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Rogers v. City of Tupelo

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

May 29, 2015

KERMIT O. ROGERS, Plaintiff,
CITY OF TUPELO, MISS., ET AL., Defendants.


SHARION AYCOCK, District Judge.

Defendants have filed motions for summary judgment seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's federal and state law claims against the separate entities. After reviewing the motions, responses, rules and authorities, the Court finds as follows:

Factual and Procedural Background

Kermit Rogers was federally indicted based on evidence found during a search and seizure on June 17, 2009. The search was undertaken pursuant to a search warrant for the property located at 320 CR 401 in Shannon, Mississippi. Samuel Warren, a deputy with the Lee County Sheriff's Department and assigned to the North Mississippi Narcotics Unit (NMNU), [1] provided the underlying facts and circumstances and probable cause statement for the search warrant. According to his sworn affidavit, NMNU intelligence showed Kermit Rogers selling crack cocaine to a confidential informant at a residence located at 320 CR 401. The warrant was issued for the residence "together with all approaches and appurtenances thereto and all vehicles and out buildings on the property, along with the person and personal belongings of all suspects on the property." The parties do not contest the validity of the initial search warrant.

The search was executed on June 17, 2009, with officers finding narcotics and firearms within the residence. While supervising the search, Warren was alerted by officers that an out building behind the house was surrounded by three vehicles, at least one of which was registered to Kermit Rogers. Warren and Paul Howell, Warren's NMNU commanding officer, walked down the path to the out building and noticed a sign designating the building as "320A." Both Howell and Warren testified in their depositions that at that time, they believed the building at 320A was part of the same property as 320. Howell encouraged Warren to call the warrantissuing judge "just to be safe" and "to make sure that we're good." Warren informed the judge that there were vehicles that belonged to Kermit Rogers down a dirt path behind the house near a "shop building" designated as 320A. In his deposition, Warren contends that Judge Carr indicated that the officers were "fine" to search the 320A building and vehicles surrounding it.

As summarized in other opinions this Court has released, officers uncovered a significant amount of crack cocaine and federal authorities were notified. Kermit Rogers was then prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for the large amount of narcotics as well as the firearms found in the residence at 320 CR 401. The district court suppressed the crack cocaine found in the vehicle on the finding that the search warrant did not cover the 320A building or the vehicles surrounding it. The federal indictment was thereafter dismissed.

Rogers has instituted this action against the City of Tupelo, Lee County, Samuel Warren, in his individual capacity, and Paul Howell, in his individual capacity, pursuant to Section 1983, as well as state law. All defendants have moved for summary judgment.

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 "set forth 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.

Discussion and Analysis

Defendants Paul Howell and Samuel Warren, both sued in their individual capacities, have asserted that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is a shield from individual liability for "government officials performing discretionary functions... as long as their actions could reasonably have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated.'" Good v. Curtis, 601 F.3d 393, 400 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)). A law enforcement officer is entitled to the cloak of qualified immunity "unless it is shown that, at the time of the incident, he violated a clearly established constitutional right." Mangieri v. Clifton, 29 F.3d 1012 (5th Cir. 1994). "[Q]ualified immunity generally protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'" Good, 601 F.3d at 400 (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, 106 S.Ct. 1092, 89 L.Ed.2d 271 (1986)). It is "an entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation." Austin v. Johnson, 328 F.3d 204, 207 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985)).

When a defendant asserts qualified immunity, the plaintiff has the burden to rebut the defense. Hampton v. Oktibbeha Cnty. Sheriff Dep't, 480 F.3d 358, 363 (5th Cir. 2007). In the summary judgment posture the court "looks to the evidence before it (in the light most favorable to the plaintiff).'" McClendon v. City of Columbia, 305 F.3d 314, 323 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 309, 116 S.Ct. 834, 133 L.Ed.2d 773 (1996)).

Courts use a two-step analysis to determine whether qualified immunity applies. "[A] court addressing a claim of qualified immunity must determine first whether the plaintiff has adduced facts sufficient to establish a constitutional or statutory violation." Collier v. Montgomery, 569 F.3d 214, 217 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001)). Second, if a violation has been alleged, the court must determine "whether [the officers'] actions were objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law at the time of the conduct in question.'" Id . (quoting Freeman v. Gore, 483 F.3d 404, 411 (5th Cir. 2007)).

"The defendant's acts are held to be objectively reasonable unless all reasonable officials in the defendant's circumstances would have then known that the defendant's conduct violated the United States Constitution or the federal statute as alleged by the plaintiff." Thompson v. Upshur Cnty., Tex., 245 F.3d 447, 457 (5th Cir. 2001). Thus, "[a]n official is eligible for qualified immunity even if the official violated another's constitutional rights." Id . It is vital to note that the right that the "official is alleged to have violated must have been clearly established in a more particularized, and hence more relevant sense: the contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Anderson, 483 U.S. at 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034. The "relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation confronted." Saucier, 533 U.S. at 202.

Finally, it is within the lower court's discretion to decide which prong of the qualified immunity analysis to address first. Collier, 569 F.3d at 217 (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009)). In particular, the Supreme Court in Pearson observed that "[t]here are cases in which it is plain that a constitutional right is not clearly established but far from obvious whether in fact there is such a right." 555 U.S. at 237, 129 S.Ct. 808.

A. Section 1983 - ...

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