Soto v. City of Sacramento

Decision Date24 August 1983
Docket NumberNo. Civ. S-79-680 LKK.,Civ. S-79-680 LKK.
PartiesJoseph SOTO, Jr., et al., Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF SACRAMENTO, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California



Bolling, Walter & Gawthrop, Sacramento, Cal., for county defendants.

James J. Lynch, Jr., Sacramento, Cal., for plaintiffs.

Dianna Z. Hoffman, Johnson & Hoffman, Sacramento, Cal., for city defendants.


KARLTON, Chief Judge.

Plaintiff, JOSEPH SOTO, JR., has brought this action against defendants1 seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the deprivation of his constitutional rights. Additionally, as pendant state claims, he alleges both the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Under both his federal and state causes of action he seeks to hold defendants liable for the damages he sustained as a result of his attempted suicide. Plaintiff, IMELDA SOTO, brings this action charging the infringement of her constitutional right to a marital relationship.2 The action is before me now on cross motions for summary judgment as to plaintiff JOSEPH SOTO's section 1983 claim.3


On March 14, 1978, one Ralph Talpas was attacked and robbed by three males and one female as he was crossing Plaza Park, in downtown Sacramento. Immediately after the attack, he located a telephone booth across the street from the park and called the police, giving them a description of his assailants.

Defendant Sergeant LaChapelle, of the Sacramento City Police Force, responded to this call approximately five minutes later; he arrived on the scene with a police dog. LaChapelle entered Plaza Park and commenced a search for Mr. Talpas' assailants. Upon doing so he saw three males and one female who appeared to match the description given by Mr. Talpas. One of them was the plaintiff. Plaintiff asserts, and Sergeant LaChapelle does not deny, that Sergeant LaChapelle was acquainted with him from prior contacts. The events which transpired thereafter are disputed.

At a preliminary hearing regarding the robbery LaChapelle testified that as he approached the four suspects they started to leave, whereupon he ordered them all to stop and lie face down on the ground. After he had done so he observed plaintiff JOSEPH SOTO crouching on his haunches as though to run or jump. According to Sergeant LaChapelle, he could not see Mr. SOTO's hands and thus determine if he was armed. Accordingly, defendant testified, plaintiff was again ordered to lie down so that his hands could be seen; he was told this two more times but failed to comply.

At about this time defendant Officer Brewer arrived on the scene with his police dog. Sergeant LaChapelle asserts that he walked over to plaintiff and told him to lie down. When plaintiff remained in his crouching position, Sergeant LaChapelle pushed him down with his boot. At about the same time Officer Brewer released his dog which bit plaintiff. Once bitten, LaChapelle testified, plaintiff laid down on the ground as instructed. In due course the suspects were arrested and taken to Sacramento County Jail. Plaintiff's version of what happened in the park, as related to his brother, Frank Soto, is decidedly different.5 He alleges he was hiding behind some bushes when a policeman and his dog found him. He told the policeman that he was unable to get up whereupon he was ordered to stay down on the ground and to put his hands apart. Plaintiff claims he complied and was willing to give himself up; he asserts that despite these facts, the policeman released his dog and he was bitten. As noted, a preliminary hearing occurred and plaintiff was bound over for trial.

On April 20, 1978, approximately a month after the arrest, the incidents at the jail for which plaintiff also seeks compensation occurred. Plaintiff at this time was housed in Cell 3, North 1, a "tank" cell in which other detainees were present. Defendant Wayne Fidler, a commissary deputy and two trustees were making commissary rounds with a cart, containing candy and other things for sale. Here again the facts are in dispute. Defendant Fidler's version of the ensuing incident is that he saw Joseph's hand and the hand of another person (whom he could not identify) reaching through the bars of the cell for something in the tray. A trustee named Butner came up to the cell and looked at Joseph whereupon Joseph spat at Butner. Another inmate then hit Butner in the hand; another inmate was reaching for Butner, and a further disturbance ensued. Defendant Fidler removed himself, the trustees, and the commissary cart from the area and called for help.

Defendants Deputy Sheriff Waters, Deputy Sheriff Thomas, and Deputy Sheriff Hasapis responded to the call. Plaintiff alleges that there was a threat made by one of the County defendants to the effect that, if he continued acting in a disruptive manner, he would be killed.6 Plaintiff claims that after restoring order, the defendants intended to and did move him to an "isolation" cell as punishment for the disruption they believed he had caused; defendants assert that they intended to move him to another tank cell only for the calming effect it would have on him. In any event, plaintiff was told to gather his personal belongings and to accompany the defendants; it is undisputed that he complied in a quiet and cooperative manner.

