Coleman v. Rance, Civil Action No. 4:96cv21-D-B (N.D. Miss. 4/__/2001)

Decision Date01 April 2001
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 4:96cv21-D-B.
PartiesCHARLES COLEMAN, by and through his guardian BETTY RAY PLAINTIFF v. MICHAEL RANCE, et al. DEFENDANTS.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi

Presently before the court is the motion of the defendants to dismiss, or in the alternative for the entry of summary judgment on their behalf. Finding that the motion is partially well taken, the court shall grant it in part and deny it in part.

Factual Background1

In essence, the heart of this case arises out of an alleged police assault upon the plaintiff and the subsequent failure of police officials to take remedial action. Much of the factual predicate of this matter is unclear to the court, but the crux of the matter appears to be discernable. On or about January 25, 1993, Charles Coleman was walking down a street within the city limits of Greenville when he came upon defendants Rance and Blackmon. These two Greenville police officers were "ridiculing a drunken woman." Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, ¶ 12.

12. The plaintiff inquired about the problem. He was told by both Officer Rance and Lieutenant Blackmon to shut up or else he would be arrested. The plaintiff, Charles Coleman responded that they had no authority to arrest him and proceeded to walk down the street. Officer Rance became irate and proceeded to arrest the plaintiff. The plaintiff in fear of his life and liberty ran onto 421 Maple Street where his sister lived. It was there that he surrendered to Officer Rance. Despite the plaintiff's surrender, Officer Rance repeatedly assaulted and beat the plaintiff, Charles Coleman, with his baton. Officer Peacock violently handcuffed the plaintiff and placed his foot into his back while Officer Rance continued to beat the plaintiff unmercifully. The excessiveness with which Officer Rance beat the plaintiff extended to the point where Officer Rance injured a pregnant bystander. Subsequently, another officer arrived on the scene and ordered the officers to remove the handcuffs from the plaintiff and called for the paramedics.

Amended Complaint, ¶ 12. After his arrest, the plaintiff was prosecuted for various misdemeanor charges, but was not convicted of any of them. The plaintiff instituted this action by filing his complaint with this court on January 16, 1996.

Summary Judgment Standard

By order dated June 12, 1996, United States Magistrate Judge Eugene M. Bogen directed that the parties in this cause were to be allotted sixty (60) days in which to conduct discovery relative to the issue of whether or not the statute of limitations has run on the plaintiff's claims in this cause. Coleman v. Rance, Civil Action No .4:96cv21-D-B (N.D. Miss. Jun. 12, 1996) (Bogen, M.J.) (Case Management Order). Further, the Magistrate Judge directed that within thirty (30) days of the expiration of the limited discovery period, the defendants were to file dispositive motions with this court relative to the issues of statute of limitations, qualified immunity and sovereign immunity. The parties have complied with the order of the Magistrate Judge, and the defendants have filed with this court a Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative for Summary Judgment. The relevant discovery period for statute of limitations issues has run, and that matter is ripe for determination by summary judgment.

Summary judgment is appropriate "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 party seeking summary judgment carries the burden of demonstrating that there is an absence of evidence to support 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). Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is presented, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Brothers v. Klevenhagen, 28 F.3d 452, 455 (5th Cir. 1994). "Where 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 for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Federal Sav. & Loan Ins. v. Krajl, 968 F.2d 500, 503 (5th Cir. 1992). The facts are reviewed drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion. Matagorda County v. Russel Law, 19 F.3d 215, 217 (5th Cir. 1994).

Statute of Limitations

State law claims

Central to the defendants' arguments in this matter is their assertion that the one year Mississippi statute of limitations for certain intentional torts mandates the dismissal of the plaintiff's claims in this case. Miss. Code Ann. § 15-1-35. This provision reads in relevant part:

All actions for assault, assault and battery, maiming, false imprisonment, malicious arrest, or menace, and all actions for slanderous words concerning the person or title, for failure to employ, and for libels, shall be commenced within one (1) year next after the cause of action accrued, and not after.

