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Estate of Stacks v. Prentiss County

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

November 20, 2013

ESTATE OF ROBBIE LASHAY LEWIS STACKS and MATTHEW STACKS, Individually and on Behalf of the Other Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Robert Lashay Lewis Stacks, Plaintiffs,
v.
PRENTISS COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; CITY OF BOONEVILLE, MISSISSIPPI; and MARCELLA ALVARADO, JO CAROL KNIGHT, and ELIZABETH LINDSEY, in their individual capacities, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING QUALIFIED IMMUNITY TO DEFENDANTS ELIZABETH LINDSEY, MARCELLA ALVARADO, AND JO CAROL KNIGHT

GLEN H. DAVIDSON, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is a motion for reconsideration [49] filed by Defendants Marcella Alvarado, Jo Carol Knight, and Elizabeth Lindsey challenging the Court's denial of qualified immunity to them. For the following reasons, the Court finds the motion for reconsideration [49] is well taken and that these three Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.

A. Procedural Background

On February 13, 2012, Plaintiffs initiated this action against Prentiss County; the City of Booneville; and several individuals who were employed as jailers at Prentiss County Jail at the time of the alleged events: Marcella Alvarado, Cody Farrar, Josh Hughes, Nena Isbell, Jo Carol Knight, Elizabeth Lindsey, Dennis Peaks, and Nicole Taylor (collectively, the "Individual Defendants"). Plaintiffs seek damages in connection with the suicide of the Decedent Robbie Lashay Lewis Stacks (the "Decedent") while incarcerated at the Jail. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated the Decedent's Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights to adequate medical and mental health care and the prevention of suicide.[1] Defendants answered the complaint and subsequently, prior to engaging in discovery on the merits, the Individual Defendants filed a motion to dismiss [34] on qualified immunity grounds. Although the motion was styled a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Individual Defendants attached matters outside the pleadings to their motion papers. Because the Court considered the attached matters in its ruling, the Court converted the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss to a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 12(d). See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(d) ("If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56."); Clark v. Tarrant Cnty., Tex., 798 F.2d 736, 745 (5th Cir. 1986).

On March 18, 2013, the Court entered a memorandum opinion [47] and Order [46] granting qualified immunity to Defendants Cody Farrar, Nena Isbell, Josh Hughes, Dennis Peaks, and Nicole Taylor, but denying qualified immunity to Defendants Marcella Alvarado, Jo Carol Knight, and Elizabeth Lindsey on evidence sufficiency grounds.

On April 5, 2013, Defendants Marcella Alvarado, Jo Carol Knight, and Elizabeth Lindsey ("These Defendants") filed the present motion for reconsideration [49], wherein they challenge the Court's denial of qualified immunity to them. Specifically, they challenge the Court's application of the standard of review in converting the motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment, as well as the Court's ruling on objective reasonableness. Plaintiffs have filed a response and attached declarations from four inmates who were incarcerated with the Decedent at the time of her suicide. These Defendants have now filed a reply, wherein they state that the Court should reconsider its denial of qualified immunity to them in light of Plaintiffs' newly submitted exhibits, which These Defendants contend demonstrate that they are qualifiedly immune from suit.

Recognizing the complexity of the issues before it, the Court has carefully re-reviewed the qualified immunity motion papers and has carefully reviewed the parties' arguments on the motion for reconsideration and Plaintiffs' newly attached submissions as part of the summary judgment record.

B. Legal Standards

1. Motion/or Reconsideration Standard

"While the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not provide for a motion for reconsideration, such a motion may be considered either a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend judgment or a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment or order." Shepherd v. Int'l Paper Co., 372 F.3d 326, 328 n.l (5th Cir. 2004) (citing Hamilton Plaintiffs v. Williams Plaintiffs, 147 F.3d 367, 371 n. 10 (5th Cir. 1998). However, by their terms, Rules 59 and 60 apply only to final judgments. See FED. R. CIV. P. 59 (concerning motions to alter or amend a judgment); FED. R. Cw. P. 60(b) (providing relief from "a final judgment, order, or proceeding"). See also FED. R. CIV. P. 60(b) advisory committee's notes of 1946 ("The addition of the qualifying word final' emphasizes the character of judgments, orders[, ] or proceedings from which Rule 60(b) affords relief[.]"); McMillan v. MBank Fort Worth, N.A., 4 F.3d 362, 366 (5th Cir. 1993) ("A Rule 60(b) motion cannot be filed until a final judgment has been entered.").

A district court's decision to deny qualified immunity based on evidentiary sufficiency is not a final decision. Gibson v. Kilpatrick, No. 12-60905, 2013 WL 5806947, at *2 (5th Cir. Oct. 29, 2013) (citing Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 313, 115 S.Ct. 2151, 132 L.Ed.2d 238 (1995); Gobert v. Caldwell, 463 F.3d 339, 344 (5th Cir. 2006)). See Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 313, 116 S.Ct. 834, 133 L.Ed.2d 773 (1996) ("[D]eterminations of evidentiary sufficiency at summary judgment are not immediately appealable merely because they happen to arise in a qualified-immunity case; if what is at issue in the sufficiency determination is nothing more than whether the evidence could support a finding that particular conduct occurred, the question decided is not truly separable' from the plaintiffs claim, and hence there is no final decision....'"); Hunter v. Bishop, 51 F.Appx. 482, 2002 WL 31318797, at *1 (5th Cir. 2002) (per curiam) ("Here, the district court denied Defendant's motion for summary judgment on grounds that genuine issues of material fact exist as to what occurred between Defendant and Plaintiff which must be resolved before the court could determine whether Defendant is immune from suit. Because this determination was merely one of evidentiary sufficiency, ' we lack jurisdiction to hear Defendant's appeal."). Any such non-final ruling is controlled by Rule 54(b), which provides:

When an action presents more than one claim for relief-whether as a claim, counterclaim, crossclaim, or third-party claim-or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay. Otherwise, any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.

FED. R. CIV. P. 54(b). "Rule 54(b) authorizes a district court to reconsider and reverse its prior rulings on any interlocutory order for any reason it deems sufficient.'" United States v. Renda, 709 F.3d 472, 479 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Saqui ...


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