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Perry v. North Hopkins Independent School District

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

August 14, 2019




         Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. #82). The Court, having considered the pleadings and relevant evidence, finds that the motion for summary judgment should be granted in part.


         Plaintiff Shane Perry is in a custody dispute with his ex-wife Kelli Boles for their daughter (“N.L.P.”). On December 2, 2016, Plaintiff was scheduled to pick up N.L.P. from school. Before the exchange occurred, N.L.P. informed the superintendent Dr. Darin Jolly that she did not want to go with her father. Anticipating that an issue might arise, Dr. Jolly asked that a deputy be present on the school grounds during the exchange, and Defendant Hopkins County Deputy Kevin Lester responded to the request. Upon arriving at the scene, Deputy Lester was informed that “N.L.P. was afraid and did not want to go with [Plaintiff].” (Dkt. #82-1 at p. 1). Dr. Jolly also notified Deputy Lester that Plaintiff potentially had an active warrant, which Deputy Lester thereafter contacted Dispatch and confirmed was true. Deputy Lester informed Dr. Jolly that Plaintiff would be arrested if Plaintiff entered the premises.

         At approximately 7:00 p.m., Plaintiff's girlfriend Lizett Pugliese arrived to pick up N.L.P. from the school. Pugliese was met by Deputy Lester, who informed her that N.L.P. did not want to go to Plaintiff's house. Deputy Lester spoke with Plaintiff by phone and told Plaintiff that “[he was] not getting involved” with the ongoing issue. (Dkt. #82 at p. 2). Deputy Lester then contacted Defendant Hopkins County Attorney Dustanna Rabe and Defendant Sheriff Lewis Tatum. County Attorney Rabe advised Deputy Lester that “if NLP did not want to go with Plaintiff's girlfriend, she could not be taken kicking and screaming, ” and Sheriff Tatum stated that “the child could not be forced to stay or leave.” (Dkt. #82 at p. 4). Deputy Lester informed Pugliese that he could not force N.L.P. to leave with her and stayed with N.L.P. until Boles returned to pick her up.

         Plaintiff initially brought this action in the County Court at Law of Hopkins County, Texas. On April 7, 2017, this action was removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas (Dkt. #1). Plaintiff asserts state law claims alleging gross negligence and tortious interference with possession of a child and claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Deputy Lester, Sheriff Tatum, County Attorney Rabe (“Individual Defendants”), and Defendant Hopkins County (collectively, “Defendants”). On September 24, 2018, Defendants filed the present Motion for Summary Judgement (Dkt. #82). Plaintiff failed to file a response.[2]


         The purpose of summary judgment is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Summary judgment is proper under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute about a material fact is genuine when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Substantive law identifies which facts are material. Id. The trial court “must resolve all reasonable doubts in favor of the party opposing the motion for summary judgment.” Casey Enters., Inc. v. Am. Hardware Mut. Ins. Co., 655 F.2d 598, 602 (5th Cir. 1981).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of its motion and identifying “depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the movant bears the burden of proof on a claim or defense for which it is moving for summary judgment, it must come forward with evidence that establishes “beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense.” Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986). Where the nonmovant bears the burden of proof, the movant may discharge the burden by showing that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmovant's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325; Byers v. Dall. Morning News, Inc., 209 F.3d 419, 424 (5th Cir. 2000). Once the movant has carried its burden, the nonmovant must “respond to the motion for summary judgment by setting forth particular facts indicating there is a genuine issue for trial.” Byers, 209 F.3d at 424 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49). A nonmovant must present affirmative evidence to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257. Mere denials of material facts, unsworn allegations, or arguments and assertions in briefs or legal memoranda will not suffice to carry this burden. Rather, the Court requires “significant probative evidence” from the nonmovant to dismiss a request for summary judgment. In re Mun. Bond Reporting Antitrust Litig., 672 F.2d 436, 440 (5th Cir. 1982) (quoting Ferguson v. Nat'l Broad. Co., 584 F.2d 111, 114 (5th Cir. 1978)). The Court must consider all of the evidence but “refrain from making any credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.” Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007).


         Defendants move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and under state law. Plaintiff failed to respond to the present motion; therefore, the Court the Court will consider the facts set forth in Defendants' motion for summary as undisputed. The Court will analyze first whether Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's § 1983 claims and then turn to whether Defendants are entitled to such relief on Plaintiff's state law claims.

         I. Plaintiff's § 1983 Claims

         Plaintiff asserts claims under § 1983, which provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, 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 an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2018).

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Defendants argues that (1) Plaintiff cannot establish a valid claim under § 1983 and (2) Individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.

         The Court addresses each argument in turn.

         A. Municipal Liability Under § 1983

         Defendants argue, and the Court agrees, that to the extent that Plaintiff asserts § 1983 claims against Individual Defendants in their official capacities, those claims should be construed as claims against Hopkins County. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985). Defendants contend that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that Hopkins ...

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