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Graham v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

December 28, 2017

TERRY GRAHAM, JR., Plaintiff,


          Sam A. Lindsay, United States District Judge

         Before the court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 15), filed January 19, 2016. After considering the motion, response, reply, appendixes, record, and applicable law, and for the reasons that follow, the court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 15).

         I. Factual and Procedural Background[1]

         This is a civil rights action arising out of an encounter between Plaintiff Terry Graham, Jr. (“Plaintiff” or “Graham”) and two Dallas Area Rapid Transit (“DART”) officers, Defendants Fernando Ibarra, Jr. (“Ibarra”) and Jeanne Jones (“Jones”) (sometimes collectively, the “Officers”). On the afternoon of May 11, 2013, Graham left a shopping mall and boarded a DART bus in downtown Dallas, Texas. Graham had not consumed any alcohol that day. While on the bus, he witnessed a man in a gray shirt strike a woman at a bus stop and then run away from the bus toward a McDonald's restaurant near the federal building in downtown Dallas.

         At approximately 4:30 p.m. that same afternoon, Ibarra and Jones responded to a DART police dispatch regarding the assault Graham had witnessed. The dispatch reported that a black male had hit a female with an unknown object and thereafter may have boarded a DART bus. The dispatch described the suspect as wearing a gray shirt and blue jeans, although a later dispatch stated that the suspect may have changed his shirt. As Ibarra and Jones boarded the bus, they walked toward the back where Graham, wearing blue jeans and a light-colored shirt, was sitting. As the Officers approached Graham, Ibarra unholstered his department approved firearm and kept it at his side. He asked Graham for identification. In response, Graham stated: “I am not the guy you are looking for.” Pl.'s Summ. J. App. 71. Graham did not use any profanities in response to Ibarra's questions. Id.[2] Other passengers on the bus also informed the Officers that Graham was not the individual who had committed the assault. Id.

         Ibarra states that at this point in the encounter he noticed that Graham smelled like alcohol and observed that he had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. Defs.' Summ. J. App. 26. Ibarra directed Graham to place his hands behind his back, and Jones handcuffed him. Id. at 18, 26. Ibarra removed Graham from the bus for further questioning. Officer Ibarra then advised Graham he was not a suspect in the assault but was “being arrested for public intoxication due to him being an obvious danger to himself and others.” Id. at 19. Ibarra and Jones then escorted a handcuffed Graham toward a DART patrol car.

         With respect to the ensuing events, the parties have provided the court with a videotape that appears to have been taken by a dash-mounted camera on another patrol car. See Id. at 33; Pl.'s Summ. J. App. 70.[3] Each party represents to the court that the videotape supports his or her version of the facts. “When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). In Scott v. Harris, the Supreme Court reversed an Eleventh Circuit decision to uphold a denial of summary judgment where a videotape captured the events in dispute and the deposition testimony contradicted the videotape. “Respondent's version of events is so utterly discredited by the record that no reasonable jury could have believed him. The Court of Appeals should not have relied on such visible fiction; it should have viewed the facts in the light depicted by the videotape.” Id.

         The court has viewed the videotape numerous times. Unlike the videotape in Scott v. Harris, unless the parties have an enhanced version of the videotape or specialized equipment for viewing the videotape that the court does not have, the court is unable to substantiate either party's version of the events that unfolded as the Officers led Graham toward the patrol car, except as herein described. The videotape is grainy, unclear, and an extremely bright glare on the lens obscures what transpires between the Officers and Graham. The audio portion is garbled and incomprehensible. The videotape, however, shows that Jones did not participate in the use of force as Graham was about to be put into the patrol car and during the ensuing struggle between him and Ibarra. The videotape clearly shows Jones standing by as Ibarra used force. Other than Jones's lack of participation, as the disputed events are too obfuscated to provide support for either the Officers' or Graham's version of the events, the videotape is of little utility to the court. Accordingly, the court will consider it only in assessing the lack of Jones's use of force during the struggle between Ibarra and Graham that occurred near the back door of the patrol car. Further, and as set out more fully below in its discussion of the parties' evidence, to the extent Defendants' retained and nonretained experts rely on their viewing of the videotape to support their opinions, the court will not consider this testimony, as it is inherently unreliable.

