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Jimenez v. Travis County Sheriff's Department

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

December 2, 2019




         Before the Court are Plaintiff Jesus Jimenez Jr.'s complaint and additional pleadings (ECF Nos. 1, 8, 32, 48), Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 51), Plaintiff's response (ECF No. 56), Defendants' reply (ECF No. 57), Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration (ECF No. 62) and Plaintiff's response (ECF No. 63). Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis (ECF No. 12). After careful consideration of the parties' motions, the Court grants the Defendants' motion for summary judgement and dismisses their motion for reconsideration.


         Plaintiff filed this complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that on December 21, 2016, he was riding on a Travis County Sheriff's Office (TCSO) transportation bus when it got into an accident, causing Plaintiff to sustain injuries to his back and his wrist. He further alleges that, prior to the accident, he requested to wear a seatbelt but was refused, and that after the accident, he was denied emergency medical care, threatened, and forcibly removed from the bus. Plaintiff is suing the Travis County Sheriff's Department[1], Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, Officer Arnold Macias, Officer Kenneth Vohrpal, Officer Bernard Hamilton, Sergeant Mark Hardin and Sergeant Dionisio Dorado. Plaintiff seeks $190, 000 in compensatory damages from each defendant and $50, 000 in punitive damages from each defendant.

         Defendants moved for summary judgement.[2] Defendants argue that Plaintiff's individual-capacity claims[3] against Sheriff Hernandez fail because he failed to allege or proffer any evidence of Sheriff Hernandez's personal knowledge or involvement in the accident. Further, Defendants argue they are entitled to qualified immunity because there is no constitutional right to be seat belted while being transported in custody; that Plaintiff was not denied any medical care; and that a mere threat of physical violence does not state a claim for excessive force under § 1983.

         In response, Plaintiff argues that the record supports his allegations that he suffered a severe injury as a result of the 2016 bus accident; that Defendants failed to provide him with emergency medical services, and that the summary judgment record shows that Defendants' statements about the accident are inconsistent and that they have tampered with the evidence. (ECF No. 56). Plaintiff also requests additional discovery in the case, including video from the bus's on-board cameras, and the medical records and contact information of other detainees involved in the accident. (Id. at 3-4). The Court granted in part the Defendants' Motion to Abate Discovery (ECF Nos. 60-61), and the Defendants have moved for reconsideration (ECF No. 62).


         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         A court will, on a motion for summary judgment, render judgment if the evidence shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Eason v. Thaler, 73 F.3d 1322, 1325 (5th Cir. 1996); Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir. 1991). When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported, an adverse party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials but must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Ray v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 63 F.3d 429, 433 (5th Cir. 1995); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.

         Both movants and non-movants bear burdens of proof in the summary judgment process. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). The movant with the burden of proof at trial must establish every essential element of its claim or affirmative defense. Id. at 322. The moving party without the burden of proof need only point to the absence of evidence on an essential element of the non-movant's claims or affirmative defenses. Id. at 323-24. At that point, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to “go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324. The non-moving party cannot rely on general allegations but must produce “specific facts” showing a genuine issue for trial. Tubacex v. M/V Risan, 45 F.3d 951, 954 (5th Cir. 1995).

         In deciding whether to grant summary judgment, the Court should view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment and indulge all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See James v. Sadler, 909 F.2d 834, 837 (5th Cir. 1990). The Fifth Circuit has concluded “[t]he standard of review is not merely whether there is a sufficient factual dispute to permit the case to go forward, but whether a rational trier of fact could find for the non-moving party based upon the evidence before the court.” See Id. (citing Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)).

         B. Deliberate Indifference

         Plaintiff relies on the protections of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment for his claims. The Eighth Amendment ensures the safety of convicted prisoners while due process under the Fourteenth Amendment protects pretrial detainees. See Hare v. City of Corinth, 74 F.3d 633, 639 (5th Cir. 1996) (en banc). At the time of the bus accident, Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee. “Fourteenth Amendment case law concerning pretrial detainees [is based] on the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment precedent concerning prisoners.” Garza v. City of Donna, 922 F.3d 626, 634 (5th Cir. 2019) (citing Hare, 74 F.3d at 634-44). Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights include the right to medical care. See Sanchez v. Young County., Tex., 866 F.3d 274, 279 (5th Cir. 2017); further, because the standard is essentially the same for both pretrial detainees and postconviction prisoners, cases applying the Eighth Amendment remain relevant to the Court's analysis.

         To establish deliberate indifference regarding his medical care, Plaintiff must show “that a prison official ‘refused to treat him, ignored his complaints, intentionally treated him incorrectly, or engaged in any similar conduct that would clearly evince a wanton disregard for any serious medical needs.'” Easter v. Powell, 467 F.3d 459, 464 (5th Cir. 2006) (quoting Domino v. Tex. Dep't of Criminal Justice, 239 F.3d 752, 756 (5th Cir. 2001)). A delay in medical care, however, “can only constitute an Eighth Amendment violation if there has been deliberate indifference [that] results in substantial harm.” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Mendoza v. Lynaugh, 989 F.2d 191, 193 (5th Cir. 1993)). Allegations ...

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