Payton v. Town of Maringouin, CIVIL ACTION NO. 18-563-JWD-EWD

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Middle District of Louisiana
Writing for the CourtJUDGE JOHN W. deGRAVELLES UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MIDDLE DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
PartiesCYNTHIA PAYTON v. TOWN OF MARINGOUIN, ET AL.
Decision Date21 June 2021
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 18-563-JWD-EWD

CYNTHIA PAYTON
v.
TOWN OF MARINGOUIN, ET AL.

CIVIL ACTION NO. 18-563-JWD-EWD

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MIDDLE DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA

June 21, 2021


RULING AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on three interrelated motions. The first is the Motion for Summary Judgment Pursuant to FRCP 56 (Doc. 100) ("Town MSJ") filed by defendant the Town of Maringouin (the "Town" or "Maringouin"). Plaintiff Cynthia Payton ("Plaintiff" or "Payton") opposes the motion, (Doc. 106), and the Town has filed a reply, (Doc. 110). The second motion is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 102) ("A&D MSJ") filed by defendants Chief Hosea Anderson ("Anderson") and Terrance Davis ("Davis"). Plaintiff opposes the motion, (Doc. 107), and Anderson and Davis have filed a reply, (Doc. 109). The third motion is RJ's Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 103) ("RJ's MSJ") filed by RJ's Transportation, LLC, ("RJ's") and Patrick Ventress ("Ventress"). Plaintiff opposes this motion, (Doc. 108), and RJ's and Ventress filed a reply, (Doc. 111). Oral argument is not necessary. The Court has carefully considered the law, the facts in the record, and the arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule.

For the following reasons, each motion is granted in part and denied without prejudice in part. The motions are granted in that all federal claims against these defendants are dismissed with prejudice. The motions are denied without prejudice with respect to the state law claims.

Additionally, Plaintiff's facial challenge to the criminal defamation statutes, La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 14:47, 48, & 49 shall be dismissed, as Plaintiff (1) failed to assert this claim against the

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proper party defendant (here, the district attorney or governor) and (2) waived the claim by failing to include it in the pretrial order.

Plaintiff shall be given fourteen (14) days in which to file a supplemental brief (not to exceed ten (10) pages) to address why any federal claims against the non-moving and remaining pro se defendants, Edward James ("James") and Dwayne Bourgeois ("Bourgeois"), should not be dismissed for the same reasons as provided for the similarly situated RJ's and Ventress. All other parties will be given seven (7) days thereafter to respond. If Plaintiff fails to make a sufficient showing, the Court will very likely decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over all remaining state law claims.

Finally, Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 87) as to the state law malicious prosecution claims against Bourgeois and James is denied without prejudice pending a determination of these jurisdictional issues.

I. Relevant Factual Background

A. Introduction

Plaintiff is a resident of the Town of Maringouin. (See Maringouin's Statement of Uncontested Material Facts to which the Town . . . Contends There Is No Genuine Issue ("T-SUMF") ¶ 5, Doc. 100-2; Pl.'s Statement of Disputed Material Facts and Request to Strike Statements of Material Fact ("PT-SDMF") ¶ 5, Doc. 106-1.)1

Anderson is the Chief of Police for the Town. (T-SUMF ¶ 2, Doc. 100-2.) Davis is a police officer for Maringouin. (Id. ¶ 3.)

Eugene Simpson is the Justice of the Peace for Iberville Parish. (Id. ¶ 4.) He normally comes to the Maringouin substation to "do a warrant; or meet with a Complainant, or whatever."

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(Anderson Dep. 100, Doc. 100-3.) Simpson was previously named as a defendant in this action, but he was dismissed following a successful Rule 12(b)(6) motion. (Doc. 60.)

Ventress, James, and Bourgeois are private citizens who drive commercial trucks for a living. (Anderson and Davis's Statement of Uncontested Facts in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment ("A&D SUF") ¶ 2, Doc. 102-1; Pl.'s Statement of Disputed Material Facts ("PA&D-SDMF") ¶ 2, Doc. 107-1.)2 Ventress is employed by RJ's. (A&D SUF ¶ 6, Doc. 102-1.)

Plaintiff alleged that Bourgeois and James were RJ's employees. (Am. Compl. ¶11, Doc. 16.) On October 19, 2020, counsel for RJ's moved to withdraw from representing Bourgeois and James because they were not RJ's employees. (Doc. 79 at 2.) Though Plaintiff opposed the motion, (id. at 3), the Magistrate Judge orally granted this motion, (Doc. 84). Thus, Bourgeois and James are presently pro se. They do not join in the RJ's MSJ. (See Doc. 103.)

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B. Truckers' Parking and Bourgeois' History and Harassment

In August 2015, individuals parked trucks and trailers close to Cynthia Payton's home and nearby railroad tracks on the Town's property. (T-SUMF ¶ 5, Doc. 100-2.) Mayor Demi Vorise gave authorization for the trucks to be parked there. (Id. ¶ 6.) Cynthia Payton knew the individuals had authorization to park their vehicles near the railroad tracks. (Id. ¶ 7.)

