United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. HANKS JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by
Defendants Sergeant Herbert Graves (“Sergeant
Graves”) and Officers Ronnie Driver (“Officer
Driver”), Jeffrey Dagle (“Officer Dagle”),
and Joe Duenez (“Officer Duenez”) (collectively
“Galveston Defendants”). Dkt. 25. After
considering the motion, the response, the evidence in the
summary judgment record, and the record of this case as a
whole, the Court GRANTS the Galveston
Defendants' motion for summary judgment.
Melanie Spoon went to buy a car from All American Chevrolet
of Odessa (“All American”). Dkt. 23 at ¶ 17.
She drove the car from the Odessa dealership to Galveston.
Id. All American demanded that Spoon return the car,
but she refused. Id. at ¶¶ 17-22. Pete
Estrada (“Estrada”) of All American reported to
the Odessa Police Department that the car had been stolen.
Id. at ¶ 25. Sergeant Monise of the Odessa
Police Department entered the car into a law enforcement
computer system-the Texas Crime Information Center &
Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunications System
(“TCIC”)-as a stolen vehicle. Id.
reports show that by 2:12 PM on April 8, 2016, the car had
been entered into the system as stolen. Dkt. 25-7. At
approximately 2:35 PM on the same day, officers from the
Galveston Police Department met with Melanie and Cal Spoon
(collectively “the Spoons”) at their business to
talk to them about the car. Dkt. 23 at ¶ 23. After
speaking with the Spoons, the officers decided that the
dispute over the ownership of the car was a civil matter and
left. Id. at ¶ 24. Among the officers at the
scene was Officer Driver. Later that afternoon, Officer
Driver learned from Estrada that the car had been reported as
stolen to the Odessa Police Department. Id. at
¶ 25. Officer Driver spoke with his supervisor, Sergeant
Graves, about what to do next. At about 3:40 PM, Officer
Driver returned to the Spoon's business followed later by
Sergeant Graves and Officers Dagle and Duenez. Id.
at ¶ 28; see also Dkt. 25-2.
recording from Officer Driver's police vehicle shows Cal
Spoon telling Officer Driver and Sergeant Graves,
“Nobody is taking the car.” Dkt.
25-2. Sergeant Graves told Cal Spoon that the
officers had come to recover the car because it had been
reported as stolen. Id. Sergeant Graves also told
Cal Spoon, “If the car is here, we have to tow
it.” Id. Cal Spoon then stood at the door,
directly in front of Sergeant Graves and Officer Driver, and
said, “You can't come into my property without me
saying so.” Id. Cal Spoon was subsequently
handcuffed for about 15 minutes, and Sergeant Graves ordered
the car to be towed away. Dkt. 23 at ¶ 28; Dkt. 25-2.
Spoons have brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against the Galveston Defendants alleging that their actions
to have the car towed away and to detain Cal Spoon violated
the Spoons' rights guaranteed by the Fourth, Fifth, and
Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. In
their pending motion for summary judgment, the Galveston
Defendants assert that they are entitled to qualified
immunity from this suit. Specifically, they assert that their
actions did not violate clearly established law because 1)
the Galveston Defendants' actions to have the car towed
away and to detain Cal Spoon were reasonable and 2) they did
not use excessive force in handcuffing Spoon. For the reasons
stated below, the Court finds that the Galveston
Defendants' motion for summary judgment should be
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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d
265 (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., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202
(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 nonmovant 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, 106
S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). 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 nonmovant
cannot avoid summary judgment simply by presenting
“conclusory allegations and denials, speculation,
improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and
legalistic argumentation.” 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); Adams v.
Travelers Indem. Co. of Conn., 465 F.3d 156, 164 (5th
Cir. 2006) (“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.”). Also, the Court gives “greater
weight, even at the summary judgment stage, to the facts
evident from video recordings taken at the scene.”
Griggs v. Brewer, 841 F.3d 308, 312 (5th Cir. 2016)
(citing Carnaby v. City of Houston, 636 F.3d 183,
187 (5th Cir. 2011)).
in a plaintiff's 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. Westowne Assoc., 929 F.2d 160, 164 (5th Cir.
1991). Additionally, “self-serving statements, without
more, will not defeat a motion for summary judgment,
particularly one supported by plentiful contrary
evidence.” Smith v. Sw. Bell Tel. Co., 456
Fed.Appx. 489, 492 (5th Cir. 2012).
Fifth Circuit recently noted, “The Supreme Court has
‘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 have placed the statutory or constitutional question
beyond debate.'” Id. (citing Hanks v.
Rogers, 853 F.3d 738, 746- 47 (5th Cir. 2017)).
official raises the defense of qualified immunity, “the
burden then shifts to the plaintiff, who must rebut the
defense by establishing a genuine fact issue as to whether
the official's allegedly wrongful conduct violated
clearly established law.” Brown v. Callahan,
623 F.3d 249, 253 (5th Cir. 2010). Still, at the summary
judgment stage, this Court must “view the facts in the
light most favorable to … the nonmoving party.”
City & Cty. of San Francisco v. Sheehan, ----
U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1765, 1769, 191 L.Ed.2d 856 (2015).
“The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and
all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his
favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
However, the nonmovant must “come forward with specific
facts indicating a genuine issue for trial” and cannot
merely rely on the allegations in the complaint. Vela v.
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