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Montez v. Salazar

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

November 8, 2019




         This Order concerns the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, Captain Joel Janssen, Lieutenant Darren Williams, Sergeant Roxanne Mathai, and Deputy Officer Pedro Correa. See Dkt. No. 14. Also at issue are two documents filed as “motions” that the Court has, in the interest of justice, construed as responses by Plaintiff Richard Anthony Montez to the Motion to Dismiss. See Dkt. No. 20 (order explaining that the two motions will be construed as responses to the Motion to Dismiss). The parties have consented to trial by a magistrate judge, and authority for this Order therefore stems from those consents and 28 U.S.C. 636(c). See Dkt. Nos. 11, 15 (consents) & 18 (reassignment order). Defendants' motion requests dismissal of Montez's claims or, in the alternative, an order directing Montez to file a more definite statement.

         Defendants' motion has merit. But the Court is mindful of its obligation to liberally construe a pro se plaintiff's complaint. Accordingly, before Montez's claims are dismissed, Montez will be ordered to file-within 30 days from the date of this Order-a more definite statement to address the issues discussed in this Order. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). Montez is advised that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         Accordingly, the Motion to Dismiss, Dkt. No. 14, is GRANTED IN PART, and Montez will be required to file a more definite statement.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The claims at issue arose while Plaintiff Montez was a pretrial detainee in the Bexar County Adult Detention Center (BCADC). At their core, the claims involve the alleged confiscation of Montez's belongings and other actions by BCADC officers following an incident at the BCADC that didn't directly involve Montez. Dkt. No. 1 at 4-5. Montez further alleges that BCADC personnel made threatening remarks and improperly handled his grievances, and that one officer shined a flashlight in his eyes, causing headaches and vision problems. Montez also complains about allegedly unsanitary conditions at the BCADC. Dkt. No. 6 at 1-2. In addition to Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, Montez names four BCADC officers as Defendants: Sergeant Mathai; Deputy Officer Correa; Lieutenant Williams; and Captain Janssen.

         After filing his Complaint, Montez filed three advisories. Dkt. Nos. 4, 5, 6. The first, Dkt. No. 4, corrects an error in the Complaint. The second, Dkt. No. 5, corrects another error and provides additional allegations. The third, Dkt. No. 6, raises further allegations concerning allegedly unsanitary conditions at the BDADC.

         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss in April of 2019. In lieu of a response, Montez filed two documents (shortly after the motion to dismiss and in late May of 2019, respectively) styled as “motions, ” Dkt. Nos. 16, 19, which the Court will construe as responses to the motion to dismiss because they address and take issue with the Motion to Dismiss.

         II. Analysis

         As discussed further below, the Motion to Dismiss has merit. But in the interest of justice, and given Montez's pro se status, the Court will order a more definite statement instead of dismissing the action at this time. See Great Plains Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 329 (5th Cir. 2002) (noting that court should allow a plaintiff at least one opportunity to cure pleading deficiencies before dismissing a case, “unless it is clear that the defects are incurable or the plaintiffs advise the court that they are unwilling or unable to amend in a manner that will avoid dismissal”). Matters that ought to be addressed in Montez's more definite statement are discussed next.

         Municipal liability. It's not entirely clear whether Montez's claims against Sheriff Salazar are lodged against the Sheriff in his official or individual capacity. Claims lodged against a public official, like the Sheriff, in his “official capacity” are claims against the governmental entity the official represents-in this case, Bexar County. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 27 (1991); Brooks v. George County, Miss., 84 F.3d 157, 165 (5th Cir. 1996). Here, to the extent there is an official-capacity claim, it must be clarified. As currently alleged, there's no factual basis provided capable of supporting the imposition of municipal liability.

         Taking the claims against the Sheriff as claims against Bexar County brings us to the well-settled proposition that a county cannot be held vicariously liable under § 1983 for the actions of its employees. See Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691-92 (1978). Montez, however, nonetheless asserts that the basis for Sheriff Salazar's (i.e., the County's) alleged liability is his status as “the employer” of BCADC personnel and “the company[']s head[.]” Dkt. Nos. 1 at 3; 5 at 3. To state a claim for municipal liability upon which relief may be granted, a plaintiff must allege facts that, if taken as true, reflect an injury caused by some official policy, practice, or custom of the governmental entity. See id. at 691; Bd. of County Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403-04 (1997). Montez fails to allege any such facts, and he offers only a scattered few conclusory assertions along these lines. Cf. Cantu v. Moody, 933 F.3d 414, 421 (5th Cir. 2019) (noting the insufficiency of “conclusions without any factual allegations to support them”) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681).

         To be clear, Montez alleges no facts suggesting that any policy, practice, or custom of Bexar County, or any widespread pattern or longstanding custom or practice on the part of Bexar County's Deputy Sheriffs, harmed him in a way that could support a colorable § 1983 claim. In his first “response, ” Montez merely asserts, without any factual support, that there is a policy or practice of officers confiscating various items belonging to detainees and thereby denying them access to materials necessary for hygiene. See Dkt. No. 16. This revised version of Montez's claim fails not only because it is too conclusory but also because state law supplies an adequate remedy via a claim for conversion. See DeMarco v. Davis, 914 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2019) (citing Murphy v. Collins, 26 F.3d 541, 543 (5th Cir. 1994)). Moreover, a claim for the denial of access of materials necessary for maintaining hygiene is not actionable, and is properly dismissed, if “some measure of hygiene [was] provided” and the allegations do not describe extreme conditions. Ruiz v. LeBlanc, 643 Fed.Appx. 358, 362 (5th Cir. 2016) (quotation omitted).

         Montez doesn't allege facts consistent with a failure-to-train or inadequate-training claim. And even if he did, any such claim would fail here because there is alleged no “pattern of similar incidents” and no allegation capable of supporting a conclusion that the inadequacy of the training provided was both “obvious and obviously likely to result in a constitutional violation.” Snyder v. Trepagnier, 142 F.3d 791, 798 (5th Cir. 1998); Cozzo v. Tangipahoa Par. Council-President ...

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