Fields v. City of South Houston, Tex., No. 90-2220

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore GARWOOD and WIENER; VELA
Citation922 F.2d 1183
Decision Date01 February 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-2220
PartiesPaula Jean FIELDS, Individually, on behalf of the children and parents of Otis Roy Fields, and as Independent Administratix of the Estate of Otis Roy Fields, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF SOUTH HOUSTON, TEXAS and Ernest Long, Individually, and in his Official Capacity as a Police Officer of the City of South Houston, Texas, Defendants-Appellees.

Page 1183

922 F.2d 1183
18 Fed.R.Serv.3d 998
Paula Jean FIELDS, Individually, on behalf of the children
and parents of Otis Roy Fields, and as Independent
Administratix of the Estate of Otis Roy
Fields, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CITY OF SOUTH HOUSTON, TEXAS and Ernest Long, Individually,
and in his Official Capacity as a Police Officer
of the City of South Houston, Texas,
Defendants-Appellees.
No. 90-2220.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.
Feb. 1, 1991.
Rehearing Denied March 21, 1991.

Page 1185

Mary L. Sinderson, Houston, Tex., for plaintiff-appellant.

William S. Helfand, Kathleen Walsh Beirne, Jay D. Hirsch, Hirsch, Glover, Robinson & Sheiness, Houston, Tex., for defendants-appellees.

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

Before GARWOOD and WIENER, Circuit Judges and VELA 1, District Judge.

VELA, District Judge:

Otis Fields was arrested by a police officer of the City of South Houston and subsequently died. His widow, Mrs. Fields, filed suit alleging that his death and physical injuries suffered prior to his death were a result of the practices of the City of South Houston and its officials. She sought damages under federal (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983) and state laws.

The district court granted summary judgment on the federal claims in favor of Officer Long and the City of South Houston on the basis of qualified immunity. The state claims were remanded to Harris County District Court. Finding the City is not entitled to qualified immunity, we reverse this determination. Deciding further that there are genuine issues of material fact on the excessive force and denial of medical attention issues we reverse and remand these issues for trial on the merits. Because federal standards apply to the determination of "false arrest" in a Sec. 1983 action, we uphold the grant of summary judgment on the "false arrest" issue.

THE THREE LITTLE SETS OF FACT AND THEIR LOWER COURT PROCEEDINGS

The Undisputed Facts

The undisputed facts paint, at best, a sketchy picture. Early in the morning of August 21, 1986, the police department of the City of South Houston received a telephone complaint that "there was a man running around an apartment complex with no clothes on," and police officer Ernest Long was dispatched to the complex on 410 Perez Street. When Officer Long arrived at the complex, the owner, Mr. Percy Lampin, and two other residents, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Mitchell, confirmed that Mr. Otis Roy Fields ("Fields") was the man they had seen naked. At that time, however, Fields was fully clothed and was "slumped over" in the passenger seat of a pickup truck, with his wife in the driver's seat. After questioning Mrs. Fields ("Plaintiff") briefly, Officer Long arrested Mr. Fields, took him to the station, booked him and placed him in a jail cell. Officer Long asked Lampin to come to the police station to swear out a complaint against Fields, but Henry Mitchell volunteered instead. The charges against Mr. Fields were public exposure

Page 1186

and public intoxication. At 7:28 a.m. on August 22, 1986, paramedics were summoned to the jail, where they found Fields comatose. Fields was transported to the hospital, where he died shortly afterward. The cause of death was bacterial endocarditis, a heart infection.

