Brown v. City of Greenwood, Civil Action No. 4:97cv87-D-B (N.D. Miss. 4/__/2001)

Decision Date01 April 2001
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 4:97cv87-D-B.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi

Presently before the court is the motion of the defendants for the entry of partial summary judgment on their behalf. The plaintiffs have failed to respond to the motion. Finding that the motion is partially well taken, the undersigned shall grant the motion in part and deny it in part.

. Factual Background

The crux of this matter arises out of the arrest of the plaintiffs by Greenwood police officers on or about May 18, 1996. In light of the nature of the defendants' motion, and the absence of admissible proof before the court regarding the incidents which occurred in the early morning of May 18, the undersigned chooses not to delve into an exhaustive recitation of the facts as alleged by the plaintiffs. It is sufficient to note at this juncture that the plaintiffs charge that they were beaten and arrested by Greenwood police officers without sufficient justification. Consequently, they assert numerous claims against the individual defendants including allegations of false arrest, excessive force, and malicious prosecution. Additionally, the plaintiffs assert claims against the City of Greenwood in light of the alleged conduct by the individual officers. The court will set out further facts as required during its discussion of the defendants' motion.

. Discussion
. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment shall be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The burden rests upon the party seeking summary judgment to show to the district court that an absence of evidence exists in the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986); see Jackson v. Widnall, 99 F.3d 710, 713 (5th Cir. 1996); Hirras v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 95 F.3d 396, 399 (5th Cir. 1996). Once such a showing is presented by the moving party, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate, by specific facts, that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Texas Manufactured Housing Ass'n, Inc. v. City of Nederland, 101 F.3d 1095, 1099 (5th Cir. 1996); Brothers v. Klevenhagen, 28 F.3d 452, 455 (5th Cir. 1994). Substantive law will determine what is considered material. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see Nichols v. Loral Vought Sys. Corp., 81 F.3d 38, 40 (5th Cir. 1996). "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see City of Nederland, 101 F.3d at 1099; Gibson v. Rich, 44 F.3d 274, 277 (5th Cir. 1995). Further, "[w]here the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue of fact for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see City of Nederland, 101 F.3d at 1099. Finally, all facts are considered in favor of the non-moving party, including all reasonable inferences therefrom. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254; Banc One Capital Partners Corp. v. Kneipper, 67 F.3d 1187, 1198 (5th Cir. 1995); Taylor v. Gregg, 36 F.3d 453, 455 (5th Cir. 1994); Matagorda County v. Russell Law, 19 F.3d 215, 217 (5th Cir. 1994). However, this is so only when there is "an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994); Guillory v. Domtar Industries Inc., 95 F.3d 1320, 1326 (5th Cir. 1996); Richter v. Merchants Fast Motor Lines, Inc., 83 F.3d 96, 97 (5th Cir. 1996). In the absence of proof, the court does not "assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (emphasis omitted); see Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 111 L. Ed. 695, 110 S. Ct. 3177 (1990).

The court also notes that in the case at bar, the plaintiff has failed to respond to the motion of the defendants for partial summary judgment. This court acknowledges that it may not grant summary judgment by default, i.e., merely because there is no opposition to the motion. Hetzel v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 50 F.3d 360, 362 n. 3 (5th Cir. 1995) ("[I]f the district judge's decision was to grant summary judgment solely because of a default, such decision constituted reversible error."); Resolution Trust Corp. v. Starkey, 41 F. 3d 1018, 1022 (5th Cir. 1995); Hibernia Nat'l Bank v. Admin. Central Sociedad Anonima, 776 F.2d 1277, 1279 (5th Cir. 1985). However, the court may accept as undisputed the movant's version of the facts and grant the motion where the movant has made a prima facie showing of its entitlement to summary judgment. Eversley v. Mbank Dallas, 843 F.2d 172, 174 (5th Cir. 1988); Rayha v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 940 F. Supp. 1066, 1068 (S.D. Tex. 1996); Romberger v. United Transp. Union, 930 1131, 1132 (N.D. Miss. 1996). In any event, the defendants still must meet their burden to establish that no genuine issue of material fact exists as to the plaintiffs' claims and that the defendants are entitled to the entry of a judgment as a matter of law.

