Sponsler v. City of Cedar Park et al
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS that the Court DISMISS Sponsler's 1 Complaint; That the Court DENY Sponsler's 44 Motion for Summary Judgment; That the Court GRANT Defendants' 46 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Andrew W. Austin. (klw, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
WILLIAM RAY SPONSLER #1747110
CITY OF CEDAR PARK, et al.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
THE HONORABLE SAM SPARKS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
The Magistrate Court submits this Report and Recommendation to the District Court
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 1(f) of Appendix C of the Local Court Rules of the United
States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Local Rules for the Assignment of Duties to
United States Magistrates Judges, as amended, effective December 1, 2002.
Before the Court are Plaintiff’s complaint brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Document
No. 1); Plaintiff’s more definite statement (Document No. 6); Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary
Judgment (Document No. 44); Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 46);
Defendants’ response to Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 47); and
Plaintiff’s supplement (Document No. 54). Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, has been granted leave to
proceed in forma pauperis.
At the time he filed his complaint, Plaintiff was confined in the Williamson County Jail.
Plaintiff was subsequently convicted of possession of a controlled substance and possession of a
firearm by a felon and transferred to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional
Plaintiff accuses the defendants of violating his Fourth Amendment right to be secure in his
house, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures and his Fifth Amendment right
to due process. Pl. Compl. [#1] at 3. In his more definite statement Plaintiff adds his Fourteenth
Amendment right to due process was also violated. Pl. More Def. Stmt. [#6] at 3. According to
Plaintiff, at approximately 11:00 p.m. on October 20, 2010, Police Detective John D. Hawkins
ordered and executed a military-style S.W.A.T. assault on a garage located on the property of Mr.
and Ms. Sponsler in Cedar Park. Pl. Comp. [#1] at 6. Plaintiff asserts Hawkins ordered the
S.W.A.T. to kick in the locked door of the garage without announcement, presentation of an
authorizing warrant, or exigent circumstance. Id. 6-7. Plaintiff claims Detective Hawkins filed an
affidavit for a search warrant three hours after the search was conducted. Id. at 7. Plaintiff further
claims Detective Hawkins lied in the affidavit when he stated he had arrested Plaintiff in the past for
manufacturing methamphetamine. Id. Plaintiff indicates he was arrested and claims his left shoulder
was dislocated or broken during his arrest even though he was not combative or in possession of any
weapons or illegal substances.1 Id. Plaintiff alleges he was dragged approximately 120 feet and
locked in the backseat of a patrol car while officers searched the property. Id.
Plaintiff originally sued the City of Cedar Park, the Cedar Park Chief of Police, Cedar Park
Police Detective John D. Hawkins, Cedar Park Police Officer #1, and Cedar Park Police Officer #2.
Plaintiff later identified Cedar Park Police Officer #1 as Cedar Park Police Officer Joseph
Christensen #1292 and Cedar Park Police Officer #2 as Cedar Park Police Detective Michelle
Plaintiff notes as of May 20, 2011, his left shoulder remains untreated. Plaintiff claims his left
clavicle is separated or broken loose at the upper shoulder and threatens to puncture through the skin.
Plaintiff contends it is a very painful condition for which the jail’s physician has only prescribed
ibuprofen. Pl. Comp. [#1] at 8.
Christensen #1321. Plaintiff requests $4.7 million, his immediate release from custody and a stay
Plaintiff moves for summary judgment [#44]. Plaintiff argues the defendants violated his
constitutional rights when they acted on a search warrant before the judge authorized it. He contends
the Cedar Park Police Department’s arrest report conclusively establishes he was arrested at 12:54
a.m. on October 21, 2010. See Pl. MSJ [#46] Exhibit 2A. Attached to Plaintiff’s original complaint
is the search warrant purportedly executed at 1:43 a.m. on October 21, 2010. Pl. Compl. [#1] at
Exhibit 6. Plaintiff suggests this proves the defendants did not seek an arrest warrant until after he
was arrested. Plaintiff denies Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.
