Delacruz v. City of Port Arthur, CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:18-CV-11

Decision Date14 March 2019
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 1:18-CV-11
PartiesOLGA DELACRUZ and MARCO DELACRUZ, Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF PORT ARTHUR, et al., Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas

Pending before the court are Defendants City of Port Arthur (the "City") and Officer Lane Cherry ("Cherry"), Officer Terry Cater ("Cater"), Sergeant Reid Rowe ("Rowe"), Officer Shannon Meaux ("Meaux"), and Officer Shelby Harper's ("Harper") (collectively, "Defendants")1 respective 12(b)(6) Motions to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint (##37, 41). Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendants move to dismiss all claims asserted against them by Plaintiffs Olga Delacruz and Marco Delacruz (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), individually and in their representative capacity for the estate of their son, Manuel Delacruz ("Manuel"). Having considered the motions, the submissions of the parties, the pleadings, and the applicable law, the court is of the opinion that the City's Motion to Dismiss (#37) should be GRANTED and that the Officers' Motions to Dismiss (##37, 41) should be GRANTED in part and DEFERRED in part.

I. Background

According to Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint (#32), on August 1, 2016, Manuel, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, experienced a behavioral episode causing him to be confused and visibly anxious. His family brought him to the Medical Center for emergency treatment. Manuel, who was 26 years old, initially refused treatment, and the Medical Center advised his family he could not be admitted involuntarily without a court order. Manuel's family called an unidentified court, but the clerk told them the judge was unavailable and instructed them to have a police officer fill out and swear to an Application to Facility for Emergency Detention Without a Warrant and Acceptance for Preliminary Examination ( the "Application"). Manuel's family called for police assistance to obtain and complete an Application.

While waiting for the police to arrive, Manuel left and wandered into the parking lot. At that point, Port Arthur police (including the Officers) arrived and escorted Manuel back into the Medical Center without incident, where he was placed in a glass-walled examination room. Manuel voluntarily allowed a police officer to handcuff him to the bed, and a nurse remained with him while the police worked on the Application. Manuel was allegedly sufficiently docile that a police officer later removed the handcuffs.

Cherry executed and swore to the Application, but the Medical Center still refused to admit Manuel until he voluntarily agreed to take medication and a court order was obtained. The situation allegedly distressed Manuel, who vacillated between agreeing to take the medication and subsequently refusing. He began to exhibit signs of confusion, disorientation, and loss of memory as to his location and the identities of those around him. Manuel, who weighed 286 pounds,allegedly expressed not only a fear that the officers would kill him, but that they would rape him, as well.

Later, the Medical Center agreed to admit Manuel if he would remove all of his clothing and put on a medical gown. Manuel voluntarily removed all of his clothing except for his shorts, which he did not want to remove due to his expressed fear of being raped by the police officers. Cherry and Rowe, one of whom allegedly stated he would "take care of the situation," instructed Manuel's family and the nurse to leave Manuel's examination room. After exiting the room along with the nurse, Manuel's family allegedly heard and witnessed "a very audible and alarming struggle" break out behind the closed examination room door. Curtains blocked their view inside the room, but the family purportedly heard Cherry and Rowe striking and tasing Manuel and saw Cherry and Rowe pin Manuel against the glass wall and door of the room briefly when the altercation pushed the curtains aside.

Eventually, the examination room door opened, and Cherry and Rowe reportedly pulled Manuel, who was on his back, into the hallway. Taylor arrived shortly thereafter, at which point, according to Plaintiffs, Manuel was then in a standing position with Cherry and Rowe on his back. Both officers purportedly "rode him to the ground," which "created a startling audible impact with the floor." After that point, according to Manuel's father, Manuel did not move. Cherry allegedly put Manuel in a chokehold, and Rowe pinned Manuel "to the floor with his full weight" on Manuel's back. A short time later, Cater, Meaux, and Harper arrived and also allegedly placed their full weight onto Manuel's back. Manuel was, at some point after landing on the ground, placed in handcuffs. Altogether, the altercation lasted approximately twenty minutes after Manuel's family left the examination room. Eventually, one of the Officers noticed that Manuelwas non-responsive. When notified, Medical Center staff immediately attempted, unsuccessfully, to resuscitate him. Manuel was pronounced dead at the scene.

