United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. MAZZANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Defendant Collin County's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Dkt. #31). After reviewing the relevant
pleadings and motion, the Court finds the motion should be
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, Collin County filed its Motion for Summary Judgment
(Dkt. #31). Subsequently, Molina filed his response (Dkt.
#38) on September 15, 2017, and Collin County, on September
28, 2017, filed its reply (Dkt. #43).
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.
party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of
informing the court of its motion and identifying
“depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations
(including those made for purposes of the motion only),
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials”
that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); Celotex, 477 U.S. at
323. If the movant bears the burden of proof on a claim or
defense for which it is moving for summary judgment, it must
come forward with evidence that establishes “beyond
peradventure all of the essential elements of the
claim or defense.” Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780
F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986). Where the nonmovant bears
the burden of proof, the movant may discharge the burden by
showing that there is an absence of evidence to support the
nonmovant's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325;
Byers v. Dall. Morning News, Inc., 209 F.3d 419, 424
(5th Cir. 2000). Once the movant has carried its burden, the
nonmovant must “respond to the motion for summary
judgment by setting forth particular facts indicating there
is a genuine issue for trial.” Byers, 209 F.3d
at 424 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49). A
nonmovant must present affirmative evidence to defeat a
properly supported motion for summary judgment.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257. Mere denials of material
facts, unsworn allegations, or arguments and assertions in
briefs or legal memoranda will not suffice to carry this
burden. Rather, the Court requires “significant
probative evidence” from the nonmovant to dismiss a
request for summary judgment. In re Mun. Bond Reporting
Antitrust Litig., 672 F.2d 436, 440 (5th Cir. 1982)
(quoting Ferguson v. Nat'l Broad. Co., 584 F.2d
111, 114 (5th Cir. 1978)). The Court must consider all of the
evidence but “refrain from making any credibility
determinations or weighing the evidence.” Turner v.
Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir.
County argues summary judgment is proper because: (1) there
is no constitutionally deficient policy, practice, or custom
of Collin County that caused the purported violation of any
of Molina's secured rights; (2) Deputy Langwell is
entitled to qualified immunity, which makes Collin County
equally immune; (3) Molina failed to provide Collin County
with the appropriate notice of its state law claims; (4)
punitive damages are not recoverable against Collin County
under either Federal or State law; and (5) medical expenses
or medical costs are not recoverable because Molina did not
incur any. The Court addresses each argument in turn.
Constitutionally Deficient Policy, Practice, or
averring that Molina's federal claims fail as a matter of
law, Collin County makes four different arguments.
Specifically, Collin County claims: (a) it is not vicariously
liable for the purported unconstitutional acts committed by
its employees; (b) that it did not fail to adequately
supervise or train its officers; (c) that compliance with the
Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (“TCOLE”)
bars Molina's failure to train claim; and (d) that Collin
County did not act with deliberate indifference in training
its employees. The Court addresses each argument in turn.
1983 provides for liability to be imposed upon any person
who, acting under the color of state law, deprives another of
rights or privileges secured by the Constitution. It is well
settled that local government units are ‘persons'
within the meaning of this statute.” Worsham v.
City of Pasadena, 881 F.2d 1336, 1339 (5th Cir. 1989).
“To hold a municipality liable under § 1983 for
the misconduct of an employee, a plaintiff must show, in
addition to a constitutional violation, that an official
policy promulgated by the municipality's policymaker was
the moving force behind, or actual cause of, the
constitutional injury.” James v. Harris Cty.,
577 F.3d 612, 617 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Piotrowski v.
City of Houston, 237 F.3d 567, 578 (5th Cir. 2001)).
“The official policy itself must be unconstitutional
or, if not, must have been adopted with deliberate
indifference to the known or obvious fact that such
constitutional violations would result.” Id.
(citing Johnson v. Deep E. Tex. Reg'l Narcotics
Trafficking Task Force, 379 F.3d 293, 309 (5th Cir.
2004)). While an “official policy” can arise in
various forms, “[i]t usually exists in the form of
written policy statements, ordinances, or regulations, but
may also arise in the form of a widespread practice that is
‘so common and well settled as to constitute a custom
that fairly represents municipal policy.'”
Id. (quoting Piotrowski, 237 F.3d at 579).
“Although an official policy can render a municipality
culpable, there can be no municipal liability unless it is
the moving force behind the constitutional violation.”
Id. (citation omitted). “In other words, a
plaintiff must show direct causation, i.e., that there was a
‘direct causal link' between the policy and the
County claims the law prohibits vicarious liability under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 for the purported unconstitutional acts
committed by its employees. Molina states that he “is
not seeking to hold Defendant vicariously liable. Rather,
Defendant is liable for its own actions and inaction and the
customs and policies it maintained.” (Dkt. #38 at p.
are not liable for the unconstitutional actions of their
employees under respondeat superior.” Groden v.
City of Dallas, 826 F.3d 280, 283 (5th Cir. 2016)
(citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S.
658, 694 (1978)). “Instead, to establish municipal
liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that (1)
an official policy (2) promulgated by the municipal
policymaker (3) was the moving force behind the violation of
a constitutional right.” Id. (citing
Peterson v. City of Fort Worth, 588 F.3d 838, 847
(5th Cir. 2009)).
Collin County's argument that vicarious liability does
not apply in this case is correct, the Court finds it is
misplaced. As explained above, Molina is not ...