Key Decisions

June 2012 – Appellant Arguing Lack of Evidence Must Recite

(filed under: | June 16, 2012)

Other Cases Of Interest

An Appellant Arguing Lack Of Substantial Evidence Must Recite The Evidence Supporting The Verdict

Mendoza v. City of West Covina
(Cal. Ct. of App., 2d Dist.), filed May 8, 2012 

David Mendoza died of asphyxiation while in police custody in the emergency room of Citrus Valley Medical Center. While in custody in the emergency room, he was first repeatedly tasered and punched by West Covina police officer Enrique Macias, and then pinned to the ground and handcuffed by Macias and three other West Covina police officers. Mendoza’s sons, David, Jr., and Irvin, sued the city and Macias for wrongful death, alleging that Macias used excessive force in violation of their father’s constitutional rights.

At trial, the City and Macias made an oral motion for nonsuit, contending that Macias’s use of force on Mendoza was entitled to qualified immunity. The trial court denied that motion, finding that whether Macias used excessive force was a question for the jury to resolve.

The jury awarded David, Jr., and Irvin $750,000 each for the wrongful death of their father, but determined that Mendoza was 30% at fault in the incident. The jury found that Macias had acted with “malice, oppression and/or fraud.”

The City and Macias appealed. They asserted the trial court erred in denying their motion for nonsuit.

The Court of Appeal affirmed.

Whether qualified immunity applies turns in large part on a factual inquiry. Determining whether a police officer violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights by using excessive force must be evaluated in light of facts most favorable to the plaintiff’s case. As a result, in appealing the judgment, the city and Macias had an obligation to identify for the court not only evidence supporting a finding that qualified immunity applied, but also evidence supporting a finding that it did not apply. Only by doing so could the court determine whether the verdict was supported by substantial evidence and in particular that it was not.

The City and Macias failed to identify evidence that supported the verdict. This made it impossible for the court to determine whether the verdict was supported by substantial evidence or that it was not. Because this failure made it impossible for the court to perform the review it needed to make, the court deemed the issue of whether the verdict was supported by substantial evidence to have been waived.