Obledo v. Stroman et al
ORDER GRANTING 11 Motion to Stay Case; MOOTING 13 Motion to Dismiss ; MOOTING 14 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response; MOOTING 18 Motion to Transfer Case; MOOTING 19 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Signed by Judge Sam Sparks. (dm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS'16
26 AN 11:
CLERK. U.S. DiSTRIcT COURT
DIS TRICT Op IC AS
Case No. A-16-CA-575-SS
BRENT STROMAN, MANUEL CHAVEZ,
ABELINO "ABEL" REYNA, and JOHN DOE,
BE IT REMEMBERED on this day the Court reviewed the file in the above-styled cause, and
specifically Defendants' Joint Motion to Stay [#11] and Plaintiffs Response [#17] in opposition.
Having considered the aforementioned documents, the case file as a whole, and the applicable law,
the Court enters the following opinion and orders.
The facts of this case are detailed in this Court's Order Denying Defendants' Motion to
Transfer Venue [#12].
Order [# ]. To summarize, Plaintiff Diego Obledo (Plaintiff) brings a
1983 action against Brent Stroman, the Waco Chief of Police, Manuel Chavez, a Waco law
enforcement officer, Abelino "Abel" Reyna, the District Attorney of McLennan County, Texas, and
John Doe, an unnamed employee of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Compi. [#6] ¶J 1-6. The claims arise from a shooting between motorcycle club members and law
enforcement that occurred at a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas.
9-11. Once the
gun fire ceased, Plaintiff and 176 others were arrested at the scene. Plaintiff alleges his arrest
violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and Defendants conspired to deprive him of
85-112. Specifically, Plaintiff claims his arrest was based on a "template"
affidavit, which lacked particularized facts to establish probable cause, contained false and materially
misleading statements, and conflicted with evidence showing Plaintiff was not involved in the
On November 10, 2015, a grand jury in McLennan County indicted Plaintiff and 105 others
for the felony of Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity with the Intent to Commit or Conspire
to Commit Murder, Capital Murder, or Aggravated Assault.
is currently pending. See
the others who were indicted.
¶ 52. Plaintiff's criminal charge
Resp. [#17] at 4. A trial date has not been set for Plaintiff or any of
Defendants Stroman and Chavez (Defendants) filed their Joint Motion to Stay on July 25,
2016. Defendants seek a stay of this civil proceeding until Plaintiff's pending criminal case has
concluded, arguing Plaintiff's
in the criminal case.
1983 false arrest claims could impugn the validity of a conviction
Mot. Stay [#11] ¶ 1-4. Plaintiff responds that the number of indictments
and the length of time required to resolve all of the criminal cases weigh in favor of continuing
Plaintiff's civil case.
Resp. [#17] at 6-9. Defendants failed to file a timely reply. The motion
is now ripe for review.
Six other individuals have brought identical lawsuits against Defendants in the Austin Division. See
Civil Action No. l:15-CV-01040-SS, Bucy v. Stroman, et al, Civil Action No. 1:15-CV-01041-SS, Clendennen
v. Sfroman, et al, Civil Action No. 1:15-CV-01042-SS, Bergnan v. Stroman, et al; Civil Action No.
1:1 5-CV-O 1 043-SS, Adame v. Stroman, et al; Civil Action No. 1:1 5-CV-O 1 044-SS, Salinas v. Stroman, et al; and
Civil Action No. 1:1 5-CV-O I 045-SS, Vensel v. Stroman, et al. Three defendants who have not yet been indicted
have also brought suit against Defendants in the Austin Division. See Civil Action No. 1:1 6-CV-00599-SS,
Terwilliger, et al. v. Stroman, et al.; Civil Action No. l:16-CV-00648-SS, Rhoten, et al. v. Stroman, et al.; and
Civil Action No. 1:16-CV-00871-SS, Eaton, et al. v. Stroman, et al.
In Heck v. Humphrey, the Supreme Court established the following rule: a § 1983 plaintiff's
request for damages is barred if the plaintiff's conviction has not been appealed, expunged, or
otherwise declared invalid. 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994). Under Heck, courts "must consider
whether a judgment in favor of the
conviction or sentence;
1983] plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his
if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can
demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated." Id. at 487.
The Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit addressed whether the Heck rule applies to "an
anticipatedfuture conviction" in the context of a pending criminal trial. See Wallace
U.S. 384, 393 (2007); Mackey
Heck did not bar a plaintiff's
Dickson, 47 F.3d 744, 746 (5th Cir. 1995). Both courts agreed
claim if the plaintiff's conviction was not yet final, but found
"it is within the power of the district court, and in accord with common practice, to stay the civil
action until the criminal case or the likelihood of a criminal case is ended." Wallace, 549 U.S. at
393-94; Mackey, 47 F.3d at 746 ("The court mayindeed shouldstay proceedings in the section
1983 case until the pending criminal case has run its course
. . .
."). A stay is warranted "if it is
'premature to determine whether or not [Plaintiff's] damages claims are barred under Heck,' or if
it is clear that they would be barred under this standard. .
." McCollom v. City ofKemp.,
3:14-CV-1488-B, 2014 WL 6085289, at *3 (ND. Tex. Nov. 14,2014) (quoting Mackey, 47F.3dat
746); see also Busick v. City ofMadison Miss., 90 F. App'x. 713, 713-14 (5th Cir. 2004) (where it
is impossible to determine if plaintiff's civil § 1983 claims implicate the validity of a conviction that
plaintiff might receive, the district court should stay the civil proceedings pending the resolution of
plaintiff's criminal charges). Then, once "the plaintiff is ultimately convicted, and if the stayed civil
suit would impugn that conviction, Heck will require dismissal; otherwise, the civil action will
." Wallace, 549 U.S. at 394.
When evaluating whether Heck might bar a plaintiff's claims, courts "conduct a fact-specific
analysis to determine whether success on [the plaintiff's
1983 claims] would require negation
an element of the criminal offense or proof of a fact that is inherently inconsistent with a conviction
the underlying criminal charge." Quinn v. Guerrero, No. 4:09CV166, 2010 WL 412901,
at *2 (E.D. Tex. Jan. 28, 2010) (citing Bush v. Strain, 513 F.3d 492,497(5th Cir. 2008)); McCollom,
2014 WL 6085289, at *3
Thus, "[i}f the factual basis for the conviction is not temporally and
conceptually distinct" from a plaintiff's § 1983 claims, the claims may invalidate the criminal charge
and be barred by Heck. Quinn, 2010 WL 412901, at *2.
The Court finds Plaintiff's alleged
claims and criminal charge are so closely
interrelated that resolving the civil claims may impugn any conviction. The § 1983 claims arise from
the same facts as Plaintiff's criminal charge: the violent incident at Twin Peaks and the arrests
thereafter. See Resp. [#17] at 6 ("Plaintiff acknowledges that the criminal case arises from the
incident that forms the basis of this suit."). The claims are not temporally distinct as they arise out
of events which occurred within a narrow time frame. See First Am. Compi. [#6] ¶J 34-46
(Defendants used allegedly insufficient affidavit to obtain general arrest warrant one day after the
shooting took place). Most importantly, Plaintiff's civil claims challenge the legality of his arrest,
which may directly implicate or invalidate any conviction in his criminal case. See, e.g., Lopez v
Hous. Police Dep't., No. H-13-1781, 2013 WL 3356229, at *2 (S.D. Tex. Jul. 3, 2013) (Plaintiff's
allegations that police illegally searched his home and arrested him "would, if true,
necessarily implicate the validity of [his capital murder charges.]"); Quinn, 2010 WL 412901, at *3
(Plaintiff's § 1983 claims regarding the legality of his arrest and the search and seizure of his home
may impugn any conviction related to his charges of possession of controlled substances and
aggravated assault of a police officer.); Terry v. City ofHous., No. H-15-2430, 2015 WL 6736780,
at *2 (S.D. Tex. Nov. 3,2015) (Plaintiff's § 1983 claims of unconstitutional arrest and imprisonment
may implicate the validity of a conviction related to his evading arrest and possession of controlled
substance charges); McCollom, 2014 WL 6085289, at *2 (Plaintiff's
1983 claims involving the
legality of his arrest might invalidate a conviction related to his criminal charge of resisting arrest.).
Thus, the present civil case must be stayed pending the criminal proceeding.
