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Houston v. Galluzzi

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

June 14, 2019




         This matter comes before the Court without a hearing on the Motion to Dismiss Count II (Doc. 50) filed by Defendant Nicholas Galluzzi (henceforth, “Galluzzi”) and the response in opposition (Doc. 57) filed by the Plaintiff, Alexzander Houston (“Houston”).

         I. Background

         According to the allegations of the Third Amended Complaint (Doc. 48), which are accepted in pertinent part as true for purposes of resolving the instant motion, on December 1, 2016, Houston was a passenger in a vehicle that was attempting to evade police officers. (Doc. 48 at 2). The vehicle crashed, the driver fled, and Houston immediately surrendered to the officers present at the crash scene. (Doc. 48 at 3). Those officers included Defendants Galluzzi and Nicholas Holbrook (“Holbrook”), both of whom work for the Rockledge Police Department. (Doc. 48 at 2). Houston exited the vehicle and lay face down on the ground. (Doc. 48 at 3). After remaining in that position for at least five seconds, without offering any provocation, Houston was shot in the shoulder by Galluzzi, with the bullet ultimately lodging in his chest. (Doc. 48 at 3).

         Galluzzi waited at least 30 seconds after the shooting to order Holbrook to render medical aid to Houston. (Doc. 48 at 4). Holbrook put on gloves and began searching Houston; however, neither he nor Galluzzi attempted to render medical aid to Houston. (Doc. 48 at 5). At least three minutes passed after the shooting before Galluzzi called for an ambulance. (Doc. 48 at 6).

         On May 8, 2018, Houston filed the instant suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting claims against Galluzzi and five “John Doe” defendants. (Doc. 1). On July 20, 2018, Houston filed an amended complaint (Doc. 20), naming the same defendants. On October 26, 2018, the Court granted in part Galluzzi's motion to dismiss. (Doc. 29). On December 10, Houston filed his Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 30). Among other changes, Houston added Holbrook as a defendant, alleging that he (along with Galluzzi) had been deliberately indifferent to Houston's medical needs. (Doc. 30 at 7-10). On February 26, 2019, the Court dismissed the deliberate indifference claims. (Doc. 45, 46).

         On March 12, 2019, Houston filed the Third Amended Complaint. In it, he asserts two Section 1983 claims: an excessive force claim against Galluzzi (Count I) and another deliberate indifference claim against both Defendants (Count II). By way of the instant motion, Galluzzi seeks dismissal of Count II on the basis of qualified immunity.

         II. Legal Standard

         “Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages unless they violate a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time the alleged violation took place.” Gilmore v. Hodges, 738 F.3d 266, 272 (11th Cir. 2013). The purpose of qualified immunity is to allow government officials to carry out their discretionary duties without the fear of personal liability or harassing litigation. Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 3038, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)). Qualified immunity protects from suit “all but the plainly incompetent or one who is knowingly violating the federal law.” Id. (quoting Willingham v. Loughnan, 261 F.3d 1178, 1187 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         To be entitled to qualified immunity, government officials must first prove that they were acting within the scope of their discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred. Harbert Intern., Inc. v. James, 157 F.3d 1271, 1281 (11th Cir. 1998) (citing Evans v. Hightower, 117 F.3d 1318, 1320 (11th Cir. 1997). Once the officials do so, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to establish that 1) the facts alleged make out a violation of a statutory or constitutional right and 2) the right at issue was clearly established at the time the alleged violation took place. Gilmore, 738 F.3d at 272. The Court may consider these two prongs in either order, and a public official is entitled to qualified immunity if the plaintiff fails to establish either one. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 226, 129 S.Ct. 808, 818, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009).

         III. Analysis

         In the instant case, there is no dispute that Galluzzi and Holbrook were acting within the scope of their discretionary authority during the events in question. Accordingly, the burden shifts to Houston to show that (1) he has alleged facts that, if shown to be true, would make out a violation of a constitutional right and (2) this right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.

         As a pretrial detainee, Houston's right to adequate medical care is governed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment rather than the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, which applies to prisoners. Mann v. Taser Intern., Inc., 588 F.3d 1291, 1306 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing City of Revere v. Massachusetts Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239, 244, 103 S.Ct. 2979, 2983, 77 L.Ed.2d 605 (1983)). Nonetheless, Houston's claim is subject to the same scrutiny as if it had been brought under the Eighth Amendment. Id. (citing Hamm v. DeKalb County, 774 F.2d 1567, 1574 (11th Cir. 1985)). To prevail on a claim of deliberate indifference to serious medical need in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) a serious medical need; (2) the defendants' deliberate indifference to that need; and (3) causation between that indifference and the plaintiff's injury. Youmans v. Gagnon, 626 F.3d 557, 563 (11th Cir. 2010). In this case, the Defendants acknowledge that Houston had a serious medical need but argue that they were not deliberately indifferent to that need.

         Within this Circuit, to prove that a deputy acted with deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must show: (1) subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm; (2) disregard of that risk; and (3) conduct that is more than mere negligence. Brown v. Johnson, 387 F.3d 1344, 1351 (11th Cir. 2004). A government official disregards a serious risk by more than mere negligence “when he [or she] knows that an inmate is in serious need of medical care, but he [or she] fails or refuses to obtain medical treatment for the inmate.” Lancaster v. Monroe Cty., Ala., 116 F.3d 1419, 1425 (11th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by LeFrere v. Quezada, 588 F.3d 1317, 1318 (11th Cir. 2009). Even when medical care is ultimately provided, a government official may nonetheless act with ...

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