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Scott v. Spencer Gifts, LLC

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

July 10, 2015

JOHN SCOTT and DOTTIE SCOTT, Plaintiffs,
v.
SPENCER GIFTS, LLC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SHARION AYCOCK, District Judge.

Plaintiffs John Scott and Dottie Scott commenced this diversity action against Spencer Gifts, LLC.[1] Plaintiffs allege they were falsely accused of and detained for shoplifting, and they seek relief pursuant to various theories under Mississippi law. Defendant has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [47]. Upon consideration of the motion, responses, rules, and authorities, the Court finds as follows:

Factual and Procedural Background

In August 2013, Plaintiffs visited Spencer Gifts, located in Barnes Crossing Mall in Tupelo, Mississippi. While exiting the store, the Spencer Gifts manager Noriko Coats stopped John Scott and asked "can I have that choker back?" According to Dottie Scott, Coats "was screaming" that John Scott had a choker. John Scott reentered the store, and, after mall security arrived, acceded to a search of his person. Coats questioned plaintiffs in the storefront and later in the private back storeroom in the presence of two mall security guards. Dottie Scott testified that while in the back room, Coats pointed toward Dottie Scott and said "if [John Scott] don't have it then she's got it." Neither was found to be in possession of the allegedly stolen merchandise, and at the insistence of the security guards, Plaintiffs were permitted to leave.

Plaintiffs then initiated this action, seeking to recover compensatory and punitive damages under Mississippi law for defamation, false arrest, false imprisonment, unlawful detention, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and failure to train or supervise. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [47], arguing that Plaintiffs have offered insufficient proof to support their claims, or alternately, that Plaintiffs have not established a basis for the compensatory or punitive damages sought.

In their response, Plaintiffs have made no argument and offered no proof in support of their claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and failure to train or supervise, and thus the Court finds these theories to be abandoned. See Sanders v. Sailormen, Inc., 2012 WL 663021, at *3, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26462, at *8 (S.D.Miss. Feb. 28, 2012) (collecting cases), aff'd, 506 F.Appx. 303 (5th Cir. 2013) ("Failure to address a claim results in abandonment thereof."). The Court now turns to the remaining issues.

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). Importantly, 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

Defamation

Under Mississippi law, a claim of spoken defamation-termed slander-requires proof of "(1) a false and defamatory statement concerning the plaintiff; (2) unprivileged publication to a third party; (3) fault amounting to at least negligence on the part of the publisher; and (4) either actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm or the existence of special harm caused by the publication." Bros. v. Winstead, 129 So.3d 906, 928 (ΒΆ 75) (Miss. 2014) (citation omitted). Of these elements, Defendant argues that Dottie Scott has not established publication of a defamatory statement, that the alleged statements concerning both Plaintiffs were privileged, and that neither plaintiff has demonstrated the requisite actionability.

Publication

While it is undisputed that John Scott was accused in front of several other Spencer Gifts patrons of taking the choker, the only charge Coats levied against Dottie Scott-"if he don't have it then she's got it"-took place in the back storeroom, away from other shoppers. Defendant ...


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