United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
H. Miller United States District Judge
before the court are (1) defendant City of Houston's
motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for a more
definite statement (Dkt. 17); (2) defendant Harris
County's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion
for a more definite statement (Dkt. 37); and (3) defendant
Officers Timothy Huerta, Brittany Ann Jones, and M.S.'s
(collectively, “individual defendant officers”)
motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for a more
definite statement (Dkt. 58). Having considered the motions,
responses, replies, and the applicable law, the court is of
the opinion that (1) the City of Houston's motion to
dismiss (Dkt. 17) should be GRANTED; (2) Harris County's
motion to dismiss (Dkt. 37) should be DENIED and its motion
for a more definite statement should be GRANTED; and (3) the
individual defendant officers' motion to dismiss (Dkt.
58) should be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART and their
motion for a more definite statement should be DENIED.
case is about accusations of civil rights violations and the
alleged unlawful termination of plaintiff Denise Garcia's
employment at the Harris County District Attorney's
Office (“HCDAO”). Dkt. 35. Garcia's
allegations stem from her complaint about the police
officers' behavior during a traffic stop. Id.
Garcia is suing Harris County, the City of Houston, and City
of Houston Police Officers Richard Leal III, Huerta, Jones,
and M.S. under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 2000e
(“Title VII”). Id.
November 14, 2014, Garcia drove away from a relative's
residence in Houston, with her toddler son and the
child's father, Salvador Rodriguez, as passengers.
Id. Several blocks from the residence, Garcia was
pulled over by Officers Leal and Huerta. Id. at 3.
Garcia alleges that she was “driving legally and
committed no traffic violations.” Id. The City
of Houston and the individual defendant officers counter that
Garcia was stopped for failing to signal to change lanes.
Dkt. 41 at 5. The City of Houston admits that the police
followed Garcia after seeing her at a location they were
surveilling for drug activity. Dkt. 17 at 4. Garcia claims
that she was at the location to pick up her child's
father to go to a doctor's appointment. Dkt. 35 at 3.
states that she cooperated with the police through the
duration of the stop and produced her driver's license
and insurance information as requested. Dkt. 35 at 4. During
the stop, the police officer began to question her passenger,
Rodriguez. Id. Garcia says that she advised
Rodriguez that he did not have to answer any questions.
Id. Garcia alleges that immediately following her
advice to Rodriguez, Officer Leal threatened Garcia with
arrest, causing her to be frightened to speak to Rodriguez
checking Rodriguez's identification, the police found
outstanding warrants against him and arrested him.
Id. Garcia claims that she had no knowledge of the
existence of any warrants or any criminal activity on the
part of Rodriguez. Id.
during the stop, Officers Leal and Heurta asked to search
Garcia's vehicle. Id. Garcia claims that Officer
M.S., who was working undercover at the residence where she
picked up Rodriguez, instructed the other officers to attempt
to search the vehicle. Id. at 3. Garcia claims she
refused to give consent to the search. Id. Officers
Leal and Heurta allegedly ordered Garcia to exit her vehicle,
and searched her car, including the trunk, and Officer Jones
searched Garcia's body. Id. at 4. Officer Heurta
also placed Garcia in handcuffs and Garcia alleges she was
held in a patrol car for approximately 45 minutes to an hour
during Rodriguez's arrest. Id. Garcia alleges
that during this detention, Officer Huerta seized her cell
phone and erased “a section of her phone recordings of
the events.” Id. Eventually, Garcia was
released. Id. at 5. The individual defendant
officers admit to searching the car and Garcia and detaining
Garcia, claiming their actions were lawful as incident to
Rodriguez's arrest. Dkts. 17, 37, 41. The individual
defendant officers deny deleting the contents of the cell
phone video and claim that they only entered the trunk
because Garcia gave them permission to look for her
child's bottle in the trunk. Id.
November 17, 2014, Garcia filed a complaint with the Houston
Police Department Internal Affairs Division
(“IAD”) regarding the traffic stop. Dkt. 35 at 5.
Garcia claimed that she was racially profiled and the traffic
stop was illegal. Id. Garcia alleges that, after she
filed the IAD complaint, “at least” Officer M.S.
contacted the HCDAO regarding the complaint and that she was
questioned by her employer about the events of the traffic
November 20, 2014, the HCDAO placed Garcia on administrative
leave with pay pending an investigation. Id. at 6.
On December 19, 2014, the HCDAO terminated Garcia's
employment. Id. Later, through an open records
request, Garcia received a copy of a memo stating that she
was terminated for dishonesty regarding both the traffic stop
and her awareness of Rodriguez's criminal history.
