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Wallack v. Jackson County

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

May 22, 2014

MATHEW CARY WALLACK Plaintiff,
v.
JACKSON COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, et al. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS SHERIFF MIKE BYRD AND LT. CURTIS SPIERS' [37] MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT BASED ON QUALIFIED IMMUNITY; DISMISSING WITH PREJUDICE PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS AGAINST SHERIFF MIKE BYRD AND LT. CURTIS SPIERS IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES; AND FINDING MOOT DEFENDANTS JACKSON COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, SHERIFF MIKE BYRD, AND LT. CURTIS SPIERS' [44] MOTION TO STRIKE

SULEYMAN OZERDEN, District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT are a Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Qualified Immunity [37], filed by Defendants Sheriff Mike Byrd and Lt. Curtis Spiers, and a Motion to Strike [44] filed by Defendants Jackson County, Mississippi, Sheriff Mike Byrd, and Lt. Curtis Spiers. These Motions are now fully briefed. Having considered the Motions, related pleadings, the record, and relevant legal authorities, the Court finds that Byrd and Spiers' Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Qualified Immunity [37] should be granted, and Plaintiff's claims against Byrd and Spiers in their individual capacities should be dismissed with prejudice. Defendants Jackson County, Byrd, and Spiers' Motion to Strike [44] is rendered moot.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

This action stems from an incident which occurred in the emergency room of Biloxi Regional Medical Center ["BRMC"] in Harrison County, Mississippi, on or about April 1, 2010. Compl. [1] at 2. Plaintiff Mathew Cary Wallack ["Plaintiff" or "Wallack"], a Board Certified Neurologist, was seeking medical attention at the BRMC emergency room when emergency room personnel discovered what they believed to be narcotic medication in Plaintiff's possession. Id. at 4. BRMC personnel called the Biloxi Police Department. Id. Plaintiff charges that the Biloxi Police Department then "wrongfully and without just cause arrested" Plaintiff. Id. at 5. Plaintiff contends that he possessed the necessary authorizations from the Drug Enforcement Administration ["DEA"] to possess and dispense certain narcotics and that he was then the owner and operator of Coastal Headache & Pain Management Center in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, in Jackson County. Compl. [1] at 3.

Following Plaintiff's arrest by the Biloxi Police Department, on April 2, 2010, Agent Ted Gilbert of the Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County, Mississippi [the "Task Force"], sought and obtained a search warrant for Plaintiff's medical office in Ocean Springs. Search Warrant [37-3] at 2-7; see also Aff. of Lt. Curtis Spiers [37-2] at 1-2. Spiers was the commander of the Task Force at the time. Aff. of Lt. Curtis Spiers [37-2] at 2. Jackson County, Mississippi, County Court Judge Sharon Sigalas issued the search warrant. Search Warrant [37-3] at 2-7. Neither Spiers nor Byrd was present for the issuance or execution of the search warrant. Aff. of Sheriff Mike Byrd [37-1] at 1; Aff. of Lt. Curtis Spiers [37-2] at 2. After the search began, Spiers states that he received a call from a member of the Task Force informing him what items were found. Aff. of Lt. Curtis Spiers [37-2] at 2. The Task Force member requested guidance, and based on the information provided, Spiers avers that he believed there was probable cause to seize the items covered by the search warrant. Id. Therefore, Spiers directed the Task Force member to seize those items. Id. According to Spiers, "[b]ecause of the items obtained pursuant to the search warrant executed on Wallack's office on or about April 2, 2010, the Task Force's investigation of Wallack continued for a period of two to three weeks." Id.

The search warrant described the items for which the search was being conducted as:

All Prescription medication in names other than Mathew C. Wallack, MD and all other items supporting drug possession and distribution to include U.S. Currency, weapons, drugs, paraphernalia, photo's [sic], tally sheets, weights, scales, packaging materials and documents.

Search Warrant [37-3] at 2. It is unclear on the summary judgment record before the Court what items were ultimately seized from Plaintiff's office. The inventory sheet referenced on the search warrant return is not part of the record. See id. at 3.

Plaintiff asserts that Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd, Lt. Curtis Spiers, and other members of the Task Force targeted Plaintiff and his business and "vowed to put him out of business regardless of the cost and/or legitimacy of such action." Id. Plaintiff blames his arrest on Byrd and Spiers "prim[ing] the pump of deception and irreparably caus[ing] doubt to come upon the name and person of the Plaintiff by disseminating false, incorrect and inaccurate information about [him] throughout the medical and law enforcement communities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast." Id.

