Deputies cannot use no-evidence summary judgment to argue qualified immunity defense in state court says Houston Court of Appeals for 14th District.

Sergeant Mary Haver and Deputy Constable Kevin Vailes, in their individually capacities v. Barbara Coats, et al. 14-15-00185-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.], April 12, 2016)

This is a qualified immunity/excessive force case where the court held the individual constable deputies could not use a no-evidence motion for summary judgment to assert a qualified immunity defense in state court.

Amron called 9-1-1 from a poolside emergency telephone at an apartment complex after developing trouble breathing. The dispatcher sent paramedics. Amron did not advise dispatch he had consumed cocaine, but did advise the paramedics at the scene prior to the constable deputies arriving. Amron then told the paramedics that he was thirsty, refused to allow them to check him out, and walked to a nearby Burger King. While drinking water in the parking lot of the restaurant, a deputy approached Amron, placed him in handcuffs, then escorted him to a nearby ambulance. A few minutes later Amron, still handcuffed, ran out from behind the ambulance toward the drive-thru window. The store manager testified Four officers struggled to pin Amron, but ultimately, a paramedic injected Amron with a syringe. Amron was then placed on a gurney, loaded into an ambulance, and taken away from the scene.  However, Amron died. Coats, the executor for estate for Amron, sued for excessive force. Two deputies filed no-evidence summary judgments based on qualified immunity, which the trial court denied. They appealed.

Generally, when claims based on federal substantive law are raised in state court, state law and rules govern the manner in which the federal claims are tried and proved. The court held the federal defense of qualified immunity is an affirmative defense in state court. Ordinarily, the party asserting an affirmative defense has the burden of both pleading and proving the defense. As a result, under Texas procedural rules, a defendant cannot use a no-evidence motion for summary judgment to establish an affirmative defense.  The officers cite Leo v. Trevino, 285 S.W.3d 470, 480 (Tex. App.— Corpus Christi 2006, no pet.) where the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals held that as a result of the shifting burdens of proof found in federal cases addressing qualified immunity, a state actor could use a no-evidence motion for summary judgment to raise the qualified immunity defense.  However, the Houston court held because this procedure would enable a §1983 defendant to prevail without offering any proof in support of the qualified immunity defense, it declined to adopt Leo’s reasoning. After analyzing several other cases from other districts, the court held this “motion was not an appropriate procedural vehicle for establishing their affirmative defense without a trial” in state court. As a result, it was proper to deny the motion.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Justice Boyce, Justice Busby and Justice Brown. Opinion by Justice Busby.  The attorney listed for Coats is Bradford Gilde. The attorney listed for the deputies is Bruce Powers.