United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division
ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
DAVID BRAMLETTE, District Judge.
This cause is before the Court on Defendants', Barry Huff and Jesse Leggett, Motion for Summary Judgment [docket entry no. 18] and Defendant's, George M. Lambright, Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [docket entry no. 20]. The Court held a hearing on the motions, where all parties testified. Having reviewed the motions and responses, testimony and other evidence, applicable statutory and case law, and being otherwise fully informed in the premises, the Court finds as follows:
I. Procedural and Factual Background
In the early morning hours of September 1, 2013, Plaintiff Zane Crosby attended a party at a friend's house with his girlfriend, Ashley Walker. Crosby and his girlfriend had spent the day together and decided to ride together and some other friends to the party. Crosby and Walker left his vehicle in a parking lot in Brookhaven where they got into another vehicle to carpool. Later that evening, Walker left the party but returned with Crosby's mother, Sheila Bowman. Walker's mother followed in a separate vehicle. Crosby then left with Bowman and Walker, and Bowman drove in her car towards Bowman's and Crosby's home, with Walker's mother behind them. Before they arrived, Crosby got out of the vehicle, while it was still moving, and left on foot. Bowman, Walker, and Walker's mother then went to the store where Crosby had left his own vehicle; Walker and Crosby had earlier met with friends to carpool to the party. Bowman believed that Crosby would try to drive his vehicle home, and Walker wanted to retrieve her belongings from Crosby's vehicle. When Crosby did not appear, Bowman "called 911 and told them [Crosby] had been drinking and due to recent deaths of [four] Lincoln County teenagers who had been drinking and driving that [she] did not want to run the risk of [Crosby] driving a motor vehicle that night." Resp. Ex. 1 ("Aff. Sheila Bowman") 2, ECF No. 23-1. Although the timeline of events as testified to at the hearing is incomplete-there is a gap of unexplained time between when Crosby exited his mother's vehicle and when Bowman called 911-, what happened then is irrelevant.
According to the investigation report, Defendants Barry Huff and Jesse Leggett were dispatched at 1:41am in response to Bowman's call. When Officers Huff and Leggett arrived at the store parking lot, Crosby had still not appeared. The officers testified that they spoke with Bowman, following up on her call. The uncontroverted testimony shows that Bowman described her son as intoxicated and indicated that he would "fight." During this conversation, Defendant George M. Lambright arrived in a separate patrol car. While the officers were speaking with Bowman, one of the officers noticed Crosby at a nearby gas station. Huff called out to Crosby to come towards them. Instead, Crosby then entered a wooded area near a fast food restaurant to avoid his mother, girlfriend, and the officers. Crosby testified that he did not hear Huff's command because of the distance between them and the ambient noise in the area. Huff and Lambright pursued Crosby into the wooded area while Leggett moved his patrol car to a parking lot closer to where the officers had seen Crosby. Officers Huff and Lambright called out to Crosby, but he did not respond. Officer Lambright then entered the wooded area and found Crosby and ordered him out of the woods. Crosby testified that he had placed himself in a prone position in the grass, trying to avoid detection. Lambright testified that he found Crosby by nearly stepping on him. Crosby went unhandcuffed with Lambright to the gas station parking lot. Lambright testified that he chose not to handcuff Crosby upon finding him because it had been his observation through his years of police work that a potential arrestee will be compliant up to the point where handcuffs are displayed, at which time the individual in custody will quite often become hostile. The Court notes a difference between the accounts of Lambright and Crosby. Crosby testified that Lambright held Crosby's hands behind his back as they walked whereas Lambright testified that Crosby walked completely unrestrained.
The officers then handcuffed and arrested Crosby. Some of the facts of the arrest are in dispute. Crosby testified that he and Lambright arrived at the parking lot, and Huff immediately yelled at Crosby two or three times to "Get the f___ on the ground!" In response, Crosby turned his head and asked what he had done wrong. Huff and Lambright testified that Huff asked Lambright if Crosby was already handcuffed to which Lambright responded no. Then Huff said that they should handcuff Crosby. When Huff placed his hand on Crosby, Crosby threw up his arms. Huff and Lambright interpreted this as physical resistance to the arrest.
In both accounts, Officer Huff then performed a takedown on Crosby and forced him to the ground. Officer Lambright held Crosby's legs, and Officer Leggett handcuffed Crosby's wrists.
According to Crosby, Huff placed him in a choke hold, cutting off his air supply, and any struggling on his part was a result of trying to alert Huff to the fact that he could not breathe. Crosby testified that he blacked out while being choked. According to the officers, Huff did not choke Crosby, and Crosby fought the officers kicking and moving his arms in an attempt to resist arrest. They testified that Crosby did not lose consciousness.
Afterwards, the officers helped Crosby to his feet then placed him in a patrol car to take him to the Lincoln County Jail. Crosby was charged with public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. There is evidence that Crosby sustained injuries during the arrest including "a ruptured ear drum in [his] right ear and hematomas in both eyes." Aff. Zane Crosby 2. Crosby was later found not guilty by the Municipal Court of the City of Brookhaven.
On June 23, 2014, Crosby filed suit against Huff, Leggett, and Lambright in their individual capacities and Defendant City of Brookhaven, Mississippi, and Defendant Bobby Bell in his official capacity as the Chief of Police of Brookhaven. He brought claims for excessive force and false arrest under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause and various state law torts. Compl. 5-8. All defendants answered. See Answer, ECF No. 9 (Leggett); Answer, ECF No. 10 (Bell, City of Brookhaven, Mississippi, and Huff); Answer, ECF No. 11 (Lambright). On November 21, 2014, Huff and Leggett moved for summary judgment, arguing that they are qualifiedly immune. Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 18. On that same date, Lambright moved to dismiss or alternatively for summary judgment also arguing his qualified immunity. Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 20. On January 27, 2015, the Court entered a Show Cause Order, ordering Crosby to respond to the motions. Order Show Cause, ECF No. 22. A hearing on the motions was held on July 8, 2015, where all parties testified. The motions are now ripe for decision.
A. Motion to Dismiss
The Court will consider Lambright's motion as a motion for summary judgment and not as a motion to dismiss. A motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) "must be made before pleading." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b). Because Lambright answered, he cannot now make a motion under Rule 12(b). Further, the motion cannot be considered as a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), which would apply the same standard as Rule 12(b)(6), see Guidry v. Am. Public Life Ins. Co., 512 F.3d 177, 180 (5th Cir. 2007). A motion made under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c) that asks the court to consider matters beyond the pleadings "must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Although the memorandum and motion largely refer to the complaint, there are several times in footnotes where Lambright refers to matters outside the pleadings.
B. The Legal Standards
1. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate "if 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 fact is material' if its resolution in favor of one party might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing law. An issue is genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party." Ginsberg 1985 Real Estate P'ship v. Cadle Co., 39 F.3d 528, 531 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of apprising the district court of the basis ...