954 F.2d 1054 (5th Cir. 1992), 91-1215, Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit

Docket Nº:91-1215.
Citation:954 F.2d 1054
Party Name:Charlene LEATHERMAN, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. TARRANT COUNTY NARCOTICS INTELLIGENCE AND COORDINATION UNIT, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:February 28, 1992
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 1054

954 F.2d 1054 (5th Cir. 1992)

Charlene LEATHERMAN, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

TARRANT COUNTY NARCOTICS INTELLIGENCE AND COORDINATION UNIT,

et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 91-1215.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

February 28, 1992

Page 1055

Richard Gladden, Don Gladden, Fort Worth, Tex., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Van Thompson, Jr., Dist. Atty., Fort Worth, Tex., for Tarrant County, et al.

Wayne K. Olson, Rex McEntire, Fort Worth, Tex., for City of Lake Worth, Tex.

Kevin Keith, Dallas, Tex., for City of Grapevine, Tex.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before GOLDBERG, SMITH, and DUHE, Circuit Judges.

GOLDBERG, Circuit Judge:

After police shot and killed their two dogs during the execution of a search warrant, plaintiffs brought this section 1983 action against the municipal defendants employing the police officers involved. They alleged that the municipalities had failed to adequately train their officers, and that such failure amounted to a municipal policy. The district court, 755 F.Supp. 726 (N.D.Tex.1991), dismissed the complaint because it did not satisfy this circuit's "heightened pleading requirement." Under the heightened pleading standard, a complaint must allege with particularity all material facts establishing a plaintiff's right of recovery, including "detailed facts supporting the contention that [a] plea of immunity cannot be sustained," Elliott v. Perez, 751 F.2d 1472, 1482 (5th Cir.1985), and, in cases like this one, facts that support the requisite allegation that the municipality engaged in a policy or custom for which it can be held responsible. Palmer v. City of San Antonio, 810 F.2d 514, 517 (5th Cir.1987). Because plaintiffs complaint does not satisfy the heightened pleading requirement, we affirm.

Dog Day Afternoon

This civil rights case arose out of two separate incidents involving the execution of search warrants by law enforcement officers with the Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit. One incident involved Charlene Leatherman, her son Travis, and her two dogs, Shakespeare and Ninja. Ms. Leatherman and Travis were driving in Fort Worth when they were suddenly stopped by police cars. Police officers surrounded the two of them, shouting instructions and threatening to shoot them. The officers informed Ms. Leatherman that other law enforcement officers were in the process of searching her residence. The officers also informed her that the search team had shot and killed their two dogs. Ms. Leatherman and Travis returned to their home to find Shakespeare lying dead some twenty-five feet from the front door. He had been shot three times, once in the stomach, once in the leg, and once in the head. Ninja was lying in a pool of blood on the bed in the master bedroom. He had been shot in the head at close range, evidently with a shotgun, and brain matter was splattered

Page 1056

across the bed, against the wall, and on the floor around the bed. The officers found nothing in the home relevant to their investigation. Rather than departing with dispatch, they proceeded to lounge on the front lawn of the Leatherman home for over an hour, drinking, smoking, talking, and laughing, apparently celebrating their seemingly unbridled power.

The other incident alleged in plaintiffs' amended complaint involved a police raid of the home of Gerald Andert pursuant to a search warrant. The warrant was issued on the basis that police officers had smelled odors associated with the manufacture of amphetamines emanating from the Andert home. At the time of the raid, Andert, a sixty-four year old grandfather, was at home with his family mourning the death of his wife; she had died after a three year battle with cancer. Without knocking or identifying themselves, the officers burst into the home and, without provocation, began beating Andert. First, an unidentified officer knocked him backwards. When Andert turned, he was greeted by two swift blows to the head inflicted by a club, presumably of the billy-style. His head wound would require eleven stitches. Other officers, in the meantime, shouted obscenities at the family members, who were still unaware of the intruders' identities. At gun point, the officers forced the family members to lie face down on the floor. The officers did not relent: they continued to insult the residents and threatened to harm them. After searching the residence for one and one-half hours and finding nothing in the residence related to narcotics activity, the officers finally left.

Plaintiffs sued the Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit ("TCNICU"), Tim Curry (in his official capacity as director of that unit), Tarrant County, Don Carpenter (sheriff of Tarrant County), the City of Lake Worth, Texas, and the City of Grapevine, Texas, in connection with these two incidents. Their amended complaint 1 alleged generally that the municipalities failed to formulate and implement an adequate policy to train its officers on the proper manner to execute search warrants and respond when confronted by family dogs. The allegations were of the "boilerplate" variety, alleging no underlying facts other than the events described above to support the assertions that the municipalities had adopted policies, customs, and practices condoning the conduct of the officers involved. 2 The complaint did not name any of the officers in their individual capacities as defendants. 3

TCNICU, Tim Curry, and Don Carpenter moved the district court to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), or in the alternative, to enter summary judgment in their favor pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. They argued first that the complaint did not adequately allege facts under this circuit's heightened pleading standard establishing that the municipality adopted a policy or custom countenancing

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the police conduct or that its failure to train amounted to deliberate indifference to the rights of the plaintiffs. Alternatively, the movants sought summary judgment, arguing that the evidence would fall short of establishing the necessary elements of municipal liability.

The district court granted the motion and dismissed all of plaintiffs' claims against all of the defendants, movants and nonmovants alike. The district court held that the complaint did not satisfy the heightened pleading standard, and that in any event, the evidence in the record demonstrated that all defendants were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. On appeal, plaintiffs urge this court to abandon the heightened pleading requirement, apparently conceding that their complaint does not satisfy that standard. Putting aside any pleading deficiencies, they also challenge the propriety of summary judgment. Finally, they contend that the district court's sua sponte...

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