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News Photographer Has Arrest Claims Tossed

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge has dismissed claims against the California Department of Transportation and two officials filed by a news photographer who was arrested while covering a controversial highway project.

U.S. District Judge James Donato dismissed three of the 12 counts in Stephen Eberhard's April 2014 lawsuit because they "are inadequately pleaded," according to a Nov. 6 order.

Eberhard was arrested on July 23, 2013, after a protest on the Willits Bypass Project, a four-lane freeway project near Willits, Calif.

In a 34-page complaint, Eberhard accused Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and several individuals of "a pattern of harassment and intimidation" toward journalists.

Eberhard said that protestors who had illegally chained themselves to construction equipment were cited and released, but that he was put in a patrol car and held in a cell at the Mendocino County Jail for two hours.

Defendants Caltrans, CHP Chief Bridget Lott and Caltrans District 1 Director Charlie Fielder moved to dismiss Eberhard's claims that Lott and Fielder violated the plaintiff's First Amendment Rights; that Caltrans engaged in false arrest and false imprisonment; and that there should be declaratory relief against all defendants.

Judge Donato ruled that, with regards to the First Amendment, Eberhard did not show that Lott and Fielder acted with retaliatory motive and that their actions had a chilling effect.

The judge also dismissed the false arrest and imprisonment count because Eberhard's complaint did not specifically allege that Caltrans was responsible for violating his personal liberty. The allegations only mention the conduct of CHP officers.

Donato dismissed the declaratory relief claims against Caltrans, Lott and Field because "the Court has already concluded that the underlying claims must be dismissed."

"The dismissal is without prejudice, so Eberhard is free to replead these counts," the order says. Eberhard has until Nov. 26 to file an amended complaint.

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