Taylor v. Taser International, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING 22 MOTION for Leave to Designate Responsible Third Party, GRANTING 29 Unopposed MOTION for Leave to Exceed Page Limit for Defendant's Reply in Support of Motion for Leave to Designate Responsible Third Party.(Signed by Judge Gray H Miller) Parties notified.(rkonieczny, 4)
United States District Court
Southern District of Texas
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
TASER INTERNATIONAL, INC.,
August 16, 2017
David J. Bradley, Clerk
CIVIL ACTION H-17-673
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Pending before the court is defendant TASER International, Inc.’s (“Taser”) motion for leave
to designate a responsible third party (Dkt. 22) and motion for leave to exceed page limits for its
reply brief (Dkt. 29). Plaintiff Karen Taylor filed timely objections to the motion for leave to
designate a responsible third party. Dkt. 26. Having considered the motions, objections, reply,
evidentiary record, and applicable law, the court is of the opinion that Taser’s motion for leave to
designate a responsible third party (Dkt. 22) should be GRANTED, Taser’s motion for leave to
exceed page limits (Dkt. 29) should be GRANTED, and Taylor’s objections to the motion for leave
to designate a responsible third party (Dkt. 26) should be OVERRULED.
This is a product liability case. On March 2, 2017, plaintiff Karen Taylor, a former Houston
Police Department officer, filed a complaint against Taser alleging a defect in Taser’s product led
to her personal injuries. Dkt. 1. On July 27, 2017, Taylor filed an amended complaint. Dkt. 24.
Taylor alleged that she was in a physical altercation with a suspect—Florence Walker. Id. During
the altercation, Taylor deployed a Taser gun that was manufactured by Taser. Id. The parties dispute
whether the Taser gun failed to work properly. Id.; Dkt. 22. On July 22, 2017, Taser filed a motion
to designate Florence Walker as a party who caused or contributed to Taylor’s injuries in whole or
in part. Dkt. 22 at 3. Officer Taylor responded, objecting to the designation of Walker as a
responsible third party. Dkt. 26 at 1. Taser filed a reply and a motion for leave to exceed the reply
brief’s page limits. Dkt. 29. Taser’s motion for leave to exceed the page limits (Dkt. 26) is
II. LEGAL STANDARD
In Texas, proportionate liability applies to “any cause of action based on tort in which a
defendant, settling person, or responsible third party is found responsible for a percentage of the
harm for which relief is sought.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.002(a)(l). A party must seek
leave to designate responsible third parties. § 33.004. The statute enables parties to designate
individuals who are not subject to the court’s jurisdiction, immune from suit, or unknown.
§ 33.004(j); In re Unitec Elevator Servs. Co., 178 S.W.3d 53, 58 n.5 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st
Dist.] 2005, no pet.). Once a defendant has moved for leave to designate responsible third parties,
a plaintiff may object. § 33.004(f).
To prevent designation, the burden is on the plaintiff to establish that “(1) the defendant did
not plead sufficient facts concerning the alleged responsibility of the person to satisfy the pleading
requirement of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure; and (2) after having been granted leave to
replead, the defendant [still] failed to plead sufficient facts.” § 33.004(g); see Armstrong v. Nat’l
Shipping Co. of Saudi Arabia, 4:15-CV-868, 2017 WL 2156358, at *2 (S.D. Tex. May 17, 2017)
(Ellison, J.) (applying section 33.004(g) and the Texas Rule of Civil Procedure pleading standard);
Fisher v. Halliburton, CIV. A. H-05-1731, 2009 WL 1098457, at *2 (S.D. Tex. Apr. 23, 2009)
(Miller, J.) (same); see also Tex. Sims v. Kia Motors of Am., Inc., 839 F.3d 393, 399 (5th Cir. 2016)
(acknowledging that Texas law permits parties to designate a responsible third party).
