Sullivan v. County of Los Angeles

Decision Date04 November 1974
Citation117 Cal.Rptr. 241,527 P.2d 865,12 Cal.3d 710
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 527 P.2d 865 Jack SULLIVAN, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, Defendant and Respondent. L.A. 30251. In Bank

Hugh R. Manes, Los Angeles, for plaintiff and appellant.

John H. Larson, County Counsel, Philip H. Hickok, Peter R. Krichman and Thomas H. Warden, Deputy County Counsel, Los Angeles, for defendant and respondent.

TOBRINER, Justice.

This case presents the question whether an individual who is confined in a county jail beyond his proper jail term may maintain an action for false imprisonment against the county or whether such a suit is barred by the governmental immunity provisions of the California Tort Claims Act. The superior court concluded that the governmental immunity sections precluded the action, but, as will appear, we have determined that that decision was in error; accordingly we conclude that the judgment must be reversed.

Plaintiff Jack Sullivan instituted the present action against defendant County of Los Angeles as a result of his alleged confinement in Los Angeles County jail for several days beyond the termination of his sentence. The confinement grew out of the following circumstances.

On June 6, 1967, plaintiff was arraigned in municipal court on a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in violation of Penal Code section 272; he entered a not guilty plea to the charge. The following day plaintiff pled guilty to a separate drunk driving charge (Veh.Code, § 23102, subd. (a)) and was sentenced to pay a fine of $250 plus penalty assessment or serve 50 days in city jail. Plaintiff did not pay the fine and began serving the 50-day drunk driving sentence on June 7, 1967.

On June 20, while plaintiff was serving his drunk driving sentence, the municipal court consolidated the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor with two felony charges pending against plaintiff and transferred the charges to the superior court. On July 13 plaintiff's motion to dismiss the two felony counts was granted; the contributing to the delinquency of a minor charge was transferred back to municipal court and was dismissed on July 21. The municipal court issued an order to the sheriff to release plaintiff immediately after that dismissal but no release order had been issued by the superior court when the felony charges were dismissed on July 13. 1 Plaintiff's 50-day drunk driving sentence expired on July 26 2 but because no release order had been issued by the superior court plaintiff remained in jail until August 7. He was finally freed only after writing to the superior court for the unissued release order.

Plaintiff then brought this action for false imprisonment against the county predicated upon the sheriff's failure to release him. Plaintiff alleged in his amended complaint that he was imprisoned in the county jail by county sheriffs and employees who acted 'with knowledge . . . that there were no charges of any kind pending against (him) and that (he) was entitled to his (release) and freedom' or who 'in the exercise of reasonable care . . . should have known that there were no charges of any kind pending against (him) . . . and that (he) was entitled to his release and freedom. . . .' 3

The trial court granted the county's motion for judgment on the pleadings on the ground that under Watson v. County of Los Angeles (1967) 254 Cal.App.2d 361, 62 Cal.Rptr. 191 and section 821.6 of the Government Code, the county was immune from liability for acts of county employees in instituting or prosecuting a criminal proceeding. Plaintiff thereafter appealed.

For the reasons which follow we conclude that plaintiff has stated a cause of action against the County of Los Angeles. If, at a subsequent trial, plaintiff can prove the alleged facts, the county will be both directly and derivatively liable for injury caused to plaintiff by his false imprisonment. No immunity provision in the California Tort Claims Act insulates the county from liability for false imprisonment.

1. The county's failure to release plaintiff after dismissal of all charges against him, as mandated by Penal Code section 1384, renders it directly liable under Government Code section 815.6.

Government Code section 815.6 provides: 'Where a public entity is under a mandatory duty imposed by an enactment that is designed to protect against the risk of a particular kind of injury, the public entity is liable for an injury of that kind proximately caused by its failure to discharge the duty unless the public entity establishes that it exercised reasonable diligence to discharge the duty.' In this case plaintiff alleges injury due to defendant's failure to release him from jail after dismissal of all charges against him. Penal Code section 1384 speaks precisely to this situation: 'If the court directs the action to be dismissed, the defendant Must, if in custody, be discharged therefrom; . . .' (Emphasis added.)