Plaintiff's Facts

From her deposition, Plaintiff's version of the events of August 21-22 is as follows. About three days prior to his arrest, Fields began running a fever and gradually got sicker. On the morning of August 21, Plaintiff left for work at 6:50 a.m. About one hour later she received a call from her baby-sitter, Jackie Mitchell, telling her that Mr. Fields had come to Mitchell's apartment naked to call his wife, and that Fields was very sick and needed to go to the hospital. Mrs. Fields went to the Mitchells' apartment, dressed her husband and put him in the truck to take him to the hospital. Just before she could leave, Officer Long arrived and began questioning her about Mr. Fields's condition. Plaintiff stated that Fields was very sick and that she was taking him to the hospital. Officer Long asked Fields if he was drunk; Fields did not answer. Officer Long also asked whether Fields had taken drugs, and Fields responded that he thought he might have taken two quaaludes the night before. Officer Long asked whether Plaintiff was taking Fields to the hospital, and Plaintiff confirmed she was. Officer Long, however, said that Fields was going to jail instead. Plaintiff and Officer Long had to assist the weak Fields out of the truck and into the police car.

Mrs. Fields further claims that, after the arrest, she went to the police station and entreated the officers to give Fields medical attention. The officers told Plaintiff not to worry because they would take care of him. Mrs. Fields's request to see her husband was denied. The next time Plaintiff saw Fields was August 22 at the hospital, at which time Fields exhibited signs of physical trauma.

Defendants' Facts

Defendants' version of the story is, understandably, quite different. Officer Long maintains that when he saw Fields in the truck, Fields appeared to be quite intoxicated; this observation was supported by Lampin. Officer Long questioned Plaintiff about Fields's drug use, and determined that Fields had taken some drugs (quaaludes) recently. When Officer Long asked whether Plaintiff was taking Fields to the hospital, Plaintiff responded that she had to get back to work and was taking Fields to a friend's house. Officer Long arrested Fields on the basis of the perception that Fields was intoxicated, and based on the reports of public exposure and Mitchell's written complaint made at the police station later.

After arriving at the station, Officer Long purportedly had Fields help him complete the paperwork. Officer Long contends that Fields appeared intoxicated but not "out of control." Mr. Fields was not mistreated in any way. Defendants concede that Plaintiff visited the station after the arrest, but they assert that her concern was about her potential parole violation and not medical attention for Fields. Officer Long stated that he made three trips to the jail to check on Fields "in order to determine that he was okay," actions Plaintiff claims are unusual. 2 On the morning of August 22, Officer Long saw Fields sitting on his bunk at 6:30 a.m. About an hour later, Officer Long was advised of the ambulance call to the jail, and when he returned there, he saw Fields on a stretcher with his shirt open and no sign of physical trauma.

Defendants have produced the affidavits of two pathologists, one of whom performed the autopsy of Fields's body. Both stated that the cause of death was bacterial endocarditis, that the mortality rate is 40%, and that Fields would have died even if Plaintiff had taken him directly to the hospital

Page 1187

on the morning of August 21. Even if Fields did not die, the pathologists maintain, he would have remained in a vegetative state. Further, the pathologists explained that the average "lay person" would not be able to determine the difference between alcohol or drug-induced behavior and behavior caused by Fields' disease.

Proceedings Below

As a result of the events described above, Plaintiff brought suit in Texas state court on August 2, 1988 against Officer Long and the City of South Houston ("the City"), seeking damages under state and federal laws. Plaintiff's federal claims are based on 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983; specifically, that the actions of Officer Long and all other city employees or agents were taken under color of laws of the State of Texas and of the City of South Houston, and were taken pursuant to official policy or custom of the defendant-City, which resulted in the deprivation of constitutional rights. The district court, after a series of procedural events to be discussed later, granted summary judgment in favor of both defendants.

On appeal, Plaintiff claims the "sole point of error" is that the district court erroneously granted summary judgment for Defendants when material issues of disputed fact remain. Defendants respond that Plaintiff's summary judgment "proof" was not timely filed, was not before the district court when it considered the motion for summary judgment and thus cannot be considered by this court. Second, even if Plaintiff's "proof" is properly considered, Defendants maintain they have established qualified immunity as a matter of law.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT LAW

"Review of a district court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment is plenary." Lavespere v. Niagara Mach. & Tool Works, 910 F.2d 167, 177 (5th Cir.1990). "The appeals court applies the same standards as those that govern the district court's determination." Id. "Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). To determine whether there are any genuine issues of material fact, the court must first consult the applicable law to ascertain what factual issues are material. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). After that, the court must review the evidence bearing on those issues, viewing the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Lavespere, 910 F.2d at 178.