Plaintiff does not mention Heck in his briefing and instead claims the Court may only stay
this civil case pending resolution of the criminal proceeding under "special circumstances," which
are determined by balancing six factors: "(1) the extent to which the issues in the criminal and civil
cases overlap; (2) the status of the case, including whether the defendant has been indicted; (3) the
plaintiff's interest in proceeding expeditiously weighed against the prejudice to the plaintiff caused
by a delay; (4) the private interest of and burden on the defendant; (5) the interest of the court, and
(6) the public interest." Resp. [#17] at 5 (quoting First Fin. Grp.
of Tex., 659 F.2d at 668). But the
cases Plaintiff cites, and other cases applying the factor-balancing analysis, involve situations where
parallel civil and criminal cases are brought against the same defendant. For example, in First
Financial Group of Texas, the Fifth Circuit applied the "special circumstances" inquiry and denied
the request for a stay of the SEC's civil case against defendants pending the Justice Department's
criminal proceedings against the same defendants.
659 F.2d at 666-67; see also Meyers
Pamerleau,No. 5:15-CV-524-DAE, 2016 WL 393552, at *5_8 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 1,2016) (applying
factor-balancing analysis to determine whether stay of plaintiffs'
1983 claims against defendant
pending the state's criminal charge against defendant was appropriate); Alcala v. Tex. Webb Cnty.,
625 F. Supp. 2d 391, 395-407 (S.D. Tex. 2009) (same). In other words, courts apply the analysis
where the defendant is attacked in simultaneous civil and criminal actions.
Here, however, the civil and criminal proceedings are not parallel. Plaintiff brings a civil
claim against Defendants who have charged him criminally. Courts addressing this same fact pattern
do not apply the "special circumstances" analysis as described in First Financial Group of Texas.
Instead, courts look to Heck and grant stays if the plaintiff's civil claims may implicate the validity
of any potential conviction. See, e.g., Lopez, 2013 WL 3356229, at *2; Quinn, 2010 WL 412901,
at *3; Terry, 2015 WL 6736780, at *2; McCollom, 2014 WL 6085289, at *2; Guillory v. Wheller,
303 F. Supp. 2d 808, 811 (M.D. La. 2004).
While the Court is sympathetic to some of Plaintiff's arguments made under the
factor-balancing analysis, these arguments do not outweigh the Court's concerns under Heck.
Plaintiff argues that because his criminal case has not been set for trial, the civil case may be stayed
for years. See Resp. [#17] at 7. This delay, according to Plaintiff, creates three main problems:
(1) expiration of the statute of limitations with regard to the "John Doe" Defendant; (2) loss of and
inaccessibility to evidence over time; and (3) inability to conduct discovery on Plaintiff's potential
Monell claim. See id. at 6-9, Ex. P-i (Pl.'s Letter Br.) at 1-5.
First, Plaintiff argues his claims against the "John Doe" Defendant will not preserve
limitations. See Pl.'s Letter Br. at 4 (citing Callaway v. City ofAustin, No. A-is -cv-00 103-S S (W.D.
Tex. July 14, 2015)). The Court agrees, but does not find this concern outweighs the potential
burdens of trying a case that may be ultimately barred by Heck. Further, Plaintiff's counsel stated
during the hearing held on June 3, 2016, "the discovery that's been produced in the criminal cases
is so substantial that there couldn't be any more discovery hardly." Bucy v. Stroman, et al., No. 15-
CA- 1040, Hr' g. Tr. [#3 4] 11:18-21. With access to such significant discovery, Plaintiff's counsel,
at this point, should have had sufficient knowledge to determine who to sue. Second, the Court
understands time expiring makes it harder to obtain evidence, especially in the form of witness
testimony. Again, however, these concerns do not outweigh the considerations this Court made
under Heck. See Quinn, 2010 WL 412901, at *4 Third, the possibility of a Monell claim does not
convince the Court a stay is improper. A party is not entitled to discovery in order to ensure its claim
will meet the pleading standard. See Pl.'s Letter Br. ¶ 4 ("Plaintiffs must be allowed to conduct
discovery with respect to Monell liability issues... ."). Plaintiff does not point to a single authority
where the possibility of a Monell claim justified continuing the civil action in this context. Finally,
Plaintiff fails in his analysis to acknowledge the burden on the Court if this case were to continue.
There is no point in the Court spending its time and resources on a claim which may someday be
All of Plaintiff's concerns are overridden by the Court's consideration of Heck. Because
resolution of Plaintiff's
1983 claims may impugn a potential conviction, the civil case must be
stayed pending the conclusion of the criminal proceeding against Plaintiff.
IT IS ORDERED that Defendants' Joint Motion to Stay Case [#111 is GRANTED.
IT IS FINALLY ORDERED that all remaining pending motions are DISMISSED AS
SIGNED this the
23day of September 2016.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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