Id. Garcia alleges that she was honest at all times
and these reasons were “pre-textual.”
November 4, 2016, Garcia filed her second amended complaint
against the defendants. Dkt. 35. First, Garcia asserts causes
of action against Harris County under Title VII for
termination due to race, national origin, and/or retaliation
and under § 1983 for civil rights violations. Dkt. 34 at
10-13. Second, Garcia asserts causes of action against the
individual defendant officers and the City of Houston under
§ 1983 for violation of her rights for freedom of
speech, to petition the govenmernment for redress of
grievances, and to be free from unreasonable searches and
seizures, under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments
to the United States Constitution. Dkts. 35 at 15-16. The
City of Houston, the individual defendant officers, and
Harris County have all moved to dismiss Garcia's claims,
or in the alternative, moved for a more definite statement.
Dkts. 17 (City of Houston), 37 (Harris County), 58
(individual defendant officers). Garcia responded. Dkts. 36,
45, 61. The City of Houston and Harris County replied. Dkts.
Motion to Dismiss
Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only ‘a short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007).
In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a complaint,
courts generally must accept the factual allegations
contained in the complaint as true. Kaiser Aluminum &
Chem. Sales, Inc. v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 677 F.2d
1045, 1050 (5th Cir. 1982). The court does not look beyond
the face of the pleadings in determining whether the
plaintiff has stated a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Spivey
v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 774 (5th Cir. 1999).
complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does
not need detailed factual allegations, [but] a
plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds'
of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than
labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). The
“[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right
to relief above the speculative level.” Id.
The supporting facts must be plausible-enough to raise a
reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal further
supporting evidence. Id. at 556.
Motion for a More Definite Statement
party may move for a more definite statement of a pleading to
which a responsive pleading is allowed but which is so vague
or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a
response.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e). However, motions for
more definite statement are “generally
disfavored.” Lehman Bros. Holding, Inc. v.
Cornerstone Mortg. Co., No. 09-0672, 2009 WL 1504977, at
*1 (S.D. Tex. May 29, 2009) (Rosenthal, J.) (collecting
authorities). “When a defendant is complaining of
matters that can be clarified and developed during discovery,
not matters that impede his ability to form a responsive
pleading, an order directing the plaintiff to provide a more
definite statement is not warranted.” Id.
42 U.S.C. § 1983
1983 prohibits “persons” acting under the color
of law from depriving another of any “rights,
privileges, and immunities secured by the Constitution and
laws . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For a plaintiff to
state a claim under § 1983, the plaintiff “must
first show a violation of the Constitution or of federal law,
and then show that the violation was committed by someone
acting under color of state law.” Atteberry v.
Nocona Gen. Hosp., 430 F.3d 245, 252-53 (5th Cir. 2005).
and cities qualify as “persons” under §
1983. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S.
658, 690, 98 S.Ct. 2018 (1978). To state a claim for
municipal liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must
identify (a) a policymaker, (b) an official policy or custom
or widespread practice, and (c) a violation of constitutional
rights whose “moving force” is the policy or
custom. Id. at 694; see also Piotrowski
v. City of Hous., 237 F.3d 567, 578 (5th Cir. 2001)
(“[M]unicipal liability under section 1983 requires
proof of three elements: a policymaker; an official policy;
and a violation of constitutional rights whose ‘moving
force' is the policy or custom.”).
Individual Defendant Officers' and City of Houston's
Motions to Dismiss
City of Houston and the individual defendant officers filed
motions to dismiss Garcia's second amended complaint for
failure to state a claim, or alternatively, a motion for a
more definite statement. Dkts. 17; 41; 58. The court will
consider Garcia's objection to evidence offered with the
individual defendants officers' motion to dismiss, then
consider the motions to dismiss the Title VII claim and the
§ 1983 claims, and finally turn to the alternative
motions for a more definite statement.
individual defendant officers included the police report as
an exhibit to their motion to dismiss. Dkt. 58, Ex. A. Garcia
objects to the court considering the exhibit. Dkt. 61 at 3.
Additionally, Garcia objects to the individual defendant
officers' recitation of some of the facts that differ
from her allegations in the second amended complaint. Dkt. 61
at 6. For a motion to dismiss, the court accepts all
well-pled facts contained in Garcia's second amended
complaint as true, despite arguments or exhibits disputing
those facts offered in the defendants' motions to
dismiss. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Avondale
Shipyards, 677 F.2d at1050. Therefore, Garcia's
objections (Dkt. 61 at 6) are SUSTAINED.