John Donovan and Ashley Coleman of our Irvine office successfully defended the County of Orange and an Orange County Animal Control Officer who were sued for both federal and state law claims in Federal District Court.
Plaintiffs, a son and father, were arrested for animal cruelty under California Penal Code ß597 and accessory, respectively. The animal control officer responded to a call from plaintiffs that an opossum was fighting with plaintiffs' dogs. When the officer arrived on scene she found several dead baby opossums in plaintiffs' driveway and a badly injured mother opossum across the street. A neighbor told the animal control officer that he had seen plaintiff (the son) beat the opossum with a shovel three times. As a result of this information combined with additional information gathered at the scene, the animal control officer called the police to further investigate the suspected animal cruelty. Police arrived shortly thereafter, conducted an investigation, and arrested the father and son.
The charges were dropped against plaintiffs and plaintiffs sued the County, the animal control officer, the City, and the police officers in Federal Court for: (1) 42 U.S.C. ß1983 (unlawful seizure); (2) violation of California Civil Code section 52.1; (3) false arrest; and (4) negligence.
Donovan and Coleman brought a motion for summary judgment on the ground that the animal control officer's act of reporting the suspected criminal behavior to the police was privileged. Following oral arguments by both parties, the Court granted the motion, dismissing all of plaintiffs' claims against both the animal control officer and the County. The Court held that the animal control officer was entitled to qualified immunity for plaintiffs' federal cause of action and was entitled to California Civil Code ß47(b) privilege for plaintiffs' State law claims.