Ladd v. County of San Mateo, No. S045633

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtGEORGE; LUCAS, C.J., KENNARD, BAXTER and WERDEGAR, JJ., and ARABIAN; MOSK
Citation12 Cal.4th 913,50 Cal.Rptr.2d 309,911 P.2d 496
Parties, 911 P.2d 496, 96 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 1628, 96 Daily Journal D.A.R. 2991 Kay Maureen LADD, a Minor, etc., Plaintiff and Appellant, v. COUNTY OF SAN MATEO et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Decision Date07 March 1996
Docket NumberNo. S045633

Page 309

50 Cal.Rptr.2d 309
12 Cal.4th 913, 911 P.2d 496, 96 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 1628,
96 Daily Journal D.A.R. 2991
Kay Maureen LADD, a Minor, etc., Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN MATEO et al., Defendants and Respondents.
No. S045633.
Supreme Court of California.
March 7, 1996.

[12 Cal.4th 916] Gerald A. Clausen, Abramson & Smith, Albert R. Abramson and Robert J. Waldsmith, San Francisco, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Thomas F. Casey III, County Counsel, Mary M. Ash, Deputy County Counsel, Boornazian, Jensen & Garthe, Charles I. Eisner and Jacqueline Jordan Leung, Oakland, for Defendants and Respondents.

GEORGE, Justice.

We granted review in this case to decide an issue left unresolved by the decision in Thomas v. City of Richmond (1995) 9 Cal.4th 1154, 1158-1159, 40 Cal.Rptr.2d 442, 892 P.2d 1185: whether the immunity provided public entities and employees by Government Code section 845.8, subdivision (b), from liability for any injury "caused by" an escaping prisoner applies when a prisoner injures herself during an attempted escape. For the reasons that follow, we hold that immunity does exist under such circumstances. We also hold that, unlike the situation underlying the court's decision in Thomas v. City of Richmond, supra, 9 Cal.4th 1154, 1165, 40 Cal.Rptr.2d 442, 892 P.2d 1185, the circumstances of the present case do not fall within the provisions of Vehicle Code section 17001, which imposes liability upon a public entity for an injury caused by its employee's negligent operation of a motor vehicle.

I

On March 12, 1991, San Mateo County juvenile hall employees Michelle Silveira and Aaron Turner were transporting 15-year-old plaintiff Kay Maureen Ladd to the San Mateo County juvenile hall. Plaintiff was a ward of the juvenile court who had been placed in the custody of her aunt but, having run away from her aunt's home, had been taken into custody by the Butte County Sheriff. 1 Silveira and Turner had taken custody of plaintiff at the Butte County juvenile hall, handcuffed her with her hands in front of her body, and placed her in the rear seat of a San Mateo County automobile. It was raining. When the vehicle stopped for a red traffic signal near some railroad tracks, plaintiff jumped out of the automobile and ran toward a slow-moving freight train. Despite being handcuffed, plaintiff tried to climb [12 Cal.4th 917] aboard a box car, but fell beneath the wheels of the train, resulting in the loss of both her legs.

Plaintiff sued San Mateo County and the county employees responsible for transporting her, alleging the county was negligent in failing to adequately train and supervise its employees and in failing to provide "adequate

Page 311

equipment and a security vehicle." Plaintiff[911 P.2d 498] further alleged that the county employees were negligent in failing to properly restrain and care for her, "so as to permit her to flee said automobile and board a moving railroad train." The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the ground the county and its employees were immune from liability pursuant to Government Code section 845.8, which states that "[n]either a public entity nor a public employee is liable for: [p] ... [p] (b) Any injury caused by: [p] (1) An escaping or escaped prisoner," and section 846, which provides: "Neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable for injury caused by the failure to make an arrest or by the failure to retain an arrested person in custody." 2

The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment on the ground that defendants were immune from liability pursuant to section 845.8, without reaching the question whether defendants also were immune under section 846.

