Gregg Thornton is a Partner in Selman Breitman’s San Francisco office. He is Chair of the firm’s Public Entity group and a member of the firm’s Commercial Litigation, General Liability, and Product Liability practice groups. He represents public and private individuals and entities in a wide-range of matters, emphasizing municipal liability defense, employment, Americans with Disabilities Act, and business litigation. Gregg also serves as general counsel to a number of public entities and private businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area. Additionally, he also has extensive experience defending insureds in disputes that involve third-party claims.
With decades-long experience in general liability and with public entities Gregg is able to easily evaluate complex issues, as well as to investigate and defend claims, starting at the government tort claim stage, through trial and on appeal. He works closely with clients, city attorneys, city managers and city councils to manage their risk, to anticipate and avoid problems when possible, and to solve the problems that cannot be avoided.
Gregg has been responsible for several published opinions before the California Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, including the critical case of Taus v. Loftus (2007) 40 Cal. 4th 683 (scholarly research, calling into question the accuracy of a claim of recovery of repressed memory, was conduct in furtherance of free speech within meaning of anti-SLAPP statute).
Gregg is called upon by Clients, PARMA (Public Agency Risk Managers Association) and ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) to give presentations on various subject matters relating to a wide-variety of topics, including those specifically relating to best practices, dangerous conditions of public property, roadway design, detention and arrest, search and seizure, use of force, including not only the defenses to such claims, but also applicable legislatively created immunities. He has been given the top rating of "AV Preeminent" by the Martindale-Hubbell publication, and has also been selected for inclusion on the list of Northern California Super Lawyers (2013-2018), along with many other accolades.
Originally from Stanford, California, Gregg attended high school and college in the East Bay, and presently resides in Oakland, California, with his wife Mary. When not helping clients with their legal needs, he spends time involved in community activities. Currently, as a past president of the Big C Society at the University of California, Berkeley, he serves on its Executive Committee and Board of Directors.
- In a civil rights case, plaintiff claimed he was the victim of excessive force and unlawful detention, Defendants' summary motion asserted that plaintiff's arrest was grounded on probable cause, did not employ excessive force, and did not result in detention longer than reasonably necessary. Based on deposition testimony of plaintiff and a witness, the Court found the officers involved had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff; that the force used was minimal; and that none of plaintiff's civil rights had been violated. Finding no triable issue of fact, the U.S. District Court rejected plaintiff's arguments in total.
- Defendant was an operator of a network of career search facilities. Plaintiff was involved in two disputes at one of the facilities, which ultimately informed the plaintiff that he was no longer permitted to use any of the network's career centers. As a result, the plaintiff sued defendant and various police departments, including the police department for the City, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1983, seeking damages for violating his federal civil rights. The plaintiff also sought injunctive relief in the form of an order permitting him to utilize the career search facilities in the future. A motion was brought on behalf of the City to dismiss the plaintiff's case as being not ripe, pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(1). Additionally, the motion sought to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint on the ground that the plaintiff had failed to state adequate facts to demonstrate that anyone affiliated with the City had engaged in any act or omission that proximately caused any violation of the plaintiff's federal civil rights, pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6). The motion was granted on both grounds. The plaintiff appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an order affirming the orders of the District Court, without leave to amend. Additionally, the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's pre-filing review order, essentially deeming the plaintiff a vexatious litigant.
- Plaintiff, while riding a motorcycle, was involved in a motor vehicle collision with the defendant driver. As a result, plaintiff was permanently paralyzed from the lower back down. When the plaintiff commenced litigation, his medical special damages totaled over $600,000 and continued to mount with ongoing treatment. Additionally, plaintiff sued for past wage loss, loss in future earning capacity, future medical damages and the expense of a life care plan. The special damages alone, without even considering the exposure for general damages, appeared to approach $4,000,000. Selman Breitman filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that (1) the City was immune from suit pursuant to California Government Code section 830.6, and (2) a "dangerous condition of public property" did not exist at the accident location as a matter of law pursuant to California Government Code section 835. The court granted the City's motion, finding that the City was immune from suit pursuant to California Government Code section 830.6.
- Obtained judgment on a complaint arising out of a citizen's 911 call to report that a self-proclaimed gang member was in possession of a handgun. In response to the call, police arrived on scene, announced their presence, and instructed the man to put his hands up. The man pulled a handgun from under his shirt, pointed it at the officers and a pedestrian, and began moving towards them. One of the officers immediately fired his gun at the man, who did not survive the incident. An autopsy determined the man's blood alcohol level to be 0.47% at the time of his death. The decedent's minor son filed a complaint against the City alleging causes of action for negligence, wrongful death and a survival action. Selman Breitman challenged the lawsuit on behalf of the City. Ultimately, the court ruled that the City was immune from any common-law tort liability; that the plaintiff did not allege any violation under any civil rights statute; and, the police officers involved in the shooting acted reasonably.