In a summary judgment, the rules governing burden of proof are extremely important. The moving party bears the burden of establishing there are no genuine issues of material fact. Lavespere, 910 F.2d at 178. Once the moving party makes that showing, however, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show that summary judgment is not appropriate. Id. The nonmoving party cannot discharge that burden by referring to the "mere allegations or denials" of his pleadings; rather, that party must, either by submitting opposing evidentiary documents or by referring to evidentiary documents already in...

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427 practice notes
  • Murray v. City of Austin, Tex., No. 90-8561
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • November 4, 1991
    ...56. It is more than well-established that our review of a summary judgment is plenary. E.g., Fields v. City of South Houston, 922 F.2d 1183, 1187 (5th 3 The parties use the terms seal and insignia interchangeably; however, the seal of Austin is a star. 4 We raised this issue sua sponte at o......
  • Franklin v. Doyle, CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:09-CV-931
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Texas
    • July 9, 2012
    ...Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Fields v. City of S. Houston, 922 F.2d 1183, 1187 (5th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). The non-movant cannot merely rest on the allegations of the pleadings, but must establish that there are......
  • Martinez v. Bohls Bearing Equipment Co., No. Civ.A.SA-04-CA-0120-XR.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • April 11, 2005
    ...its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to show that summary judgment is inappropriate. Fields v. City of S. Houston, 922 F.2d 1183, 1187 (5th Cir.1991). All justifiable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party o......
  • Keith v. Schuh, Civil Action No. 1:96cv39-D-D (N.D. Miss. 4/__/2001), Civil Action No. 1:96cv39-D-D.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi
    • April 1, 2001
    ...the arresting officer had probable cause." See Brown v. Bryan County, 67 F.3d 1174, 1180 (5th Cir.1995); Fields v. City of South Houston, 922 F.2d 1183, 1189 (5th Cir.1991). "Probable cause is a fluid concept—turning on the assessment Page 11 probabilities in particular factual contexts—not......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
428 cases
  • Murray v. City of Austin, Tex., No. 90-8561
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • November 4, 1991
    ...56. It is more than well-established that our review of a summary judgment is plenary. E.g., Fields v. City of South Houston, 922 F.2d 1183, 1187 (5th 3 The parties use the terms seal and insignia interchangeably; however, the seal of Austin is a star. 4 We raised this issue sua sponte at o......
  • Franklin v. Doyle, CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:09-CV-931
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Texas
    • July 9, 2012
    ...Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Fields v. City of S. Houston, 922 F.2d 1183, 1187 (5th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). The non-movant cannot merely rest on the allegations of the pleadings, but must establish that there are......
  • Martinez v. Bohls Bearing Equipment Co., No. Civ.A.SA-04-CA-0120-XR.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • April 11, 2005
    ...its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to show that summary judgment is inappropriate. Fields v. City of S. Houston, 922 F.2d 1183, 1187 (5th Cir.1991). All justifiable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party o......
  • Keith v. Schuh, Civil Action No. 1:96cv39-D-D (N.D. Miss. 4/__/2001), Civil Action No. 1:96cv39-D-D.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi
    • April 1, 2001
    ...the arresting officer had probable cause." See Brown v. Bryan County, 67 F.3d 1174, 1180 (5th Cir.1995); Fields v. City of South Houston, 922 F.2d 1183, 1189 (5th Cir.1991). "Probable cause is a fluid concept—turning on the assessment Page 11 probabilities in particular factual contexts—not......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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