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White v. Howell

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

August 21, 2013

APRIL LEAH WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
BILL HOWELL, individually, and DONNIE ADKINS, in his former official capacity as Sheriff of Neshoba County, MS, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS

MICHAEL T. PARKER, Magistrate Judge.

The Defendants in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action seek dismissal of the Plaintiff's claims against them. Defendant Bill Howell separately moves for summary judgment on the Plaintiff's claims against him in his individual capacity. The Plaintiff opposes the motions and argues that material fact issues remain in this case which warrant a denial of summary judgment. Having considered the motions, case record, and applicable law, the undersigned recommends that the Defendants' motions be granted and that this case be dismissed with prejudice.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff April Leah White filed her complaint [1] pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on February 15, 2012. This lawsuit arises from events that took place in Neshoba County, Mississippi on March 2, 2009. White brings this action against the following defendants: Neshoba County Sherriff's Deputy Bill Howell, individually, and Donnie Adkins, in his former official capacity as Sheriff of Neshoba County, Mississippi.

The following factual background is drawn from the parties' submissions. While they disagree on certain points, the material facts are not in dispute. On March 2, 2009, White called Neshoba County Justice Court requesting to speak to a deputy regarding retrieving belongings from her sister's residence. The justice court placed a call to the Neshoba County Central Dispatch to apprise them of the situation. Deputy Howell was on duty and agreed to meet White at the Neshoba County Sherriff's Department. At approximately 11:00 a.m., she arrived at the Sherriff's Department and met Howell. The Plaintiff asked Howell to escort her to the home of her sister, Chastity Perrett, [1] in Sebastopol, Mississippi, to retrieve some possessions of their deceased father that Perrett allegedly borrowed. Howell explained that he would accompany White to keep the peace, but he could not force her sister to render the possessions.

Upon arriving at Perrett's home, White and Howell approached the back door. Eventually, Perrett came to the door, and White informed her that she had come to retrieve her property. According to White, her sister immediately began "spouting out lies" regarding how White had been stalking her and leaving her threatening voicemail messages. (Dkt. [16-3] at 7). Perrett told White that Perrett did not have any property belonging to White. Thereafter, White and Perrett had a highly emotional and heated argument, which made clear to Howell that no property would be exchanged that day.

In an effort to diffuse the situation, Howell told White that she was going to have to leave the premises. (Dkt. [16-3] at 8). White responded, "it was obvious that you really didn't want to come out here with me to begin with. You can leave, and I'll get my things...." Id. Thereafter, White admits she became "pretty argumentative" with Howell, while continuing to argue with her sister. Id. at 7. Howell advised White that they were going to leave or she was going to be arrested. White refused to leave, telling Howell that he could not arrest her. Because White refused to comply with Howell's command, he informed her she was under arrest.

At this point, the parties' recollections of the events diverge. Howell avers the following. He grabbed White by the left arm and began leading her towards his patrol car. (Dkt. [16-2] at 8). While being escorted, White began to resist, even pulling away from him for a moment. Id. at 8, 10; (Dkt. [16-3] at 10). Howell was able to reach out and grasp White's arm before she got away. Howell then placed White's hands on the hood of his patrol car in order to search and handcuff her. Id. At that point, White "mule-kicked" Howell. (Dkt. [16-2] at 11-12). According to Howell, he was kicked twice - once in the thigh and once in the testicles. The latter kick caused him to fall to the ground; however, he grabbed White around her neck and pulled her to the ground as he fell backwards. The arrest was eventually completed with assistance of Officer Todd Currie. Id. at 11, 12. Howell claims that White never expressed that she was in pain after the arrest. (Dkt. [16-2] at 16).

White, admitting an inability to clearly recall the events, disagrees with Howell's version of the facts. (Dkt. [16-3] at 8). According to the Plaintiff, Howell handcuffed her at the backdoor or porch prior to escorting her to the patrol car. Id. at 8, 10. She claims that both parties exchanged profanities while walking to the patrol car. Id. Then, Howell allegedly began to "get rough" with the handcuffed White, and slammed her against the hood of his patrol car fracturing her right collarbone. Id. at 10-11. White admits to "mule-kicking" Howell while handcuffed over the hood of the patrol car, but contends that it was in response to being injured when she was slammed against the car. Id. at 12. White stated that no other officer assisted in making the arrest. Id. Several hours after the arrest, officers who are not parties to this suit transported White to Neshoba County General Hospital, where she was diagnosed as having a broken right collarbone and large hematoma on her right shoulder. See (Dkt. [18-2] at 1-8).

On August 31, 2009, White was indicted by the Neshoba County Grand Jury for assaulting Howell in violation of Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-7(1)(a). See (Dkt. [16-6]). On November 10, 2009, White pled guilty to simple assault on a law enforcement officer. See (Dkt. [16-7] at 1-12). White's conviction has never been overturned.

Over two years later, White filed the instant matter. In this lawsuit, she alleges that Howell used excessive force against her during the 2009 arrest in violation of her constitutional rights. White contends that the following physical injuries were direct and proximate results of the use of excessive force: a severely fractured right clavicle, a large hematoma on her right shoulder, injuries to the ear and ear drum, fractured right side ribs, and a large hematoma to her right breast area. See (Dkt. [18] at 4). White contends that Howell's excessive use of force was objectively unreasonable, constituting an unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain in violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizure and the use of unreasonable and/or excessive force. Additionally, White complains that former sheriff Donnie Adkins, is vicariously liable for the actions of his deputy, Defendant Howell, under Miss. Code Ann. § 19-25-19.

On March 22, 2012, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss White's state law claims [6] pursuant Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On June 11, 2012, Howell filed a motion for summary judgment as to the federal claims [16]. The undersigned will address Howell's motion first, as White's state law claim for vicarious liability is contingent upon the continued survival of the federal law claims.

I. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO FEDERAL CLAIMS

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure guides the Court's analysis in determining whether to grant summary judgment. Under Rule 56(a), summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." To overcome summary judgment, the nonmoving party must present "specific facts showing [that there is] a genuine factual issue for trial." Harris ex rel. Harris v. Pontotoc Cnty. Sch. Dist., 635 F.3d 685, 690 (5th Cir. 2011). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, courts must consider the record evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Paz v. Brush Engineered Materials, Inc., 555 F.3d 383, 391 (5th Cir. 2009). However, in the absence of proof, courts should not assume that the nonmoving party could prove the necessary facts. Id.

In his motion, Howell submits two legal bases why summary judgment should be granted in his favor: (1) qualified immunity for government officials, and (2) the "favorable termination" rule (also referred to as the Heck rule) as fashioned by the Supreme Court of the United States in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d ...


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