United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
REGENA HARRIS, et al. Plaintiffs,
HARRIS COUNTY, OFFICER JULIAN ESPINOZA, individually, and SHERIFF RON HICKMAN, individually, Defendants.
VANESSA D. GILMORE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Defendants Harris County and former
Sheriff Ron Hickman's Motion for Summary Judgment.
(Instrument No. 28).
Regena Harris, as next friend of minor D.H., and Keishanti
Price ("Plaintiffs") allege that Defendant Officer
Julian Espinoza ("Espinoza"), originally named as
John Doe, stopped to investigate them while they were inside
a parked car, and inappropriately searched and groped them.
(Instrument No. 1 at 3-4). The originally named Defendants,
Harris County, Harris County Sheriffs Office, former Harris
County Sheriff Ron Hickman, and Espinoza, filed a Partial
Motion to Dismiss, which this Court granted on April 19,
2018. (Instrument No. 21). After the Motion was granted,
Plaintiffs had outstanding claims for excessive force brought
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Espinoza individually,
former Sheriff Ron Hickman ("Hickman")
individually, and Harris County.
November 1, 2018, Harris County and Hickman filed their
Motion for Summary Judgment, contending that Plaintiffs have
no evidence of policy or custom for their Monell
claim against Harris County. (Instrument No. 28 at 9-10).
Harris County and Hickman further assert that qualified
immunity bars Plaintiffs' claim against Hickman in his
individual capacity. Id. at 19-20.
Response generally asserts that Harris County and
Hickman's failure to enforce their dash-cam policy leads
to constitutional violations. (Instrument No. 42 at 10-16).
However, their Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment
fails to respond to the legal issues regarding their
Monell claim or Hickman's defense of qualified
immunity. Failure to properly address another party's
assertion of fact does not necessarily result in the granting
of a motion for summary judgement by default. Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(e). However, the Court has the authority to consider a
fact undisputed when the response fails to address the fact.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2). Accordingly, the Court considers all
fact issues Plaintiffs failed to address in Defendants'
Motion for Summary Judgment as undisputed.
Plaintiffs to prevail in their municipal liability claim,
they must establish (1) a policymaker; (2) an official policy
or custom; and (3) a violation of a constitutional right
whose "moving force" is the policy or custom.
Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 237 F.3d 567, 578
(5th Cir. 2001) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc.
Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978)). In their Response,
Plaintiffs contend that Harris County and Hickman failed to
train their officers on Harris County's dash-cam policy
and failed to enforce their dash-cam policy. (Instrument No.
42 at 10-12). Plaintiffs have not alleged that the failure to
enforce the dash-cam policy is in and of itself the
constitutional deprivation. They have also failed to show
that any alleged failure to enforce the dash-cam policy was
the "moving force" behind the alleged inappropriate
search of Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs must do more than simply
assert that stricter compliance with the dash-cam policy
could have prevented the alleged excessive force. City of
Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 392 (1989) ("In
virtually every instance where a person has had his or her
constitutional rights violated by a city employee, a §
1983 plaintiff will be able to point to something the city
'could have done' to prevent the unfortunate
incident."). Plaintiffs must show a direct causal link
between Harris County's dash-cam practices and the
inappropriate search. Piotrowski, 237 F.3d at 580.
Because Plaintiffs rely on conclusory allegations and
unsubstantiated assertions to support their Monell
claim, Defendants have shown that summary judgment is
appropriate. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d
1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994).
County and Hickman further contend that qualified immunity
bars Plaintiffs' claim against Hickman in his individual
capacity. (Instrument No. 28 at 19-20). To determine whether
qualified immunity applies, a court engages in a two-part
inquiry asking: first, whether taken in the light most
favorable to the party asserting the injury, the facts
alleged show the officer's conduct violated a
constitutional right; and second whether that right was
clearly established. Trammell v. Fruge, 868 F.3d
332, 339 (5th Cir. 2017). Ordinarily, "[p]ersonal
involvement is an essential element of a civil rights cause
of action." Thompson v. Steele, 709 F.2d 381,
382 (5th Cir. 1983). Plaintiffs have presented no evidence
that Hickman personally trained, disciplined or ratified
Defendant Espinoza's conduct, or was otherwise personally
aware of the allegations. Moreover, § 1983 does not hold
supervisory officials liable based on a theory of vicarious
liability. Thompkins v. Belt, 828 F.2d 298, 303-04
(5th Cir. 1987). Because Plaintiffs fail to show a sufficient
causal connection between Hickman and the alleged
constitutional violation, qualified immunity bars their claim
foregoing reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that
Defendants Harris County and former Sheriff Ron Hickman's
Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
(Instrument No. 28).
Plaintiffs' claims against Harris County and former
Sheriff Ron Hickman are DISMISSED. The case
will proceed with ...