II

"Conceptually, the question of the applicability of a statutory immunity does not even arise until it is determined that a defendant otherwise owes a duty of care to the plaintiff and thus would be liable in the absence of such immunity." (Davidson v. City of Westminster (1982) 32 Cal.3d 197, 201-202, 185 Cal.Rptr. 252, 649 P.2d 894.) On occasion, however, we have proceeded directly to the question of immunity and have resolved the case on that basis. (Kisbey v. State of California (1984) 36 Cal.3d 415, 418, 204 Cal.Rptr. 428, 682 P.2d 1093.)

In the present case, we first briefly discuss whether defendants owed a duty of care to plaintiff to protect her from the injury in question. For the reasons that follow, however, we shall base our decision in this case upon the governmental immunity provided by section 845.8.

"The elements of a cause of action for negligence are well established. They are '(a) a legal duty to use due care; (b) a breach of such legal duty; [and] (c) the breach as the proximate or legal cause of the resulting injury.' " (Evan F. v. Hughson United Methodist Church (1992) 8 [12 Cal.4th 918] Cal.App.4th 828, 834, 10 Cal.Rptr.2d 748, italics in original.) Plaintiff asserts that defendants "were in a special relationship with [her] and thus had an affirmative duty to supervise, control and protect her."

"Liability for negligent conduct may only be imposed where there is a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff or to a class of which the plaintiff is a member. [Citation.]" (J'Aire Corp. v. Gregory (1979) 24 Cal.3d 799, 803, 157 Cal.Rptr. 407, 598 P.2d 60.) Assuming the correctness of plaintiff's argument that public entities and their employees have a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent prisoners from escaping, we believe that such a duty would be owed to members of the public who might be injured by escaped or escaping prisoners, rather than to the prisoners themselves. (See Duffy v. City Of Oceanside (1986) 179 Cal.App.3d 666, 671-672, 224 Cal.Rptr. 879 ["Putting aside questions of governmental immunity [citation], it seems pointless to argue that prison officials who negligently allow a dangerous felon to escape have no 'duty' to control the felon absent some previously identifiable victim the escaped felon will likely seek to harm."]; see also People v. Laiwa (1983) 34 Cal.3d 711, 726, 195 Cal.Rptr. 503, 669 P.2d 1278 ["by virtue of their office jailers have the general responsibility to prevent escapes..."]; People v. Elmore (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 953, 959, 275 Cal.Rptr. 315 ["An abstract of judgment imposing a prison sentence is an order sending a defendant to prison and imposing a duty on the warden to carry out the judgment."]; Rest.2d Torts, § 319 ["One who takes charge of a third person whom he knows or should know to be likely to cause bodily harm to others if not controlled is under a duty to exercise reasonable care to control the third person to prevent him from doing such harm."].) As a general matter, it would seem quite peculiar to conclude that such a prisoner is within the class of persons intended to be protected by a public entity's duty to prevent escapes, and we are unaware of any authority that has so

Page 312

held. (Cf. Hoyem v. Manhattan Beach City [911 P.2d 499] Sch. Dist. (1978) 22 Cal.3d 508, 514, 150 Cal.Rptr. 1, 585 P.2d 851 [the rule that students may not leave school premises without permission during regular school hours "is at least in part for the pupils' protection"].)

[911 P.2d 500] Plaintiff argues that different considerations should apply when, as in this case, the escaping prisoner is a minor. (See, e.g., Hoyem v. Manhattan Beach City Sch. Dist., supra, 22 Cal.3d 508, 513, 150 Cal.Rptr. 1, 585 P.2d 851 [school district may be liable for an injury suffered by a minor student after he left school grounds without permission, if a proximate cause of the injury was the district's failure to exercise ordinary care in supervising the student while he was on school premises].) Plaintiff, however, cites no case in which a public entity has been held liable where, as in the present case, an escaping minor is injured. (See Prosser & Keeton on Torts (5th ed. 1984) § 32, p. 179 [children are [12 Cal.4th 919] responsible for their actions to the extent they are mature enough to have the capacity to "appreciate the risk and form a reasonable judgment"]; Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line R. v. Barker (1981) 221 Va. 924, 275 S.E.2d 613, 617 [10-year-old boy appreciated danger of jumping onto a moving train].)

