Innocent defendant’s claims against DPS and DA dismissed

Sampson v Tex. Dept. Public Safety et al, NO. 09-12-00537-CV (Tex. App. Beaumont, July 11, 2013).

This is a §1983 and state tort claim case arising from an arrest but dismissal for marihuana.

Sampson was arrested after a search of his vehicle where marihuana was discovery. Charges were later dismissed when another individual took responsibility for the drugs. Sampson sued the Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”), the District Attorney Ligon, and another defendant Lhnen for a variety of claims. The trial court granted DPS’ and Ligon’s plea to the jurisdiction and Lhnen because he had not been served. Sampson appealed.

The Beaumont Court of Appeals began with an analysis of sovereign immunity for the state law claims. Sampson’s claims of false imprisonment, false arrest, trespass, coercion, and abuse of process and authority were intentional torts for which a governmental entity is immune and were dismissed.  DPS also retains immunity for claims grounded in fraud, such as conspiracy to defraud, racketeering, and dishonor in commerce. Since “extortion” claims are not recognized but treated as unlawful conversion (also an intentional tort) it was dismissed.  Obstruction of justice is a criminal offense with no private civil cause of action.  Citing to U.S. Supreme Court precedence, the court went onto hold that the 11th Amendment protects states from suit in state court for violations of federal law.  A suit against an official in his official capacity is essentially a suit against the state and since a state is not a “person” under 42 U.C.C. §1983, such claims were properly dismissed.  The claims against DA Ligon were also those performed as a prosecutor and he retains immunity from such claims. Finally, the court held that Sampson was under a continuing duty to use due diligence in serving the third defendant and since he never even requested service, specified any manner of service, or requested reinstatement, the dismissal of Lhnen, without prejudice, was proper.

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