         According to Defendants' version of the ensuing events, as Ibarra escorted Graham toward the back seat of the patrol car, Graham stepped onto the door sill and pushed back with force, causing him and Ibarra to lose balance and fall onto the concrete sidewalk. Graham kept kicking while on the sidewalk, striking Jones with his legs and injuring her, and biting Ibarra on the hand. Ibarra, believing Graham to be a danger to himself and others, deployed his Oleoresin Capsicum Spray (“OC Spray”). See Defs.' Summ. J. Br. 2. In support of their version, the Officers rely on their statements and incident reports, their deposition testimony, the report of Officer Roy Wilt with the Office of Professional Standards (“OPS”), the Affidavit of DART's Chief of Police James D. Spiller, the report of Defendants' retained expert, Albert Ortiz, and Graham's own deposition testimony admitting to repeatedly kicking his legs while he was on the sidewalk. Defs.' Summ. J. App. 3-17, 19, 21-22, 27-32, 34-36, 69-70, 124-25, 150, 193-204.

         According to Graham's version, once near the patrol car, the Officers, without justification, slammed him to the ground, and severely beat, struck and injured him, even though he did not resist, hit, strike, attempt to flee, bite, or in any way pose a threat to the Officers. While Graham concedes he was kicking his legs after he was on the ground, he contends that Ibarra had his knee on Graham's neck, and provides evidence that his kicking “stem[s] from [him] flailing his legs as Ibarra choked the life out of him.” Pl.'s Summ. J. Resp. Br. 9. In support of his version, Graham relies on the emergency room records from Parkland Hospital showing extensive facial injuries (Pl.'s Summ. J. App. 1-65), his own affidavit submitted in support of his response to the motion for summary judgment (id. at 71), as well as his deposition testimony where he states that Ibarra had his knee on his neck and he was kicking his legs because Ibarra “was choking the hell out of [him].” Id. at 75-76. In support of his contention that he never bit Ibarra, Graham points out that the incident report completed by Ibarra at 4:32 p.m. on May 11, 2013, shortly after the incident, does not list Ibarra as a victim or contain any reference to him being injured during the encounter with Graham. Id. at 68-69.

         Dallas Emergency Medical Services (“EMS”) was called to treat Graham for injuries at the scene, including for the effects of the OC Spray. Graham was then transported to the Dallas County Jail, but his injuries were severe enough that it would not accept him. Graham was then transported to Parkland Hospital for medical treatment of his injuries. The emergency room records show that in addition to burning eyes caused by the OC Spray, Graham suffered a two-centimeter laceration under his left eye, swelling of the left cheek, a left medial nasal fracture, bruising all over his face, and a small laceration to his inner lower lip. Id. at 7, 10. The emergency room records make no mention of alcohol, the smell of alcohol, or Graham's alleged intoxication. Once discharged the following day, May 12, 2014, Graham was transported back to the Dallas County Jail where he was booked for assault of a public servant under cause number F13-16626. Defs.' Summ. J. App. 31-32.

         On May 20, 2013, Graham filed a complaint with the DART Police Department's OPS against Ibarra for using excessive force during his arrest. Roy Wilt, who was assigned to the OPS, conducted an Internal Affairs investigation and found that DART Police policy violations were not committed and concluded that “Officer Ibarra used only the amount of force necessary.” Id. at 8.

         On November 1, 2013, a Dallas County Grand Jury indicted Graham for assault of a public servant in cause number F13-16626. Ultimately, cause number F13-16626 was dismissed by the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. The Officers did not testify before the grand jury on the felony charge against Graham.

         On December 16, 2014, Graham brought this lawsuit against DART, Ibarra, and Jones, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights.[4] Specifically, he brings claims against the Officers under the Fourth Amendment for “false arrest and/or false imprisonment, ” unlawful detention or seizure, and malicious prosecution. Compl. ¶¶ 24, 29-31. Graham also contends the Officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by using clearly excessive force after he was already handcuffed and under arrest, causing him bodily injury, and by failing to intervene to protect him from harm. Id. ¶¶ 21-23.[5] Although not entirely clear, in addition to the Fourth Amendment, Graham appears to be alleging that the Officers violated his First Amendment right to free speech in connection with their alleged use of excessive force, “in light of such force being in response to First Amendment speech alone[.]” Id. ¶ 21(a). Further, Graham sues Defendant DART pursuant to section 1983, alleging it has a custom, policy, or practice of allowing its officers to engage in excessive force and make arrests without probable cause, and that it failed to adequately train its officers in the use of force. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. In addition to his federal claims under section 1983, Graham brings state law tort claims against Ibarra and Jones for intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”), false arrest and false imprisonment, and assault and battery. Id. ¶¶ 32-39. Graham seeks compensatory damages against Defendants, jointly and severally, punitive damages against the Officers, as well as attorney's fees, prejudgment and postjudgment interest, and costs.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment shall be granted when the record shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986); Ragas v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998). A dispute regarding a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve all disputed facts in favor of the nonmoving party. Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). Further, a court “may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence” in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254-55.

