United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge.
Williams and Houston Police Department Officer Salvador R.
Corral crossed paths while Williams was in the Houston City
Jail on a misdemeanor charge of suspicion of driving while
intoxicated. (Docket Entry No. 20). Williams has sued the
City of Houston and Officer Corral, alleging Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendment violations and asserting state-law
claims for assault and battery. (Id. at 4-5). In
April 2007, this civil case was stayed pending the
disposition of the misdemeanor charge. (Docket Entry Nos. 24,
26). That charge was dismissed, this court lifted the stay,
and after discovery, the City and Officer Corral moved for
summary judgment and to exclude an expert opinion Williams
submitted. (Docket Entry Nos. 54, 55, 58, 65, 67). Counsel
for both sides argued the motions at a hearing.
on the motions, the responses, the record, the applicable
law, and counsels' arguments, the court excludes the
expert opinion, grants summary judgment for the City, and
grants in part and denies in part summary judgment for
Officer Corral. Summary judgment is granted on Williams'
malicious-prosecution claim. His Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendment claims based on excessive use of force and his
state-law claims for assault and battery remain. A status and
scheduling conference is set for July 12, 2019, at 8:30 a.m.
in Courtroom 11-B.
reasons for these rulings are explained in detail below.
Background: The Summary Judgment Record
Police Department Officer Erin M. Swift arrested Williams for
suspicion of driving while intoxicated on November 8, 2014.
Williams was taken to the City Jail because he refused a
field-sobriety test. (Docket Entry No. 20 at 2; Docket Entry
No. 56-5). Officer Swift reported that Williams spat and
urinated inside the patrol car and was combative on the way
to the Jail. (Id. at 4). Once there, Officer Swift
got a warrant for a blood test and asked Officer Corral to
help take Williams from the holding cell to the room where
the blood test would be done. (Id.). Williams
resisted the blood test, and the officers forcibly placed his
arm in the strap. Williams was shouting racial slurs and
kicking his feet at the officers to keep them away. When
Officer Corral put his forearm across Williams's upper
chest to keep him from moving, Williams yelled, “I
can't breathe!” (Id.). The nurse was able
to take the blood sample.
the blood draw, Officer Corral handcuffed him and took him
back to the holding cell. Officers J. Little, P. McRae, A.
Garcia, and D. Matthews followed. Officer Corral testified
that, on their way back to the holding cell, Williams was
verbally abusive and spat on Officer Corral's face, neck,
and left shoulder. (Docket Entry No. 60-4 at 3). Williams
disputes this, describing his behavior as compliant and
emphasizing that he was handcuffed. (Docket Entry No. 65, Ex.
recording taken by the Jail hallway surveillance camera shows
that Williams stopped at the holding-cell door. Officer
Corral shoved Williams's head into the steel doorframe,
cutting his forehead and injuring his right eye. (Docket
Entry No. 68, Ex. 2). A camera inside the holding cell
recorded that after his head hitting the doorframe, Williams
turned back toward Officer Corral with his mouth open. It is
unclear whether Williams was talking, preparing to spit, or
simply had his mouth open. When Williams turned his body and
head back toward Officer Corral, the officer put
Williams's neck in a chokehold and pushed him against the
wall. When Officer Corral released the chokehold, Williams
fell to the floor with blood on his face. (Docket Entry No.
60-4 at 3).
Corral testified that he pushed Williams's head away from
him into the doorframe; and then held Williams against the
wall, because he believed that Williams was about to spit on
him again. (Id.). Williams disputes this, arguing
that the videotapes show that when Officer Corral pushed his
head into the steel doorframe and then shoved him against the
holding-cell wall, he was standing in front of Officer Corral
and facing away from him, making it impossible for him to
spit on the officer.
Officer Corral released Williams, he laid on the floor.
Officer Corral testified that he tried to get Williams to sit
up, but Williams resisted by kicking and yelling.
(Id.). Williams disputes this, claiming that he lost
consciousness and collapsed onto the floor. (Docket Entry No.
