United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division
MARIA RAMIREZ and PEDRO RAMIREZ, as Representatives of the Estate and Statutory Death Beneficiaries of DANIEL ANTONIO RAMIREZ, Plaintiffs,
RUBEN ESCAJEDA, JR. and CITY OF EL PASO, TEXAS, Defendants.
C. GUADERRAMA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are Defendant City of El Paso, Texas's
(the "City of El Paso") "Rule 12 Motion to
Dismiss Plaintiffs' Original Complaint" ("El
Paso Motion") (ECF No. 8) filed on August 1, 2017, and
Defendant Ruben Escajeda, Jr.'s ("Officer
Escajeda") "Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs'
Original Complaint" ("Escajeda Motion") (ECF
No. 14) filed on August 16, 2017. For the reasons that
follow, the Court DENIES the City of El
Paso's Motion and Officer Escajeda's Motion.
case arises from the circumstances surrounding the death of
Daniel Antonio Ramirez ("Mr. Ramirez"). Plaintiffs
are the parents of Mr. Ramirez. Compl. at 1. Officer Escajeda
was employed as a police officer by the City of El Paso
Police Department ("EPPD") at the time of Mr.
Ramirez's death. Id. at 2. On June 23, 2015, Mr.
Ramirez's mother, Maria Ramirez, called 911 to report
that her son was threatening to hang himself and needed help.
Id. Officer Escajeda was the first officer to
respond to the call. Id. After arriving at the
house, Officer Escajeda proceeded to the backyard to look for
Mr. Ramirez. Id. at 3.
entering the backyard, Plaintiffs allege that Officer
Escajeda saw that Mr. Ramirez was in the process of hanging
himself from a basketball net. Id. Further,
Plaintiffs assert that Officer Escajeda saw Mr. Ramirez
grabbing the rope with both hands and touching the ground
with his tiptoes to try and save his own life. Id.
After seeing Mr. Ramirez struggling to save himself,
Plaintiffs contend that Officer Escajeda deployed his taser
on him, striking him in the chest and abdomen, which caused
his body to go limp. Id. After deploying the taser
and watching Mr. Ramirez's body go limp, Plaintiffs aver
that Officer Escajeda finally removed him from the noose.
time Officer Escajeda removed Mr. Ramirez from the noose,
other officers had arrived, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation
was conducted to no avail. Id. Subsequently, Mr.
Ramirez was transported to Del Sol Medical Center where
efforts to resuscitate him continued, but he was eventually
pronounced deceased. Id. On June 22, 2017,
Plaintiffs filed a complaint before this Court alleging that
Officer Escajeda and the City of El Paso are liable for the
deprivation of Mr. Ramirez's constitutional rights.
Id. at 18-20. By their complaint, Plaintiffs allege
that Officer Escajeda used excessive force against Mr.
Ramirez and further make six distinct allegations asserting
that the City of El Paso was "directly responsible"
for Officer Escajeda's alleged misconduct by:
A) maintaining a policy or custom of excessive force by
officers that is so common and widespread as to constitute a
custom that fairly represents municipal policy;
B) maintaining a policy or custom of excessive force by
officers when the officer is on notice of a victim's
mental health problems that is so common and widespread as to
constitute a custom that fairly represents municipal policy;
C) failing to properly train, supervise, or discipline
members of the [EPPD], including Defendant Escajeda, not to
use intermediate force, such as a taser, against an
individual who does not pose a threat to the officer or
others and does not display active aggression or defensive
D) failing to properly train, supervise, or discipline
members of the [EPPD], including Defendant Escajeda, on
mental health issues and how to properly assess the situation
and take action to de-escalate the situation and bring the
crisis to a non-violent conclusion where their officers have
notice and knowledge that the person for whom they are called
has mental health issues;
E) failing to institute proper procedures to ensure that EPPD
officers use appropriate de-escalation tactics so as to bring
the crisis to a non-violent conclusion in situations in which
it is known that an unarmed resident has mental health
F) failing to pursue criminal or disciplinary charges or
support criminal or disciplinary action against officers,
including Escajeda, who have deprived citizens and residents
of El Paso of their constitutional rights.
Id. Conversely, both Officer Escajeda and the City
of El Paso filed Motions to Dismiss alleging that
Plaintiffs' complaint fails to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted. Escajeda Mot. at 8; El Paso Mot. at
threshold matter, the Court notes the tension between the
holdings in Leatherman and Iqbal. See Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (holding that a
complaint must include enough factual allegations to state a
"plausible" claim for relief); Leatherman v.
Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination
Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993) (holding that plaintiffs
need only state "a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and do
not need to conform to any sort of "heightened pleading
standard ... in civil rights cases alleging municipal
liability"). Courts are split over whether to apply the
"short and plain statement" standard from
Leatherman or the "facial plausibility"
standard from Iqbal; some courts have even adopted a
hybrid approach. See Sanchez v. Gomez, No.
EP-17-CV-133-PRM, 2017 WL 4479260, at *3-4 (W.D. Tex. Oct. 6,
2017) (collecting cases and providing a comprehensive
discussion of the issue). Out of an abundance of caution, the
Court will apply the "facial plausibility" standard
from Iqbal; nonetheless, the Court notes that
using the less-stringent standard from Leatherman
would not change the outcome here.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to seek
dismissal of a claim for "failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted." See Fed. R. Civ.
P. 12(b)(6). On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court generally
accepts well-pleaded facts as true and construes the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
See Gines, 699 F.3d at 816. A viable complaint must
include "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Bell Ail. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). To meet this
"facial plausibility" standard, a plaintiff must
"plead[ ] factual content that allows the court to draw
the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The Court's
task, then, is "to determine whether the plaintiff has
stated a legally cognizable claim that is plausible, not to
evaluate the plaintiffs likelihood of success." Doe
ex rel Magee, 675 F.3d at 854 (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). Moreover, "[m]otions to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) are viewed with disfavor and are
rarely granted." Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc.,
565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks
omitted) (quoting Test Masters Educ. Servs., Inc. v.
Singh, 428 F.3d 559, 570 (5th Cir. 2005)).
City of El Paso and Officer Escajeda both move to dismiss
Plaintiffs' complaint on the basis that they failed to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted. El Paso Mot.
at 3; Escajeda Mot. at 2. By his Motion, Officer Escajeda
alleges that the complaint fails to overcome his qualified
immunity. Escajeda Mot. at 9. Moreover, the City of El Paso
asserts that the complaint fails to plead facts sufficient to
demonstrate municipal liability. El Paso Mot. at 22. The
Court will first analyze Plaintiffs' claims against the
City of El Paso before turning to their claims against
Plaintiffs' Claims against the City of El Paso
assert six specific failures on the part of the City of El
Paso that allegedly caused the deprivation of Mr.
Ramirez's civil rights. Compl. at 18-19. These six
failures can be distilled down to four distinct customs or
policies, which are the City of El Paso's failure to
discipline officers who used excessive force against mentally
ill persons, the City of El Paso's failure to train
officers on how to handle mentally ill persons in crisis, the
City of El Paso's failure to institute proper procedures
for deescalating officer encounters with mentally ill persons