United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. MAZZANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Defendant Deputy Langwell's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Dkt. #30). After reviewing the relevant
pleadings and motion, the Court finds the motion should be
denied in part and granted in part.
an excessive force case arising from a dog bite Plaintiff
Guillermo Murillo Molina (“Molina”) sustained
from a Collin County police canine under the control of
Deputy Robert Langwell (“Deputy Langwell”). As a
result of the incident, Plaintiff alleges Defendants Collin
County and Deputy Langwell violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
and Defendant Collin County violated the Texas Tort Claims
January 6, 2015, at approximately 2:30 a.m., Molina and an
alleged accomplice were walking in a neighborhood when a
police officer, Officer Juan Flores (“Officer
Flores”), flashed his lights. Upon seeing the officer,
Molina and the accomplice ran. While the accomplice continued
to run, Molina hid under bushes outside a nearby house. As a
result of the two individuals' running, Officer Flores
called for backup. Subsequently, Deputy Langwell and his
police canine Elo arrived on the scene. Upon arriving,
Officer Flores, Deputy Langwell, and Elo started searching
for Molina. As they approached Molina's hiding spot the
bite apprehension occurred. It is at this point the stories
deviate. Deputy Langwell contends Elo bit Molina as he lay
motionless, facedown, and beneath the bushes. Conversely,
Molina claims after he heard the dog nearby he decided to
surrender and started to stand up and climb over the bush he
used to hide himself. Molina alleges that as he swung his leg
over the bush Elo attacked him, biting him and thrashing
about with Molina's leg in his mouth. In the course of
Elo's biting of Molina, the two tumbled down the incline
of the lawn. Molina asserts that although Deputy Langwell
pulled Elo's leash, he never issued any commands to Elo
or made any other efforts to remove Elo from Molina's
leg. According to Molina, Elo maintained his bite for
approximately fifteen to thirty seconds before finally
result of the underlying facts, on January 6, 2017, Molina
initiated this suit against Defendants (Dkt. #1). On August
18, 2017, Deputy Langwell filed his Motion for Summary
Judgment (Dkt. #30). Subsequently, Molina filed his response
(Dkt. #37) on September 15, 2017. Deputy Langwell, on
September 28, 2017, filed his reply (Dkt. #42), and on
October 5, 2017, Molina filed his sur-reply (Dkt. #52).
purpose of summary judgment is to isolate and dispose of
factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Summary
judgment is proper under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure “if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). A dispute about a material fact is genuine when
“the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
Substantive law identifies which facts are material.
Id. The trial court “must resolve all
reasonable doubts in favor of the party opposing the motion
for summary judgment.” Casey Enters., Inc. v. Am.
Hardware Mut. Ins. Co., 655 F.2d 598, 602 (5th Cir.
the movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating the
absence of a material fact issue. Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 256. But a “good-faith assertion of qualified
immunity alters the usual summary judgment burden of proof,
shifting it to the plaintiff to show that the defense is not
available.” Cass v. City of Abilene, 814 F.3d
721, 728 (5th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation omitted). To
satisfy this burden, the plaintiff must “identify
specific evidence in the summary judgment record
demonstrating that there is a material fact issue concerning
the essential elements of its case for which it will bear the
burden of proof at trial.” Forsyth v. Barr, 19
F.3d 1527, 1533 (5th Cir. 1994). “Conclusory
allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inference,
unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation are
all insufficient to overcome immunity.” Orr v.
Copeland, 844 F.3d 484, 490 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing
Reyes v. Hornbeck Offshore Servs., L.L.C., 383
Fed.Appx. 442, 443-44 (5th Cir. 2010)). However, “where
a factual dispute exist, [the Court] accept[s] the
plaintiff's versions.” Cooper v. Brown,
844 F.3d 517, 522 (5th Cir. 2016).
Langwell argues summary judgment is proper because he is
entitled to qualified immunity. Further, Deputy Langwell
claims Molina is prohibited from recovering punitive damages.
The Court addresses each argument in turn.
immunity provides government officials with immunity from
suit insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a
reasonable person would have known.” Cooper,
844 F.3d at 522 (citations omitted). In determining whether
qualified immunity applies, the Court conducts a two-part
test: “(1) whether the plaintiff has alleged a
violation of an actual constitutional right; and (2) if so,
whether the right was clearly established at the time of the
violation.” Id. “Both questions are
matters of law.” Id. (citing Brothers v.
Zoss, 837 F.3d 513, 517 & n.8 (5th Cir. 2016)).
Violation of an Actual Constitutional Right
alleges Deputy Langwell violated his Fourth Amendment rights
by applying excessive force. To prevail on an excessive-force
claim, Molina must show “(1) injury, (2) which resulted
directly and only from a use of force that was clearly
excessive, and (3) the excessiveness of which was clearly
unreasonable.” Id. (quoting Elizondo v.
Green, 671 F.3d 506, 510 (5th Cir. 2012)).
neither party disagrees that Molina suffered an injury.
Instead, Deputy Langwell contends his application of force
was objectively reasonable. As such, the Court must determine
whether Deputy Langwell acted ...