The Baez Law Firm | San Antonio Lawyers and Attorneys

The Baez Law Firm | San Antonio Lawyers and Attorneys
San Antonio Lawyers and Attorneys

Thursday, April 7, 2011

12 (b)(6) Motions in Federal Court under Fourth Amendment

Our Law Firm has represented numerous clients in Federal Court with their Civil Rights case. We have consistently shown that the facts of the case are more important that precedent since it is those facts that changes the precedent.

Many time, our lawyers have been faced with 12(b)(6) motions in Federal Court and our response has been facts driven rather than law driven. An example of such is given herein for our readers perusal.

Public officials acting within the scope of their official duties are shielded from civil liability by the doctrine of qualified immunity. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 815-19 (1982). Qualified immunity “serves to shield a governmental official from civil liability for damages based upon performance of discretionary functions if the official’s acts were objectively reasonable in light of then clearly established law.” Thompson v. Upshur County, Tex., 245 F3d 447, 456 (5th Cir. 2001). A “defendant’s acts are . . . objectively reasonable unless all reasonable officials in the defendant’s circumstances would have then known that the defendant’s conduct violated the United States Constitution or the federal statute as alleged by the plaintiff.” Id at 457.

An excessive-use-of-force claim requires a plaintiff to prove 1) an injury, which 2) resulted directly and solely form the use of force that was clearly excessive to the need, and the excursiveness of which was 3) objectively unreasonable. Ikerd v. Blair, 101 F.3d 430, 433-34 (5th Cir. 1996). This determination “requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 396 (1989).

In Iderd, plaintiffs brought a 1983 action on behalf of their children claiming that a police officer used excessive force against the child during an arrest of her father. Iderd, 101 F.3d at 432. During the arrest, the police officer jerked the child out of her chair and dragged her into the kitchen, which resulted in her re-injuring a broken arm. Id. In determining the first and second elements required to establish an excessive force claim, the court maintained that “the extent of the injury suffered by a plaintiff is one factor that may suggest whether the use of force was excessive in a particular situation.” Id. at 434. In analyzing the third element, the court reasoned that “in gauging the objective reasonableness of the force used by a law enforcement officer, we must balance the amount of force used against the need for that force.” Id. In overruling the district court’s judgment as a matter of law for the officer, the Fifth Circuit held that the evidence presented as sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that the officer used objectively unreasonable force against the plaintiff. Id. at 435.

In Meaux v. Williams, 113 Fed. Appx. 593, 595 (5th Cir. 2004), the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment, holding that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the police officer used excessive force when arresting the plaintiff. Id. at 594. Meaux alleged that when he answered the door, he was pulled out of his house and handcuffed.

In Heflin v. Town of Warrenton, 944 F.Supp. 472 (E.D.Va. 1996) the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia overruled defendant’s motion to dismiss a 1983 excessive force claim. After a domestic disturbance between brothers, several police officers responded to a residence and arrested several family members. Id. at 473. While effectuating the arrest, the police officers allegedly used excessive force against the plaintiff when he “proceeded to drag Heflin, by the handcuffs, up the concrete steps to the parking lot. In the course of this, Heflin suffered abrasions to his stomach and face, for which he subsequently sought medical treatment.” Id. at 474.

In Harper v. Harris County, Texas, 21 F.3d 597, 599 (5th Cir. 1994) the Fifth Circuit concluded that allegations that an officer grabbed plaintiff by the throat and bruised knee, were sufficient to withstand a summary judgment seeking dismissal of an excessive force claim. In Harper, the Fifth Circuit applied the test of excessive force in effect prior to the Supreme Court case of Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1 (1992), which eradicated the requirement of showing “significant” injury in order to prove an excessive force claim. Id. at 601.

Local Rule CV-12 provides, in pertinent part, that “. . . the opposing party shall have eleven days from the date the motion to dismiss is served on the opposing party, to file a response and to specify what, if any, discovery is necessary to determine the issue(s) of qualified immunity and the time period necessary for the specific discovery. Discovery needs to be conducted to see whether a good faith “qualified immunity” exist and whether the Officer Defendants acted reasonably under the circumstances in injuring a two year old child and a disabled veteran based on a “loud noise” dispatch. Plaintiffs should be allowed to obtain the video tape of the incident so they may investigate as to what threat, if any, was posed by Plaintiffs (especially the child) that caused the Officer Defendants to use excessive force. Plaintiffs would also need to depose the Officer Defendants, which can be done within 90 days, from the time the court order discovery.

Officer Defendants argue that the filling of a suit against a governmental entity pursuant to the Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”) creates an irrevocable election and forever bars suit against any government employees in their individual capacity regarding the same subject matter. TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 101.106(a). They argue that, if a suit is filed pursuant the TTCA against a government unit and any of its employees, the employees are entitled to immediate dismissal upon the filing of a motion by the government unit. Id. However, the Fifth Circuit recently rejected the Officers’ section 101.106 argument because the TTCA does not apply to intentional torts. Meadours v. Ermel, 483 F.3d 417 (5th Cir. 2007). The court concluded that section 101.106 cannot be construed as a statutory bar to intentional tort claims.

In most cases, an expert is not needed to bring a case in Federal Court for violations of the Fourth Amendment but sometimes is necessary if the Plaintiff is seeking to bring Municipalities into the suit.

Do you have a civil rights violation and do not know how to handle it, give us a call (210) 979-9777. Our lawyers are here to help you!

1 comment:

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