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Franklin v. North Central Narcotics Task Force

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

December 20, 2016

ROBERT FRANKLIN AND SHANNON O'QUINN FRANKLIN, EACH INDIVIDUALLY AND EACH ON BEHALF OF LARRY D. MAYS, A MINOR CHILD PLAINTIFFS
v.
NORTH CENTRAL NARCOTICS TASK FORCE; CLAIBORNE COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; MARIO GRADY, DEFENDANTS IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES; CORY WEATHERSPOON, IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES; SCOTT STEWART, IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES; WILLIAM NEVELS, IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES; MICHAEL WELLS, IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES; AND DOE DEFENDANTS 1-10

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DAVID BRAMLETTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This cause is before the Court on defendants Mario Grady, Michael Wells, and Cory Weatherspoon, in their individual capacities, (“Individual Defendants” or “Defendants”)'s Motion for Qualified Immunity as to Robert and Shannon Franklin's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Claims (docket entry 45).[1] Having carefully considered the motion, responses, and applicable law, and being otherwise fully informed in the premises, the Court finds as follows:

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         On or about March 20, 2014, members of the Central Narcotics Task Force and Claiborne County Sheriff's Department, entered the home of Robert and Shannon Franklin in search of criminal activity. Plaintiffs' Reply, p.3. While inside the residence, the officers allegedly snatched the Franklins' minor son from his bed, threw the child to the ground and placed a gun to his head. Id. Seeking relief from injuries allegedly sustained during the incident, Robert and Shannon Franklin, individually and on behalf of their son Larry D. Mays, filed suit against the named defendants.

         In addition to certain state law claims, the plaintiffs' Complaint alleged constitutional claims against officers Mario Grady, Cory Weatherspoon, William Nevels, and Michael Wells in their individual capacities pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Individual Defendants, in their Original and Amended Answers, raised qualified immunity as a defense. On July 7, 2016, the Court entered an Order instructing the plaintiffs to address the defendants' qualified immunity defense in a Reply pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 7(a). In compliance with that Order, the plaintiffs filed their Rule 7(a) Reply on July 20, 2016.

         Defendants Mario Grady, Cory Weatherspoon, William Nevels, and Michael Wells now file their Motion for Qualified Immunity as to Robert and Shannon Franklin's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Claims. Defendants' motion is narrow in scope, seeking immunity only with respect to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims asserted by Robert and Shannon Franklin. The defendants do not seek immunity as to the constitutional claims asserted on behalf of the minor child, Larry D. Mays.

         II. Discussion

         The Individual Defendants claim they are entitled to qualified immunity inasmuch as Robert and Shannon Franklin have not shown that their constitutional rights were violated. Defendants advance two arguments in support of their motion: (1) that plaintiffs have failed to satisfy the heightened pleading standard required to overcome qualified immunity, and (2) that even if Plaintiffs' factual allegations are sufficient to overcome the qualified immunity defense, the Franklins have failed to assert any constitutional violation as a matter of law. In response, the Franklins maintain that they have supported their constitutional claims with sufficient precision and factual specificity to raise a genuine issue as to the illegality of the defendants' conduct.

         A. Standard of Review

         Motions for qualified immunity generally fall into one of two categories: Rule 12(b)(6) motions challenging the sufficiency of the plaintiff's allegations to establish the deprivation of a clearly established constitutional right, or Rule 56 motions arguing that the defendant's conduct was objectively reasonable in light of all circumstances. See Pardue v. Jackson Co., Miss., 2015 WL 1867145 (S.D.Miss. Apr. 23, 2015); Salcido v. Univ. of S. Miss., 2013 WL 2367877, *1 n.1 (S.D.Miss. May 29, 2013); Watkins v. Hawley, 2013 WL 3357703 (S.D.Miss. July 3, 2013) (“Typically, the former can be addressed without discovery, while the latter cannot.”). Defendants fail to identify which procedural framework should be used to evaluate their motion. But given the nature of the parties' arguments and the procedural posture of the case, it appears that consideration pursuant to Rule 12 is appropriate. See Tate v. Sharp, 2013 WL 664865 (N.D. Miss. Feb. 22, 2013) (a motion for qualified immunity filed early in the litigation, but after defendants filed their answer, would ordinarily be treated as a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings).

         “When considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), the court is generally limited to ‘the contents of the pleadings including attachments thereto.'” Bosarge, 796 F.3d at 439. The “pleadings” include the complaint, answers to the complaint, and “if the court orders one, a reply to an answer.” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 7(a)). Generally, when a rule 12(c) motion presents matters outside the pleadings, the court may either exclude the evidence or treat the motion as one for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); see also Gen. Retail Servs., Inc. v. Wireless Toyz Franchise, LLC, 225 Fed. App'x 775, 783 (5th Cir. 2007) (“It is well known that when ‘matters outside the pleading' are presented with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a district court has complete discretion to either accept or exclude the evidence.”). Although defendant William Nevel's Joinder to the motion presents evidence outside the pleadings by way of exhibit, the Court shall exclude this evidence and consider the motion under Rule 12(c).[2]

         Rule 12(c) motions are governed by the same standards as motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Bosarge v. Miss. Bureau of Narcotics, 796 F.3d 435, 439 (5th Cir. 2015). The Court accepts all “well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004). To survive the motion, the plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but has not ‘show[n]' - ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679.

         B. Qualified Immunity Analysis

         The doctrine of qualified immunity protects public officials performing discretionary functions “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald,457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Once a defendant claims qualified immunity, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to rebut the defense. Jenkins v. Town of Vardaman, Miss., 899 F.Supp.2d 526, 531 (N.D. Miss. 2012) (“it ...


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