After leave has been granted to designate third parties and “[a]fter adequate time for
discovery, a party may move to strike the designation of a responsible third party on the ground that
there is no evidence that the designated person is responsible for any portion of the claimant's alleged
injury or damage.” § 33.004(l). In this instance, the burden is on the defendant to produce
“sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of fact regarding the designated person’s responsibility
for the claimant’s injury or damage.” Id. Additionally, before trial, the court must determine
whether there is sufficient evidence to support the submission of a question to the jury regarding the
designated party’ responsibility. § 33.003(b). Therefore, while the pleading requirements at the
outset are not stringent, as trial moves closer, the requirement for sufficient evidence to support the
actual submission of a question on the responsibility of the designated third parties becomes more
Taser moves for leave to designate Florence Taylor as a responsible third party under Texas’s
proportionate responsibility statute. Dkt. 22 (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.004). Taylor
objects to the designation of Walker as a responsible third party because of (1) federal preemption,
(2) estoppel, (3) intervening causation, and (4) that Walker was mentally ill and lacked the mens rea
to assault Taylor. Dkt. 26. Taser responds that Taylor’s arguments are unsupported by case law and
that the arguments on assault or proximate causation should be left for a jury to consider at trial.
Dkt. 29-2. Taser also argues that Texas courts broadly and liberally construe the responsible third
party doctrine. Dkt. 22 at 2–3.
Section 33.004(g)(1) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code unequivocally states
that a court “shall” grant a motion for leave to designate a responsible third party unless an objecting
party establishes that the defendant failed to “plead sufficient facts to satisfy the pleading
requirements of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.” § 33.004; In re Bustamante, 510 S.W.3d 732,
738 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2016, no pet.) (“The use of the word ‘shall’ in a statute ‘imposes a
duty.’”). Texas follows a ‘fair notice’ standard for pleading. Low v. Henry, 221 S.W.3d 609, 612
(Tex. 2007); see also Tex. R. Civ. P. 47(a) (stating that a pleading setting forth claims for relief must
contain a short statement of the cause of action sufficient to give fair notice of the claim involved).
A pleading is sufficient when “an opposing party can ascertain from the pleading the nature, basic
issues, and the type of evidence that might be relevant to the controversy.” Low, 221 S.W.3d at 612.
Here, a review of the motion shows that Taser identified the basic issues and evidence related
to the controversy. Taser alleges that on October 8, 2015, a fight ensued between Taylor and
Walker. Dkt. 22 at 3. Taylor deployed her Taser gun which subdued Walker, but Walker got back
up. Id. Taylor attempted to deploy the Taser gun again but claimed the Taser gun was ineffective.
Id. Walker continued to fight after the Taser was deployed and caused injuries to Taylor’s hand and
back. Id. Taser argues that Walker’s conduct was a proximate cause of some or all of the alleged
damages in this lawsuit. Id. The court finds that Taser has satisfied the pleading requirements of
the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. Tex. R. Civ. P. 47(a); Brewer v. Suzuki Motor of Am., Inc., CIV.
A. No. 4:15-CV-00197, 2016 WL 4159754, at *3 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 3, 2016) (Harmon, J.) (holding
a defendant “may liberally designate responsible third parties”).
Taylor’s objections, however, do not allege that Taser failed to plead sufficient facts. Dkt.
26. The court need not address Taylor’s objections individually because none addresses the type of
objection required under section 33.004(g). Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.004; Bustamante,
510 S.W.3d at 738 (granting leave to designate a responsible third party because plaintiffs did not
contend that defendant failed to plead sufficient facts to satisfy the pleading requirements). Because
Taylor did not allege, much less establish, that Taser failed to meet the pleading requirements,
Taylor’s objections to designating Walker as a responsible third party (Dkt. 26) are OVERRULED.
Accordingly, Taser’s motion for leave to designate a responsible third party (Dkt. 22) is GRANTED.
Taser’s motion for leave to designate a responsible third party (Dkt. 22) is GRANTED and
Taser’s motion for leave to exceed page limits (Dkt. 29) is GRANTED. Taylor’s objections to the
motion for leave to designate a responsible third party (Dkt. 26) are OVERRULED.
Signed at Houston, Texas on August 16, 2017.
Gray H. Miller
United States District Judge
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