- Following a "911 hang-up" call, City Police Officers performed a welfare check at the residence. Using their discretion, the officers elected not to arrest the resident. Several hours after the incident, the resident committed suicide. Family members of the decedent sued the City and the two police officers on several theories of liability. The crux of the complaint was that the officers had a duty to take the necessary precautions to ensure that the decedent would not commit suicide, making the City and the officers liable to the decedent's family for special and general damages. On behalf of its clients, Selman Breitman filed a demurrer to plaintiffs' complaint on the grounds that the officers owed no duty to the decedent; that no special relationship was created from the officers toward the decedent; and, in any event, the officers were immune from liability. The Superior Court sustained the demurrer in its entirety without leave to amend, finding that the police officers owed no duty to the decedent, no special relationship existed between the parties, and that the officers were immune from liability. The Court then ordered the plaintiffs' case dismissed.
- Plaintiffs sued a City and its Police Officers for Civil Rights violations that allegedly occurred during a traffic stop. The Ninth Circuit held that no civil rights violations had occurred. Additionally, the court ruled that the plaintiffs' claims against the City and Police Chief for negligent hiring, retention and supervision failed and found that the City and its Chief of Police had no vicarious liability.
- Represented City and its former Police Chief against claims of violation of civil rights, conspiracy, Monell liability, interference with contract, interference with economic advantage, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence arising out of plaintiff's failure to sell his bar. Plaintiff alleged that this failure was due to the recommendations made by the Police Chief to the ABC regarding transfer of the bar's liquor license. The Appellate Court ruled in defendants' favor, remanded the matter to the trial court with an instruction that the entire complaint be dismissed as against all defendants with prejudice, and instructed the plaintiff to pay the defense fees and costs at both the trial and appellate court levels.
- Personal injury action arising from trip and fall on a city sidewalk.
- Personal injury action in which plaintiff sued city after being hit by city worker in a city-owned vehicle while riding his bicycle.
- Defended police officers and other city officials accused of civil rights violations and malicious prosecution stemming from arrest and subsequent trial of plaintiff for assault and battery.
- Defended police officers accused of civil rights violations, specifically unlawful search and seizure and use of excessive force following a vehicle stop.
- Republic Western Insurance Company v. Spierer, et al
In this case, an attorney disgorged into court a $165,000 unearned retainer he had been paid by offeror of a tax shelter, after investors brought a class action suit against that attorney and that offeror. The attorney's malpractice insurer brought a separate declaratory judgment action claiming that it was not required to indemnify the attorney for the $165,000 retainer paid into court. The attorney counterclaimed for the amount of the retainer. The United States District Court for the Central District of California entered judgment in favor of the attorney, characterizing payment of the retainer into court as a release of liability to keep peace with investors and avoid massive defense liability to which the attorney was exposed in the underlying litigation. The insurer appealed. The Court of Appeals held that: (1) the counterclaim was time barred by California's four-year statute of limitations; (2) the insurer was not responsible for any advice of independent counsel who it employed to represent the attorney in the underlying litigation, and thus limitations period was not tolled as result of advice given by independent counsel; and (3) in any event, the payment of the $165,000 into court was not "damages" for which policy provided coverage. The District Court's judgment was vacated, the decision was reversed and remanded.
- Taus v. Loftus, et al.
The California Supreme Court issued a decision finding that Selman Breitman's client, a psychology professor, had a First Amendment right to publicly critique and challenge a published case study involving recovered memories of past abuse. In that case, the plaintiff claimed that, as a result of receiving psychiatric treatment, she was able to recover previously repressed memories of childhood abuse at the hand of her parent. A case study was then performed in connection with those recovered memories, resulting in the publishing of significant scientific literature. Despite the fact that a single claim for intrusion, based on a single allegation against a single defendant, survived the Court's analysis, the Supreme Court held that the defendants were the prevailing parties in connection with their Special Motion to Strike under California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. As a result, the Court held that the defendants are entitled to reimbursement of their attorneys' fees and costs under the mandatory fee-shifting provision of the anti-SLAPP statute.
Gregg participates in seminars and panels on public entity law and municipal liability defense issues throughout the State of California, including the Public Agency Risk Managers Association, as well as the Association of Bay Area Governments. He also actively consults with public entities on the topics of the creation, implementation and performance of proper municipal policies and procedures.
In addition, Gregg is involved in community activities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Currently, as a past President of the Big C Society at the University of California, Berkeley, he serves on its Executive Committee and Board of Directors.
Professional Associations And Memberships
- Public Agency Risk Managers Association (PARMA)
- Bar Association of San Francisco, Member
- Super Lawyers: 2013-2018
- Rated AV Preeminent® by Martindale-Hubbell