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Gales v. Hattiesburg City Counsel

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

March 6, 2014

GENE GALES, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
HATTIESBURG CITY COUNSEL, ET AL., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL T. PARKER, Magistrate Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [98] filed by Defendants the City of Hattiesburg, Neal Rockhold[1], Brandon Badon, Zach Rooke, Joshua Crawford, Grant Thomas[2], and Frazier Bolton. Having considered the parties' submissions, applicable law, and case record, the Court finds that the Motion [98] should be granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On December 8, 2011, Plaintiff Gene Gales, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis filed his Complaint [1] pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Through his Complaint, and as clarified during his Spears [3] hearing, Plaintiff asserts claims against Defendants relating to three arrests. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that on April 1, 2010, Defendant Rockhold, a police officer for the City of Hattiesburg, wrongfully arrested him for burglary. Plaintiff also claims that on May 7, 2011, Defendants Crawford, Thomas, Badon, and Rooke, police officers for the City of Hattiesburg, wrongfully arrested him for possession of burglary tools. Finally, Plaintiff claims that on September 9, 2011, Defendants Thomas and Rooke wrongfully arrested him for burglary. In addition to the police officers, Plaintiff asserts claims against the Chief of Police, Frazier Bolton, and the City of Hattiesburg. (Omnibus Order [50].) On December 20, 2013, Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the officers are entitled to qualified immunity and that Chief Bolton and the city are otherwise entitled to summary judgment.

STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Summary judgment must be rendered "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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." Id. at 322-23. The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and designate, by affidavit, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

At the summary judgment stage, the Court must consider the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). "However, a nonmovant may not overcome the summary judgment standard with conclusional allegations, unsupported assertions, or presentation of only a scintilla of evidence." McClure v. Boles, 490 Fed.App'x 666, 667 (5th Cir. 2012).

ANALYSIS

Plaintiff's claims are before the Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 "neither provides a general remedy for the alleged torts of state officials nor opens the federal courthouse doors to relieve the complaints of all who suffer injury at the hands of the state or its officers." White v. Thomas, 660 F.2d 680, 683 (5th Cir. 1981). Rather, "[i]t affords a remedy only to those who suffer, as a result of state action, deprivation of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United States." Id. (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Accordingly, Plaintiff must demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to the following two elements: (1) the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law.

It is well-settled that Section 1983 does not "create supervisory or respondeat superior liability." Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 742 & n.6 (5th Cir. 2002); see also Thompkins v. Belt, 828 F.2d 298, 304 (5th Cir. 1987) ("Under § 1983, supervisory officials cannot be held liable for the actions of subordinates under any theory of vicarious liability.") (citations omitted). "To state a cause of action under § 1983, the plaintiff must allege facts reflecting the defendants' participation in the alleged wrong, specifying the personal involvement of each defendant." Jolly v. Klein, 923 F.Supp. 931, 943 (S.D. Tex. 1996) (citing Murphy v. Kellar, 950 F.2d 290, 292 (5th Cir. 1992)). Thus, supervisory prison officials may be held liable for a Section 1983 violation only if they either were personally involved in the constitutional deprivation or if there is a "sufficient causal connection between the supervisor's wrongful conduct and the constitutional violation." Thompkins, 828 F.2d at 304; see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) ("Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.").

Moreover, "[f]or purposes of liability, a suit against a public official in his official capacity is in effect a suit against the local government entity he represents." Mairena v. Foti, 816 F.2d 1061, 1064 (5th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted). The Supreme Court has held that in order for a local governmental entity to have liability under Section 1983, a plaintiff must prove that a policy, custom, or practice of that local government entity was the "moving force" behind the constitutional violation. Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).

The police officers in this case argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity shields government officials performing discretionary functions from civil liability so long as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Glenn v. City of Tyler, 242 F.3d 307, 312 (5th Cir. 2001). The Fifth Circuit has held:

Qualified immunity protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law, and courts will not deny immunity unless existing precedent... placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate. Therefore, a plaintiff seeking to overcome qualified immunity must show: (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was clearly ...

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