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$1,000 Jury Award in Texas Prisoner’s Excessive Use of Force Suit

On August 18, 2014, a Texas federal jury awarded a state prisoner $1,000 on his claim of excessive use of force by a prison guard. Enforcement of that judgment, however, would prove difficult.

Florencio Hernandez was incarcerated at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, Texas when he became involved in a confrontation with guard Alton Alexander. According to court documents, Alexander threw boiling water through a closed cell door, causing second-degree burns to Hernandez’s face, arms and torso.

Alexander countered that Hernandez and other prisoners had been involved in a loud argument and, when guards attempted to enter Hernandez’s cell, he threatened to cut them with a razor. Alexander admitted throwing the boiling water but said it was a proportionate response to the situation.

The jury found Alexander had used excessive force and awarded Hernandez $1,000. Hernandez was represented by Austin attorney Steven Ashley Gibbins, and the district court awarded $1,500 in attorney’s fees and $426.30 in costs in November 2014.

Hernandez subsequently filed multiple motions seeking to enforce the judgment and damages award against Alexander by identifying where his “home and assets” were located. In denying his most recent motion on August 31, 2015, the district court wrote that “a money judgment is enforced in federal court by means of a writ of execution, unless the court directs otherwise,” pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 69(a).

In the absence of any applicable federal law to the contrary, “plaintiff’s post-judgment enforcement proceedings must comply” with state law, in this case the laws of Texas. Hernandez had only identified Alexander’s “residence and unidentified assets,” and the court noted that under Texas law a homestead and personal property worth up to $60,000 for a family or $30,000 for a single adult are exempt from seizure or claims of creditors.

Therefore, the district court denied Hernandez’s motion to enforce the judgment, concluding that “Without the identification of non-exempt property owned by the defendant that can be used to satisfy the judgment, the Court is unable to grant plaintiff the relief he seeks.” See: Hernandez v. Alexander, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Texas), Case No. 1:09-cv-00055-KPG. 

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Related legal case

Hernandez v. Alexander