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James v. City of West Columbia

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

February 21, 2018

LATEAA JAMES, Plaintiff,
CITY OF WEST COLUMBIA, et al, Defendants.



         Lateaa James filed this lawsuit against the City of West Columbia, City Manager Debbie Sutherland, Lieutenant Darryl R. Tiner of the West Columbia Police Department, Officer Michael Glaspie of the West Columbia Police Department, and Officer Pena of the West Columbia Police Department.

         James' live pleading is her Fourth Amended Complaint. Dkt. 45. She alleges that, on May 29, 2009, when she was 13 years old, her mother brought her to the West Columbia Police Department to seek help from police officers "in convincing James to take her psychotropic medication." But, according to James, "[t]he afternoon ended with Lateaa James being arrested, handcuffed, battered, and tased a minimum of six (6) times." James therefore brought this lawsuit, asserting state law causes of action individually against Officer Tiner for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress, libel, and slander, as well as federal and state law claims against the City and Police Department under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, negligence and gross negligence. She complaints of assault, excessive force, wrongful seizure, deprivation of due process, deprivation of medical attention, violations of First Amendment freedom of speech, abuse of office, official oppression, and negligence under the Texas Tort Claims Act. She also also alleges that the Police Officers and City employees then wrongly pressed criminal charges against her, in an act of malicious prosecution, and that these charges "were false and placed on her in an effort to cover up their unconstitutional actions."

         This Court has dismissed most of the claims alleged by James, with the exception of one: her excessive force claim against Defendant Dairy 1 Tiner in his individual capacity. Dkt. 44. Now, Defendant Tiner has filed a motion for summary judgment, particularly focusing on his assertion of qualified immunity. Dkt. 78.

         After considering the motion, the response, the evidence in the summary judgment record, and the record of this case as a whole, the Court finds that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that Defendant Tiner's motion for summary judgment should be GRANTED.


         Summary judgment is appropriate where "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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is "material" if its resolution in favor of one party might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., Ml U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue or dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. If the movant demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-movant to provide "specific facts" showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In deciding a summary judgment motion, the reviewing court must "construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Dillon v. Rogers, 596 F.3d 260, 266 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). However, the non-movant cannot avoid summary judgment simply by presenting "conclusory allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation." Jones v. Lowndes County, 678 F.3d 344, 348 (5th Cir. 2012); see also Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (a non-movant cannot demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence).

         The nonmovant must identify specific evidence in the record and articulate how that evidence supports that party's claim. Baranowski v. Hart, 486 F.3d 112, 119 (5th Cir. 2007). Though courts are to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant, "a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or 'only a scintilla of evidence.'" Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc)). Instead, "[t]he 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 v. Tenn. Gas Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998); see also Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 ("Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.") (emphasis in original).

         Additionally, allegations in a plaintiffs complaint are not evidence. Wallace v. Texas Tech Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996) ("[P]leadings are not summary judgment evidence."); Johnston v. City of Houston, Tex., 14 F.3d 1056, 1060 (5th Cir. 1995) (for the party opposing the motion for summary judgment, "only evidence-not argument, not facts in the complaint-will satisfy the burden"), citing Solo Serve Corp. v. Westown Assoc, 929 F.2d 160, 164 (5th Cir. 1991); see also Douglass v. United Servs. Auto. Ass'n, 79 F.3d 1415, 1429 (5th Cir. 1996) (en banc) ("[C]onclusory allegations, speculation, and unsubstantiated assertions are inadequate to satisfy the nonmovant's burden."); Grizzle v. Travelers Health Network, Inc., 14 F.3d 261, 268 (5th Cir. 1994) (noting that an employee's "self-serving generalized testimony stating her subjective belief that discrimination occurred ... is simply insufficient to support a jury verdict in plaintiffs favor"); Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1266 (5th Cir. 1991) ("Summary judgment, to be sure, may be appropriate, '[e]ven in cases where elusive concepts such as motive or intent are at issue, ... if the nonmoving party rests merely upon conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation." (quoting Medina-Munoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990)) (alteration in original)).

         Further, as noted above, parties have the obligation to specifically point out the evidence upon which they rely. Rule 56(c)(1) provides that "[a] party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); Am. Fam. Life Assur. Co. of Columbus v. Biles, 714 F.3d 887, 896 (5th Cir. 2013). Under Rule 56(c)(3), "[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). The Fifth Circuit has explained that, "Rule 56 does not impose upon the district court a duty to sift through the record in search of evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment." Adams v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Conn., 465 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2006); see also Nissho-Iwai Am. Corp. v. Kline, 845 F.2d 1300, 1307 (5th Cir. 1988) (concluding that a deposition "was never made part of the competent summary judgment record before the district court" because the party opposing summary judgment "failed to designate, or in any way refer to, the deposition as the source of factual support" for its response to the summary judgment motion).


         Section 1983 enables persons who have been "depriv[ed] of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States by the actions of a person or entity operating under color of state law to seek redress from those state actors responsible for the deprivations. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. But qualified immunity insulates those government officials "from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982).

         A. Summary Judgment: Qualified Immunity

         As the Fifth Circuit recently noted, "the Supreme Court "mandated a two-step sequence for resolving government officials' qualified immunity claims.'" Darden v. City of Fort Worth, Texas,880 F.3d 722, 727-28 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing Pearson v. Callahan,555 U.S. 223, 232, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009)). The court must determine (1) "whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged ... make out a violation of a constitutional right" and (2) "whether the right at issue was 'clearly established' at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct." Id. "A right may be clearly established without 'a case directly on point, ' but 'existing precedent must ...

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