United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
MICHAEL P. MILLS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the court on the pro se prisoner
complaint of Meika DeSean Britton, who challenges the
conditions of his confinement under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
For the purposes of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the
court notes that the plaintiff was incarcerated when he filed
this suit. The plaintiff has brought the instant case under
42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a federal cause of
action against “[e]very person” who under color
of state authority causes the “deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff, who
was a parolee at the time, alleges that the defendants
searched his cellular telephone without probable cause. The
defendants have moved for summary judgment, and the plaintiff
has responded. The plaintiff has filed a cross-motion for
summary judgment, to which the defendants have not responded.
The matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth
below, the motion by the defendants for summary judgment will
be granted; the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment
will be denied, and judgment will be entered for the
defendants in all respects.
judgment is appropriate if the “materials in the
record, including depositions, documents, electronically
stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations
(including those made for purposes of the motion only),
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials”
show 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) and (c)(1).
“The moving party must show that if the evidentiary
material of record were reduced to admissible evidence in
court, it would be insufficient to permit the nonmoving party
to carry its burden.” Beck v. Texas State Bd. of
Dental Examiners, 204 F.3d 629, 633 (5th Cir.
2000) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317
(1986), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1066 (1988)). After a
proper motion for summary judgment is made, the burden shifts
to the non-movant to set forth specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91
L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Beck, 204 F.3d at 633; Allen
v. Rapides Parish School Bd., 204 F.3d 619, 621
(5th Cir. 2000); Ragas v. Tennessee Gas
Pipeline Company, 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir.
1998). Substantive law determines what is material.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Only disputes over
facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary
judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary
will not be counted.” Id., at 248. If the
non-movant sets forth specific facts in support of
allegations essential to his claim, a genuine issue is
presented. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 327. “Where
the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier
of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine
issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 89 L.Ed.2d 538
(1986); Federal Savings and Loan, Inc. v. Krajl, 968
F.2d 500, 503 (5thCir. 1992).
facts are reviewed drawing all reasonable inferences in favor
of the non-moving party. Allen, 204 F.3d at 621;
PYCA Industries, Inc. v. Harrison County Waste Water
Management Dist., 177 F.3d 351, 161 (5th Cir.
1999); Banc One Capital Partners Corp. v. Kneipper,
67 F.3d 1187, 1198 (5th Cir. 1995). However, this
is so only when there is “an actual controversy, that
is, when both parties have submitted evidence of
contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air
Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994);
see Edwards v. Your Credit, Inc., 148 F.3d 427, 432
(5th Cir. 1998). In the absence of proof, the
court does not “assume that the nonmoving party could
or would prove the necessary facts.” Little,
37 F.3d at 1075 (emphasis omitted).
very purpose of summary judgment is to “pierce the
pleadings and assess the proof in order to see whether there
is a genuine issue for trial.” Advisory Committee Note
to the 1963 Amendments to Rule 56. Indeed, “[t]he
amendment is not intended to derogate from the solemnity of
the pleadings[;] [r]ather, it recognizes that despite the
best efforts of counsel to make his pleadings accurate, they
may be overwhelmingly contradicted by the proof available to
his adversary.” Id. The non-moving party (the
plaintiff in this case), must come forward with proof to
support each element of his claim. The plaintiff cannot meet
this burden with “some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd.
v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct.
1348, 1356 (1986), “conclusory allegations, ”
Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871,
871-73, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 3180 (1990), “unsubstantiated
assertions, ” Hopper v. Frank, 16 F.3d 92
(5th Cir. 1994), or by a mere
“scintilla” of evidence, Davis v. Chevron
U.S.A., Inc., 14 F.3d 1082 (5th Cir. 1994).
It would undermine the purposes of summary judgment if a
party could defeat such a motion simply by “replac[ing]
conclusory allegations of the complaint or answer with
conclusory allegations of an affidavit.”
Lujan, 497 U.S. at 888. In considering a motion for
summary judgment, a court must determine whether the
non-moving party's allegations are plausible.
Matsushita, supra. (emphasis added).
“[D]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible
claim is context-specific, requiring the reviewing court to
draw on its experience and common sense.” Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009)
(discussing plausibility of claim as a requirement to survive
a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)).
considering a motion for summary judgment, once the court
“has determined the relevant set of facts and drawn all
inferences in favor of the nonmoving party to the extent
supportable by the record, [the ultimate
decision becomes] purely a question of law.” Scott
v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381 (2007) (emphasis in
original). “When opposing parties tell two different
stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the
record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court
should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of
ruling on the motion for summary judgment.”
