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Hill v. Hinds County

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

March 9, 2015

HINDS COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; SHERIFF TYRONE LEWIS, in his official capacity; DEPUTY BRACEY COLEMAN, in his official and individual capacities; DEPUTY OGDEN WILBURN, in his official and individual capacities; and OTHER UNKNOWN JOHN AND JANE DOES 1-10, also in their official and individual capacities. Defendants,


CARLTON W. REEVES, District Judge.

Before the Court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The matter is fully briefed and ready for review. After considering the arguments, evidence, and applicable law, the motion will be granted in part.

I. Factual and Procedural History

On January 1, 2012, Khavaris Hill was driving in Jackson, Mississippi, when he noticed that he was being followed by an unmarked black SUV. He sped up and the SUV followed. The SUV put on blue flashing lights, and then sirens, but Hill did not stop. He says he was robbed at gunpoint in 2009 by criminals who flashed blue lights as if they were law enforcement officers, and feared falling victim to this ruse again.[1]

This time, though, the SUV truly was an unmarked law enforcement vehicle. Hinds County Sheriff's Deputies Ogden Wilburn and Bracey Coleman were attempting to stop Hill for alleged erratic driving. The pursuit continued for a few minutes on Interstate 220, with speeds reaching 80 miles an hour, Hill says. The vehicles then exited the Interstate. Hill claims the sheriff's deputies remained behind him, while the deputies say that they discontinued pursuit, fell back, and drove in the direction Hill had traveled.

At this point, Hill's vehicle - now traveling at least 70 miles an hour on surface streets, he testified - veered into oncoming traffic and hit a minivan head-on. The parties dispute whether the deputies' SUV hit Hill's car from behind, causing the head-on collision, or instead whether Hill swerved into the other lane himself. Hill's testimony on this point is conflicting.[2] Hill was momentarily knocked out.

The deputies say they came across the accident and Hill's smoking vehicle. They claim that they ordered Hill out of his vehicle, and when he did not comply, removed him from it, placed him in handcuffs, and called for an ambulance. Hill responds that he was complaining about neck injuries and should not have been pulled out. He also says the deputies searched his pockets, while the deputies say they conducted a pat-down search.

Hill was taken to the hospital and not arrested; no charges resulted from the evening's events.[3] He claimed injuries to his neck stemming from the accident.

In December 2012, Hill filed this suit against the individual deputies, the Sheriff, and Hinds County. His federal claims, brought under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, alleged constitutional violations, conspiracy to violate constitutional rights, and supervisory liability for constitutional violations. His state claims, brought pursuant to the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, alleged negligence, gross negligence, and reckless disregard for his safety.

On February 26, 2014, a hearing was held in this Court on the individual deputies' motion for summary judgment premised upon qualified immunity. The Court granted the motion. It concluded that the deputies had not violated Hill's constitutional rights: they had probable cause to make a traffic stop and had not used excessive force against Hill.[4] Docket No. 53, at 50-51. The Court also stated that under Mississippi law, Hill's state law claims against the deputies could proceed against the County only. Id. at 52.

The defendants now seek summary judgment on all remaining theories of liability.[5] Docket No. 87. Hill argues that Hinds County is responsible for a custom of failing to properly train its deputies on "unlawful pursuit, " "excessive use of force, " and "the treatment and handling of injured suspects, " and that these failures violated his constitutional rights. Docket No. 96, at 5. Regarding his state law claims, Hill contends that the County is liable for its deputies' reckless disregard for his rights and that the immunities afforded by Mississippi law are undeserved. Id. at 12-14.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party seeking to avoid summary judgment must identify admissible evidence in the record showing a fact dispute. Id. at 56(c)(1). "Once a summary judgment motion is made and properly supported, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Neither conclusory allegations nor unsubstantiated assertions will satisfy the nonmovant's burden." Wallace v. Texas Tech Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

The Court views the evidence and draws reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Maddox v. Townsend and Sons, Inc., 639 F.3d 214, 216 (5th Cir. 2011). But the Court will not, "in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." McCallum Highlands, Ltd. v. Wash. Capital Dus, ...

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