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Luhiellier v. Creek

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

July 10, 2019

ASHLEY LUHELLIER Plaintiff.
v.
OYSTER CREEK, TX, ET AL. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION

          ANDREW M.EDISON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is (1) Defendant Oyster Creek's Opposed Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 16); (2) Defendant Stephen Heckler's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim or, Alternatively, to Compel a Reply to Immunity (Dkt. 42); (3) Defendant Village of Surfside Beach's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (Dkt. 43); and (4) Defendant Gary Phillips' Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim or, Alternatively, to Compel a Reply to Immunity (Dkt. 45). These motions were referred to this Court for report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). See Dkt. 54.

         After reviewing the motions, the responses, and the applicable case law, the Court recommends that the motions be granted and this suit be dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         This civil rights lawsuit arises from a 2017 traffic stop, which resulted in the arrest and detention of Plaintiff Ashley Luhellier ("Luhellier").[1] Luhellier alleges that during her arrest and detention, she was subjected to unlawful treatment. The factual allegations contained in the Fourth Amended Complaint are, in their entirety, as follows:

15. On or about July 27, 2017, Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle that was pulled i over in Brazoria County, Texas. Plaintiff allegedly had an outstanding warrant and was arrested; by Heckler, a law enforcement officer for Surfside. During the traffic stop. Heckler unlawfully searched Plaintiff by patting her down on the side of the road without a female officer present. After arriving at Oyster Creek jail, Heckler and unknown officers of Brazoria, Oyster Creek and/or Surfside then unlawfully searched Plaintiff once again, unlawfully held her captive in a shower stall at the jail, and unlawfully ordered her to remove her clothing until nude to change into the jail assigned clothing in front of Heckler, a male. All of these acts were done despite Plaintiffs protests. Further, mere was no compelling interest or emergency that could justify the Defendants' acts and omissions. Finally, throughout this time, Heckler and the other officers of Brazoria, Oyster Creek and/or Surfside were acting in accordance with the policies established by Wagner, Brazoria, Phillips, Surfside, and/or Oyster Creek.

Dkt. 34 at 3. Based on these allegations, Luhellier filed suit against Stephen Heckler ("Officer Heckler"), [2] City of Oyster Creek ("Oyster Creek"), Village of Surfside Beach, Texas ("Surfside"), and Police Chief Gary Phillips ("Chief Phillips"), [3] asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as a state law claim for violation of her rights under Article 1.06 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.[4]

         Luhellier alleges that her Fourth Amendment and Article 1.06 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure rights against unreasonable searches and seizures were violated in two ways: (1) her arrest was not based on probable cause; and (2) she was patted down pursuant to "Defendants' cross-gender policy of allowing male officers to pat down female detainees." Dkt. 34 at 4. Similarly, Luhellier alleges that her Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment were violated in two ways: (1) "Defendants' cross-gender policy of allowing male officers to conduct what amounts to a strip-search of a female detainee was cruel and unusual punishment against Plaintiff in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment;" and (2) this same "cross gender policy" amounts to a "violation of [her] due process right to bodily privacy." Dkt. 34 at 4-5. Relying on these same constitutional allegations, Luhellier also asserts several supervisory claims: (1) failure to train; (2) inadequate screening/hiring; and (3) failure to supervise. Lastly, Luhellier seeks exemplary damages and attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

         Defendants have separately moved to dismiss.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Rule 12(b)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows parties to seek dismissal of a lawsuit for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8, requiring "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp., v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] ... a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citation omitted).

         When conducting its inquiry, the Court "accept[s] all well-pleaded facts as true and view[s] those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Bustos v. Martini Club, Inc., 599 F.3d 458, 461 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "[A] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of [the alleged] facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely." Twombly, 550 U.S at 556 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is "viewed with disfavor and is rarely granted." Shaikh v. Tex. A&M Univ. Coll. of Med., 739 Fed.Appx. 215, 218 (5th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides that any person "who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . ., subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in any action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress." Section 1983 does not create new legal rights. Rather, Section 1983 acts as a vehicle for individuals to assert violations of existing federal rights. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) ("Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights, but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Therefore, in order to recover under Section 1983, Luhellier must show that she has "been deprived of a right guaranteed by the Constitution or the laws of the United States." Davis v. Matagorda Cty., No. 3:18-CV-00188, 2019 WL 1015341, at *3 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 4, 2019) (citation omitted).

         "To establish municipal liability pursuant to [Section] 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate three elements: a policymaker; an official policy [or custom]; and a violation of constitutional [or other federal] rights whose moving force is the policy or custom." Shumpert v. City of Tupelo, 905 F.3d 310, 316 (5th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). It is well established that "[a municipality or other] local government may not be sued under [Section] 1983 for the deprivation of rights guaranteed by the Constitution or federal law inflicted solely by its employees or agents." O'Donnell v. Harris Cty., 227 F.Supp.3d 706, 725 (S.D. Tex. 2016). Hence, "a municipality cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor-or, in other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under [Section] 1983 on a respondeat superior theory." Monell v. Dep 't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978).

         C. Qualified Immunity

         "Qualified immunity shields a government official from liability based on his performance of discretionary functions. Our two-step qualified[]immunity inquiry determines whether a plaintiff has shown: (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right[;] and (2) that the right was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct." Mote v. Walthall,902 F.3d 500, 505 (5th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Government officials are shielded from liability when "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) (collecting cases). "The 'of which a reasonable person would have known' language does not add to the 'clearly established law' requirement because 'a reasonably competent public official should know the law governing his conduct."' Arceneaux v. Klein Indep. Sch. Dist., No. H-17-3234, 2018 WL 3496737, at *3 (S.D. Tex. July 20, 2018) (quoting Kinney v. Weaver,367 F.3d 337, 349 (5th Cir. 2004)). "To say that the law was clearly established, we must be able to point to controlling authority-or a robust consensus of persuasive authority-that defines the contours of the right in question with a high degree of particularity." Hogan v. Cunningham,722 F.3d 725, 735 (5th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). ...


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