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Staten v. City of D'Iberville

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

August 28, 2014

URSULA STATEN, as Administratrix of the Estate of Ray Charles Staten, Sr., ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF D'IBERVILLE, ET AL., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT PREMISED ON IMMUNITY

LOUIS GUIROLA, Jr., Chief District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT is the Motion for Summary Judgment [42] filed by the individual defendants in this case: Joey Bosarge, Brenda Broussard, Stephen Furney, Teddy Harder, Wayne Payne, and Rusty Quave, in their individual capacities (the "City Defendants"). The defendants contend they are entitled to qualified immunity from plaintiff's claims in this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. Additionally, Wayne Payne seeks summary judgment in regard to Plaintiffs' § 1985 claim against him. The issues have been fully briefed. After due consideration of the parties' submissions and the relevant law, it is the Court's opinion that the City Defendants' Motion should be granted.

BACKGROUND

Ray Charles Staten, Sr., was arrested by D'Iberville Police Department officer Griffin on April 29, 2011. Griffin was responding to a report of a disturbance at Staten's residence. Griffin checked for warrants, and found that Staten had an active warrant from 2009.[1] Staten was placed in custody and detained at the Harrison County Detention Center. He was brought before D'Iberville Municipal Judge Albert Fountain and found guilty of failure to pay fines of $409. His sentence was "to serve 16 days." (Def. Ex. B at 9, ECF No. 42-2).

On May 8, 2011, while in custody, Staten was seen by an employee of Health Assurance, LLC, for complaints of diarrhea and stomach pain. Health Assurance had a contract with defendant Harrison County, Mississippi, to provide medical services to inmates and pre-trial detainees at the jail. After his initial visit, Staten did not improve. When his condition worsened, and he was eventually rushed to Garden Park Medical Clinic, where he was pronounced dead.

Defendants Teddy Harder, Stephen Furney, Brenda Broussard, and Joey Borsage are current and former council members for the City of D'Iberville. Rusty Quave is the Mayor of the City of D'Iberville. Wayne Payne is the Chief of Police for the City of D'Iberville. The Plaintiffs allege that these defendants are liable for violations of the Fourth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and that they were part of a civil conspiracy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985. Plaintiffs also allege a Fourteenth Amendment claim against the City Defendants for imprisoning Staten without determining whether he was indigent.

DISCUSSION

As a preliminary matter, Plaintiffs request that they be allowed more time to conduct immunity-related discovery before being required to respond to the City Defendants' summary judgment motion. However, upon review of the Plaintiffs' response, it is apparent that what they seek is discovery related to policies or customs of the governmental entities that are defendants in this lawsuit. For example, Plaintiffs state that they "need discovery on these matters to show the defendants maintained a policy/practice that violated [Staten's] due process and equal protection rights." (Pl. Resp. 8, ECF No. 48). They also argue that the Court "should allow Plaintiffs to conduct discovery to identify the policymaker for the City of D'Iberville." (Pl. Resp. 10).

At issue in this motion are the individual capacity claims against the City Defendants, in which the Plaintiffs "seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985). The policy and custom questions on which Plaintiffs seek discovery are not relevant to the individual capacity claims now at issue. The Court finds a continuance for additional discovery to be unwarranted.

A. Qualified Immunity/Legal Standard

Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages to the extent that their conduct is objectively reasonable in light of clearly established law. Crostley v. Lamar Cnty., Tex., 717 F.3d 410, 422 (5th Cir. 2013) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). To determine whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity, the court asks (1) whether the plaintiff has alleged a violation of a clearly established constitutional or statutory right, and (2) whether the defendant's conduct was objectively reasonable in light of the clearly established law at the time of the incident. Charles v. Grief, 522 F.3d 508, 511 (5th Cir. 2008). "A right is clearly established only if its contours are sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Wyatt v. Fletcher, 718 F.3d 496, 502 (5th Cir. 2013). "When there is no controlling authority specifically prohibiting a defendant's conduct, the law is not clearly established for the purposes of defeating qualified immunity." Id. at 503. Once a defendant invokes qualified immunity, the plaintiff has the burden to demonstrate the inapplicability of the defense. Crostley, 717 F.3d at 422 (quoting McClendon v. City of Columbia, 305 F.3d 314, 323 (5th Cir. 2002)).

In this summary judgment motion, the defendants, in their individual capacities, assert that they are entitled to the defense of qualified immunity. The Court analyzes the motion under the well-established summary judgment standard. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see generally, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 576, 586B87 (1986); Burge v. Parish of St. Tammany, 187 F.3d 452, 464 (5th Cir. 1999). The Fifth Circuit has provided instructions for evaluating qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage:

The qualified immunity defense is appropriate at the summary judgment stage when (1) a plaintiff has established that the defendant has engaged in the complained-of conduct, or (2) the court "skip[s] for the moment, over... still-contested matters to consider an issue that would moot their effect if proved." [ Baker v. Norman, 651 F.2d 1107, 1124 (5th Cir. Unit A 1981)]. "If resolution of [qualified immunity] in the summary judgment proceedings turns on what the defendant actually did, rather than on whether the defendant is immunized from liability..., and if there are conflicting versions of his conduct, one of which would establish and the other defeat liability, then the case is inappropriate for summary judgment." [ Id. at 1123-24]. ...

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