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Jadbabaei v. City of Florence

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

September 12, 2014

CITY OF FLORENCE, MISSISSIPPI and TRACY HUGHES individually and in his official capacity as police officer of Florence Police Department, Defendants.


DANIEL P. JORDAN, III, District Judge.

This excessive-force case is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [47]. Because there are genuine issues of fact as to Defendant Hughes's liability but not as to the city's liability, Defendants' motion is denied in part and granted in part.

I. Facts and Procedural History

Officer Eddie Williams of the Florence Police Department pulled over Plaintiff Seyed Rashid Jadbabaei for speeding. Officer Williams perceived Jadbabaei as nervous and shaky and obtained his consent to search his car. After Williams called for backup, Defendant Officer Tracy Hughes arrived. Upon finding the remains of a cigar in Jadbabaei's car, Hughes asked Jadbabaei if he had been making blunts. Jadbabaei denied that he had, and Hughes began to search Jadbabaei's person. When Hughes instructed Jadbabaei to pull out the waistband of his underwear, Jadbabaei refused.

What happened next is disputed. According to Defendants, Jadbabaei threw a left-handed punch at Hughes's midsection and then struck Hughes's midsection with his right hand before Hughes's open hand made contact with Jadbabaei's head as he tried to gain control. According to Jadbabaei, Hughes placed his left hand on Jadbabaei's shoulder, pulled at his waistband, struck Jadbabaei's head with his closed fist, wrestled him to the ground, and placed him in a choke hold. Jadbabaei was arrested for resisting arrest. The dashboard videocamera footage shows the encounter, but Hughes's body blocks much of the disputed contact from view.

Jadbabaei filed this action against Hughes and the City of Florence under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and deliberate indifference. Jadbabaei seeks damages for pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, and past and future medical expenses. He also seeks punitive damages. Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of all claims.

II. Standard

Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, 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." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. The nonmoving party must then "go beyond the pleadings" and "designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324 (citation omitted). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments are not an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993).

III. Analysis

A. Hughes's Liability

Defendants seek summary judgment on the individual-capacity claims against Hughes, arguing that the undisputed facts establish that he never violated Jadbabaei's constitutional rights and is otherwise entitled to qualified immunity. But the parties' accounts materially differ as to whether the use of force was necessary. And though a dashboard camera recorded the altercation between Hughes and Jadbabaei, significant portions of the altercation remained obscured. See Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. [47] Exs. 1, 2. For example, it is unclear whether Jadbabaei threw a lefthanded punch or struck Hughes's chest with his right hand before Hughes struck Jadbabaei. It is also unclear whether Hughes struck Jadbabaei with a closed or open hand. Finally, it is open to interpretation whether Jadbabaei raised his hands "to fight the officers" as Defendants put it or raised them in a defensive posture. Given these factual disputes, summary judgment on the individual-capacity claims against Hughes is not appropriate.

B. City of Florence's Liability

Jadbabaei also alleges that the City of Florence is liable for the violation of his constitutional rights. As Jadbabaei acknowledges, municipal liability under § 1983 may not rest on respondeat superior. Valle v. City of Houston, 613 F.3d 536, 541 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)). For a municipality like the City of Florence to be liable under § 1983, the plaintiff must establish "three elements: a policymaker; an official policy; and a violation of constitutional rights whose ...

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