Small Claims Court Decision Bars Officer From Pursuing Concealed Weapon Lawsuit

Frederick Bates was a sergeant with the San Jose, California Police Department. Bates obtained a disability retirement from the Department due to hypertension “that was caused or exacerbated by psychoemotional stress.”

The California Penal Code permits qualifying retired peace officers to obtain, from their former law enforcement agencies, retirement identifications with an endorsement authorizing them to carry concealed and loaded firearms. The Department, however, denied Bates a concealed weapons permit on the grounds that California law prohibits the issuance of a permit to carry a concealed weapon to any officer who has retired “because of a psychological disability.” The Department did not hold a hearing before denying Bates’ request.

Several months after the initial denial, the Department received clarifying information from Bates’ physician stating that Bates did not have a psychological disability and that he was an appropriate candidate to carry a concealed weapon. Based on this information, the Department reversed its earlier decision and granted Bates a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Bates then sued the City in Small Claims Court, seeking to recoup the $1,500 retainer he paid to his attorney for purposes of helping him to secure his concealed weapon permit. The State Small Claims Court entered a judgment in favor of the City.

Bates then sued the City and various officials in federal court for violation of his due process rights. A federal trial court dismissed Bates’ lawsuit.

While the Court acknowledged that Bates had a viable due process claim, it found that the Small Claims Court proceedings had a “collateral estoppel” effect that barred Bates from re-litigating the issue in federal court. The Court observed that “Bates’ basis for recovery is that he was deprived of his civil rights because of the denial of a concealed weapons permit upon his retirement. Whether Bates was deprived of his civil rights by the City was necessarily decided in the state court action in which he previously sought his retainer fees. The Small Claims Court denied Bates’ claims. This constitutes a final judgment against Bates and in favor of the City on the merits of his claim that his rights were violated. Accordingly, whether rightly or wrongly decided by the Small Claims Court, Bates may not relitigate the issue of whether the City violated his rights in this forum.”

Bates v. City of San Jose, 2008 WL 2694025 (N.D.Calif. 2008).

This article appears in the December 2008 issue