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Harlow v. Hensley

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division

October 8, 2019

REED HENSLEY, Defendant.



         Before the Court is Defendant Reed Hensley's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 53) and evidentiary materials. Plaintiff has responded in opposition (ECF No. 59) with evidentiary materials. Defendant filed a reply. (ECF No. 62). The Court, having reviewed the motion, the responses, and the pleadings and exhibits on file, finds as follows:

         I. Background

         William J. “Duke” Harlow (“Plaintiff) initiated this civil rights action on December 13, 2017, naming Officer Reed Hensley and the City of San Antonio as Defendants. (ECF No. 1). On May 8, 2018, Plaintiff filed his second amended complaint, the operative pleading herein. (ECF No. 29). Plaintiffs second amended complaint alleges claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments stemming from an incident involving San Antonio Police Officer Reed Hensley (“Defendant”). ECF No. 29 at 6 ¶¶ 20-22. Plaintiffs second amended complaint also alleges state law claims for battery and false imprisonment. Id. at ¶ 23. Defendant is sued in his individual and official capacities. Id. at 1 ¶ 3. Plaintiff seeks actual and punitive damages. Id. at 7 ¶ 26. On October 15, 2018, the City of San Antonio was dismissed from the action. (ECF No. 47). On May 13, 2019, Defendant filed the subject motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 53). Defendant contends qualified immunity is appropriate because (1) there was probable cause to arrest and (2) the force used to place Plaintiffs vehicle in park and retrieve the keys was reasonable under the circumstances. Id. at 5-18.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Hathaway v. Bazany, 507 F.3d 312, 319 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A dispute is “genuine” where “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). A dispute is “material” only if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. 477 U.S. at 248. While all evidence and reasonable inferences are viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, and all disputed facts are resolved in favor of the nonmovant, the judge's function “is not ‘to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 656 (2014) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249); see also Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005).

         The moving party has the burden to “demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and the appropriateness of judgment as a matter of law” to prevail on its motion. Union Planters Nat'l Leasing v. Woods, 687 F.2d 117, 121 (5th Cir. 1982). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252 (stating that “a scintilla of evidence” is insufficient). Rather, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts that show a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. The “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48 (emphasis in original).

         III. Discussion

         A. Defendant's requests to strike evidence

         In his Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 62), Defendant “requests” the Court strike (1) Sergeant Steven Peterson's statement “McCreless states that the fire truck had set up across the southbound lane of Randolph to help block the crash scene” Id. at 2-3; (2) Plaintiff's claim “Defendant Hensley engaged in spoliation of evidence” Id. at 4; (3) Plaintiff's characterization of COBAN video recordings as exculpatory Id. at 4-5; (4) Plaintiff's assertion “No officer has a producing COBAN body camera of the incident.” Id. at 5. In assessing Defendant's motion for summary judgment, the Court did not rely on Sgt. Peterson's statement about the position of the fire truck, any claim of spoliation, an assertion that no officer had body camera footage, or the characterization of any COBAN video as being exculpatory. Accordingly, Defendant's motions to strike are DENIED AS MOOT.

         B. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

         1. Qualified Immunity

         The defense of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages in individual-capacity suits unless the officer's conduct was unreasonable in light of clearly established law. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982); Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011); District of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S.Ct. 577, 589 (2018). “When a defendant invokes qualified immunity, the burden is on the plaintiff to demonstrate the inapplicability of the defense.” McClendon v. City of Columbia, 305 F.3d 314, 323 (5th Cir. 2002). To defeat a defendant's qualified immunity assertion, a plaintiff must prove (1) the defendant violated a federal constitutional or statutory right; and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the violation. King v. Handorf, 821 F.3d 650, 653 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing Collier v. Montgomery, 569 F.3d 214, 217 (5th Cir. 2009) and quoting Morgan v. Swanson, 659 F.3d 359, 371 (5th Cir. 2011) (en banc)).

         In this case, Plaintiff alleges Fourth Amendment violations based on Defendant's conduct during Plaintiff's arrest. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Defendant used excessive force in apprehending him. The determination of whether an officer's use of force was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment is a fact-based inquiry that requires a careful balancing of the “nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989) (quoting Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 8 (1985) (internal quotations omitted)). A court cannot determine whether an officer's conduct was reasonable “without settling ...

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