Abdeljalil v. City of Fort Worth, 4:98-CV-342-A.

Citation55 F.Supp.2d 614
Decision Date30 June 1999
Docket NumberNo. 4:98-CV-342-A.,4:98-CV-342-A.
PartiesLaurie ABDELJALIL, et al., Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF FORT WORTH, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas

William R Power, Law Office of William R Power, Arlington, TX, Jimmie A Franklin, Law Office of Jimmie A Franklin, Fort Worth, TX, Fred E Stoops, Sr, Stoops & Clancy, Tulsa, OK, for Plaintiffs.

Richard E. Henderson, Fort Worth City Attorney's Office, Ross T. Foster, Law

Office of Ross T. Foster, Gerald Pruitt, Law Office of Gerald Pruitt, Fort Worth, TX, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER

McBRYDE, District Judge.

Came on for consideration the motions of defendants City of Fort Worth ("City") and Shirley Walker ("Shirley") for summary judgment as to all claims of plaintiffs, Laurie Abdeljalil ("Laurie"), individually and as administratrix of the estate of Khaled Kasem Abdeljalil ("Khaled"), deceased, Marcus Walker ("Marcus") and Sarah Walker ("Sarah"), appearing through Laurie as their next friend, and Kasem Mahmoud Abdeljalil ("Kasem"), (collectively "plaintiffs"). The court has concluded that the motions should be granted.1

I. Plaintiffs' Complaint

On May 18, 1998, plaintiffs filed their third amended complaint, their current live pleading.2 In it, they allege that:

Prior to October 19, 1997, Shirley worked in the evidence room of the Fort Worth Police Department ("police department") as a civilian employee. There, she obtained by means of the computer she used in her work personal and confidential information about Khaled and Laurie, including their home address, unpublished home telephone number, and Khaled's full name, which she provided to her son, Duncan Walker ("Duncan"), Laurie's ex-husband and the father of Marcus and Sarah. On October 19, 1997, Duncan used this information to locate the home of Khaled and Laurie. Duncan then murdered Khaled using an 8-10" folding pocket knife that Shirley had stolen from the police department evidence room and given to Duncan. Laurie and the children witnessed the murder. Thereafter, Duncan attacked Laurie, Marcus, and Sarah.

Plaintiffs assert their claims against defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 ("§ 1983") and 1988 ("§ 1988") for violations of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and also assert a right of action under the Texas Tort Claims Act, and negligence, gross negligence, bystander recovery, and negligent infliction of emotional distress claims pursuant to Texas law. Plaintiffs seek to recover actual damages, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees.

II. Applicable Summary Judgment Principles

A party is entitled to summary judgment on all or any part of a claim as to which there is no genuine issue of material fact and as to which the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c). Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505. The movant may discharge this burden by pointing out the absence of evidence to support one or more essential elements of the non-moving party's claim "since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), the non-moving party must do more than merely show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). The party opposing the motion may not rest on mere allegations or denials of pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505. To meet this burden, the nonmovant must "identify specific evidence in the record and articulate the `precise manner' in which that evidence support[s][its] claim[s]." Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 871, 115 S.Ct. 195, 130 L.Ed.2d 127 (1994). An issue is material only if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. Unsupported allegations, conclusory in nature, are insufficient to defeat a proper motion for summary judgment. Simmons v. Lyons, 746 F.2d 265, 269 (5th Cir.1984).

The standard for granting a summary judgment is the same as the standard for a directed verdict. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. If the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 597, 106 S.Ct. 1348.

III. Analysis
A. Plaintiffs' Claims against City.
1. Claims Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Section 1983 provides a mechanism for seeking redress for an alleged deprivation of a litigant's federal constitutional or federal statutory rights by a person acting under color of state law. A municipality is considered a person for purposes of § 1983. Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Services of City of New York 436 U.S. 658, 689, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). However, to hold a municipality liable under § 1983, plaintiff must identify a municipal "policy" or "custom" that caused his injuries. See Board of County Comm'rs of Bryan County. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 137 L.Ed.2d 626 (1997). This practice ensures that the defendant municipality is held liable "only for those deprivations resulting from the decisions of its duly constituted legislative body or of those officials whose acts may be said to be those of the municipality." Id. (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018 (1978)).

Liability may not be imposed upon a municipality simply because it employs a tortfeasor, see Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479, 106 S.Ct. 1292, 89 L.Ed.2d 452 (1986), or on a theory of respondeat superior, Monell, 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018. Further, plaintiff may not succeed in imposing liability on a municipality simply by "idenify[ing] conduct properly attributable to the municipality." Brown, 520 U.S. at 404, 117 S.Ct. 1382. Instead, plaintiff "must also demonstrate that, through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was the `moving force' behind the injury alleged." Id. (emphasis in original). Finally, plaintiff must show "a direct causal link between the municipal action and the deprivation of the federal right." Id.

In the present case, plaintiffs seek to hold City liable for being deliberately indifferent in the hiring, training, and/or supervision of its employees.3 Logically applied, under plaintiffs' theory of recovery, had City not engaged in such deliberately indifferent conduct, plaintiffs' constitutional rights would not have been violated.

Addressing a municipality's potential liability for hiring a future tortfeasor, the Supreme Court has held that plaintiff can succeed on such a claim only if she demonstrates that defendant did not adequately screen the tortfeasor's background, and such disregard of the tortfeasor's background "reflects deliberate indifference to the risk that a violation of a particular constitutional or statutory right will follow the decision." Brown, 520 U.S. at 411, 117 S.Ct. 1382. Here, plaintiffs have not offered evidence, or even alleged, that there was anything in Shirley's background at the time she was hired in 1981 by City that would cause the relevant policy-makers "to conclude that the plainly obvious consequences of the decision to hire [Shirley] would be the deprivation of a third party's federally protected right." Id. Thus, City cannot be held liable under § 1983 for being "deliberately indifferent" in the hiring of Shirley. See id.; see also Doe v. Hillsboro Independent Sch. Dist., 113 F.3d 1412, 1415-1416 (5th Cir.1997) (en banc) (plaintiff's inability to demonstrate nexus between perpetrator's criminal assault and defendant employer's failure to check perpetrator's criminal background was fatal to plaintiff's claim under § 1983).

Plaintiffs next argue, in a general way, that City is liable under § 1983 because it inadequately trained and supervised Shirley and other police department employees after they were hired. To recover from a municipality on a theory of inadequate training or supervision pursuant to § 1983, plaintiff must demonstrate that the failure to train "amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the [tortfeasor] comes into contact." See City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388-89, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989). Next, plaintiff must establish a causal link between the alleged inadequate training or supervision and plaintiffs' injuries. See id. at 391, 109 S.Ct. 1197. The court concludes that plaintiffs have not raised an issue of fact as to either element.

Simply put, there is no evidence that any lack of training or supervision on the part of City or police department was so deficient as to constitute "deliberate indifference" to the rights of people with whom Shirley might come in contact. See Rhyne v. Henderson County, 973 F.2d 386, 392 (5th Cir.1992) (§ 1983 claim brought by mother of pretrial detainee who committed suicide in jail failed because evidence would not support finding that defendant county had a policy of inadequately training jail staff). There is no evidence regarding the amount of training police department employees received, the training or supervision they lacked, or how additional training and supervision could have prevented plaintiffs' injuries. See id. Furthermore, there is no evidence that if Shirley and the other employees had received additional training and supervision she would not have...

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