Thursday, July 16, 2015

Z.V. v. County of Riverside (Cal. Ct. App. - July 16, 2015)

A social worker working for the County of Riverside allegedly sexually assaults Z.V. while he's in his care (albeit slightly after the end of the work day).  The social worker is surely liable for the alleged offense.  What about the County of Riverside?

The California Supreme Court has held that when a police officer sexually assaults someone during his shift, his employer is liable.  But the Court hasn't been excited to extend that precedent, and has subsequently held that a hospital isn't liable for the sexual molestation of a patient by an ultrasound technician and a county isn't liable for the sexual harassment of a county jailer by another jailer.

Which precedent applies?

The trial court thought that the "police officer" case was less on point than the other cases, so granted Riverside County summary judgment.  The Court of Appeal affirms.

The best case for the plaintiff was probably a Ninth Circuit case, applying California law, that held that the United States was liable for the sexual assault by an immigration officer on an applicant for asylum.  Surely the degree of control by a social worker is greater than that, no?

Yes, quite frankly.  It is.

But Justice Bedsworth savages the Ninth Circuit's opinion.  Going line by line to demonstrate that the Ninth Circuit was completely erroneous in its application of California law.

The relevant Ninth Circuit opinion, by the way, was written by Judge Noonan.  With a dissent (in relevant part) by Judge Bybee.

I think that Justice Bedsworth's analysis is even better than Judge Bybee's dissent.  Which is saying something.

The Court of Appeal's opinion is a great example of precedential analysis.  I recommend it to anyone who's looking for a primer on how to properly analyze, distinguish, and argue from competing lines of precedent.

As a result of today's opinion, Z.V. gets nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Though at least Justice Bedsworth doesn't make him pay costs.  (Which assuredly wouldn't have been recoverable, or enforced, in any event.)

By contrast, in the Ninth Circuit case, guess how much the plaintiffs got there?  I checked it out.  $1.2 million.  Plus (undoubtedly) attorney's fees and whole bunch of other stuff.

It makes a difference where you file a lawsuit, eh?  As well as what panel you get.