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New Police Win In Ramirez v. City of Gardena Sets Up Split Decision in the Court of Appeal Districts Over Public Entities’ Immunity Under the Vehicle Code

On August 23, 2017, the Second Appellate District of the Court of Appeal issued a published opinion affirming summary judgment in favor of the City of Gardena in a case handled at the trial and appellate levels by Mildred K. O'Linn, Tony M. Sain, and Ladell H. Muhlestein.

In Ramirez v. City of Gardena (Cal. Ct. App. case no. B279873), the Court of Appeal held that the promulgation provision of Vehicle Code § 17004.7, which provides immunity for public entities that adopt and implement appropriate vehicle pursuit policies, "does not require proof of compliance by every officer with the written certification requirement as a prerequisite to immunity."  "While the agency must require all officers to sign a written acknowledgement, the agency need not prove that 100 percent of its officers have actually complied with that requirement to obtain immunity." 

In holding that the failure of one officer to certify that he or she received, read, and understood the entity's vehicle pursuit policy does not deprive the City of the statutory immunity, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the holding in Morgan v. Beaumont Police Dept. (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 144: the only opinion interpreting the immunity statute after it was amended in 2005 to add the promulgation requirement. The Morgan Court had concluded that the statute is unambiguous in requiring proof that each officer provide a written certification as a condition of immunity. The Ramirez Court engaged in extended statutory construction, including analyzing the legislative history that supports its conclusion, and it undercut the Morgan case.

The Court of Appeal also rejected the plaintiff's argument that a public entity claiming immunity under Section 17004.7 can prove the fact of written certifications only by introducing the actual certifications themselves, noting that Section 17004.7 does not contain any evidentiary limitation on how certification may be proved.

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