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Stafford v. City of West Point

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

May 23, 2013

NATALIE STAFFORD, as conservator of RICHARD STAFFORD, Plaintiff,


SHARION AYCOCK, District Judge.

The City of West Point has filed two Motions for Summary Judgment [77, 127] seeking dismissal of the Plaintiff's claims against the municipality. In addition, MEC, Inc, d/b/a The Pony, also contends there are no genuine disputes of material fact and request dismissal [123]. Because genuine disputes of material fact exist as to the municipality's liability, the City of West Point's Motions for Summary Judgment are denied. Likewise, the Court finds that Plaintiff has shown there are disputed facts impacting causation as to the claim against MEC, Inc. Therefore, MEC, Inc., d/b/a The Pony's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied as well.

Factual and Procedural Background

Around 9:00 p.m. on January 13, 2010, Richard Stafford met several friends for a party at a condominium at 133 Waverly in West Point, Mississippi. Stafford drank several beers prior to leaving the condo and going to The Pony, a nightclub between West Point and Starkville that admits persons 18 and older. It is disputed whether Richard Stafford was served alcoholic beverages at The Pony, and if he was, how many he consumed. The group left The Pony no later than 1:00 a.m. and returned to the condo where they continued to drink for several more hours.

West Point police officers Mark Stafford and Stanley McGee were dispatched to 133 Waverly around 4:42 a.m., for a disturbance noted as "drunk and causing problems." Upon arrival, the officers observed a number of nineteen to twenty-one year old persons having a party. Both officers testified that they smelled "a lot of alcohol" at the party and observed alcoholic beverage containers inside the condominium and spilled alcohol on the floor of the residence. The officers believed that the persons at 133 Waverly were consuming alcohol, and noted that alcohol was present in the residence. Both officers left the premises without making any arrests. The officers, however, were again dispatched to the same address around 5:24 a.m. The owner of the residence informed the police that he wanted particular persons to leave. Officer Stafford then told Richard Stafford, which was one of the persons identified by the owner, to leave. Richard called his mother, Natalie Stafford, on his cell phone, and she asked to speak with the officer. Officer Stafford refused to talk to Natalie Stafford, but she contends that Officer Mark Stafford told her minor son, Richard, to get into his vehicle and drive home.

At the alleged direction of Officer Stafford, Richard Stafford got into his vehicle, and drove for approximately fifteen miles before he was involved in a single car accident which caused serious and long-lasting injuries. Stafford's blood alcohol level two hours after the accident was 0.15 percent.

This Court held that the West Point police officers involved were entitled to qualified immunity as no constitutional right of Richard Stafford was violated. The Plaintiff thereafter filed an Amended Complaint alleging the following causes of action against the City of West Point: a violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 for depravation of Richard Stafford's constitutional rights, and a violation of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act for reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of Richard Stafford by instructing him to drive when they knew or should have known that he was under the influence of alcohol and unable to safely operate a motor vehicle. Plaintiff concedes that the Court's ruling that there were no constitutional violations by the officers is dispositive of her Section 1983 claims against the City. Therefore, the only remaining claim against the City of West Point falls under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The City argues it is immune under either the police protection or discretionary function provisions of the MTCA.[1]

MEC contends it is due summary judgment as Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient causation to hold them liable even if Richard Stafford was improperly served alcohol at The Pony.

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when the evidence reveals there is no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that 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 sufficient showing 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).

Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments are not an adequate substitute for specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash. , 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002). "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record... or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1). The court is only obligated to consider cited materials but may consider other materials in the record. Id. at 56(c)(3). The court must resolve factual controversies in favor of the nonmovant "but only when there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp. , 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When such 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).

Discussion and Analysis

1. City of West Point

The City of West Point contends it is immune pursuant to the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, particularly the police protection and/or discretionary function exceptions. The Mississippi Legislature has expressly determined that as a matter of public policy, the state and its political subdivisions are immune from suit due to any "tortious act or omission" by any employee of the ...

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