Defendants also move for summary judgment [#46]. They argue Plaintiff’s claims regarding
the search and seizure are precluded by his conviction pursuant to Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477
(1994). They also argue they are entitled to qualified immunity, because Plaintiff’s claims do not
rise to the level of a constitutional violation. They further argue Plaintiff has failed to establish
liability on the part of the City of Cedar Park.
According to Defendants, Jacob B. Thompson, an employee of the Williamson County
Sheriff’s Office who had been on the job two months, incorrectly responded to Plaintiff’s “Inmate
Request/Complaint Form,” wherein Plaintiff requested the time of his arrest. Using the jail records
available to Thompson, he provided a time of arrest of “12:54 a.m.” Attached to Defendants’
Motion for Summary Judgment is Thompson’s affidavit where he clarifies 12:54 a.m. is the time the
Cedar Park Police Department began to keep an official record of the events involving Plaintiff’s
arrest. See Def. MSJ [#46] at Exhibit A.
Also attached to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is the affidavit of Detective
Hawkins. Id. at Exhibit B . According to Hawkins, he presented an affidavit for search warrant to
Judge Silverstone at 1:30 a.m. on October 21, 2010. Id. Hawkins attests Judge Silverstone signed
a search warrant at 1:43 a.m. that same day. Id. Immediately after Judge Silverstone signed the
search warrant, Hawkins asserts he placed a telephone call to the other Cedar Park Police
Department officers, who were waiting at Plaintiff’s residence, and instructed they were legally
authorized to execute the search warrant. Id. Hawkins indicates the search was executed and served
on Plaintiff at 1:47 a.m. on October 21, 2010. Id.
Officer Joseph Christensen’s affidavit is also attached to the Motion for Summary Judgment.
See Def. MSJ [#46] at Exhibit C. J. Christensen attests he received a call from Detective Hawkins
at approximately 1:43 a.m. on October 21, 2010, indicating a Williamson County Judge had signed
the search warrant. Id. J. Christensen states he was present when Plaintiff was arrested. Id.
According to J. Christensen, Plaintiff did not resist arrest and there was no type of physical
altercation between Plaintiff and the arresting officers. Id. J. Christensen attests he did not observe
anyone exert any type of physical force or violence upon Plaintiff and he did not hear Plaintiff
complain about any type of discomfort or injury. Id.
Detective Michele Christensen’s affidavit is likewise attached to the Motion for Summary
Judgment. See Def. MSJ [#46] at Exhibit D. M. Christensen confirms the time 12:54 a.m. is the
time Cedar Park police officers began recording matters in their report and 1:47 a.m. is the time the
search warrant was executed. Id. According to M. Christensen, Plaintiff’s arrest occurred shortly
after the search began. Id.
Attached to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is the affidavit of Officer Justin
Miller. See Def. MSJ [#46] at Exhibit E. Miller attests he was not present when the search was
initiated or when Plaintiff was taken into custody. Id. Instead, Miller explains he was the officer
who transported Plaintiff to the Williamson County Jail and released him to jail staff. Id. Miller
asserts he did not observe any physical injury of Plaintiff and Plaintiff did not complain during
Miller’s search of him or during transport about any alleged injury or physical violence being
committed upon him on the night of his arrest. Id. Miller attests Plaintiff did not request medical
assistance, did not complain of any injury upon arrival at the jail, and did not appear to be injured
in any way. Id.
Summary Judgment Standard
A court will, on a motion for summary judgment, render judgment if the evidence shows that
there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment
as a matter of law. Eason v. Thaler, 73 F.3d 1322, 1325 (5th Cir. 1996); Int’l Shortstop, Inc. v.
Rally Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1059, 112 S. Ct. 936 (1992).
When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported, an adverse party may not rest upon
mere allegations or denials but must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.
