Estate of Manus v. Webster Cnty.

Decision Date31 March 2014
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 1:11-CV-00149-SA-DAS
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi
PartiesTHE ESTATE OF JOSEPH CONWAY MANUS, et al. PLAINTIFFS v. WEBSTER COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, et al. DEFENDANTS
MEMORANDUM OPINION

This cause comes before the Court on Defendants' motions for summary judgment, Defendants' motions to exclude Plaintiffs' experts [166], [167], [283], [285], [287], and Defendants' Motion to Strike [172]. Upon due consideration of the motions, responses, rules, and authorities, the Court finds as follows:

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The facts of this matter are complex and highly disputed. Joseph Conway Manus ("Manus") originally brought this action, asserting constitutional claims brought through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as various state law claims. Manus alleged that on September 7, 2010 law enforcement officers from Webster County, Mississippi; Eupora, Mississippi; and Mathiston, Mississippi used excessive force against him in order to effectuate an unlawful arrest and denied him medical care during the seven days that he was in their custody. As a result, Manus claimed he suffered serious injuries, including quadriplegia.1 Manus died on December 1, 2012, while this lawsuit was pending.

After his death, Manus' widow, Miranda Manus, acting on her own behalf as well as with Manus' mother, Lois Manus, on behalf of all wrongful death beneficiaries, and Manus' estate were substituted as Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint adding a claim forwrongful death on June 6, 2013. Named Defendants to this action are Webster County Sheriff Phillip Smith, Deputy Jeremy Kilgore, Deputy Derek May, Webster County Jailers Shay Holmes and Toby Britt, and Webster County, Mississippi ("County Defendants"); Eupora Police Chief Gregg Hunter, Officer Keith Crenshaw,2 Officer Mitch Jackson, the municipality of Eupora, Mississippi, Mathiston Police Chief Roger Miller, Officer Shane Box, and the municipality of Mathiston, Mississippi (Municipal Defendants). All Defendants have filed motions for summary judgment, asserting, among other things, that Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the doctrines of qualified immunity and the Mississippi Tort Claims Act.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party must then "go beyond the pleadings" and "designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, "but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Little v. Liquid AirCorp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994) (en banc). However, conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments have never constituted an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1997); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

Ordinarily, when contradictory facts exist, the Court may "not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S. Ct. 2097, 147 L. Ed. 2d 105 (2000) . Still, the Fifth Circuit has held that in the case of a bench trial, "a district court has somewhat greater discretion to consider what weight it will accord the evidence. When deciding a motion for summary judgment prior to a bench trial, the district court has the limited discretion to decide that the same evidence, presented to him or her as a trier of fact in a plenary trial, could not possibly lead to a different result." Johnson v. Diversicare Afton Oaks, LLC, 597 F.3d 673, 676 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal citations omitted). Indeed, the Fifth Circuit has stated that "it makes little sense to forbid the judge from drawing inferences from the evidence submitted on summary judgment when that same judge will act as the trier of fact, unless those inferences involve issues of witness credibility or disputed material facts. If a trial on the merits will not enhance the court's ability to draw inferences and conclusions, then a district judge properly should 'draw his inferences without resort to the expense of trial.'" Matter of Placid Oil Co., 932 F.2d 394, 398 (5th Cir. 1991) (emphasis added) (quoting Nunez v. Superior Oil Co., 572 F.2d 1119, 1124 (5th Cir. 1978)).

ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
I. Official Capacity Claims Against Individual County Defendants

Plaintiffs brought suit against all individually named Defendants in both their personal and official capacities. Unlike suits against officers in their personal capacities, suits brought against officers in their official capacities "generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Monell v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Social Svcs, 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55, 98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978). "As long as the government entity receives notice and an opportunity to respond, an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166, 105 S. Ct. 3099, 87 L. Ed. 2d 114 (1985) (citing Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471-72, 105 S. Ct. 873, 83 L. Ed. 2d 878 (1985)). Accordingly, the dismissal of allegations against municipal officers in their official capacities is proper when the allegations duplicate claims against the governmental entity itself. See Castro Romero v. Becken, 256 F.3d 349, 355 (5th Cir. 2001).

County Defendants argue that the allegations against the individual County Defendants in their official capacities are duplicative and should be dismissed.3 Though Plaintiffs argue that their official capacity claims against the individual County Defendants are not duplicative of their claims against Webster County, they give no explanation as to how those claims differ. Rather, Plaintiffs cite several cases of nonbinding authority dealing with courts' attempts to identify the nature of liability sought by plaintiffs when complaints do not specify whether officials are being sued in their personal or official capacities. See Mosby v. Moore, 716 So. 2d 551, 557 (Miss. 1998); Fitzgerald v. McDaniel, 833 F.2d 1516, 1520 (11th Cir. 1987); Conner v. Reinhard, 847 F.2d 384, 394 (7th Cir. 1988). These cases are inapplicable to the case at bar asPlaintiffs specifically stated in their Amended Complaint that they are suing "all public employees in their official and individual capacities." Further, Plaintiffs' arguments that "[t]he officers should not be dismissed as there are claims of individual liability" and that "[s]ummary judgment on individual capacity claims is precluded" have no bearing on whether Plaintiffs' official capacity claims against the individual County Defendants should be dismissed. As such, the Court finds the dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims against the individual County Defendants in their official capacities merited.

II. § 1983 Claims and Qualified Immunity

Liability may be imposed upon any person who, acting under the color of state law, deprives another of federally protected rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 does not create substantive rights; rather, it merely provides a remedy for deprivations of rights established elsewhere. City of Okla. City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816, 105 S. Ct. 2427, 85 L. Ed. 2d 791 (1985). To bring an action within the purview of Section 1983, a claimant must first identify a protected life, liberty, or property interest, and then prove that government action resulted in a deprivation of that interest. Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 140, 99 S. Ct. 2689, 61 L. Ed. 2d 433 (1979); Mahone v. Addicks Utility Dist., 836 F.2d 921, 927 (5th Cir. 1988); Villanueva v. McInnis, 723 F.2d 414, 418 (5th Cir.1984).

"The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S. Ct. 808, 172 L. Ed. 2d 565 (2009) (internal quotations omitted). "[Q]ualified immunity is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability." Id., 129 S. Ct. 808 (internal quotations omitted). Once a government official asserts qualified immunity, it is the plaintiff'sburden to prove that the official is not entitled to it. Michalik v. Hermann, 422 F.3d 252, 258 (5th Cir. 2005).

In evaluating qualified immunity, the Court employs a two-step process. Cantrell v. City of Murphy, 666 F.3d 911, 922 (5th Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 133 S. Ct. 119, 184 L. Ed. 2d 25 (2012). The Court must determine (1) whether the plaintiff has alleged a violation of a clearly established constitutional right and (2) whether the government official's conduct was objectively reasonable under the law at the time of the incident. Michalik at 257-58. "To be clearly established, a right must be...

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    ...was objectively unreasonable and unlawful because there was no probable cause. Estate of Manus v. Webster County, Miss ., No. 1:11–CV–00149–SA–DAS, 2014 WL 1285946, at *4 (N.D.Miss. March 31, 2014), rev'd in part on other grounds on reconsideration , 2014 WL 2207851 (N.D.Miss. May 28, 2014)......

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