It is also undisputed that after leaving the cell, plaintiff's person and belongings were searched. The County defendants claim he was searched pursuant to a standard procedure requiring that an "inmate" and his belongings are searched whenever he is moved from one cell to another. (The jailers apparently do not distinguish between pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in this regard.) It is undisputed that defendant Hasapis and defendant Waters conducted the body search while defendant Thomas searched plaintiff's property. Defendant Thomas claims that he found a red toy balloon containing a white powdery substance which was tested and later identified as an opium derivative. Plaintiff contends that this substance was planted in his belongings by the County defendants as a "frame-up." (See n. 5) He was given his Miranda rights and arrested for possession of drugs.

Defendants claim that upon discovery of the contraband, they determined that plaintiff posed a security threat to the jail and decided to house him on the 5th floor in a single cell. Plaintiff claims this cell amounted to solitary confinement and that his confinement there was intended to punish him for his behavior.

Plaintiff discussed these incidents with his brother, Frank Soto, the evening of April 20, 1978. He expressed to Frank both anger and frustration about the drug arrest. Apparently, he thought that pending charges based on the attack of Ralph Talpas were going to be dropped. His frustration stemmed in part from his belief that the subsequent drug possession arrest would interfere with the dismissal of those charges. He also stated to his brother that he believed that County defendants had planted the drugs on him and that he had been set up. The County defendants, on the other hand, have a different view of plaintiff's emotional state. They assert that they did not observe any indications of depression or severe emotional disturbance; rather, he appeared to them to react to the events in the jail with calmness and stoicism.

It is undisputed that the next morning, April 21, 1978, at approximately 10:40 a.m., plaintiff was found hanging in his cell. One Deputy Sheriff Develin was the deputy sheriff on duty on the fifth floor where plaintiff was housed. He states that prior to the discovery of plaintiff that morning he had noticed nothing unusual. (Under the present record it is unclear as to how plaintiff was actually discovered.) It appears undisputed that plaintiff had tied a mattress cover around the ventilator cover guarding a ventilation shaft in the cell in an attempt to commit suicide. Defendants do not contest that the ventilation cover was lacking a screen or protective device which would prevent the cover from being utilized as an anchor for suicide attempts. It appears uncontroverted that other persons incarcerated in the County Jail had either attempted to or did commit suicide by using unshielded ventilator covers as anchoring devices by which to hang themselves.

Upon discovery plaintiff was immediately taken down, given cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, and removed by ambulance to a hospital. It is also undisputed that as a result of his suicide attempt plaintiff suffered severe brain damage and remains unable to care for himself or to communicate concerning these or any other events.


The conventional standards relative to motions for summary judgment are well known. Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate where it is demonstrated 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. Avila v. Travelers Insurance Co., 651 F.2d 658, 660 (9th Cir.1981); Jablon v. Dean Witter & Co., 614 F.2d 677, 682 (9th Cir.1980). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, all the evidence, and the reasonable inferences which may be drawn therefrom, must be construed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. United States v. First National Bank of Circle, 652 F.2d 882, 887 (9th Cir. 1981); Jones v. Halekulani Hotel, Inc., 557 F.2d 1308, 1310 (9th Cir.1977); Mutual Fund Investors, Inc. v. Putnam Management Co., 553 F.2d 620, 624 (9th Cir.1977). In this regard, then, where an issue of fact is not susceptible to direct evidence but must be resolved by drawing an inference from circumstantial evidence, the court may not draw an inference favorable to the moving party unless no other rational inference is possible. Thus...

To continue reading

Request your trial
27 cases
  • Walsh v. Tehachapi Unified Sch. Dist.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
    • October 28, 2011
    ...has endeavored to succinctly explain proximate cause in the specific context of a suicide or suicide attempt. See Soto v. City of Sacramento, 567 F.Supp. 662 (E.D.Cal.1983). In Soto, the defendants moved for summary judgment on the plaintiff's § 1983 claim under the Fourteenth Amendment for......
  • Sierra Club v. Watt
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
    • April 24, 1985
    ...are purely legal, the court will not set out the well-established standards for summary judgment. See, e.g., Soto v. City of Sacramento, 567 F.Supp. 662, 668 (E.D.Cal.1983). 42 The proper characterization of the Secretary's order also helps frame consideration of plaintiffs' claim that the ......
  • Danese v. Asman
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Michigan
    • May 22, 1987 the contention that the conditions at the jail do not comport with professionally acceptable judgment. See Soto v. City of Sacramento, 567 F.Supp. 662, 681-683 (E.D.Cal.1983). Succinctly, plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged a deprivation of Danese's liberty interest under the due proces......
  • Chew v. Gates
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • June 27, 1994
    ...dogs that the department's canine force policy was unlawful. See Luce v. Hayden, 598 F.Supp. 1101 (D.Me.1984); Soto v. City of Sacramento, 567 F.Supp. 662 (E.D.Cal.1983); Starstead v. City of Superior, 533 F.Supp. 1365 (W.D.Wis.1982). The facts in all of these cases differ dramatically from......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT