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Saldana v. Angleton Independent School District

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

April 25, 2017

SAN JUANA GUERRERO SALDANA, Plaintiff,
v.
ANGLETON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GEORGE C. HANKS JR JUDGE

         Plaintiff, San Juana Guerrero Saldana, filed suit as next friend of her minor child, whom she describes as "an autistic child who is not vocal and is therefore significantly disabled and [who] attends a special care facility in Angleton, Texas." Saldana alleged that, on two separate occasions in September 2015, her child was physically assaulted on a school bus by a school district employee. Dkt. 26. She filed suit in June 2016 against that district employee, Rachel Hernandez, and the Angleton Independent School District. Dkt. 1. Both AISD and Hernandez filed motions to dismiss Saldana's claims.

         On February 27, 2017, this Court dismissed Saldana's claims against the school district. The Court also dismissed Saldana's equal protection claims against Hernandez, as well as Saldana's claim that Hernandez violated the minor's liberty interest by hitting him with a folder. The Court ordered Saldana to file a Rule 7(a) Reply to plead additional specific factual allegations about Hernandez's striking the minor with a bus seat belt.

         Saldana has now filed her Reply, and the Court turns to the remaining issue: Is Hernandez entitled to dismissal of Saldana's remaining claim against her on the basis of qualified immunity?

         In order to survive Hernandez's motion to dismiss on the grounds of qualified immunity, Saldana's pleadings must allege specific facts that, if true, would be sufficient to: (1) demonstrate liability, i.e., that Hernandez's actions violated the minor's liberty interest in bodily integrity under the Fourteenth Amendment; and (2) to overcome qualified immunity, i.e., that Hernandez's actions were objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law at the time. This Court's prior Memorandum Opinion and Order laid out the applicable standards for both liability and qualified immunity at this stage of the case.

         A. Saldana's Allegations

         Saldana's pleadings, in toto, allege that Hernandez was a bus monitor who hit the minor, with a seat belt buckle, "forcefully . . . three times in less than five minutes, first on his right thigh, then on his hands, then on his right leg, each blow terrifying the minor disabled Plaintiff and causing him physical and mental pain and suffering and mental anguish." Saldana alleges "there was no rational basis for Defendant Hernandez's abuse of the minor disabled Plaintiff. She beat him because he was disabled and could not cry out or defend himself." Saldana alleges that Hernandez's actions "exert[ed] excessive and objectively unreasonable force and caus[ed] the small boy physical and mental pain and suffering and mental anguish."

         Saldana's Rule 7(a) Reply further pleads the following:

[T]hat on thirty-seven bus trips, over a twenty-two day period, Hernandez viciously assaulted the minor Plaintiff, with no provocation whatsoever, a verified and documented thirty-nine times, including pinching, slapping, and striking him with a metal belt buckle, his school supplies and even his own tennis shoes. . . . (emphasis in original)
These persistent and repeated assaults, never once preceded by any demonstrated aggression or provocation by the minor Plaintiff of any observable kind, and repeatedly demonstrating his physical pain and emotional stress, as well as his palpable fear of Hernandez, were video recorded on bus cameras .... (emphasis in original)
[T]his was no isolated incident or two ... or mere routine administrations of permissible corporal punishment. Instead, this newly produced evidence horrifyingly documents the violent attacks by a child abuser for no legitimate reason other than the fun of it.

         Although Hernandez apparently maintains the minor was "aggressive towards her" and that her actions were therefore "disciplinary measures to stop the misconduct and ensure the safety of [the minor], Hernandez and the bus driver, " Saldana specifically alleges that detailed video evidence demonstrates that Hernandez lied and she instead "intentionally abused" the minor:

[T]he video footage did not support her statement and the student appeared to be scared of her and would flinch as she approached.
Hernandez raised her voice at the student, threw clothing in his face, struck his upper body while standing behind him, struck him on the arm with the seat buckle and struck him with his folder from his backpack [even though the evidence] did not ...

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