Ray v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 63 F.3d 429, 433 (5th Cir. 1995); FED . R. CIV . P. 56.2
Effective December 1, 2010, Rule 56 was amended. Although there is a slight language change
and a change in the designation of subsections, the legal standard remains the same. See FED . R. CIV .
P. 56(a) (eff. Dec.1, 2010) (“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
Both movants and non-movants bear burdens of proof in the summary judgment process.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). The movant with the burden of
proof at trial must establish every essential element of its claim or affirmative defense. Id. at 322,
106 S. Ct. at 2552. In so doing, the moving party without the burden of proof need only point to the
absence of evidence on an essential element of the non-movant’s claims or affirmative defenses. Id.
at 323-24, 106 S. Ct. at 2554. At that point, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to “produce
evidence in support of its claims or affirmative defenses . . . designating specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324, 106 S. Ct. at 2553. The non-moving party must
produce “specific facts” showing a genuine issue for trial, not mere general allegations. Tubacex
v. M/V Risan, 45 F.3d 951, 954 (5th Cir. 1995).
In deciding whether to grant summary judgment, the Court should view the evidence in the
light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment and indulge all reasonable inferences
in favor of that party. The Fifth Circuit has concluded “[t]he standard of review is not merely
whether there is a sufficient factual dispute to permit the case to go forward, but whether a rational
trier of fact could find for the non-moving party based upon the evidence before the court.” James
v. Sadler, 909 F.2d 834, 837 (5th Cir. 1990) (citing Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S. Ct. 1356)).
To the extent facts are undisputed, a Court may resolve the case as a matter of law. Blackwell v.
Barton, 34 F.3d 298, 301 (5th Cir. 1994).
Heck v. Humphrey
Plaintiff’s claims challenging the search of his property and his seizure are barred by Heck
v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S. Ct. 2364 (1994). In Heck, the Supreme Court held:
[I]n order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or
imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render
a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or
sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared
invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into
question by a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.
512 U.S. at 486-87, 114 S. Ct. at 2372.
If Defendants were found to have conducted an illegal search and seizure on October 21,
2010, the evidentiary basis, and thus the validity, of Plaintiff’s convictions for possession of a
controlled substance and a firearm would be called into doubt. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claims
regarding the allegedly illegal search and seizure do not accrue until his convictions for possession
of a controlled substance and a firearm have been “reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive
order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into
question by a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87.
Consequently, Plaintiff’s claims regarding an alleged illegal search and seizure on October 21, 2010,
are not cognizable under § 1983 and should be dismissed. Id.; Porter v. Richardson, 2006 WL
740992, *3 (N.D. Tex. Mar.13, 2006) (finding that Heck barred plaintiff’s claims of illegal search
and seizure because plaintiff was convicted of possession of a controlled substance as a result of the
The individual defendants also assert their entitlement to qualified immunity. The doctrine
of qualified immunity affords protection against individual liability for civil damages to officials
“insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of
which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S. Ct.
2727 (1982). Immunity in this sense means immunity from suit, not merely from liability. Jackson
v. City of Beaumont, 958 F.2d 616 (5th Cir. 1992). “Qualified immunity is designed to shield from
civil liability all but the plainly incompetent or those who violate the law.” Brady v. Fort Bend
County, 58 F.3d 173, 174 (5th Cir. 1995). To rebut the qualified immunity defense, the plaintiff
must show: (1) that he has alleged a violation of a clearly established constitutional right, and (2) that
the defendant's conduct was objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law at the time
of the incident. Waltman v. Payne, 535 F.3d 342, 346 (5th Cir. 2008) (footnote omitted). To negate
a defense of qualified immunity and avoid summary judgment, the plaintiff need not present
“absolute proof,” but must offer more than “mere allegations.” Reese v. Anderson, 926 F.2d 494,
499 (5th Cir. 1991).
