United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
reasons below, the Court grants in part and denies in part
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment . The Court
grants the motion with respect to Plaintiff's First
Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claims,
but the Court denies it in all other respects. The Court also
denies Plaintiff's Motion to Strike  as moot.
a Section 1983 case arising from a traffic stop and search of
a vehicle. On or about March 14, 2016, Defendant Jody Ashley,
the Sheriff of Wayne County, Mississippi, initiated a traffic
stop of Plaintiff's vehicle. Defendant claimed that
Plaintiff has swerved and/or crossed the center line. During
the traffic stop, Defendant asserted that he needed to search
the vehicle, but Plaintiff declined to consent, and asked why
Defendant needed to search his vehicle. Plaintiff alleges
that Defendant then threatened to arrest him if he did not
consent to a search. Other officers were present, including
narcotics agents of the City of Waynesboro, Mississippi. One
of the City narcotics agents took Plaintiff aside to speak
with him. After a brief conversation, Plaintiff acquiesced to
the search. Officers searched his vehicle, found nothing, and
the traffic stop concluded.
filed this suit against Wayne County, Mississippi, and
Sheriff Jody Ashley in both his individual and official
capacities. Plaintiff believes that Defendant Ashley
initiated the traffic stop in retaliation for Plaintiff's
failure to support him in the most recent election. Plaintiff
claims that Defendants violated a variety of his
constitutional rights. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary
Judgment , which the Court now addresses.
Standard of Review
provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment
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); see also Sierra
Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d
134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). “An issue is material if its
resolution could affect the outcome of the action.”
Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. “An issue
is ‘genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a
reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist.,
626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010).
Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or
weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d
156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding whether a genuine
fact issue exists, “the court must view the facts and
the inference to be drawn therefrom in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sierra Club,
Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, “[c]onclusional
allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences,
unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do
not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a
genuine issue for trial.” Oliver v. Scott, 276
F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).
Plaintiff conceded his First Amendment and Fourteenth
Amendment Equal Protection claims. Therefore, the Court
grants Defendants' motion as to those claims against both
Individual Capacity Claims Against Defendant
Defendant Ashley argues that he is entitled to qualified
immunity against Plaintiff's claims against him in his
individual capacity. “The doctrine of qualified
immunity protects government officials from liability for
civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of
which a reasonable person would have known.”
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct.
808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). “Although nominally a
defense, the plaintiff has the burden to negate the defense
once properly raised.” Poole v. Shreveport,
691 F.3d 624, 627 (5th Cir. 2012).
are two steps in the Court's analysis. First, the Court
determines whether the defendant's “conduct
violates an actual constitutional right.” Brumfield
v. Hollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir. 2008). Second,
the Court must “consider whether [the defendant's]
actions were objectively unreasonable in the light of clearly
established law at the time of the conduct in
question.” Id. The Court may address either
step first. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236. “The
qualified immunity standard gives ample room for mistaken
judgments by protecting all but the plainly incompetent or
those who knowingly violate the law.”
Brumfield, 551 F.3d at 326. The Court “applies
an objective standard based on the viewpoint of a reasonable
official in light of the information then available to the
defendant and the law that was clearly established at the
time of the defendant's actions.” Freeman v.
Gore, 483 F.3d 404, 411 (5th Cir. 2007). Each
Defendant's “entitlement to qualified immunity must
be considered on an individual basis.”
Randle v. Lockwood, No. 16-50393, 2016 U.S. App.
LEXIS 20326, at *11 n. 7 (5th Cir. Nov. 10, 2016) (citing
Meadours v. Ermel, 483 F.3d 417, 421-22 (5th Cir.
Fourth Amendment - Initial Stop
claims that Defendant's initial traffic stop of his
vehicle violated his Fourth Amendment rights. “The
stopping of a vehicle and detention of its occupants
constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment.”
United States v. Brigham, 382 F.3d 500, 506 (5th
Cir. 2004). Traffic stops are examined pursuant to the
framework provided in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88
S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). Id. Under
Terry, “the legality of police investigatory
stops is tested in two parts. Courts first examine whether
the officer's action was justified at its inception, and
then inquire whether the officer's subsequent actions
were reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that
justified the stop.” Id. The “touchstone
of the analysis is reasonableness, ” and the Court must
“consider the facts and circumstances of each case,
giving due regard to the experience and training of law
enforcement officers, to determine whether the actions taken
by the officers, including the length of the detention, were
reasonable under the circumstances.” Id. at
police can stop and briefly detain a person for investigative
purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported
by articulable facts that criminal activity may be afoot . .
. .” Turner v. Driver, 848 F.3d 678, 690 (5th
Cir. 2017). The officer is required to have a
“particularized and objective basis for suspecting
legal wrongdoing . . . .” Id. The Court
“will find that [reasonable suspicion] existed if the
officer was aware of facts justifying a reasonable belief
that an offense was being committed, whether or not the
officer charged the arrestee with that specific
offense.” Club Retro LLC v. Hilton, 568 F.3d
181, 204 (5th Cir. 2009); see also Davidson v. City of
Stafford, 848 F.3d 384, 391-92 (5th Cir. 2017).
Therefore, the reasonable suspicion “may be for any
crime and is not limited to the crime that the officers
subjectively considered at the time they perform an
arrest.” Davidson, 848 F.3d at 392. However,
“[t]he facts must be known to the officer at the time
of the arrest; post-hoc justifications based on facts later
learned cannot support an earlier arrest.” Club
Retro, 568 F.3d at 204. The Court may “consider
only the information available to the officer at the time of
the decision to stop a person.” Turner, 848
F.3d at 691.
argues that the initial stop was constitutionally permissible
because he had reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff had
committed a crime. First, he claims that Plaintiff crossed
the road's center line in violation of Miss. Code Ann.
§ 63-3-1213's prohibition of careless driving.
Defendant testified that he witnessed Plaintiff's truck
cross the center line of Azalea Drive in Waynesboro,
Mississippi. Exhibit A to Motion for Summary Judgment at 1,
Jordan v. Wayne County, Miss., No. 2:16-CV-70-KS-MTP
(S.D.Miss. Apr. 3, 2017), ECF No. 28-1; Exhibit B to Motion
for Summary Judgment at 5, Jordan v. Wayne County,
Miss., No. 2:16-CV-70-KS-MTP (S.D.Miss. Apr. 3, 2017),
ECF No. 28-2. Likewise, Defendant's passenger, Steve
Smith, testified that he observed Plaintiff's truck
“swerve and generally drive in a careless manner.
Specifically, the Ford pickup crossed the center line of
Azalea Drive.” Exhibit D to Motion for Summary Judgment
at 1, Jordan v. Wayne County, Miss., No.
2:16-CV-70-KS-MTP (S.D.Miss. Apr. 3, 2017), ECF No. 28-4.
However, Plaintiff testified that he never swerved or ...