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Scoggins v. City of Houston

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

July 19, 2019

CITY OF HOUSTON, et al, Defendants.


          Kenneth M. Hoyt United States District Judge


         Pending before the Court is the defendant's, City of Houston (the “City”) motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 28) and the Houston Police Officers', Angel Arriaga, Michael J. Stubbs, Andrew Maldonado, Christina LaFour, Robert Estrada, John Montgomery, and Charles Landrumill's (the “officers”) (collectively, “the defendants”), motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 31). Also, before the Court is the plaintiff's, Antonio Scoggins' (the “plaintiff”) response (Dkt. No. 34). The City's motion for summary judgment is DENIED as to the plaintiff's ratification claim and GRANTED as to the plaintiff's remaining claims. The officers' motion for summary judgment is DENIED as to the plaintiff's Fourth Amendment and failure to intervene claims and GRANTED as to the plaintiff's remaining claims.


         On March 30, 2016, officers Arriaga and Montgomery were driving when they heard the dispatcher report a disturbance call in the area where they were. Seeing a man that fit the description of the individual described in a strip mall parking lot, they approached the plaintiff. When the two officers got out of their patrol car, officer Montgomery unholstered his gun, pointed it at the plaintiff and ordered him to show his hands. The officers allege that the plaintiff dropped a crack pipe, raised his hands and walked toward them. Officer Montgomery then ordered him to get on the ground. The plaintiff complied. Next, the officers placed the plaintiff in handcuffs, and searched his person for narcotics. After not finding anything, they placed him in the back seat of the patrol car.

         The individual that reported the disturbance was on the scene. He informed the officers that he had seen the plaintiff put a large amount of heroin in his pants. Subsequently, the plaintiff was removed from the car and searched again. The plaintiff and officer Montgomery both state that officer Montgomery felt around the plaintiff's groin area. Then, officer Montgomery pulled the plaintiff's pants and underwear waistbands away from his waist. He claims that he observed a plastic bag near the plaintiff's right groin and attempted to retrieve it. Both men state that the plaintiff began to lean forward. By this time officers Estrada and Stubbs had arrived on the scene. The plaintiff alleges that he leaned forward to prevent his genitals from being exposed and that the officers forced him to the ground. Officer Montgomery claims that the plaintiff “slowly” laid on the ground and turned on his back bringing his knees up to his chest in an attempt to keep the officers from retrieving the bag.

         The plaintiff claims that next, officers Montgomery, Arriaga, Estrada and Stubbs pulled his pants down and ripped his underwear, exposing his genitals to public view. He adds that while handcuffed on the ground the officers struck his body. The plaintiff goes on to allege that after the bag was retrieved the officers attempted to search his anus. He explains that he began to clinch his “butt cheeks” and tightened his legs. He claims that the officers forced his legs and “butt cheeks” apart with their hands in an effort to find more drugs. The officers claim that this did not happen.

         The officers maintain that the plaintiff continued to hinder them for accessing the bag. They claim that at one point he attempted to reach and get the bag. Officer Arriaga then placed his right knee on the plaintiff's head to keep the plaintiff from getting up. By this time officer Montgomery was on the plaintiff's back and officer Stubbs was holding the suspects legs down. Officer Montgomery was then able to obtain the bag. Subsequently, leg restraints were placed on the plaintiff.

         Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff was placed back into the patrol car. When Sergeant Landrumill arrived on the scene he spoke to the plaintiff and advised the officers to remove the leg restraints. The plaintiff was arrested for possession of a controlled substance and transported to central jail where he was booked. He later filed a formal complaint with the Internal Affairs Division of the Houston Police Department (HPD).


         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes summary judgment against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing of the existence of an element essential to the party's case and on which that party bears the burden at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The movant bears the initial burden 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.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Summary judgment is appropriate where “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). If the movant meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to “go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Stults v. Conoco, Inc., 76 F.3d 651, 656 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Tubacex, Inc. v. M/V Risan, 45 F.3d 951, 954 (5th Cir. 1995); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075). “To meet this burden, the nonmovant must ‘identify specific evidence in the record and articulate the ‘precise manner' in which that evidence support[s] [its] claim[s].'” Stults, 76 F.3d at 656 (citing Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 871, 115 S.Ct. 195, 130 L.Ed.2d 127 (1994)).


         A. Unreasonable Search and Excessive Force Claim

          The plaintiff raises several claims against the City and officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff contends that the defendants deprived him of his rights when they conducted a search of his person during an arrest. When a plaintiff alleges excessive force during an investigation or arrest, the federal right at issue is the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizures. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989). The plaintiff claims that the search took place in a public parking lot and with unwarranted and unjustified physical force. The plaintiff alleges that excessive force was employed when his genitals were exposed and a body cavity search was performed on him. He adds that the searches were done without a warrant and were unreasonable under the circumstances. The plaintiff argues that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendants' actions amount to an excessive and unreasonable use of force. 1. The City To establish municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show the deprivation of a federally protected right caused by action taken “pursuant to an official municipal policy.” See Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). A plaintiff must identify: “(1) an ...

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