We need not, and do not, decide in this case the novel question whether a juvenile prisoner is among the class sought to be protected by a public entity's (and its employees') duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the prisoner from escaping (assuming such a duty exists), because, for the reasons that follow, we conclude that, in any event, under section 845.8 defendants in the present case are immune from liability. (See Kisbey v. State of California, supra, 36 Cal.3d 415, 418, fn. 3, 204 Cal.Rptr. 428, 682 P.2d 1093, quoting Ne Casek v. City of Los Angeles (1965) 233 Cal.App.2d 131, 134 [43 Cal.Rptr. 294] ["Since we feel that the answer to the second question [whether the defendants are immune from liability] is freer from doubt than the answer to the first [whether the complaint states a cause of action] and that it is in the affirmative, we do not reach the first."].)

Plaintiff also asserts that Vehicle Code section 17001 imposed a duty upon defendants to exercise due care in the operation of a motor vehicle. As we explain below, following our discussion of immunity, the duty imposed by that statute does not apply under the circumstances of the present case.

III

Section 845.8 states: "Neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable for: [p] ... [p] (b) Any injury caused by: [p] (1) An escaping or escaped prisoner; [p] (2) An escaping or escaped arrested person; or [p] (3) A person resisting arrest." 3 The statute provides "an 'absolute' immunity--one which applies to ministerial as well as discretionary acts." (Kisbey v. State of California, supra, 36 Cal.3d 415, 419, 204 Cal.Rptr. 428, 682 P.2d 1093.) We held in Kisbey that the term "arrest" includes...

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    ...such legal duty; [and] (c) the breach as the proximate or legal cause of the resulting injury." ’ " (Ladd v. County of San Mateo (1996) 12 Cal.4th 913, 917, 50 Cal.Rptr.2d 309, 911 P.2d 496.) " ‘In most cases, courts have fixed no standard of care for tort liability more precise than that o......
  • Hecimovich v. Encinal Sch. Parent Teacher Org., No. A130852.
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    • February 9, 2012
    ...claim by plaintiff would fail because he did not plead a duty to him for so-called “safety issues.” ( Ladd v. County of San Mateo (1996) 12 Cal.4th 913, 917, 50 Cal.Rptr.2d 309, 911 P.2d 496.) Likewise because plaintiff has shown no damages. ( Anschutz Entertainment Group, Inc. v. Snepp, su......
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324 cases
  • Mendez v. United States, 1:17-cv-00555-LJO-MJS (PC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • April 9, 2018
    ...was harmed; and (3) that the defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm. Ladd v. Cty. of San Mateo, 12 Cal. 4th 913, 917 (1996). "The standard of care in a medical malpractice case requires that medical service providers exercise that . . . degree of ski......
  • McFarland v. City of Clovis, CASE NO. 1:15-CV-1530 AWI SMS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • February 16, 2016
    ...with his hands behind his back, but the handcuffs were later moved so that his hands were in front); Ladd v. County of San Mateo , 12 Cal.4th 913, 916, 50 Cal.Rptr.2d 309, 911 P.2d 496 (1996) (suspect was handcuffed with his hands in front of him); Nelson v. County of L.A. , 113 Cal.App.4th......
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    • United States
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    ...such legal duty; [and] (c) the breach as the proximate or legal cause of the resulting injury." ’ " (Ladd v. County of San Mateo (1996) 12 Cal.4th 913, 917, 50 Cal.Rptr.2d 309, 911 P.2d 496.) " ‘In most cases, courts have fixed no standard of care for tort liability more precise than that o......
  • Hecimovich v. Encinal Sch. Parent Teacher Org., No. A130852.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 9, 2012
    ...claim by plaintiff would fail because he did not plead a duty to him for so-called “safety issues.” ( Ladd v. County of San Mateo (1996) 12 Cal.4th 913, 917, 50 Cal.Rptr.2d 309, 911 P.2d 496.) Likewise because plaintiff has shown no damages. ( Anschutz Entertainment Group, Inc. v. Snepp, su......
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