         Once the moving party has made an initial showing that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the party opposing the motion must come forward with competent summary judgment evidence of the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). On the other hand, “if the movant bears the burden of proof on an issue, either because he is the plaintiff or as a defendant he is asserting an affirmative defense, he must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense to warrant judgment in his favor.” Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986) (emphasis in original). “[When] the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine [dispute] for trial.'” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. (citation omitted). Mere conclusory allegations are not competent summary judgment evidence, and thus are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Eason v. Thaler, 73 F.3d 1322, 1325 (5th Cir. 1996). Unsubstantiated assertions, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation are not competent summary judgment evidence. See Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1533 (5th Cir. 1994).

         The party opposing summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate the precise manner in which that evidence supports his or her claim. Ragas, 136 F.3d at 458. Rule 56 does not impose a duty on the court to “sift through the record in search of evidence” to support the nonmovant's opposition to the motion for summary judgment. Id.; see also Skotak v. Tenneco Resins, Inc., 953 F.2d 909, 915-16 & n.7 (5th Cir. 1992). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing laws will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Disputed fact issues that are “irrelevant and unnecessary” will not be considered by a court in ruling on a summary judgment motion. Id. If the nonmoving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to its case and on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment must be granted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

         III. Analysis

         A. Section 1983 Claims Against DART

         A governmental entity can be sued and subjected to monetary damages and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 only if its official policy or custom causes a person to be deprived of a federally protected right. Board of the Cty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997); Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). A governmental entity cannot be liable for civil rights violations under a theory of respondeat superior or vicarious liability. Id.; see also Baskin v. Parker, 602 F.2d 1205, 1208 (5th Cir. 1979). DART has been recognized as a municipal entity subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Craig v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 504 F. App'x 328, 334 (5th Cir. 2012); see also Williams v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 242 F.3d 315, 319-20 (5th Cir. 2001) (holding that DART is a municipal entity rather than an arm of the state).

         For purposes of section 1983, official policy is defined as:

1. A policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision that is officially adopted and promulgated by [DART's] lawmaking officers or by an official to whom the lawmakers have delegated policy-making authority; or
2. A persistent, widespread practice of [DART] officials or employees which, although not authorized by officially adopted and promulgated policy, is so common and well-settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents [DART] policy. Actual or constructive knowledge of such custom must be attributable to the governing body of [DART] or to an official to whom that body had delegated policy-making authority.

Webster v. City of Houston, 735 F.2d 838, 841 (5th Cir. 1984) (en banc); Bennett v. City of Slidell, 735 F.2d 861, 862 (5th Cir. 1984) (en banc). A plaintiff must identify the policy, connect the policy to the governmental entity itself, and show that his injury was incurred because of the application of that specific policy. Bennett v. City of Slidell, 728 F.2d 762, 767 (5th Cir. 1984). A plaintiff must establish that the governmental entity through its deliberate conduct was the “moving force behind the injury alleged” and must establish a direct causal link between the governmental entity's action and the deprivation of a federally protected right. Bryan County v. Brown, 520 U.S. at 404.

         Liability must rest on official policy, meaning the governmental entity's policy, and not the policy of an individual official. Bennett, 728 F.2d at 769. The official complained of must possess

[f]inal authority to establish [DART] policy with respect to the action ordered. . . . The official must also be responsible for establishing final government policy respecting such activity before [DART] can be held liable. . . . [W]hether an official had final policymaking authority is a question of state law.

Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481-82 (1986). An employee, agency, or board of a governmental entity is not a policymaker unless the governmental entity, through its lawmakers, has delegated exclusive policymaking authority to that employee, agency, or board and cannot review the action or decision of the employee, agency or board. See City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988); Worsham v. City of Pasadena, 881 F.2d 1336, 1340-41 (5th Cir. 1989).

         The policy or custom relied upon to establish liability may include the inaction of official policymakers but only when such inaction constitutes “deliberate indifference” to the rights of the plaintiff, and such indifference is a “closely related” cause of the plaintiff's injuries. City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388, 391 (1989). The failure or inaction regarding the discipline, supervision, or training of municipal employees “must amount to an intentional choice, not merely an unintentionally negligent oversight.” Rhyne v. Henderson Cty., 973 F.2d 386, 392 (5th Cir. 1992) (citing City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 390).