For several years, the Supreme Court required that the first of these criteria—whether
plaintiffs’ facts allege a constitutional violation—must be decided at the outset. Saucier v. Katz, 533
U.S. 194, 201, 121 S. Ct. 2151, 2156 (2001). More recently, the Court has held that lower courts
“should be permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the
qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular
case at hand.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 129 S. Ct. 808 (2009).
Plaintiff’s Fifth Amendment claim of a denial of his right to due process fails. The Fifth
Amendment applies only to violations of constitutional rights by the United States or a federal actor.
Morin v. Caire, 77 F.3d 116, 120 (5th Cir. 1996). Plaintiff has not alleged the defendants were
acting under authority of the federal government. Accordingly, Defendants are entitled to summary
judgment on Plaintiff’s Fifth Amendment claim.
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments - Illegal Search and Seizure
Plaintiff’s claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments likewise fail. The Fourth
Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
Generally, a search or seizure without probable cause or a warrant is a violation of the Fourth
Amendment. United States v. Jones, 234 F.3d 234, 239 (5th Cir. 2000). The Fourteenth
Amendment protects individuals against denial of due process. County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523
U.S. 833, 846, 118 S .Ct. 1708 (1998). To prevail on a constitutional claim of “unlawful arrest” or
“wrongful arrest,” a plaintiff must show that he was arrested without probable cause. Brown v.
Lyford, 243 F.3d 185, 189 (5th Cir. 2001).
Plaintiff alleges Cedar Park police officers conducted an illegal search of his property and
seizure of his person on October 21, 2010, because his property was searched before the judge signed
the search warrant. As a result, he was convicted of possession of a controlled substance and
possession of a firearm by a felon. However, the summary judgment evidence demonstrates the
Williamson County judge signed the search warrant prior to the search of the premises and arrest of
Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s claim is based upon a clerical mistake, inadvertently made in response to an
Inmate Request by Plaintiff for records. Plaintiff’s allegations also do not support a claim for
wrongful arrest. Plaintiff does not allege a lack of probable cause. In fact, attached to the affidavit
of Detective Michele Christensen is her offense report in which she states 7.1 grams of
methamphetamine and numerous paraphernalia items were located in Plaintiff’s garage. See Def.
MSJ [#46] at Exhibit D, Attachment A-4. Moreover, Plaintiff was convicted of the crimes for which
he was arrested. Accordingly, Plaintiff has not established a constitutional violation for the alleged
illegal search and seizure.
Fourth Amendment - Excessive Force
Plaintiff alleges the Cedar Park S.W.A.T. team kicked in his locked door and
dislocated/broke his left shoulder as they handcuffed and arrested him. Claims of excessive force
in the course of a seizure are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S.
386, 388, 109 S. Ct. 1865 (1989). “To succeed on an excessive force claim [under 42 U.S.C. §
1983], a plaintiff bears the burden of showing (1) an injury (2) which resulted directly and only from
the use of force that was excessive to the need and (3) the force used was objectively unreasonable.”
Glenn v. City of Tyler, 242 F.3d 307, 314 (5th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). “In
gauging the objective reasonableness of the force used,” the court “must balance the amount of force
used against the need for that force.” Ikerd v. Blair, 101 F.3d 430, 434 (5th Cir. 1996).
Other than alleging he was handcuffed, Plaintiff does not allege any particular person used
any force against him during his arrest. Plaintiff admits he was not combative and Officer J.