Miss. Code Ann. § 15-1-35. The plaintiff's claims in this cause accrued in late January of 1993, and the plaintiff did not file his complaint with this court until January 16, 1996. In light of the defendants' motion, the plaintiff concedes that some of his claims should be dismissed.2

[T]he Plaintiff motions this court . . . for a dismissal of the state law claims of assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment and malicious prosecution [without] prejudice. The Plaintiff seeks a dismissal without prejudice on these claims because of the inability of the plaintiff to obtain an expert opinion regarding competency due to lack of financial means and the subsequent incarceration of the plaintiff due to his mental condition.

Plaintiff's Response Brief, unnumbered page 7. He seeks to dismiss those claims without prejudice and to file an amended complaint reflecting the sole pendent state law claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress, which is not governed by the one year limitations period. Norman v. Bucklew, 684 So. 2d 1246, 1248 (Miss. 1996) (stating plaintiff's "negligent infliction of emotional distress [claim is] governed by the three-year statute of limitations."); King v. Otasco, 861 F.2d 438, 442 (5th Cir. 1988). In light of the plaintiff's concession in this matter, this portion of the defendant's motion for summary judgment shall be granted, and the plaintiff's state law claims of assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment and malicious prosecution shall be dismissed. This dismissal shall be with prejudice, for the plaintiff has had an adequate opportunity to procure and submit evidence in this regard and the defendants have already undergone effort in defending the claims.

Unida v. Levi Strauss & Co., 986 F.2d 970, 974 (5th Cir. 1993). The only remaining state law claim of the plaintiff, then, is his claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

§ 1983 claims

The defendants also argue that the plaintiff's § 1983 claims are bound by Mississippi's one year statute of limitations, and in support present this court with several old decisions. Such a contention is meritless in light of the current state of the law. Because Congress has not provided a statute of limitations for civil rights actions under § 1983, federal courts borrow the general personal injury limitations period of the forum state for claims arising under that civil rights statute. Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 249-50, 109 S.Ct. 573, 581-82, 102 L.Ed.2d 594 (1989) ("Where state law provides multiple statute of limitations for personal injury actions, courts considering § 1983 claims should borrow the general or residual statute for personal injury actions."); Gartrell v. Taylor, 981 F.2d 254, 256 (5th Cir. 1993); Jackson v. Johnson, 950 F.2d 263, 265 (5th Cir. 1992). Under Mississippi law, the general residual statute of limitations is three years for claims arising on or after July 1, 1989, and six years for causes of action accruing before that date. Miss. Code Ann. § 15-1-49. The plaintiff's claims in this case accrued early in 1993, and therefore are properly constrained by a three-year limitations period. As such, the plaintiff's § 1983 claims are timely filed.

C. Standard for a motion to dismiss Pursuant to the June 12 order of the Magistrate Judge, no discovery has been conducted on any issue other than that of the applicable statute of limitations. In that no discovery has been conducted on any of the remaining issues in this case, the court shall address the defendants' motion as simply a motion to dismiss3 as to those issues. See, e.g., Gunaca v. State of Texas, 65 F.3d 467, 469 (5th Cir. 1995) ("Rule 56 "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery...") (emphasis added); Willis v. Rouche Biomedical Labratories, Inc., 61 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir. 1995) (noting entry of summary judgment appropriate "after adequate time for discovery").

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion is disfavored, and it is rarely granted. Clark v. Amoco Prod. Co., 794 F.2d 967, 970 (5th Cir. 1986); Sosa v. Coleman, 646 F.2d 991, 993 (5th Cir. 1981). Dismissal is never warranted because the court believes the plaintiff is unlikely to prevail on the merits. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S. Ct. 1683, 1686, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). Even if it appears an almost certainty that the facts alleged cannot be proved to support the claim, the complaint cannot be dismissed so long as the complaint states a claim. Clark, 794 F.2d at 970; Boudeloche v. Grow Chem. Coatings Corp., 728...

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