Anderson testified how Plaintiff complained to him in April 2016 about Bourgeois harassing her and threatening to shoot her. (Anderson Dep. 45-46, 57, Doc. 102-3.) Anderson said this was not an empty threat, (id. at 60); Anderson knew Bourgeois had "shot somebody" and "had been arrested for some things," including "one just being domestic . . . with him and a female," though Anderson did not remember what the domestic thing was, (id. at 44-46). Bourgeois had shot the man in the face and had been arrested for attempted second degree murder. (Id. at 13-14.) In any event, Anderson did not arrest Bourgeois for his threatening Plaintiff, and Anderson did not remember if he talked to Bourgeois about it. (Id. at 59-60.)

On August 25, 2017, Anderson sent Officer Dorsey to Payton's home to inform her that individuals were making complaints about her. (T-SUMF ¶ 8, Doc. 100-2.) Later, Deputy Ricky Saurage met with Payton and made a report of her complaint of Anderson. (Id. ¶ 9.) More specifically, on August 30, 2017, Payton complained to the police again about being stalked, "threaten[ed] and scared for her life." (Anderson Dep. 62-65, Doc. 102-3; Ex. 4 to Anderson Dep., Doc. 102-3 at 238.) When Plaintiff would write down license plate numbers, Anderson would tell her that people wanted to physically beat her, and he would then tell those people not to do it and that they would go to jail. (Id. at 77-78.) When Plaintiff would make a complaint, Anderson would also send deputies to her to let her know what the community was saying, and Plaintiff perceived this as harassment. (Id. at 94-95.)

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C. Plaintiff's Letter(s) to RJ's: Circumstances, Contents, and Truth

On September 27, 2017, Payton wrote a letter to RJ's concerning the conduct of RJ's employees and their operation of its trucks, and Anderson. (T-SUMF ¶ 10, Doc. 100-2.) The letter provided:

September 27, 2017

RJ Trucking
[address omitted]
Port Allen, LA 70767

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is written to make you aware of the situation that involves your trucks in Maringouin.

More than 2 years ago, August 2015, one of your drivers was parking a hazardous material truck on Church Street. This truck was in violation of the State and Federal regulations regarding the distance from a residence. This is how it began.

From that point, Patrick Wayne Ventress inserted himself, followed by a another [sic] male called "Little Buck."3 This Little Buck, the god to all of the lost men, women, boys, and girls.
This speaks to the culture and the little value this type has for women. Just as Ventress joined in, another male, Edward James also fully committed himself. And in doing so, his special friend, the Chief of Police, Hosea Anderson flew in to make sure their rights were fully protected and everyone else is trampled upon.
This snowballed into the mob situation that it is today.
These three individuals' families and friends formed what is now known as the Maringouin Mob, which consist of the 1500 Gang, along with thugs, lowlife, and other blithering idiots of the adjoining communities.

As I can appreciate it, many of these individuals are on public assistance and are receiving some monetary reward to harass and intimidate me.

These individuals come to my job daily and are regularly disruptive. They follow me to and from work and all points in between.

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It is my intention to share with their employers the daily activity of these mobsters since my employer has to deal with this inconvenience on a daily basis.

So each week I will make sure that you all are updated on this matter.

Until next week.

Sincerely,

Cynthia Payton

(Payton Dep. 56, Doc. 102-4; Ex. 3 to Payton Dep., Doc. 102-5 at 73.)

A second letter, dated October 4, 2017, is addressed to "Trucking Terrorist." (Payton Dep. 56-57, Doc. 102-4; Ex. 4 to Payton Dep., Doc. 102-5 at 74.) The contents of the letter are identical. The letter is unsigned, but "Cynthia Payton" is typed at the bottom of the letter with an address handwritten beneath Plaintiff's name. (Ex. 4 to Payton Dep., Doc. 102-5 at 74.) Plaintiff testified that she recognized the exhibit and that the word "Terrorist" and the P.O. box at the bottom are in her handwriting, but she said she was "not sure" about the circumstances of the change of date or whether she sent the October 4, 2017, letter.4 (Payton Dep. 57, Doc. 102-4.)

In any event, one or both of these letters found their way to RJ's. (A&D SUF ¶ 6, Doc. 102-1.) Ventress testified that he first learned that Payton was complaining about where he was parking around October of 2017, around the time he was being harassed by Payton. (Ventress Dep. 56, Doc. 102-6.)

As will be explored below, a key issue in the case is whether the letter contained false statements. On that issue, Ventress testified that the following was untrue:

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A. About parking across from her house; that we hauled—transported illegal, like, chemicals, or whatever; she had say we hauling chemicals; and I never put a loaded trailer with chemicals; that trailer was empty; it might have had empty trailers; no loaded trailers; empty.
I used to park there years, and years, before that happened; all of a sudden—in Plaquemine, I never had that trouble; all of a sudden, at this period of time, Ms.
...

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