65, Ex. 7).
Little called the Houston Fire Department's Emergency
Medical Services and notified Sergeant S. R. Sorge of the
incident. (Docket Entry No. 60-6 at 3-4). EMS staff cleaned
and bandaged Williams's cut. (Docket Entry No. 60-4 at
5). Williams told the medical personnel that he was HIV
positive. (Id.). Williams was taken to the hospital,
where, according to Officer Swift and Officer Corral, he
continued spitting and cursing at medical staff and at police
officers. (Id.; Docket Entry No. 60-5 at 5).
the incident, Williams was indicted for harassing a public
servant by spitting. (Docket Entry No. 54 at 9). The charge
was dismissed after Williams was convicted for another crime.
(Docket Entry No. 65, Ex. 4). Officer Corral was criminally
investigated, but a grand jury declined to indict him. The
City's internal investigation found that Officer Corral
did not act reasonably when he pushed Williams's head
into the doorframe and ordered Official Corral to get
counseling. (Docket Entry No. 60-1 at 7).
lawsuit against the City and Officer Corral, for violations
of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and for state-law
claims for assault and battery, followed. (Docket Entry No.
1). After discovery, the City and Officer Corral moved for
summary judgment and to exclude the expert opinion Williams
submitted. (Docket Entries No. 54, 56, 58). Williams
responded, and the court heard oral argument. (Docket Entry
The Applicable Legal Standards
judgment is appropriate only if ‘there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.'” Vann v. City of
Southaven, 884 F.3d 307, 309 (5th Cir. 2018) (citations
omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). “A
genuine dispute of material fact exists when the
‘evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Bennett v.
Hartford Ins. Co. of Midwest, 890 F.3d 597, 604 (5th
Cir. 2018) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477
U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). “The moving party ‘bears
the initial responsibility of informing the district court of
the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of
[the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact.'” Nola Spice
Designs, LLC v. Haydel Enter., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536
(5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)).
the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, ‘the
movant may merely point to the absence of evidence and
thereby shift to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating .
. . that there is an issue of material fact warranting
trial.'” Kim v. Hospira, Inc., 709
Fed.Appx. 287, 288 (5th Cir. 2018) (quoting Nola Spice
Designs, 783 F.3d at 536). While the movant must
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact,
it does not need to negate the elements of the
nonmovant's case. Austin v. Kroger Tex., L.P.,
864 F.3d 326, 335 (5th Cir. 2017) (quoting Little v.
Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1076 n.16 (5th Cir.
1994)). A fact is material if it “might affect the
outcome of the suit.” Thomas v. Tregre, 913
F.3d 458, 462 (5th Cir. 2019) (citing Anderson, 477
U.S. at 248).
the moving party has met its Rule 56(c) burden, the nonmoving
party cannot survive a summary judgment motion by resting on
the mere allegations of its pleadings.” Jones v.
Anderson, 721 Fed.Appx. 333, 335 (5th Cir. 2018)
(quoting Duffie v. United States, 600 F.3d 362, 371
(5th Cir. 2010)). The nonmovant must identify specific
evidence in the record and articulate how that evidence
supports that party's claim. Infante v. Law Office of
Joseph Onwuteaka, P.C., 735 Fed.Appx. 839, 843 (5th Cir.
2018) (quoting Willis v. Cleco Corp., 749 F.3d 314,
317 (5th Cir. 2014)). “This burden will not be
satisfied by ‘some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated
assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.'”
McCarty v. Hillstone Rest. Grp., Inc., 864 F.3d 354,
357 (5th Cir. 2017) (quoting Boudreaux v. Swift Transp.
Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005)). In deciding a
summary judgment motion, the court draws all reasonable
inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. Wease v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 915 F.3d
987, 992 (5th Cir. 2019).
immunity protects 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 (1982).
“Qualified immunity gives government officials
breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments,
” and it “protects ‘all but the plainly
incompetent or those who knowingly violate the
law.'” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731,
743 (2011) (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335,
undertake a two-step analysis in reviewing a motion for
summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Luna v.