. Claims against the City of Greenwood — Municipal Liability under § 1983

The defendants first seek dismissal of all claims of municipal liability against the City of Greenwood, and direct this court to several authorities which discuss the standards of liability for municipalities under § 1983. See, e.g., Board of County Commissioners of Bryan County, Oklahoma v. Brown, ___ U.S. ___, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 137 L.Ed.2d 626 (1997); Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388-389, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 1204-1205, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 199 (5th Cir. 1996). Without reference to record evidence, the defendants then conclude that they are entitled to the entry of summary judgment on these claims.

Because plaintiffs will be wholly unable to come forward with competent proof to establish a causal connection between a custom or policy of the City of Greenwood and the incident outside J & J's, all claims against the municipal defendants must be dismissed.

Defendants' Brief, p. 7 (emphasis added). Under the present posture of the case at bar, there is no evidence before this court that would warrant the award of summary judgment for the municipal defendants. Allegations in the plaintiffs' complaint are sufficient, if ultimately proven, to establish municipal liability — either under a "failure to train" theory or under a theory that the City of Greenwood employed an official policy to ignore complaints of police misconduct. Without proof to demonstrate that there are no genuine issues of fact on the question of municipal liability this court cannot award the defendants relief on these claims. The defendants have failed to meet their burden to prove the absence of genuine issues of material fact with regard to these claims, and the motion shall be denied as to these claims.

. Claims against Chief Ronnie L. White

The defendants charge that Chief White is entitled to the protection of qualified immunity as against all of the plaintiffs' claims against him. Whenever qualified immunity is asserted as an affirmative defense, resolution of the issue should occur at the earliest possible stage. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 639, 107 S. Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987); Elliott v. Perez, 751 F.2d 1472, 1478 (5th Cir. 1985). Issues of qualified immunity are determined from the face of the pleadings and without extended resort to pre-trial discovery. Babb v. Dorman, 33 F.3d 472, 477 (5th Cir. 1994). Public officials, including law enforcement officers such as the defendant East, are entitled to assert the defense of qualified immunity in a § 1983 suit for discretionary acts occurring in the course of their official duties. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 806, 102 S. Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396, 403 (1982); Gagne v. City of Galveston, 805 F.2d 558, 559 (5th Cir. 1986); Jacquez v. Procunier, 801 F.2d 789, 791 (5th Cir. 1986).

Public officials are shielded from liability for civil damages as long as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183, 194, 104 S. Ct. 3012, 3019, 82 L.Ed.2d 139 (1984); Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S. Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982); White v. Walker, 950 F.2d 972, 975 (5th Cir. 1991); Morales v. Haynes, 890 F.2d 708, 710 (5th Cir. 1989). Stated differently, qualified immunity provides "ample protection to all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, 106 S. Ct. 1092, 1096, 89 L.Ed.2d 271 (1986).

The first step in the inquiry of a claim of qualified immunity is whether the plaintiffs have alleged the violation of clearly established rights. Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 266, 111 S. Ct. 1789, 114 L.Ed.2d 277, 287 (1991). This inquiry necessarily questions whether or not the officer acted reasonably under settled law in the circumstances with which he was confronted. Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 112 S. Ct. 534, 116 L.Ed.2d 589, 596 (1991); Lampkin v. City of Nacogdoches, 7 F.3d 430 (5th Cir. 1993). "If reasonable public officials could differ on the lawfulness of the defendant's actions, the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity." Blackwell v. Barton, 34 F.3d 298, 303 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting Pfannstiel v. Marion, 918 F.2d 1178,...

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