Defendants' account of the event differs markedly. According to Defendants, once in the examination room, Manuel grabbed Rowe's hand and pushed him backwards, prompting Rowe and Cherry to restrain him. Manuel allegedly struck Rowe in the head with his right elbow and eventually grabbed an officer's mace can, which he then discharged in Rowe's face. Cherry purportedly disarmed Manuel and told him he was under arrest. Manuel then allegedly lunged at Cherry and pulled his service weapon halfway out of the holster before Cherry broke Manuel's grip. Manuel, Cherry, and Rowe purportedly exchanged blows before the struggle continued onto the floor. A taser was deployed, which allegedly did not stop Manuel's actions. Chery and Rowe then purportedly dragged Manuel into the hallway, where he was placed in handcuffs before the Officers realized he was no longer responsive.

Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in January 2018. The City and the Port Arthur Police Department filed a motion to dismiss on February 15, 2018, while Cherry filed a motion to dismiss on April 13, 2018. The court granted both motions to dismiss on May 8, 2018, allowing Plaintiffs 14 days to file an amended complaint as to their § 1983 claims against Cherry, the City, and unknown officers later identified as Cater, Rowe, Meaux, and Harper. On June 28, 2018, after the City disclosed all relevant police reports and audiovisual recordings, Plaintiffs filed the Second Amended Complaint (the "Complaint"), re-pleading their § 1983 claims against Cherry and the City and clarifying their § 1983 claims against Cater, Rowe, Meaux, and Harper.2

II. Analysis
A. Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests only the formal sufficiency of the statement of a claim for relief and is "appropriate when a defendant attacks the complaint because it fails to state a legally cognizable claim." Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001), cert. denied, 536 U.S. 960 (2002); accord Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (holding that in order "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face"); Humana, Inc. v. Shrader & Assocs., 584 B.R. 658, 670 (S.D. Tex. 2018); Faas v. Cascos, 225 F. Supp. 3d 604, 609 (S.D. Tex. 2016). It is not a procedure for resolving contests about the facts or the merits of a case. See Stanfield v. Boston Sci. Corp., 166 F. Supp. 3d 873, 877 (S.D. Tex. 2015); 5B CHARLES A. WRIGHT ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1356 (3d ed. 2018). In ruling on such a motion, the court must accept the factual allegations of the complaint as true, view them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Hernandez v. Mesa, ___ U.S. ___, 137 S. Ct. 2003, 2005 (2017); Warren v. Chesapeake Expl., L.L.C., 759 F.3d 413, 415 (5th Cir. 2014); Leal v. McHugh, 731 F.3d 405, 410 (5th Cir. 2013) (noting that at the 12(b)(6) stage, the court must construe all facts in favor of the non-moving party); Wilson v. Birnberg, 667 F.3d 591, 595 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 567 U.S. 936 (2012). Nevertheless, "the plaintiff's complaint [must] be stated with enough clarity to enable a court or an opposing party to determine whether a claim is sufficiently alleged." Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161 (citing Elliott v. Foufas, 867 F.2d 877, 880 (5th Cir. 1989)). The "[f]actual allegations mustbe enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); accord Lee v. Verizon Communs., Inc., 837 F.3d 523, 533 (5th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 1374 (2017); In re La. Crawfish Producers, 772 F.3d 1026, 1029 (5th Cir. 2014); Gibson v. Tex. Dep't. of Ins.-Div. of Workers' Comp., 700 F.3d 227, 233 (5th Cir. 2012).

Generally, the court may not look beyond the four corners of the plaintiff's pleadings. Indest v. Freeman Decorating, Inc., 164 F.3d 258, 261 (5th Cir. 1999); see Hicks v. Lingle, 370 F. App'x 497, 497 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 562 U.S. 1111 (2010); Wilson, 667 F.3d at 595. The court may, however, consider matters that are outside the pleadings if those materials are matters of public record. Fin. Acquisition Partners LP v. Blackwell, 440 F.3d 278, 286 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing Davis v. Bayless, 70 F.3d 367, 372 n.3 (5th Cir. 1995)); Cinel v. Connick, 15 F.3d 1338, 1343 n.6 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 868 (1994). The court may also consider "documents attached to the complaint, and any documents attached to the motion to dismiss that are central to the claim and referenced by the complaint." Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010); see Innova Hosp. San Antonio, L.P. v. Blue Cross & Blue...

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