.

After commencement of this action it was settled and dismissed with prejudice as to the county defendants. Summary judgment was then rendered in favor of the state defendants, and this appeal from that judgment followed.

The complaint charged that the state defendants were responsible for the official conduct of Hutchins and "for supervising, training and overseeing defendant Hutchins in the performance of his office;" also, "for establishing, implementing and enforcing standards, procedures and practices for the exercise of their own official functions and duties and those of their subordinates." It was alleged that the state defendants (other than Hutchins himself) "failed adequately and properly to carry out and discharge these responsibilities which resulted in and caused the injuries suffered by plaintiff as alleged herein."

Appellant initially argues that the District Court committed reversible error when it failed to grant his request for oral argument on Appellee's motion for summary judgment. Appellant relies on Rule 16(g) of the Rules of Practice for the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, which provides:

All motions may, in the court's discretion, be considered and decided with or without a hearing, unless a hearing is requested and is required to be held by the decision in Dredge Corporation v. Penny, 338 F.2d 456 (9th Cir.1964).

Appellant argues that a District Court may never deny a request for oral argument when made by a party opposing a motion for summary judgment unless the motion is denied. See Dredge Corp. v. Penny, 338 F.2d 456, 462 (9th Cir.1964). It is well settled, however, that the scope of Dredge Corporation --a case in which the local rule precluded a party from requesting oral argument--is not absolute. See Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266, 285-86, 68 S.Ct. 1049, 1059-60, 92 L.Ed. 1356 (1948); Holt v. Pitts, 619 F.2d 558 (6th Cir.1980). In Jasinski v. Showboat Operating Co., 644 F.2d 1277 (9th Cir.1981), this Court explicitly left undecided the question of whether noncompliance with local or federal rules governing summary judgment requires reversal without regard to prejudice. 644 F.2d at 1280. The Court, however, did note that it had previously ruled that nonprejudicial noncompliance with local rules " 'is not of itself sufficient reason to reverse.' " 644 F.2d at 1280 n. 5, quoting Matter of Telemart Enterprises, Inc. v. Holzman, 524 F.2d 761, 766 (9th Cir.1975), cert. denied, 424 U.S. 969, 96 S.Ct. 1466, 47 L.Ed.2d 736 (1976). We find the reasoning of those cases persuasive and hold that noncompliance with local and federal rules pertaining to a hearing on a motion for summary judgment is not, by itself, reversible error absent a showing of prejudice. While we admonish trial courts to grant oral argument on nonfrivolous summary judgment motions, in the instant case we find no prejudice. There are no arguments on this appeal that the District Court was not apprised of.

The District Court correctly concluded that, in order to state a claim for relief against the state defendants for unlawful confinement, Appellant must show, among other things, that the wrongful conduct of those defendants was the proximate cause of his detention. See Arnold v. International Business Machines Corp., 637 F.2d 1350 (9th Cir.1981). In granting summary judgment the Court held that under Hoffman v. Halden, 268 F.2d 280 (9th Cir.1959) (overruled on other issues, Cohen v. Norris, 300 F.2d 24 (9th Cir.1962)), any acts or omissions charged against the state defendants as matter of law could not be said to have been the proximate cause of appellant's detention. The Hoffman opinion was quoted in part to the following effect:

With these cases in mind we would reason as follows: In a Civil Rights...

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