Mullenix, 773 F.3d 712, 718 (5th Cir. 2014).
“First, [courts] ask whether the facts, taken in the
light most favorable to the plaintiffs, show the
officer's conduct violated a federal constitutional or
statutory right.” Id. (citing Tolan v.
Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 655- 56 (2014)). “Second,
[courts] ask ‘whether the defendant's actions
violated clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.'” Id. (quoting Flores v. City
of Palacios, 381 F.3d 391, 395 (5th Cir. 2004)). The
court has discretion to decide which prong to consider first.
Whitley v. Hanna, 726 F.3d 631, 638 (5th Cir. 2013).
To defeat qualified immunity, a plaintiff must demonstrate
that “it would be clear to a reasonable officer that
his conduct was unlawful in the situation he
confronted.” Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194,
199 (2004). Qualified-immunity claims must be evaluated in
the light of what the officer knew at the time he acted, not
on facts discovered subsequently. Luna, 773 F.3d at
718. As to whether the law at time of an incident was clearly
established, the court must define each alleged right at an
appropriate level of specificity. Stanton v. Sims,
571 U.S. 3, 6 (2013). While “a case directly on
point” is unnecessary, the “existing precedent
must have placed the statutory or constitutional question
beyond debate.” Id. (quoting al-Kidd,
563 U.S. at 741).
summary judgment, courts must resolve genuine factual
disputes in favor of the nonmovant. Tolan, 572 U.S.
at 656-57 (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201
(2001)). A district court may not grant summary judgment
based on qualified immunity if “resolution of
[qualified immunity] . . . turns on what the defendant
actually did, ” and the plaintiff's version of the
story would defeat the qualified-immunity defense. See
Haverda v. Hays Cty., 723 F.3d 586, 599 (5th Cir. 2013)
(quotation omitted). Summary judgment may still be
appropriate “based on a plaintiffs inability to [raise
other factual issues material] to recovery, ” but
“this has nothing to do with the qualified immunity
defense.” Id. When videotape evidence is
available, however, a court is not required to adopt the
plaintiffs version of facts if the plaintiffs story “is
blatantly contradicted by the [video] record, so that no
reasonable jury could believe it.” Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); see also Griggs v.
Brewer, 841 F.3d 308, 312 (5th Cir. 2016)
(“Although courts view evidence in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party, they give greater weight,
even at the summary judgment stage, to the facts evident from
video recordings taken at the scene.” (citing
Carnaby v. City of Houston, 636 F.3d 183, 187 (5th
are persons susceptible to suit under § 1983, but they
cannot be found liable on a theory of vicarious liability or
respondeat superior.” Davidson v. City of
Stafford, 848 F.3d 384, 395 (5th Cir. 2017); Monell
v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 692 (1978).
Rather, the municipality itself must have caused the
violation. Littell v. Hous. Indep. Sch. Dist, 894
F.3d 616, 622 (5th Cir. 2018). Municipal liability requires
proof of a constitutional violation, that a municipal
policymaker promulgated an official policy, and that the
policy was the moving force behind the constitutional
violation. Pena v. City of Rio Grande City, 879 F.3d
613, 621 (5th Cir. 2018).
The Parties' Summary Judgment Evidence
City and Officer Corral submitted the following evidence:
● Exhibit A: HPD-IAD Investigation Summary for
● Exhibit B: HPD-IAD Investigation Report for
● Exhibit C: Counseling Memo for Officer Corral;
● Exhibit D: Officer Corral's Certification Record;
● Exhibit E: HPD Offense Report;
● Exhibit F: Officer Corral's sworn statement to
● Exhibit G: Officer Swift's sworn statement to
● Exhibit H: Officer Little's sworn statement to
● Exhibit I: Expert report of John G. Peters;
● Exhibit J: Video recording of events at
issue-produced on CD to the Court;
● Exhibit K: Affidavit of Officer Corral.
(Docket Entry No. 58 at 9-10).
City also submitted Houston Police Department ...