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Meaux v. State (Mississippi Department of Public Safety/MS HWY Patrol)

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

June 8, 2015

KEITH MEAUX, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI (MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY/MS HWY PATROL), CHADWICK

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [17]. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 21, 2014, Plaintiff Keith Meaux filed this action against the Defendants Chadwick "Chad" Moore (a law enforcement officer employed by the Mississippi Highway Patrol) and "State of Mississippi (Mississippi Department of Public Safety/Mississippi Highway Patrol)." (Compl. [1] at ¶¶ 2-3.) The Complaint alleges that Officer Moore used "unnecessary" and "brutal" force during the course of Meaux's arrest for driving under the influence. (Compl. [1] at ¶¶ 7, 10.) Meaux contends that Officer Moore's use of force resulted in his sustaining a dislocated shoulder, bruises, and cuts requiring stitches. Meaux also alleges that after he was handcuffed and placed in Officer Moore's patrol car, Officer Moore ignored his pleas for medical attention and cancelled an ambulance that "Meaux managed to call when he retrieved his phone from his pocket all the while handcuffed." (Compl. [1] at ¶ 9.) Purportedly, the charges against Meaux were dismissed after Officer Moore failed to appear for trial. The Complaint presents the following counts in support of liability: (i) deprivation of civil rights under Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (ii) false imprisonment and arrest; (iii) malicious prosecution and abuse of process; (iv) intentional and/or negligent infliction of emotional distress; (v) negligent hiring and training; (vi) general negligence; (vii) failure to render medical attention; (viii) unlawful arrest, detention, and confinement; and (ix) battery. Meaux seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney's fees, and prejudgment and post-judgment interest in relief.

On October 6, 2014, Officer Moore and "the Mississippi Department of Public Safety (erroneously identified as State of Mississippi and/or Mississippi Highway Patrol)" filed their Answer to the Complaint. (Answer [8] at p. 1.) For purposes of clarity and convenience, the entity Defendant will often be referred to as the "Department" in this opinion. Officer Moore and the Department now seek the dismissal of certain of Meaux's claims on the grounds addressed below.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

The Department and Officer Moore's grounds for dismissal implicate Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) (lack of subject matter jurisdiction) and 12(c) (judgment on the pleadings).[1] "The party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of proof for a 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss." Randall D. Wolcott, M.D., P.A. v. Sebelius, 635 F.3d 757, 762 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001)). The court is to accept the facts and allegations set forth in the complaint as true; although, the court is authorized to consider and resolve disputed fact issues for jurisdictional purposes. See Choice Inc. of Tex. v. Greenstein, 691 F.3d 710, 714 (5th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). Accordingly, subject matter jurisdiction may be found lacking on any of the following "bases: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Id.

To avoid dismissal under Rule 12(c), a complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Phillips v. City of Dallas, 781 F.3d 772, 775-76 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)). "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)); see also In re Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 624 F.3d 201, 210 (5th Cir. 2010) ("To be plausible, the complaint's [f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'") (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A complaint containing mere "labels and conclusions, or a formulaic recitation of the elements" is insufficient. Bowlby v. City of Aberdeen, Miss., 681 F.3d 215, 219 (5th Cir. 2012) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Although courts are to accept all well-pleaded facts as true and view those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, courts are not required "to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as factual allegation." Randall D. Wolcott, M.D., P.A., 635 F.3d at 763 (citations omitted). Dismissal at the pleading stage may be appropriate where the grounds for an affirmative defense appear on the face of the complaint. See Miller v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, L.P., 726 F.3d 717, 726 (5th Cir. 2013) (citations omitted); see also 5B Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (3d ed.) (providing that dismissal is proper when the allegations of the complaint are "essentially self-defeating" due to the existence of "a built-in defense").

B. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

Defendants first seek the dismissal of Meaux's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against the Department and Officer Moore, in his official capacity, pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution.[2] "Eleventh Amendment immunity operates like a jurisdictional bar, depriving federal courts of the power to adjudicate suits against a state." Union P. R.R. Co. v. La. Pub. Serv. Comm'n, 662 F.3d 336, 340 (5th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see also United States v. Tex. Tech Univ., 171 F.3d 279, 285-86 (5th Cir. 1999) (providing that questions of sovereign immunity are to be resolved prior to the determination of any merits issue). "The Eleventh Amendment codified the sovereign immunity of the several states." Moore v. La. Bd. of Elementary & Secondary Educ., 743 F.3d 959, 963 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 267, 117 S.Ct. 2028, 138 L.Ed.2d 438 (1997)). This grant of immunity precludes a private citizen from suing his state or any other state in federal court. See Raj v. La. State Univ., 714 F.3d 322, 328 (5th Cir. 2013) (citations omitted). Federal "suits against a state, a state agency, or a state official in his official capacity [are barred] unless that state has waived its sovereign immunity or Congress has clearly abrogated it." Bryant v. Tex. Dep't of Aging & Disability Servs., 781 F.3d 764, 769 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Moore, 743 F.3d at 963). A claim for prospective injunctive relief against a state official accused of violating federal law is also not proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment. Moore, 743 F.3d at 963 (citation omitted). This latter exception has its origins in the case of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908).

Both the Mississippi Highway Patrol ("MHP") and Mississippi Department of Public Safety ("MDPS") are considered to be arms of the State of Mississippi for purposes of Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Delaney v. Miss. Dep't of Pub. Safety, No. 3:12cv229, 2013 WL 286365, at *3 (S.D.Miss. Jan. 24, 2013) ("MDPS is an agency of the State and entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity absent waiver or abrogation.") (citation omitted), aff'd, 554 Fed.Appx. 279 (5th Cir. 2014); Wamble v County of Jones, No. 2:09cv103, 2012 WL 2088820, at *6 (S.D.Miss. June 8, 2012) (finding the MDPS and MHP to be immune from liability and dismissing for lack of subject matter jurisdiction); Whitfield v. City of Ridgeland, 876 F.Supp.2d 779, 784 (S.D.Miss. 2012) (same); Hopkins v. Mississippi, 634 F.Supp.2d 709, 712-13 (S.D.Miss. 2009) (dismissing the plaintiff's official capacity claims against a state trooper, as well as his claims against the MDPS and MHP, pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment). Thus, Meaux's § 1983 claims against the Department (whether it is labeled the State of Mississippi, MDPS, or MHP) and Officer Moore, in his official capacity, are not legally cognizable in this federal forum unless one of the above-referenced exceptions to immunity applies. See Hopkins, 634 F.Supp.2d at 712-13.

The State of Mississippi has not expressly waived its immunity from suit in federal court. To the contrary, Mississippi explicitly preserved its sovereign immunity as to federal litigation when it promulgated the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. See McGarry v. Univ. of Miss. Med. Ctr., 355 Fed.Appx. 853, 856 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-5(4), which states that "[n]othing contained in this chapter shall be construed to waive the immunity of the state from suit in federal courts guaranteed by the Eleventh Amendment"). "Congress has not expressly waived sovereign immunity for § 1983 suits." Richardson v. S. Univ., 118 F.3d 450, 453 (5th Cir.1997) (citations omitted). Further, Meaux asserts no request for injunctive relief triggering an application of the Ex parte Young doctrine. Meaux only seeks monetary damages. The Court therefore finds no exception to the operation of the Eleventh Amendment's immunity bar in this federal action.

Meaux fails to offer any arguments or authorities negating the subject request for dismissal. Meaux's opposition largely focuses on the defense of qualified immunity and the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Individual defendants, but not governmental entities, may rely on the defense of qualified immunity. Gates v. Tex. Dep't of Protective & Regulatory Servs., 537 F.3d 404, 436 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U.S. 622, 657, 100 S.Ct. 1398, 63 L.Ed.2d 673 (1980)). Although the Defendants' Answer [8] asserts qualified immunity as an affirmative defense, Officer Moore is not presently seeking dismissal on that basis. The Eighth Amendment affords protection only to those individuals who have been convicted of committing crimes. See Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 198-99 (5th Cir. 1996) (finding that the plaintiffs could not state a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim because their decedent was a pretrial detainee at the time of the alleged violation) (citations omitted). Meaux's Complaint [1] is devoid of any allegation that he had been convicted of a crime at the time of his arrest by Officer Moore. As a result, Meaux's inapposite legal grounds do not preclude the dismissal of his § 1983 claims against the Department and Officer Moore, in his official capacity, based on Eleventh ...


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