Two Court of Appeal cases have applied section 815.6 4 in situations very similar to the instant case. In Shakespeare v. City of Pasadena (1964) 230 Cal.App.2d 375, 40 Cal.Rptr. 863, plaintiff was kept in jail after sufficient bail had been posted for his release in disregard of the mandatory duty to release on posting of bail provided in Penal Code section 1295. The Court of Appeal held that failure of the city to perform its statutorily imposed mandatory duty to release plaintiff rendered it directly liable for damages under section 815.6. The mandatory duty to release on bail was designed to protect against the very injury which occurred.

Similarly in Bradford v. State of California (1973) 36 Cal.App.3d 16, 111 Cal.Rptr. 842, employees of the State of California failed to record the fact that charges had been dismissed against the plaintiff; as a result he was rearrested. The Court of Appeal held that Penal Code sections 11116 and 11116.6 imposing a mandatory duty upon the state to record such dismissals, were intended to avoid the danger of possible future illegal arrest and incarceration. The state could not claim immunity from liability for damages arising out of its failure to perform a mandatory duty imposed by statute.

In the case before us plaintiff alleges that county employees retained him in jail after all charges against him had been dismissed despite the mandatory duty of Penal Code section 1384. Plaintiff alleges that he suffered precisely the kind of injury that section 1384 purports to prevent: continued incarceration. Therefore, assuming the truth of the allegations of imprisonment, Government Code section 815.6 imposes direct liability upon the county for plaintiff's damages unless the county can demonstrate that 'it exercised reasonable diligence to discharge the duty.'

The county contends, however, that, assuming the applicability of section 815.6, section 844.6, subdivision (a)(2) bars the present action. That section provides: 'Notwithstanding any other provision of this part, . . . a public entity is not liable for: . . . (2) An injury to any prisoner.' In our opinion the county mistakenly argues that because plaintiff was a 'prisoner' 5 at the time he was allegedly falsely imprisoned, the section bars recovery for any 'injury' 6 resulting from the false imprisonment.

In a false imprisonment case, the 'injury' suffered by an individual is the illegal confinement itself rather than any detriment occurring after imprisonment; in other words, false imprisonment is not an 'injury to a prisoner' but instead is an injury to a non-prisoner which converts him into a prisoner.

Although the county emphasizes that plaintiff had already been confined in jail at the time of the alleged false imprisonment, the Legislature surely did not intend to distinguish between an individual who is wrongfully deprived of his liberty before his jail term starts and one wrongfully deprived of his liberty after his jail term ends. Continued confinement cannot legally make him a 'prisoner' when the jail term has expired; in the eyes of the law plaintiff is no longer a 'prisoner.' In short, we conclude that section 844.6's reference to 'an injury to any prisoner' does not apply to a case of False imprisonment; the section accordingly, in the instant case, does not immunize the county.

2. If, as alleged, the county sheriff knew or should have known that all charges against plaintiff had been dismissed, the county is derivatively liable for the sheriff's wrongful failure to release him.

Under the facts alleged in the complaint, the county also faces derivative liability for plaintiff's alleged false imprisonment. Government Code section 820 provides that, unless immunized by statute, 'a public employee is liable for injury caused by his act or omission to the same extent as a private person.' Section 815.2 extends that employee liability to the public entity. 7 Indeed, section 820.4 deals specifically with liability for false imprisonment; it declares immunity for public employees for their non-negligent acts 'in the execution or enforcement of any law' but provides that '(n)othing in this section exonerates a public employee from liability for false arrest or false imprisonment.' Thus if the county sheriff 8 is liable as a public employee under sections 820 and 820.4 for his alleged failure to release plaintiff from jail after all charges against him were dismissed, then the county will be derivatively liable for those acts under section 815.2.

Under California common law the jailer has long been held liable for false imprisonment if he knew or should have known of the illegality of the imprisonment. In Abbott v. Cooper (1933) 218 Cal. 425, 429--430, 23 P.2d 1027 this court held a jailer liable for damages for false imprisonment because he 'knew or should have known' from statements of the arresting officers of the illegality of the arrest. (See also Smith v. Madruga (1961) 193...

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232 cases
  • Randle v. City and County of San Francisco
    • United States
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    ...distinguishing actions for malicious prosecution from ones for false arrest or false imprisonment. (Sullivan v. County of Los Angeles (1974) 12 Cal.3d 710, 117 Cal.Rptr. 241, 527 P.2d 865; Laible v. Superior Court (1984) 157 Cal.App.3d 44, 203 Cal.Rptr. 513.) False arrest or imprisonment an......
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