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Estate of Manus v. Webster County

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

May 28, 2014

THE ESTATE OF JOSEPH CONWAY MANUS, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
WEBSTER COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, et al., Defendants.

ORDER ON RECONSIDERATION

SHARION AYCOCK, District Judge.

Defendants Greg Hunter, the Estate of Keith Crenshaw, and the City of Eupora have filed an Expedited Motion for Reconsideration [327] of the Court's Order [324] and Memorandum Opinion [325]. Specifically, these Defendants request that the Court reconsider its denial in part of their Motion for Summary Judgment [177] based upon qualified immunity with regard to Plaintiffs' claims against them for excessive force and denial of medical care. Upon due consideration of the motion, responses, rules, and authorities, the Court finds the motion should be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

Factual and Procedural Background

As the Court stated in its Memorandum Opinion [325], the facts of this matter are complex and highly disputed. Joseph Conway Manus ("Manus") originally brought this action, asserting constitutional claims brought through 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, as well as various state law claims. Manus alleged that on September 7, 2010 law enforcement officers from Webster County, Mississippi; Eupora, Mississippi; and Mathiston, Mississippi used excessive force against him in order to effectuate an unlawful arrest and denied him medical care during the seven days that he was in their custody. As a result, Manus claimed he suffered serious injuries, including quadriplegia.[1] Manus died on December 1, 2012 while this lawsuit was pending.

After his death, Manus' widow, Miranda Manus, acting on her own behalf as well as with Manus' mother, Lois Manus, on behalf of all wrongful death beneficiaries, and Manus' estate were substituted as Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint adding a claim for wrongful death on June 6, 2013. All Defendants filed motions for summary judgment, asserting, among other things, that Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the doctrines of qualified immunity and the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The Court granted in part and denied in part these motions in its Order and Memorandum Opinion entered March 31, 2014. Relevant to the instant motion, the Court found that genuine issues of material fact precluded the grant of summary judgment and qualified immunity in favor of Eupora Police Chief Greg Hunter, Eupora Police Officer Keith Crenshaw, [2] and the City of Eupora with regard to Plaintiffs' claims against them for bystander liability for excessive force[3] and for the denial of medical care. These Defendants now move the Court to reconsider its denial of summary judgment and qualified immunity as to these claims.

Reconsideration Standard

A denial of summary judgment is an interlocutory order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), which the Court "may reconsider and reverse any time before entering final judgment." Millar v. Houghton , 115 F.3d 348, 350 (5th Cir. 1997). While the Fifth Circuit has recognized under the collateral order doctrine a narrow exception to Rule 54(b) allowing for the immediate appeal of some denials of summary judgment based upon qualified immunity, a district court's decision to deny qualified immunity based upon evidentiary sufficiency is not such a final decision. Cantu v. Rocha , 77 F.3d 795, 802 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Johnson v. Jones , 515 U.S. 304, ___, 115 S.Ct. 2151, 2156, 132 L.Ed.2d 238 (1995)); see also Behrens v. Pelletier , 516 U.S. 299, 312-13, 116 S.Ct. 834, 133 L.Ed.2d 773 (1996) (clarifying that Johnson did not hold that every denial of summary judgment including a determination that genuine issues of material fact exist are nonappealable but rather that "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 plaintiff's claim, and hence there is no final decision'").

Thus, in cases such as the one presently before the Court, "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). This is so "even in the absence of new evidence or an intervening change in or clarification of the substantive law." Saqui v. Pride Cent. Am., LLC , 595 F.3d 206, 210-11 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Lavespere v. Niagara Mach. & Tool Works, Inc. , 910 F.2d 167, 185 (5th Cir. 1990), abrogated on other grounds by Little v. Liquid Air Corp. , 37 F.3d 1069 (5th Cir. 1994)).

Analysis and Discussion

Bystander Liability - Excessive Force

The Court first addresses Defendants' argument that the Court erred by finding a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Hunter and Crenshaw witnessed the use of excessive force by other officers against Manus and failed to take reasonable steps to protect him.

As the Court has stated, the evidence presented in this case is highly contradictory. Each party describes the events of September 7, 2010 differently and many contradict not only other witnesses but also their own testimony and/or statements. Given the many conflicts within the summary judgment record, it is exceedingly important for the Court to be ever mindful of its duty at this stage of litigation to draw any inferences and resolve any disputes of material facts in favor of Plaintiffs. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co. , 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970); Little , 37 F.3d at 1075. The Supreme Court very recently highlighted the importance of this principle in Tolan v. Cotton , 13-551, 2014 WL 1757856 (U.S. May 5, 2014). In that case, the Supreme Court articulated that, even in the context of qualified immunity, "courts may not resolve genuine disputes of fact in favor of the party seeking summary judgment." Tolan , 13-551, 2014 WL 1757856, at *4 (U.S. May 5, 2014).

Thus, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the Court finds no basis for reconsidering its denial of summary judgment and qualified immunity with regard to Plaintiffs' claim of bystander liability for excessive force against Hunter. Manus testified that "somebody" from Eupora was in the room at the time Webster County Sheriff Phillip Smith allegedly hit him with a bat. While this testimony would be insufficient on its own to overcome Hunter's assertion of qualified immunity, Manus also specifically testified that Hunter was in his bedroom.[4] Further, Webster County Deputy Kilgore testified in his deposition that Hunter arrived at the scene before the officers entered Manus' bedroom, and both he and Webster County Deputy May stated in writing shortly after the incident that Hunter was present before the officers entered Manus' bedroom. Hunter also testified that he was in the room when Manus was handcuffed, and Manus testified that the bat attack occurred after he was handcuffed. Both Manus and Lois Manus testified that Hunter was still on the scene when the officers removed Manus from the residence.

Though disputed by other testimony, this evidence creates a genuine issue of material fact for trial as to whether Hunter witnessed the entire alleged incident at issue, including Smith hitting Manus with a bat and forcefully landing on his neck with his knee, as well as Mathiston Police Chief Roger Miller macing and Webster County Deputy Derek May tasing Manus, all while Manus was compliant and nonresistant. Whereas the Court has determined that such acts would have constituted excessive force and that it would have been objectively unreasonable in light of the clearly established law at the time to witness these acts but fail to intervene to protect Manus, the Court declines to reconsider its denial of qualified immunity and summary judgment in favor of Hunter on this claim. ...


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