Court to hear city’s appeal

By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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The city of Rocklin wins one more round in the Eaton case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear the city of Rocklin’s appeal in the federal civil rights lawsuit brought by former Rocklin Police Sgt. Rick Eaton. Eaton filed suit for unspecified damages after his 2004 termination. Earlier this year, the city filed an appeal which stated the city manager and police chief have immunity because the employment decision was part of their job. Eaton’s attorneys filed the motion to dismiss the appeal but the Ninth Circuit denied the motion May 21. Eaton wanted the city’s call for immunity for listed defendants City Manager Carlos Urrutia and Police Chief Mark Siemens thrown out of court. “The reason this appeal is important, is that if the court grants the city’s appeal, it has the effect of eliminating any direct cause of action against the city manager or the police chief, leaving the city as the only defendant,” City Attorney Russell Hildebrand said. The city, along with arbitrator William Riker, contend Eaton was properly terminated after a series of questionable incidents outlined in court documents including insubordination and a violation of the city’s anti-harassment policy. “By granting qualified immunity for Carlos Urrutia and Mark Siemens, the court essentially finds that they acted reasonably under the circumstances,” Hildebrand said. “Not necessarily correctly, but if it was an error, it was a reasonable error that any similarly situated city manager or chief of police might have made.” Eaton’s lawyers could not be reached for comment. The city has won a series of legal maneuvering as the case makes its way to trial. “This further weakens the case Eaton is making against the city,“ Hildebrand said. Eaton’s sixth and last outstanding claim references equal protection under the law, which the complaint alleges the city violated by treating each grievance by employees differently, which essentially violated Eaton’s civil rights. The complaint alleges Eaton was one of many employees seen by management as non-team players who were terminated or forced to resign after grievances against the city. “The Ninth Circuit will hear our full appeal to dismiss the remaining Equal Protection claim on the same evidentiary and legal grounds as we presented and argued in the trial court,” Hildebrand said. The next decision from the court could take another year.