         The type and quantum of proof a plaintiff must offer to establish deliberate indifference vary, however, with the type of inaction alleged and with the identity of the wrongdoer. When the wrongdoer is a policymaking official, a single act will suffice, if deliberate indifference and causation are established. See, e.g., Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 481 (“[W]here action is directed by those who establish governmental policy, the municipality is equally responsible whether that action is to be taken only once or to be taken repeatedly.”). When the challenge relates to a custom of behavior among nonpolicymaking employees, which may be contrary to official policy, the plaintiff cannot rely on a single instance of unconstitutional conduct, but must demonstrate “at least a pattern of similar incidents in which the citizens were injured . . . to establish the official policy requisite to municipal liability under section 1983.” Snyder v. Trepagnier, 142 F.3d 791, 798 (5th Cir. 1998) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Isolated violations are not persistent, often repeated constant violations that constitute custom or policy. Bennett, 728 F.2d at 768 n.3. In such “custom” cases, “where the violations are flagrant or severe, the fact finder will likely require a shorter pattern of the conduct to be satisfied that diligent governing body members would necessarily have learned of the objectionable practice and acceded to its continuation.” Id. at 768.

         Graham contends that DART is liable under section 1983 because it had a policy or custom that led to the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. He alleges DART “sanctioned the custom, practice and/or policy or procedure of illegal seizures, excessive force and/or violating [the] right[] to be free of unwanton [sic] seizure.” Pl.'s Compl. § 26. According to Plaintiff's pleadings, “Ibarra and Jones's actions were a customary practice and/or policy or procedure that was sanctioned by DART” and such actions deprived him of his civil rights. Graham further alleges that, although assaults, beatings, and injury to citizens by DART police officers were not a policy or custom that was officially adopted by DART, the practice was so common and well-settled that it constitutes an official policy or custom, and DART had constructive knowledge of the “unspoken policy.” Id. Graham also contends that DART is liable under section 1983 for its failure to adequately train its police officers.

         In support of its motion for summary judgment, DART argues that it has adequate policies and procedures that ensure fair and humane treatment of all persons in its custody, as shown by the DART Police Department's Code of Conduct, which provides:

All officers shall protect the rights of any person held in custody and no officer shall verbally abuse or use unnecessary force or violence against any such person.
No officer shall willfully mistreat or give inhumane treatment to any person held in custody.
Officers shall use only the reasonable amount of force necessary in effecting an arrest and maintaining custody of prisoners.

         Defs.' Summ. J. App. 45-46. DART contends that Graham has failed to come forward with any evidence or identify: “an official DART policy or custom”; a DART policymaker with final DART policymaking authority; or that the alleged official policy or custom of DART was the moving force of the alleged constitutional violations; or a pattern or practice of DART of constitutional violations sufficient to establish a persistent widespread practice of DART “that is so common and well settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents governmental policy.” Defs.' Summ. J. Br. 7. In addition, DART contends there is no evidence that it sanctioned or ratified any policy or custom about which Graham complains. Finally, DART contends that the evidence establishes that Ibarra and Jones meet the legal minimum training requirements for police officers in Texas, including successfully completing the Basic Peace Officer training requirements of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (“TCOLE”), and that Graham has failed to show that their training was inadequate. Id. at 20 (“Graham has presented no evidence DART's training requirements for police officers fail to meet minimum state standards or that the training from the N. Central Texas Regional Police Academy was somehow deficient or inadequate and there is no genuine [dispute] of material fact on this claim.”).

         The court recognizes that this litigation is at the summary judgment stage; however, before the court considers the summary judgment evidence, a plaintiff must have sufficiently pleaded a claim against a party. Plaintiff's Complaint fails to allege sufficiently that a policy of custom of DART was a moving force behind his alleged injury, much less produce competent summary judgment evidence to establish that he was injured as a result of an unconstitutional policy of DART. To defeat “a motion to dismiss, a complaint's ‘description of a policy or custom and its relationship to the underlying constitutional violation . . . cannot be conclusory; it must contain specific facts.'” Balle v. Nueces Cty., Tex., 690 F. App'x 847, 852 (5th Cir. 2017) (quoting Spiller v. City of Tex. City, Police Dep't, 130 F.3d 162, 167 (5th Cir. 1997)). In other words, the pleadings are adequate with respect to a section 1983 claim against a municipality when they set forth “specific factual allegations that allow a court to reasonably infer that a policy or practice exists and that the alleged policy of practice was the moving force” for the constitutional violation asserted. Id. (citation omitted). Graham has not even met this low pleading threshold, as his pleadings are entirely conclusory, which alone constitutes a basis for dismissal of his claims against DART.