Id. at 380.
5, 2011, Britton pled guilty to the charge of Child
Exploitation and was sentenced to serve five years in the
custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections,
followed by ten years of post-release supervision under the
MDOC. Doc. 63 at 5. Britton was incarcerated until December
2015. On March 16, 2016 a police report was filed by an
individual concerned that Britton had inappropriate contact
with his 14 year old daughter. Id. at 9. Detective
Brannon Rushing of the Southaven Police Department asked the
parent for permission to use the daughter's phone and to
pose as the daughter to communicate with Britton, and the
parent and the minor consented. Id. at 11.
beginning his investigation, Detective Rushing discovered
Britton was a registered sex offender, and was currently
under supervision with MDOC for a ten year period, reporting
to Probation Officer Frank Caswell. Id. On March 22,
2016, a juvenile female told Rushing that Britton had given
liquor to minor children present at a gathering. Doc. 77 at
16. After several days of communicating, Detective Rushing
arranged a meeting with Britton via his probation officer,
Frank Caswell. Id. at 11. On March 24, 2016, Britton
met with Detective Rushing and Probation Officer Caswell at
the MDOC office in Hernando, Mississippi. Id. During
the interview, Probation Officer Caswell asked Britton to
produce his phone, and Britton stated he did not want Caswell
to look in the phone and began to press buttons on the phone.
Id. Detective Rushing, worried that Britton could be
deleting incriminating evidence, took the phone for
evidentiary purposes. Id. at 11-12. Detective
Rushing informed Britton he could pick up a receipt for the
seized property at the Southaven Police Department.
same date, March 24, 2016, Detective Rushing applied for and
obtained a search warrant for the contents of the phone.
Id. at 13. A forensic analysis was then performed on
the phone and its contents extracted. Id. at 15. On
March 28, 2016 Britton was charged and arrested for Child
Exploitation and Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor.
Id. at 16-19. On April 4, 2016, an Affidavit and
Warrant were filed for Violation of Post Release Supervision
due to the new charges. Id. at 24-25. Following a
revocation hearing, the Circuit Court of DeSoto County,
Mississippi, held that Britton had violated the terms of his
supervised release, and imposed the remaining ten years of
his sentence to be served in the custody of the Mississippi
Department of Corrections.
version of the facts in this case differs from the
defendants' only slightly. He notes insignificant
differences (less than 30 minutes) in the timing of events
surrounding his questioning and the seizure of his phone. He
also alleges that, when he entered the Hernando building for
questioning, he did not have his phone and went to retrieve
it only when Caswell and Rushing requested a list of phone
numbers. He also seems to dispute whether he was pushing keys
on his phone at the time Detective Rushing seized it.
discussed below, the plaintiff's case must be dismissed
for a variety of reasons. First, as to his claims against
Mississippi Department of Corrections personnel, he did not,
prior to filing suit, exhaust the grievance process through
the Administrative Remedy Program the State has adopted.
Second, the plaintiff's claim fails on the merits, as the
defendants had ample justification for seizing his phone and
searching it for evidence of improper communication with
minors. Third, as Bonita Clark had no direct involvement in
the seizure and search of the plaintiff's cellular phone,
he has been sued her solely in her capacity as supervisor,
and a plaintiff cannot sustain a claim under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 based upon a respondeat superior theory.
of Administrative Remedies
enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act
(“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. §1997e et seq.-
including its requirement that inmates exhaust their
administrative remedies prior to filing suit - in an effort
to address the large number of prisoner complaints filed in
federal courts. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S.
199, 202 (2007). Congress meant for the exhaustion
requirement to be an effective tool to help weed out the
frivolous claims from the colorable ones:
Prisoner litigation continues to ‘account for an
outsized share of filings' in federal district courts.
Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 94, n. 4, 126 S.Ct.
2378 (2006) (slip op., at 12, n.4). In 2005, nearly 10
percent of all civil cases filed in federal courts nationwide
were prisoner complaints challenging prison conditions or
claiming civil rights violations. Most of these cases have no
merit; many are frivolous. Our legal system, however, remains
committed to guaranteeing that prisoner claims of illegal
conduct by their custodians are fairly handled according to
law. The challenge lies in ensuring that the flood of
non-meritorious claims does not ...