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Washington v. Burts

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

May 31, 2017

RICKY WASHINGTON PLAINTIFF
v.
MELVIN BURTS, and THE CITY OF VERONA DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SHARION AYCOCK JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Ricky Washington filed his Complaint [1] in this Court on January 26, 2015 against the City of Verona, Mississippi and Melvin Burts in his individual capacity as a police officer for the City. Pursuing two claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Washington claims that the City failed to properly supervise and train Burts, and that Burts used excessive force against him during his arrest. Washington also brings a third claim for negligence under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The City and Burts filed a joint Motion for Summary Judgement [42] requesting judgment in their favor on all of Washington's claims.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         In July of 2013, Washington got into a fight with another man in the parking lot of a gas station in Verona, Mississippi. According to Washington, although the fight was not initially going his way, he was eventually able to get his opponent bent over a car and was poised to punch, when someone suddenly grabbed him from behind, spun him around, and slammed him up against the nearby brick wall of the station. Washington quickly gave up when he realized that it was a police officer, Burts, that grabbed him from behind. Burts pulled Washington's hands up and behind his back, bent his right arm up injuring his hand and back, and placed him in handcuffs.[1] Washington and his opponent were transported to the City Jail where they were immediately released without charges.

         Washington alleges that Burts' actions in bending Washington's hand and arm behind his back was an excessive use of force that violated his constitutional rights. Burts responds by arguing that the force used was not excessive, he did not violate Washington's constitutional rights, and he is entitled to qualified immunity.

         Washington also alleges that the City failed to properly train and supervise Burts to prevent the use of excessive force. The City argues that no constitutional violation occurred because the force used was not excessive, and that Washington failed to sufficiently allege the existence of an official policymaker, official policy, and constitutional violation required to substantiate this claim.

         Finally, Washington alleges that the City and Burts are liable for negligence under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act for the use of excessive force. Burts and the City argue that the Washington's MTCA claim is barred because Washington was engaged in criminal conduct, and that the facts as alleged by Washington do not rise to the requisite level of reckless disregard.

         Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). 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).

         In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. When such contradictory facts exist, the Court may “not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).

         The moving party “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.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party must then “go beyond the pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). This Court has no duty to “sift through the record in search of evidence to support” the nonmovant's opposition to summary judgment. Edwards v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 841 F.3d 360, 363 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting Skotak v. Tenneco Resins, Inc., 953 F.2d 909, 915 n.7 (5th Cir. 1992)).

         At the outset, the Court notes that the Plaintiff wholly failed to “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). The Plaintiff did not enter a substantive summary judgment response. Instead, the Plaintiff deposited 168 pages of deposition testimony onto the docket accompanied by the following brief statement: “The issues in this case are clearly disputed and should therefore be determined by the jury.” Although the Plaintiff clearly failed to meet his responsibility in the summary judgment context, out of an abundance of caution, the Court conducted an independent review of the entire record in this case, and will analyze the relevant issues based on this review.

         Excessive Force

         To bring a § 1983 excessive force claim under the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that he “suffered (1) an injury that (2) resulted directly and only from the use of force that was excessive to the need and that (3) the force used was objectively unreasonable.” Hamilton v. Kindred, 845 F.3d ...


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