Vincent v. City of Sulphur, Civil Action No. 2:13–CV–189.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Louisiana
Citation28 F.Supp.3d 626
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 2:13–CV–189.
PartiesCarol J. VINCENT, Plaintiff v. CITY OF SULPHUR, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date15 May 2014

28 F.Supp.3d 626

Carol J. VINCENT, Plaintiff
CITY OF SULPHUR, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 2:13–CV–189.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division.

Signed May 14, 2014
Filed May 15, 2014

Motion granted in part, denied in part, and stayed in part.

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Carol J. Vincent, Sulphur, LA, pro se.

Robin J. Magee, Stephen J. Oats, Oats & Marino, Lafayette, LA, for Defendants.



Before the court is the Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Qualified Immunity [Doc. 23], filed by the City of Sulphur, Lewis Coats, Chief of Police for the City of Sulphur, Officer Chester Gremillion and

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Officer Glenn Martin (defendants), to which the pro se 1 plaintiff has filed an Opposition [Doc. 25], and the defendants have filed a Reply [Doc. 26]. For the following reasons, the Motion [Doc. 23] is hereby GRANTED IN PART, DENIED IN PART, and STAYED IN PART.


On August 6, 2012, the plaintiff alleges that he went to the C.S.E. Credit Union on Swisco Road, in Sulphur, Louisiana, for the purpose of discussing a discrepancy regarding a federal tax lien on behalf of a friend, Mr. Victor Chaisson, who was at the time out of the country.2 The plaintiff met with Ms. Amanda Vaussine (Vaussine), a Credit Union employee,3 who instructed the plaintiff that he needed a tax lien release from the Clerk of Court.4

On August 7, 2012, the plaintiff again met with Vaussine.5 Vaussine was apparently unable to assist the plaintiff at the time, and the plaintiff left his email address with Vaussine for her to follow up with him.6 Upon returning home, the plaintiff alleges that he was phoned by Deputy Taylor of the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office (CPSO), who informed the plaintiff that he could not return to the Credit Union, as he was not a Credit Union member.7

On August 8, 2012, the plaintiff was phoned by Detective Breaux at the CPSO who asked the plaintiff to come down to the sheriff's substation.8 Once the plaintiff arrived at the substation, Detective Breaux asked the plaintiff if he had stated to Vaussine that he was going to get a gun and kill Mayor Christopher Duncan and city councilman Mike Koonce.9 The plaintiff denied making such a statement.10

On August 9, 2012, Officer Chester Gremillion pulled the plaintiff over near Frasch Elementary School, on South Huntington Street, in Sulphur, Louisiana. 11 Officer Gremillion informed the plaintiff that he was not being stopped for a traffic violation; rather, the stop was for the sole purpose of informing the plaintiff of a “no trespass order” against him, as well as to inform the plaintiff that he was henceforth forbidden to set foot upon all public property in the City of Sulphur.12 The plaintiff

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was not provided with a copy of the order.13 The no trespass order, which appears to have been the unilateral decision of certain law enforcement officers, was at no time reviewed by any member of the judiciary.

The Official Notification of Trespass Warning [Doc. 23–4], which bears the signature of the plaintiff, states that the signee “understand[s] that if [he] return[s] to this property for any reason [he] will be subject to arrest under Louisiana RS 14:63.3.” 14 The property in question is described as “All city of Sulphur owned property,” and the document lists the warning as emanating from “Sgt. C. Gremillion, an officer of the Sulphur Police Department.” 15

On September 5, 2012, Sulphur Police Chief Lewis Coats received the first of several letters in this matter from the plaintiff inquiring as to why the no trespass order was issued.16 Chief Coats phoned the plaintiff and left a voicemail, which was not returned.17 Presumably wishing to preserve a record of communications, the plaintiff requested that Chief Coats respond in writing, which he did on October 4, 2012, wherein Chief Coats stated that the no trespass warning was issued “in an attempt to prevent [the plaintiff] from entering any city owned property where [he] could have come in contact” with those he allegedly threatened.18 The plaintiff responded via a letter dated October 11, 2012, requesting a meeting at a “neutral” location, so as not to subject himself to arrest for entering the city-owned police station in violation of the no trespass order.19

“Around the same time,” Chief Coats was advised by the District Attorney that there was “insufficient evidence to pursue any charges against [the plaintiff].” 20 On October 16, 2012, Chief Coats, after discussing the matter with Mayor Duncan,21 sent a letter to the plaintiff, the letter itself serving as “formal notice that the Trespass Warning given to [him] on August 9, 2012 by Sgt. Chester Gremillion of the Sulphur Police Department [had] been officially terminated effective immediately.” 22

The plaintiff filed suit against the defendants in the Fourteenth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Calcasieu on December 10, 2012, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, initially seeking compensatory and exemplary damages for alleged violations of the plaintiff's rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.23 On January 24, 2013, the defendants removed the case to federal court pursuant to the court's federal

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question subject matter jurisdiction.24 On September 10, 2013, the defendants filed the Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Qualified Immunity [Doc. 23] that is presently before the court.


A grant of summary judgment is appropriate when the movant has shown that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and must support its motion by “identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,’ which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). When the movant sufficiently demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, “the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine [dispute] for trial.” Gen. Universal Sys., Inc. v. Lee, 379 F.3d 131, 141 (5th Cir.2004) (citation omitted). Where material facts are in dispute, “the Court must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Priority Staffing, Inc. v. Regions Bank, No. 5:11–0667, 2013 WL 5462239, at *2 (W.D.La. Sept. 30, 2013) (citation omitted). However, where “critical evidence is so weak or tenuous as to an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant, then summary judgment should be granted.” Webb v. Arbuckle, No. 09–615, 2011 WL 1002109, at *2, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28259, at *7 (W.D.La. Mar. 18, 2011) ( citing Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir.2005)).

42 U.S.C. § 1983 “provides a cause of action against an individual who, acting under color of state law, has deprived a person of a federally protected statutory or constitutional right.” Whittington v. Maxwell, 455 Fed.Appx. 450, 455–56 (5th Cir.2011) ( citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983). “[Q]ualified immunity—which shields Government officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights,’ is both a defense to liability and a limited ‘entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation.’ ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 672, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal citations omitted). “Qualified immunity serves to ensure government employees are not impeded from their public work to defend frivolous actions.” Porter v. Valdez, 424 Fed.Appx. 382, 386 (5th Cir.2011) ( citing Babb v. Dorman, 33 F.3d 472, 477 (5th Cir.1994)).

“When an officer argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity from suit, [the court] first view[s] the evidence ‘in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury’ and decide[s] if ‘the facts alleged show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right.’ ” Mesa v. Prejean, 543 F.3d 264, 269 (5th Cir.2008) ( citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001)). In order to overcome a claim of qualified immunity, a plaintiff must plead facts showing “(1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was ‘clearly established’ at the time of the challenged conduct.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, ––– U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2080, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149 (2011) ( citing

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Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). The district court, in its discretion, may consider either of the two prongs first. Id. ( citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009)).

The actions of a law enforcement officer violate clearly established law when, “at the time of the challenged conduct, ‘[t]he contours of [a] right [are] sufficiently clear’ that every ‘reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.’ ” Id. at 2083 ( citing Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)). While a case directly on point is not necessarily required, “existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.” Id. (citations omitted).

The plaintiff has asserted a violation of the following constitutionally protected rights: due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, freedom of speech, freedom of association, right to petition the government for the redress of grievances, equal protection, the right against unlawful search and...

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