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Lewis v. Leflore

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

November 24, 2014

BOBBIE LEWIS, Plaintiff,
JEROME LEFLORE, et al., Defendants.


DANIEL P. JORDAN, District Judge.

This false-arrest and excessive-force case is before the Court on Copiah County, Mississippi's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's State Law Claims or, in the alternative, to Strike Plaintiff's Jury Demand and Demand for Punitive Damages [11], and Municipal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [13]. The claims were brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Mississippi law. For the reasons that follow, the motions are granted as to Copiah County and the City of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, but otherwise denied without prejudice.

I. Facts and Procedural History

On April 24, 2013, Plaintiff Bobbie Lewis was at her home in Copiah County, Mississippi, "when three police cars driven by police officers for the City of Crystal Springs, Mississippi pulled into her yard shortly after a car driven by a young black male pulled into her yard." Compl. [1] ¶ 10. The Crystal Springs police officers, including Defendant Jerome Leflore, were later joined by two Copiah County deputy sheriffs at the scene. According to Lewis, she went out into her yard to observe what was happening, id. ¶ 20, and was later arrested for allegedly interfering with the officers' duties, id. ¶¶ 30-32. Lewis alleges that her arrest was unlawful and that Leflore and an unidentified sheriff's deputy used excessive force against her.

On November 14, 2013, Lewis submitted a Notice of Claim regarding the incident to Copiah County, Mississippi Sheriff Harold Jones; Crystal Springs Chief of Police Cal Robinson; and Leflore. She thereafter filed the instant lawsuit against Leflore, in his individual and official capacities; the City of Crystal Springs, Mississippi; and Copiah County, Mississippi. Compl. [1]. The Complaint includes excessive-force, unlawful-arrest, and due-process claims brought under § 1983; claims for unlawful arrest and excessive force brought under the Mississippi Constitution; and a state-law negligence claim. Defendants answered [5, 6] and subsequently filed their motions to dismiss [11, 13]. The Court has personal and subject-matter jurisdiction and is prepared to rule.

II. Standard

As an initial matter, the motions to dismiss were filed after Defendants filed their Answers [5, 6]. The Court therefore construes the motions as motions for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). See Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir. 1999) (per curiam). Regardless, the standard of review is the same under either rule. Great Plains Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 313 n.8 (5th Cir. 2002).

In considering a motion under Rule 12(c), the "court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'" Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Greninger, 188 F.3d at 324). To overcome a Rule 12(c) motion, Plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. at 555 (citation and footnote omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). It follows that "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). "This standard simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary claims or elements." In re S. Scrap Material Co., LLC, 541 F.3d 584, 587 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

III. Analysis

Defendants assert that Lewis's state-law claims are all subject to dismissal under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act ("MTCA"), Miss. Code Ann. §§ 11-46-1, et seq. Defendants primarily contend that Lewis failed to comply with the pre-suit notice requirements of the MTCA. Lewis counters that Defendants waived their notice argument and that at least some of her claims fall outside the MTCA, thus alleviating the need for notice. This Order addresses those issues as to the two governmental entities and then as to the sole individual defendant Jerome Leflore.

A. Governmental-Entity Claims

Both Copiah County and the City of Crystal Springs seek dismissal of Lewis's state-law claims pursuant to the MTCA. Though the parties agree that Lewis's negligence claim falls under the MTCA, they dispute whether her false-arrest and due-process claims are likewise within the MTCA's scope. The answer matters not. If the claims are not covered, then sovereign immunity was never waived as to these governmental entities. If they are covered by the MTCA, then statutory notice was not provided.

"The MTCA provides immunity for the alleged torts of governmental entities." Zumwalt v. Jones Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 19 So.3d 672, 688 (Miss. 2009) (citing Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-3). But it also "waives that immunity, and the governmental entity is liable, for injuries caused by the entity or its employees while acting in the course and scope of their employment." Id. (citing Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-5(1)). Immunity therefore remains intact if Lewis's falsearrest and due-process claims against Copiah County and the City of Crystal Springs are beyond the MTCA's limited waiver. Id.

If the MTCA does cover those claims, along with Lewis's negligence claim, then Lewis was required to provide notice. "A party instigating a claim under the MTCA must file a notice of claim with the chief executive officer of the governmental entity ninety days before maintaining an action." Kimball Glassco Residential Ctr., Inc. v. Shanks, 64 So.3d 941, 944 (Miss. 2011) (citing Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-11(1)). The statute requires that notice "shall be made" for a county defendant "upon the chancery clerk of the county sued, " and for a municipality "upon the city clerk." Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-11(2)(a)(I). The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that strict compliance with the notice requirements is required, including "in regard to whom the notice is ...

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