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Felton v. Wells Fargo Bank

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

September 27, 2013

CEASAR FELTON and MARY FELTON, Plaintiffs,
v.
WELLS FARGO BANK; MORRIS & ASSOCIATES; FEDERAL NATIONAL MORTGAGE COMPANY; SEAN SOUTHERN, Individually and as Trustee under the Substituted Trustee's Deed; DEMETRIUS WEATHERBROOK, Individually and in his Capacity as Justice Court Clerk for Yazoo County; BENNIE WARRINGTON, Individually and in his Capacity as Justice Court Judge for the Southern District of Yazoo County; YAZOO COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS; and JOHN AND JANE DOES 1-100, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DAVID BRAMLETTE, District Judge.

This cause is before the Court on defendants Bennie Warrington, Demetrius Westbrook (incorrectly named "Weatherbrook" in the plaintiffs' Complaint), and the Yazoo County Board of Supervisors' Motion for Summary Judgment Premised on Immunity (docket entry 12). Having carefully considered the motion, to which no response has been filed, and the applicable law, as well as the record in this case, the Court finds as follows:

The plaintiffs' Complaint was filed on August 29, 2012, and alleges that the Yazoo County Justice Court did not have jurisdiction over eviction proceedings brought before the justice court and styled Wells Fargo Bank, NA vs. Ceasar L. Felton and Mary L. Felton/All other occupants, Cause No. 29-769. The plaintiffs allege that Judge Warrington presided over the justice court proceeding, that Justice Court Clerk Westbrook accepted and recorded the Complaint filed by Wells Fargo, and that the Yazoo County Board of Supervisors failed to train and/or supervise Judge Warrington and Clerk Westbrook regarding their duties.

The plaintiffs allege federal constitutional claims against Judge Warrington and Clerk Westbrook for denial of due process, equal protection, and right to privacy, brought pursuant to the procedural vehicle of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Complaint, ¶¶ 56, 58. They also allege state law claims against Judge Warrington, Clerk Westbrook, and the Yazoo County Board of Supervisors for unlawful eviction, negligent trespass to land, negligent trespass to chattel, negligent abuse of process, reckless indifference to the plaintiffs and failure to train and supervise.

Judge Warrington claims that he is entitled to absolute immunity, or, in the alternative, qualified immunity, from any and all federal claims, since the rendering of judgment in the justice court action was a judicial function and was not taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. He also alleges that he is entitled to judgment on all state law claims on immunity grounds. Clerk Westbrook claims that he is entitled to qualified immunity on all federal claims, and that he is entitled to judgment on all state law claims on immunity grounds. The members of the Yazoo County Board of Supervisors, in their individual capacities, assert qualified immunity as to all federal claims against them on grounds that the plaintiffs have not alleged that they personally participated in any of the actions alleged in the Complaint, and that there is no evidence they were deliberately indifferent to any need for training or supervision with regards to Judge Warrington and/or Clerk Westbrook. The individual supervisors also assert that they are entitled to judgment on all state law claims based on immunity grounds.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) "mandates the entry of summary judgment... against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient 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 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court 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).

The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record evidence] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 323. "A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Paz , 555 F.3d at 391 (quoting Crawford v. Formosa Plastics Corp. , 234 F.3d 899, 902 (5th Cir. 2000)).

Once the moving party meets its burden, the nonmoving party must then "come forward with specific facts showing a genuine factual issue for trial." Harris ex rel. Harris v. Pontotoc Cnty. Sch. Dist. , 635 F.3d 685, 690 (5th Cir. 2011). The nonmoving party cannot rely on metaphysical doubt, conclusive allegations, or unsubstantiated assertions but instead must show that there is an actual controversy warranting trial. Little v. Liquid Air Corp. , 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994)(internal citations omitted). As the 2010 amendments to Rule 56 make clear, a party asserting that a fact "is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations..., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials...." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).

The plaintiffs have failed to respond to the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The local rules of this Court require a response to a motion within fourteen days, L.U.C.R. 7(b)(4), which is not optional. Blackard v. City of Southaven, 2012 WL 827192, *3 (N.D. Miss. March 9, 2012). The plaintiffs, who are represented by counsel, neither responded to the motion nor moved for additional time to respond.

The Court notes that it may not grant summary judgment by default, i.e., merely because there is no opposition to the motion. Hetzel v. Bethlehem Steel Corp. , 50 F.3d 360, 362 n.3 (5th Cir. 1995). However, the Court may accept as undisputed the movant's version of the facts and grant the motion where the movant has made a prima facie showing of its entitlement to summary judgment. Eversley v. Mbank Dallas , 843 F.2d 172, 174 (5th Cir. 1988); Romberger v. United Transp. Union , 930 F.Supp. 1131, 1132 (N.D. Miss. 1996). In other words, the defendants must still meet their burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists concerning the plaintiffs' claims and that the defendants are entitled to entry of judgment as a matter of law.

The Plaintiffs' Complaint relates to an eviction proceeding before the Justice Court of Yazoo County, Mississippi, which was filed by defendant Wells Fargo Bank on March 2, 2011. In the Complaint for Eviction, Wells Fargo made the following allegations against Ceasar and Mary Felton:

The basis for the Plaintiff's claim against the Defendant[s] is [that] they are wrongfully occupying the property following a foreclosure sale held on the 2nd day of February, 2011. That proper and lawful notice has been given to the Defendant[s] according to statute prior to initiating this eviction proceeding.

Justice Court Pleadings, YC000001, ¶ 4.

Summons was issued on March 2, 2011, directing Ceasar and Mary Felton to appear before the Yazoo County Justice Court on March 24, 2011. After the hearing, the following judgment was entered by the Justice Court:

This cause this day coming on to be heard the court hereby ordered and adjudged that judgment be entered in favor of Plaintiff by consent. Defendants are to vacate the premises/be removed from 1937 Barnwell Circle Yazoo City on or before April 25, 2011.

Id. at YC000020.

On April 29, 2011, Wells Fargo moved the Yazoo County Justice Court for a warrant of removal, which was issued on May 6, 2011. Id. at YC000015, YC000018. The eviction took place on May 11, 2011, at 8:00 am. Id. at YC000018. On May 11, 2011, Ceasar Felton, represented by Steven E. Waldrup, and Mary Felton, pro se, filed an Emergency Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and a Preliminary Injunction with the Mississippi Supreme Court. MSC Docket (Exhibit C attached to the defendants' motion for summary judgment). This Motion was dismissed by the Mississippi Supreme Court on May 11, 2011, due to the Feltons' failure to comply with Miss.R.App.P. 21. See Justice Court Pleadings, YC000016.

The plaintiffs allege in their present Complaint that the Yazoo County Justice Court did not have jurisdiction over the eviction proceedings. They allege the following federal claims brought pursuant to the procedural vehicle of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Judge Warrington and Clerk Westbrook:

DENIAL OF DUE PROCESS AND EQUAL PROTECTION
...
56. The actions of the Defendants denied the Plaintiff[s] of [their] property rights without due process.
RIGHT TO PRIVACY
...
58. The Plaintiffs['] Fourth Amendment Rights were violated as a result of the actions of [defendant Bennie Warrington] when ...

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