Plaintiff claims that, following his arrest, Byrd and Spiers "continued to disseminate false, misleading, inaccurate and damning information that irreparably injured the person, profession, name, and reputation of [Plaintiff], ultimately causing him to surrender his medical license and to close his business." Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff complains of comments and accusations Spiers purportedly made in the local media. Id. According to Plaintiff, the charges lodged against him in state court were eventually dismissed with prejudice on April 23, 2012. Id. at 6.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a Complaint [1] in this Court on April 1, 2013. Plaintiff named as Defendants Jackson County, Mississippi, by and through its Board of Supervisors ["Jackson County"]; Jackson County Sheriff's Department [the "Sheriff's Department"];[1] Byrd, officially and in his individual capacity; Spiers, officially and in his individual capacity; the Task Force, as an individual agency of the government of Jackson County, Mississippi and/or as an agent of Jackson County, Mississippi; other unknown John and Jane Does A-Z, also in their official and individual capacities of the Task Force; the City of Biloxi, Mississippi [the "City"]; other unknown John and Jane Does A-Z, also in their official and individual capacities as members of the Biloxi Police Department; and BRMC.[2] Compl. [1] at 1.

The Complaint advances claims against Byrd and Spiers for deprivation of civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, conspiracy to interfere with civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985, and "neglect or failure to prevent conspiracy" pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1986. Id. at 11-16. With respect to his § 1983 claim, Plaintiff asserts that

Defendants were vested with the state authority and the non-delegable responsibility and duty of adhering to, complying with and enforcing the laws of the United States of America and the State of Mississippi. Consequently, while acting under color of state law, individually and collectively, the Defendants commenced to engage in a course of conduct and to implement a policy, custom, usage, and plan or practice wherein the rights, privileges or immunities of the Plaintiff, Mathew Cary Wallack, were violated. Specifically, based on the facts adopted herein and cited above the Defendants, jointly and severally, engaged in a course of conduct that resulted in the violation of Mr. Wallack's right to the equal protection of the laws of the United States of America and the right against unreasonable searches and seizures of his person, private and business premises without just, proper and lawful cause pursuant to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America and the corresponding provisions of the Constitution of the State of Mississippi, the right to procedural and substantive due process of the law and the right not to be deprived of property without just compensation pursuant to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America, and of his Sixth Amendment right to be free from unlawful prosecution and deprivation of liberty.

Id. at 11-12. The Complaint seems to charge that Byrd and Spiers violated Plaintiff's rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The Complaint also levels a claim against Byrd for "negligent hiring, retention and failure to discipline or take necessary corrective action" based on Spiers' alleged conduct. Id. at 16. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys' fees, costs, and expenses. Id. at 18-21. In their present Motion for Summary Judgment [37], Byrd and Spiers seek dismissal of all claims asserted against them in their individual capacities based upon the doctrine of qualified immunity.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Jackson County, Byrd, and Spiers' Motion to Strike [44]

Defendants Jackson County, Byrd, and Spiers have filed a Motion asking the Court to strike Exhibits "A" and "B" to Plaintiff's Response [42] to Byrd and Spiers' Motion for Summary Judgment [37]. Exhibit "A" is an August 29, 2013, thirty-one count Indictment returned against Byrd in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Mississippi. Exhibit "B" consists of a "Motion to Revoke Bond, Hold Defendant in Contempt, or in the Alternative, to Enforce Conditions of Bond" along with its supporting exhibits filed by the District Attorney in the State court criminal proceeding. The supporting exhibits include reports of Deputy Brad Lewis, Lt. Ken McClenic, and Spiers. Defendants argue that the Indictment and Motion constitute mere allegations which are completely irrelevant to the claims in this case. Defs.' Mot. to Strike [44] at 2-3. They likewise assert that the facts stated in the reports are unrelated to the facts in this case. Id. at 3.

Plaintiff responds that the exhibits, while prejudicial, are not "unfairly prejudicial" and demonstrate that Plaintiff's claims have merit. Pl.'s Resp. [48] at 3-4. Plaintiff maintains that the exhibits "corroborate that there was a conspiracy to violate the rights of people under their authority, such as Dr. Wallack, and demonstrate the custom, practice, policy, and procedure, albeit subsequent and regarding different facts, but by the same people." Id. at 4.

Even taking Exhibits "A" and "B" and the supporting exhibits into account, because the Court finds that Byrd and Spiers are entitled to qualified immunity in their individual capacities, the Court need not resolve Defendants' Motion ...


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