California Survivorship Law Applies to Civil Rights Claims
Who Was Adopted as Child Held to Lack Standing to Bring Action Based on Shooting
Death of His Biological Mother
By a MetNews
A panel of the
Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held Tuesday that the California
survivorship statute defeats a mans civil rights claims based on police
fatally shooting his biological mother because he was adopted as an infant.
Colbert was killed by Santa Clara police officers in 2014 after she threatened
them with a baseball bat while they were responding to her 911 call. She was
known by police to suffer from mental health problems.
biological son, Leland Wheeler, sued the city for violating both Colberts
civil rights and his own, as well as under the Fourteenth Amendment, and for
violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation
Gary S. Katzman of the U.S. Court of International Trade, sitting by
designation, wrote the opinion. It affirms the dismissal of all of Wheelers
claims by District Court Judge Ronald M. Whyte of the Northern District of
to Katzmans opinion was the fact that Wheeler had been put up for adoption by
Colbert when he was an infant.
of Wheelers claims were that the police department had denied him and Colbert
of a civil right under color of law, giving rise to a cause of action under 42
USC 1983. Another statute, 42 U.S.C. 1988, provides that any gaps in federal
civil rights laws, under particular titles, are governed by state law when it
is not inconsistent with federal law.
survivorship laws bar adopted children from bringing suit on behalf of their
deceased parents. Wheeler argued that because the state laws would prohibit him
from bringing his claims, it was at odds with the federal law.
disagreed. The fact that plaintiffs claims under federal law would be abated
by virtue of applying state law does not point to an inconsistency, he said,
note that we have previously applied state survivorship law to 1983 actions
where the decedents death was caused by the alleged constitutional violation
and allowed such claims to abate.
for his claims under the ADA and RA, Wheeler also argued that 1988 could not
apply to those causes of action because they are not contained in the titles
mentioned in that section. On that point Katzman agreed, declaring that federal
common law would apply.
being said, he continued, Wheeler cannot bring his asserted ADA and RA claims
on behalf of Colbert. He has provided no authority supporting the proposition
that an individual without a legal relationship to the decedentsuch as an
adopted-out biological childcould bring survival claims under a uniform
Katzman dismissed Wheelers Fourteenth Amendment claim, noting that without a
strong, actual mother-son relationship between Wheeler and Colbert, which he
had not shown, their relationship did not rise to the level of those protected
by the Fourteenth Amendment.
U.S. Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote a concurring opinion addressing
such relationships. She wrote:
do not hold that no adopted-out child could prove he had a protected interest
in his relationship with his biological parent under the Fourteenth
Amendment.There is no reason why an adopted-out child could not have had a
deeply loving and interdependent relationship with both his adoptive and his
biological mother under other circumstances.
case is Wheeler
v. City of Santa Clara, 16-17375.
2018, Metropolitan News Company