Special contributing author Laura Mueller, City Attorney for Dripping Springs
Elezar Balli v. Officer Florentino Martinez, et al., No. 14-20-00030-CV (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] August 10, 2021) (mem. op.).
In this appeal from a trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the defendant officers, the 14th Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment because the pro se plaintiff failed to challenge all grounds for the summary judgment and the court was required to affirm the summary judgment on the unchallenged grounds.
The plaintiff sued the officers of the Clute Police Department for tort and 1983 claims pro se after he was arrested for domestic violence and transported to jail. While being transported the plaintiff struggled against the officers, knocked the officers down, bit the police chief, threatened the officers, hit his head on the inside of the back seat of the police car, and damaged the police car. During the arrest, the officers tased the plaintiff. The officers tried to use a pillow to protect the plaintiff’s head in the backseat of the car. The defendant officers argued that: (1) the amount of force was objectively reasonable as a matter of law; (2) they were entitled to qualified immunity; and (3) the plaintiff’s conviction for assault for biting the police chief barred his claim for damages. The trial court granted the defendant officers’ summary judgment without specifying the grounds and the plaintiff appealed the summary judgment. The trial court also dismissed the state law claims since under Section 101.106(f) of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code, the plaintiff was required to bring suit against the City rather than the officers. The City and Police Chief were dismissed from the case because they were not properly served and the trial court had no jurisdiction over them as defendants. The plaintiff did not appeal these holdings.
Under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 166a(c), for a summary judgment to be overturned, an appellant has to prove that any and all grounds for summary judgment were not meritorious. If the appellant does not challenge every ground for which summary judgment was granted, then a court of appeals has to uphold the summary judgment. The appellant in this case only appealed the issue that his conviction for assault barred his claim and failed to challenge the other two grounds.
The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the defendant officers because the pro se plaintiff failed to appeal on all of the summary judgment grounds.
If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Zimmerer, Bourliot, and Spain. Opinion by Justice Jerry Zimmerer.