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Railsback v. Escalante

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

May 22, 2019

JULIE ESCALANTE, et al., Defendants.


          Nancy K. Johnson, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before the court[1] are the following motions: Defendant City of Baytown's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 9); Defendant Ignacio Ramirez's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 10), ; Defendant Michael Garner's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 11); Defendant Julie Escalante's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 12); Defendant Cris Curry's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 13); Defendant Karen Rodriguez's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 14); Defendant Bryan Thompson's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 15) and Defendant C. Keith Dougherty's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 16). Plaintiff has filed no response to these motions. For the reasons discussed below, it is RECOMMENDED that the motions be GRANTED.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was involved in a traffic accident in February 2017 and was issued a citation to appear in municipal court within fifteen days to answer the charge.[2] Plaintiff did not appear until May 2, 2017.[3] When Defendant Municipal Court Judge Julie Escalante (“Judge Escalante”) asked for his plea, Plaintiff attempted to ask her a question, prompting Judge Escalante to interrupt him and enter a plea of not guilty on his behalf.[4]

         Plaintiff complains that Judge Escalante failed to give Plaintiff a copy of the charges, failed to advise him of the penalties he faced, failed to advise him of his constitutional rights, and failed to set a trial date at his arraignment.[5] After the arraignment, Plaintiff met with Defendant Michael Garner (“Garner”), an Assistant City Attorney, and asked Garner to drop the charges.[6] When Garner asked why he should drop the charges, Plaintiff stated, “Because if you don't, it will be the biggest mistake of your life.”[7] Plaintiff then signed documents agreeing to a trial date of July 5, 2017.[8]

         On July 5, 2017, the jury pool was shown a video on the responsibilities of a jury.[9] Plaintiff complains that he had no opportunity to counter misleading information contained in the video.[10] Plaintiff moved to dismiss the citations on the grounds that he had not been properly advised of the charges at his arraignment; Judge Escalante denied the motion.[11]

         Trial commenced with Judge Escalante's reading the citations to the jury, followed by Garner's presentation of the State's case.[12] Plaintiff complains that neither Judge Escalante nor Garner advised the jury of the statutes Plaintiff was alleged to have violated, the express language of the statutes, or the elements of the charged offenses.[13] He also complains that the two citations were not admitted into evidence.[14]

         After the close of the State's case, Plaintiff's motion for a judgment of acquittal was denied by Judge Escalante.[15] Plaintiff attempted to call as a witness Defendant Karen Rodriguez (“Rodriguez”), a court clerk, as Plaintiff believed that Rodriguez had signed the citations.[16] Plaintiff complains that Judge Escalante refused to allow Rodriguez to answer any questions posed by Plaintiff because Rodriguez was not the complaining witness.[17]After Judge Escalante advised Plaintiff that the State of Texas was the complaining witness, Plaintiff attempted to call the State of Texas to the stand.[18] Garner and Judge Escalante inquired whether Plaintiff had subpoenaed the State of Texas, and Plaintiff responded that it was not his duty to subpoena a prosecution witness.[19]

         Judge Escalante instructed the jury on the law without allowing Plaintiff to review and object to the jury instructions in advance.[20] After being advised by Judge Escalante to remain in the courtroom during jury deliberations, Plaintiff left to get a snack, during which time the jury returned with a verdict.[21] Upon his return to the courtroom, he was “met with verbal abuse from the judge and the jury already seated in the courtroom without Plaintiff's presence.”[22] The jury returned guilty verdicts on both charges.[23]

         On July 26, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sections 1983 and 1985. Plaintiff complains that the conduct of Judge Escalante and Assistant City Attorney Garner violated his constitutional rights for which he seeks $500, 000 in compensatory damages and $5, 000, 000 in punitive damages.[24] He also sues the City of Baytown, Ignacio Ramirez, the Baytown City Attorney, Cris Curry, City of Baytown Municipal Court Clerk, Karen Rodriguez, City of Baytown Municipal Court Clerk, Bryan Thompson, Detective, City of Baytown Police Department and C. Keith Dougherty, Baytown's Chief of Police for the same violations of his constitutional rights.[25]

         II. Dismissal Standard

         Rule 12(b)(6) allows dismissal of an action whenever the complaint, on its face, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The court should construe the allegations in the complaint favorably to the pleader and accept as true all well-pleaded facts. Harold H. Huggins Realty, Inc. v. FNC, Inc., 634 F.3d 787, 803 n.44 (5th Cir. 2011)(quoting True v. Robles, 571 F.3d 412, 417 (5th Cir. 2009)).

         A complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations” but must include sufficient facts to indicate the plausibility of the claims asserted, raising the “right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Plausibility means that the factual content “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. 678. A plaintiff must provide “more than labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In other words, the factual allegations must allow for an inference of “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. 678.

         III. Analysis

         In the motions before the court, each defendant argues that Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims are barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), and that Plaintiff has failed to adequately allege violations of 42 U.S.C. Sections 1983 and 1985. The court considers the motions.

         A. Section 1983

         A plaintiff can establish a prima facie case under Section 1983[26] by alleging 1) a violation of a federal constitutional or statutory right; and 2) that the violation was committed by an individual acting under the color of state law. Doe v. Rains Cty. Indep. Sch. Dist., 66 F.3d 1402, 1406 (5th Cir. 1995). The statute creates no substantive rights, but only provides remedies for deprivations of rights created under federal law. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989).

         When a plaintiff who brings a Section 1983 claim for damages has been convicted or sentenced in a prior criminal proceeding, the court must consider whether “judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence.” Heck, 512 U.S. at 487. Should there exist such a connection between the Section 1983 claim and the plaintiff's conviction or sentence, the ...

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