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Rogers v. Louisville-Winston County Airport Authority

United States District Court, Northern District of Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

March 31, 2015




This cause comes before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [22] filed by Defendants William Cooper, Ben Kirk, and Robert Lloyd. Defendants Mark Donald, Michael Forster, Joey Partridge, Sam Suttle, and Troy Ward have joined in the motion [28]. Upon due consideration of the motion, responses, rules, and authorities, the Court finds as follows:

Factual and Procedural Background

In October 2010, Plaintiff Tim Rogers approached Commissioners of the Louisville-Winston County Airport Authority (“LWCAA”) and inquired about leasing a hangar for an airplane he planned to purchase. Rogers was offered hangar space but claims that the proposed space was unsuitable because it was too small for his airplane. Over the course of the next two years, Rogers claims that he continued to request suitable hangar space but was denied by the Commissioners, despite adequate hangars being available. Rogers eventually entered into a lease agreement for the rental of hangar space in October 2012, but alleges that his airplane was damaged during the interim period of time that the Commissioners refused to rent him one of the available hangars.

Rogers filed suit in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. The individual Defendants now seek the dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims against them based on the doctrine of qualified immunity. These issues now being ripe for review, the Court is ready to rule.

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (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, 106 S.Ct. 2548. 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994) (en banc). However, conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments have never constituted 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); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1997); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

Analysis and Discussion

Qualified Immunity

“The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009) (internal quotations omitted). “[Q]ualified immunity is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability.” Id., 129 S.Ct. 808 (internal quotations omitted). Once a government official asserts qualified immunity, it is the plaintiff’s burden to prove that he is not entitled to it. Michalik v. Hermann, 422 F.3d 252, 258 (5th Cir. 2005).

In evaluating qualified immunity, the Court employs a two-step process. The Court must determine whether the plaintiff has alleged a violation of a clearly established constitutional right and whether the government official’s conduct was objectively reasonable under the law at the time of the incident. Id. at 257-58. “To be clearly established, a right must be sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.” Reichle v. Howards, ___U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2088, 2093, 182 L.Ed.2d 985 (2012) (internal quotations omitted). In conducting this analysis, the Court may address these issues in any order according to its sound discretion and in light of the circumstances of the case at hand. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236, 129 S.Ct. 808.

Substantive Due Process Claim

Rogers contends the individual Defendants violated his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment by irrationally denying him access to public services. Though the Complaint [1] quotes a Mississippi statute when describing Rogers’ due process claim against the individual Defendants, [1] Rogers argues in response to the pending motion that he “bases his due process claim directly on his Fourteenth Amendment right to access ...

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