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Scott v. White

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

April 30, 2018

JUSTIN SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
GREG WHITE and THE CITY OF AUSTIN, Defendants.

          ORDER

          ROBERT PITMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Rule 12(c) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings filed by Defendants City of Austin (“the City”) and Gregory White (“White”) (together, “Defendants”), (Dkt. 40), along with the parties' responsive briefing. Having considered the parties' arguments, the evidence, and the applicable law, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny the motion in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Justin Scott (“Scott”) alleges that White, a police officer employed by the Austin Police Department (“APD”), stopped Scott without reasonable suspicion, attacked him without provocation, used excessive force to subdue him, and then arrested him without probable cause. (Second Am. Compl., Dkt. 15, at 3-5). Scott asserts causes of action against White pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) for violations of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. (Id. at 8-13). Scott also asserts Section 1983 claims against the City on the basis of an alleged policy and practice of permitting the use of excessive force and an alleged failure to adequately train or supervise its officers. (Id. at 5-8; 13-17). White asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity. (Second Am. Answer, Dkt. 17, at 8-9).

         Defendants filed the instant motion for judgment on the pleadings on October 19, 2017. (Mot. J. Plead., Dkt. 40). Scott failed to timely respond, (see R. & R., Dkt. 43), but the Court declined to grant Defendants' motion as unopposed and permitted Scott additional time to respond. (Order, Dkt. 50). Scott then timely filed a response, (Dkt. 54), and Defendants replied, (Dkt. 58).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) “is subject to the same standards as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” In re Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC, 624 F.3d 201, 209-10 (5th Cir. 2010). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate only if the complaint fails to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). To satisfy this standard, the complaint must provide more than conclusions, but it “need not contain detailed factual allegations.” Colony Ins. Co. v. Peachtree Const., Ltd., 647 F.3d 248, 252 (5th Cir. 2011). It must, however, allege enough facts to move the claim “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Determining whether the plausibility standard has been met is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Rule 12(b)(6) motions are “viewed with disfavor and . . . rarely granted.” Turner v. Pleasant, 663 F.3d 770, 775 (5th Cir. 2011) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         In deciding a motion to dismiss, a court may consider video evidence attached as an exhibit to the complaint; when doing so, “the court is not required to favor plaintiff's allegations over the video evidence.” Hartman v. Walker, 685 Fed.Appx. 366, 368 (5th Cir. 2017). That said, the standard for adopting video evidence over a plaintiff's allegations “is a demanding one: a court should not discount the nonmoving party's story unless the video evidence provides so much clarity that a reasonable jury could not believe his account.” Darden v. City of Fort Worth, Texas, 880 F.3d 722, 730 (5th Cir. 2018); see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380-81 (2007) (holding that the court should have viewed facts in light of video evidence rather than the plaintiff's allegations where the video so “utterly discredited” the plaintiff's allegations that “no reasonable jury could have believed him”). A court may also consider matters of which it may take judicial notice. Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007). A court may judicially notice a fact that is “not subject to reasonable dispute” because it is either (1) generally known within the trial court's territorial jurisdiction or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy “cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed.R.Evid. 201(b); see also Whitaker v. Collier, 862 F.3d 490, 496 n.10 (5th Cir. 2017).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Scott's Claims against White

         On the morning of February 20, 2015, White was responding to a report of a suspicious person identified as a black female when he drove past Scott, a white male, on the sidewalk of Wheless Lane in Austin, Texas. (Second Am. Compl., Dkt. 15, at 3-4). White pulled over, exited his car, and approached Scott. (Id. at 4). White asked Scott for identification, and Scott responded that he was homeless and that he had just arrived in Austin. (Dashcam Video, Dkt. 15 Ex. A, at 0:50-55). He asked Scott whether he was with a black female and repeated his request for identification; Scott responded that he was alone and that he did not have identification. (Id. at 0:50-1:15). White asked Scott if he had been arrested before, and Scott said that he had. (Id. at 1:15-20). White asked Scott what he had been arrested for; Scott did not answer. (Id. at 1:20-25). White then asked Scott for his name several times, but Scott stood silently without responding. (Id. at 1:25-50).

         At that point, White asked Scott if he had any weapons, which Scott denied. (Id. at 1:50-56). White then reached out, grabbed Scott's left wrist, and instructed him to drop whatever was enclosed in his right fist as Scott stood facing him. (Id. at 1:56). Scott did not drop the item in his right hand;[1] White, still holding Scott's left wrist, repeated his command to put the item down several times. (Id. at 1:57-2:01). The following exchange then occurred:

Scott: “Will you please stop?”
White: “Put it down.”
Scott: “Why are you touching me right now?”
White: “Listen to me.”
Scott: “Stop. Why are you touching me?”
White: “You need to stop.”
Scott: “Stop. You're hurting my hand.”
White: “Put your hands behind your back.”
Scott: “Ow. You're hurting my hand.”
White: “Put your hands behind your ...

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