Newsom v. Stanciel, Civ. No. GC91-126-S-O.

Citation850 F. Supp. 507
Decision Date02 May 1994
Docket NumberCiv. No. GC91-126-S-O.
PartiesElizabeth Z. NEWSOM, Individually and as Natural Mother and Next Friend to Larry Newsom, Jr., a Minor, Plaintiff, v. Austin STANCIEL, as Chief of Police for The City of Greenwood, and The City of Greenwood, Mississippi, Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi

Trent L. Howell, Water Valley, MS, S. Allan Alexander, Tollison, Austin & Twiford, Oxford, MS, for plaintiff.

Steven J. Allen, W. Thomas Siler, Jr., Phelps Dunbar, Jackson, MS, for defendants.


SENTER, Chief Judge.

This cause is before the court on the motion of the defendants for summary judgment. The court previously entered an order which granted a motion to dismiss as to Austin Stanciel in his individual capacity and denied the motion with regard to the City of Greenwood and Austin Stanciel in his official capacity.


On May 4, 1991, the plaintiff and her husband, Larry Newsom, were visiting the plaintiff's brother, Danilo Zamora, in Greenwood, Mississippi. By early afternoon, Danilo and Larry had begun drinking alcohol. After dinner Larry Newsom stopped, but Danilo continued. Later in the evening, Danilo and his wife, Nidia, along with the plaintiff and Larry, went to the lounge at the Scottish Inn on Highway 82 in Greenwood. Danilo continued to drink. He become involved in a fight with another patron, and a proprietor of the lounge, Luther French, called the police. Greenwood police officers Steve Bland, Todd Moore, Leon Edwards, Reginald Dean, and auxiliary officer Eugene Walker all responded to the scene. Danilo was handcuffed, removed from the lounge, put into the police vehicle driven by Officer Dean and Officer Walker, and transported to the Greenwood Police Department. Danilo was visibly mad, resisted the police officers, and vowed vengeance against Luther French.

Michelle French, the daughter of an owner of the lounge, told Officer Edwards that Danilo might have a weapon. Edwards radioed this information to police department personnel. The Frenches decided not to press charges against Danilo, after Officer Bland told them that Danilo would nevertheless be held for about six hours. Nidia called the police department and was told that her husband Danilo would be held until morning. At the police department, Officer Dean removed Danilo's handcuffs and told him to wash his face at the water faucet. After talking with Danilo, Officer Bland left Danilo in the carport of the police department and went inside. When Officer Edwards walked back outside, both Officer Bland and Danilo were gone.

Danilo returned to his home shortly thereafter, proceeded to a bedside table, and retrieved his gun. He told his sister, the plaintiff, and Larry Newsom to leave his house. He was very angry and appeared to be still intoxicated. Somehow during the confusion, Danilo Zamora shot and killed his brother-in-law, Larry Newsom, the plaintiff's husband.

Summary Judgment Standard

On a motion for summary judgment, the court must ascertain whether there is a genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). This requires the court to evaluate "whether there is the need for a trial — whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The United States Supreme Court has stated that "this standard mirrors the standard for directed verdict ... which is the trial judge must direct a verdict if, under the governing law, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict. If reasonable minds could differ as to the import of the evidence, however, a verdict should not be directed." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-51, 106 S.Ct. at 2511 (citation omitted). Further, the Court has noted that the "genuine issue" summary judgment standard is very similar to the "reasonable jury" directed verdict standard, the primary difference between the two being "procedural, not substantive." Id. at 251, 106 S.Ct. at 2512. "In essence ... the inquiry under each is the same: whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52, 106 S.Ct. at 2512. Further, "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Id. at 252, 106 S.Ct. at 2512 (citation omitted). However, "credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge, whether he is ruling on a motion for summary judgment or for a directed verdict. The evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255, 106 S.Ct. at 2513. Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment has been filed, it is incumbent upon the nonmovant to go beyond the pleadings and arguments of counsel in order to establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. See generally, Professional Managers, Inc. v. Fawer, Brian, Hardy & Zatzkis, 799 F.2d 218, 221-23 (5th Cir.1986).


The plaintiff seeks relief through three separate theories.1 The first alleges a violation of the plaintiff's substantive due process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The second alleges the City of Greenwood failed to adequately train and/or supervise its police officers which resulted in a violation of the plaintiff's substantive due process rights. Finally, the plaintiff seeks recovery under Mississippi's wrongful death statute. The defendants assert that they did not violate the plaintiff's due process rights since they did not have a duty to protect the plaintiff from random acts of violence. They argue that the plaintiff has presented no evidence of deliberate indifference in training their law enforcement officers. And finally, defendants state they are protected against any state law claims by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

I. Due Process Clause

The plaintiff claims a violation under the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution which provides: "nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law." A section 1983 action can be successfully stated only where the plaintiff demonstrates that she has asserted a recognized "liberty or property" interest within the purview of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that she was intentionally or recklessly deprived of that interest under color of state law. See Westbrook v. City of Jackson, Mississippi, 772 F.Supp. 932, 935 (S.D.Miss.1991) (citing, Griffith v. Johnston, 899 F.2d 1427 (5th Cir. 1990)). "The fourteenth amendment was `intended to secure the individual from the arbitrary exercise of the powers of government' which resulted in `grievous losses' for the individual." Griffith v. Johnston, 899 F.2d at 1435 (quoting Kentucky Dept. of Corrections v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 109 S.Ct. 1904, 104 L.Ed.2d 506 (1989)). "Its purpose was to protect the people from the State, not to ensure that the State protected them from each other." DeShaney v. Winnebago Soc. Serv., 489 U.S. 189, 196, 109 S.Ct. 998, 1003, 103 L.Ed.2d 249 (1989).

There generally does not exist a constitutional right to basic governmental services, such as fire and police protection. See Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 309, 102 S.Ct. 2452, 2453-54, 73 L.Ed.2d 28 (1982).

Nothing in the language of the Due Process Clause itself requires the State to protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens against invasion by private actors. The Clause is phrased as a limitation on the State's power to act, not as a guarantee of certain minimal levels of safety and security. It forbids the State itself to deprive individuals of life, liberty, or property without "due process of law," but its language cannot fairly be extended to impose an affirmative obligation on the State to ensure that those interests do not come to harm through other means.
If the Due Process Clause does not require the State to provide its citizens with particular protective services, it follows that the State cannot be held liable under the Clause for injuries that could have been averted had it chosen to provide them.

DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 195-97, 109 S.Ct. at 1003-04. In DeShaney the plaintiff, Joshua DeShaney, was a young boy rendered permanently brain damaged by repeated beatings from his father. Joshua was placed in temporary custody of a hospital upon the recommendation of the Winnebago County Department of Social Services after he was hospitalized because of multiple bruises and abrasions. The Department of Social Services (DDS) suspected Joshua was being abused by his father. The case was eventually dismissed and Joshua was returned to his father. During the next year and one half, Joshua was hospitalized twice for injuries and a DDS caseworker documented suspicions of continuing child abuse. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants' failure to remove him from his father's custody deprived Joshua of his liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The United States Supreme Court held that Joshua had not suffered a constitutional tort, since the DDS did not have a duty to protect him from random acts of violence.

"Section 1983 imposes liability for violations of rights protected by the Constitution, not for violations of duties of care arising out of tort law." Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 146, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 2695-96, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979). "DeShaney makes it plain that the state's failure to...

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