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Hawn v. Hughes

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

September 3, 2014

JOHN A. HAWN, BRYAN LINDSEY, HEATHER SEAWRIGHT, RONNIE HORTON, and MATILDA MOORE, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHRISTOPHER (C.G.) HUGHES and MICHAEL BERTHAY, in their individual capacities; and the COMMISSIONER OF PUBLIC SAFETY FOR THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, for declaratory relief, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT COMMISSIONER OF PUBLIC SAFETY FOR THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI'S MOTIONS TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' CLAIMS AND DEFENDANT/CROSSPLAINTIFF CHRISTOPHER (C.G.) HUGHES' CROSS-CLAIMS

GLEN H. DAVIDSON, Senior District Judge.

Presently before the Court are two motions filed by Defendant Commissioner of Public Safety for the State of Mississippi pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure: a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims [89] against him and a motion to dismiss [91] Defendant/Cross-Claimant Christopher (C.G.) Hughes' cross-claims against him.[1] Upon due consideration, the Court finds that both motions should be granted.

A. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiffs John A. Hawn, Bryan Lindsey, Heather Seawright, Ronnie Horton, and Matilda Moore ("Plaintiffs") bring this action to recover actual and punitive damages for alleged use of excessive force and unreasonable seizure of the person in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs bring their claims against Defendants Christopher (C.G.) Hughes ("Officer Hughes"), a former officer of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, [2] in his individual capacity; Michael Berthay ("Berthay"), former director of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, in his individual capacity; and the Commissioner of Public Safety for the State of Mississippi (the "Commissioner"), [3] in his official capacity.

Plaintiffs sue the Commissioner under Section 1983 for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the Commissioner makes policy decisions for the Mississippi Highway Patrol and at all times relevant to Plaintiffs' claims acted under color of state law; Officer Hughes committed acts of excessive force against Plaintiffs in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment; the Commissioner failed to prosecute Officer Hughes for his acts of excessive force directed at Plaintiffs; because of the Commissioner's alleged failure to prosecute, the Commissioner is estopped from now claiming that Officer Hughes' acts of excessive force were not committed in the course and scope of his employment; this Court should thus declare that Officer Hughes' acts of excessive force were committed in the course and scope of his employment; and because of this, the Commissioner should be required to indemnify Officer Hughes pursuant to the MTCA, Mississippi Code § 11-46-7. Plaintiffs further allege that Officer Hughes committed these acts of excessive force in the course and scope of his employment, that the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (the "MTCA") requires the Mississippi Department of Public Safety to indemnify any officer who violates an individual's constitutional rights while in the course and scope of that officer's employment, and that the Commissioner's alleged failure to prosecute estops him from claiming that Officer Hughes' acts were not in the course and scope of his employment or that they were criminal.

Officer Hughes has filed an answer to the second amended complaint with his crosscomplaint against the Commissioner, alleging that "[e]ach of the actions complained of were in the course and scope of [Officer] Hughes' employment as a Mississippi State Trooper" and that "[Officer] Hughes is entitled to a declaratory judgment that [the Commissioner] is required to defend and indemnify him in the instant lawsuit." Officer Hughes' Cross-Compl. [66] at 7.

The Commissioner has filed an answer to Plaintiffs' second amended complaint, an answer to Officer Hughes' cross-complaint, and the present motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims and Officer Hughes' cross-claims against him pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1).

B. Rule 12(b)(I) Standard

"[A] factual attack under Rule 12(b)(1) may occur at any stage of the proceedings, and plaintiff bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist." Arena v. Graybar Elec. Co., 669 F.3d 214, 223 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit. Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980) (citations omitted)). In such a consideration, the court must

take the well-pled factual allegations of the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.... [U]nder Rule 12(b)(1), the court may find a plausible set of facts by considering any of the following: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by the undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.

Lane v. Halliburton, 529 F.3d 548, 557 (5th Cir. 2008) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). In his motions to dismiss urged under Rule 12(b)(1), the Commissioner challenges Plaintiffs' claims and Officer Hughes' cross-claims on both Article III and Eleventh Amendment grounds. The Court addresses each ground in turn.

C. Article III of the United States Constitution - Ripeness

First, the Court addresses the Commissioner's argument that the claim and cross-claim are not justiciable under Article III because they are not ripe. The Court finds that the Commissioner's argument is well taken. Article III "confines the federal courts to adjudicate actual cases' and controversies.'" In re Boyd Veigel, P.C., ___ F.App'x ___, 2014 WL 3469268, at *2 (5th Cir. July 16, 2014) (per curiam) (quoting U.S. CONST. ART. III, § 2). Under the Declaratory Judgment Act, "[d]eclaratory judgments are typically sought before a completed 'injury-in-face has occurred, but still must be limited to the resolution of an actual controversy.'" United Transp. Union v. Foster, 205 F.3d 851, 857 (5th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). "[C]ourts will not grant declaratory judgments unless the suit is ripe for review." In re Boyd Viegel, P.C., 2014 WL 3469268, at *2 (citing Foster, 205 F.3d at 857). Ripeness "separates those matters that are premature because the injury is speculative and may never occur from those that are appropriate for judicial review." Foster, 205 F.3d at 857; see also United Pub. Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 89, 67 S.Ct. ...


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