         In any event, in his response, Graham fails to address his section 1983 claim against DART, much less respond to any of DART's arguments in support of its motion for summary judgment. Although Graham's failure to respond to DART's arguments in support of summary judgment does not permit the court to enter a “default” summary judgment on his section 1983 claims against DART, the court is permitted to accept DART's evidence as undisputed. Bookman v. Subzda, 945 F.Supp. 999, 1002 (N.D. Tex. 1996) (Fitzwater, J.). Further, “a summary judgment nonmovant who does not respond to the motion is relegated to [his] unsworn pleadings, which do not constitute summary judgment evidence.” Id. (citing Solo Serve Corp. v. Westowne Associates, 929 F.2d 160, 165 (5th Cir. 1991)); see also Larry v. White, 929 F.2d 206, 211 n.12 (5th Cir. 1991) (“Unsworn pleadings, memoranda, or the like are not, of course, competent summary judgment evidence.”). As Graham's Complaint is not verified, the court may not consider it in determining whether he has raised a genuine dispute of material fact.

         Having considered the summary judgment evidence provided by DART, and pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e), DART's motion for summary judgment must be granted because Graham has failed to provide even a scintilla of evidence to support his claims against DART. By not responding to DART's arguments and submitting any evidence in support of his section 1983 claims against DART, Graham has failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact as to DART's contentions and undisputed evidence supporting its motion for summary judgment, and DART is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly, the court will grant DART's motion for summary judgment and enter judgment in DART's favor regarding Graham's section 1983 claims against it.

         Alternatively, the court concludes that Graham has abandoned or waived his section 1983 claims against DART. When a party fails to pursue a claim or defense beyond the party's initial complaint, the claim is deemed abandoned or waived. Black v. Panola Sch. Dist., 461 F.3d 584, 588 n.1 (5th Cir. 2006) (plaintiff abandoned claim when she failed to defend claim in response to motion to dismiss); Keenan v. Tejeda, 290 F.3d 252, 262 (5th Cir. 2002) (noting that “an issue raised in the complaint but ignored at summary judgment may be deemed waived[]”) (citation omitted). As Graham failed to pursue his section 1983 claims against DART, they are no longer before the court, and he has abandoned or waived them. Accordingly, in addition to the reasons set forth previously, Graham's abandonment or waiver constitutes an alternative ground for granting summary judgment in DART's favor.[6]

         B. Claims Under Section 1983 Against Ibarra and Jones

         Graham alleges Ibarra and Jones violated his right to be free from unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment by: (i) unlawfully detaining him; (ii) arresting him without probable cause; (iii) using excessive and unreasonable force during his arrest; and (iv) maliciously prosecuting him for assault on a police officer.[7]

         The Officers contend they are entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity with respect to these claims.[8] In support, the Officers rely on the evidence submitted in the appendix to their motion, which includes the Affidavit of Albert Ortiz (“Ortiz Affidavit”), their retained expert, as well as his “Expert Opinion Report” (“expert report”), and the Affidavit of James Spiller (“Spiller Affidavit”), a nonretained expert.

         Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides guidance on the admissibility of expert testimony:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

         The Supreme Court has held that Rule 702 requires the district court to act as a “gatekeeper” to ensure that “any and all scientific evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable.” Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993). Further, the Court clarified that the Daubert gatekeeping function applies to all forms of expert testimony, not just scientific. Kuhmo Tire Company v. Carmichael 526 U.S. 137, 141 (1998). The district court fulfills its role as gatekeeper by screening the proposed evidence and evaluating it in light of the specific circumstances of the case to ensure that it is reliable and sufficiently relevant to assist the jury in resolving the factual disputes. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-93.[9] The Fifth Circuit on more than one occasion has reminded district courts of their important gatekeeping functions. See Carlson v. Bioremedi Therapeutic Sys., Inc., 822 F.3d 194, 199 (5th Cir. 2016); In re Air Crash Disaster at New Orleans, La., 795 F.2d 1230, 1233 (5th Cir. 1986) (“Our point is that the ultimate issue in such cases can too easily become whatever an expert witness says it is, and trial courts must be wary lest the expert become nothing more than an advocate of policy before the jury. Stated more directly, the trial judge ought to insist that a proffered expert bring to the jury more than the lawyers can offer in argument.”).

         As part of its obligation as a gatekeeper, prior to analyzing the parties' arguments on summary judgment, the court first addresses whether Ortiz's and Spillers's respective opinions meet the requirements for expert testimony under Rule 702, Daubert, and Kuhmo Tire.

         1. ...

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