Christensen, who witnessed the arrest, attests there was no physical altercation between Plaintiff and
the arresting officers. In addition, J. Christensen did not observe anyone exert any type of physical
force or violence upon Plaintiff. Plaintiff has not named the arresting officers as defendants. There
is no evidence any of the named defendants were personally involved in the handcuffing of the
plaintiff. Accordingly, Plaintiff has not demonstrated a constitutional violation was committed by
Plaintiff’s claims brought against the City of Cedar Park and the defendants in their official
capacities also fail. As explained by the Defendants, a political subdivision cannot be held
responsible for a deprivation of a constitutional right merely because it employs a tortfeasor; in other
words a local government unit cannot be held responsible for civil rights violations under the theory
of respondeat superior. Johnson v. Moore, 958 F.2d 92, 94 (5th Cir. 1992). The standard for
holding a local government unit responsible under § 1983 requires that there be a custom or policy
that caused the plaintiff to be subjected to the deprivation of a constitutional right. Id; Collins v.
City of Harker Heights, Tex., 916 F.2d 284, 286 (5th Cir. 1990), aff’d, 503 U.S. 115, 112 S. Ct. 1061
(1992). Thus, Cedar can violate an individual’s rights only through implementation of a formally
declared policy, such as direct orders or promulgations or through informal acceptance of a course
of action by its employees based upon custom or usage. Bennett v. City of Slidell, 728 F.2d 762, 768
(5th Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 472 U.S. 1016, 105 S. Ct. 3476 (1985). A single decision made by an
authorized governmental decisionmaker to implement a particular course of action can represent an
act of official government “policy.” Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481, 106 S. Ct. 1292,
1299 (1986). Plaintiff has failed to identify a policy, practice or custom of Cedar Park that caused
a deprivation of his constitutional rights, and thus his claim against the City fails.
In addition to seeking monetary damages, Plaintiff seeks his immediate release from jail. To
the extent Plaintiff seeks his immediate release, Plaintiff must seek such relief in an application for
habeas corpus relief after he has exhausted his state court remedies. The exclusive remedy for a
prisoner who challenges the fact or duration of his confinement and seeks immediate or speedier
release is habeas corpus relief. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 488-490, 93 S. Ct. 1836-37
(1973). The Court should not construe this action as a request for habeas corpus relief. If Plaintiff
did not intend for this action to be an application for habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254, any subsequently filed applications could be subject to the restrictions on “second or
successive” motions. See e.g. Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375, 124 S. Ct. 786 (2003).
Additionally, Plaintiff makes no allegations suggesting he has exhausted his state court remedies.
Plaintiff also requests the Court to stay his state court criminal prosecution. This request also
is not proper in a civil rights complaint. Moreover, the request is moot, because Plaintiff was
convicted and sentenced on September 30, 2011. See Def. MSJ [#46] at Exhibit F.
The undersigned recommends that the District Court DISMISS Plaintiff’s requests for
habeas corpus relief without prejudice to refiling in an application for habeas corpus relief and
DISMISS his claims challenging the alleged illegal search of his property and his seizure without
prejudice to refile once the conditions of Heck are met. The undersigned further recommends that
the District Court DENY Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment [#44] and GRANT Defendants’
Motion for Summary Judgment [#46].
The parties may file objections to this Report and Recommendation. A party filing
objections must specifically identify those findings or recommendations to which objections are
being made. The District Court need not consider frivolous, conclusive, or general objections.
Battles v. United States Parole Comm’n, 834 F.2d 419, 421 (5th Cir. 1987).
A party’s failure to file written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations
contained in this Report within 14 days after the party is served with a copy of the Report shall bar
that party from de novo review by the district court of the proposed findings and recommendations
in the Report and, except upon grounds of plain error, shall bar the party from appellate review of
unobjected-to proposed factual findings and legal conclusions accepted by the district court. See 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150-153, 106 S. Ct. 466, 472-74 (1985);
Douglass v. United Servs. Auto. Assoc., 79 F.3d 1415, 1428-29 (5th Cir. en banc, 1996).
To the extent that a party has not been served by the Clerk with this Report and
Recommendation electronically, pursuant to the CM/ECF procedures of this District, the Clerk is
ORDERED to mail such party a copy of this Report and Recommendation by certified mail, return
SIGNED this 5th day of March, 2012.
ANDREW W. AUSTIN
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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