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Hale v. City of Biloxi

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

July 20, 2017




         BEFORE THE COURT are the [78, 86, 91] Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants City of Biloxi, Mississippi, Kenneth Garner (sued in his individual capacity only), and Darren Lea (sued in his individual capacity only) with respect to the Amended Complaint filed by Plaintiff Allen Douglas Hale, III. The Motions have been fully briefed. Having considered the submissions of the parties and the relevant law, the Court is of the opinion that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff Hale's federal claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.


         According to the Amended Complaint, Defendants Garner and Lea are or were police officers employed by Defendant City of Biloxi. In April 2015, the Defendant Officers came to Hale's mother's mobile home “to purportedly effectuate an arrest warrant on” Hale for credit card fraud. (See Am. Compl. 5, ECF No. 28). Hale alleges that when they arrived at the residence, “the Defendant Officers only announced their presence and demanded for Mr. Hale to open the door to the mobile home.” (Id.). Hale states that he was unarmed and “fully obeyed the officers' commands[, ]” but

[u]pon opening the front door, Mr. Hale was confronted with multiple police officers with firearms and/or [tasers] drawn and pointed directly at him. Although Mr. Hale inquired as to the reason that Defendant Officers were present at his home, the Defendant Officers refused to notify him of the reason for their presence [and did not] notify Mr. Hale that they were there to serve an arrest warrant on him or that he was under arrest.

(Id.). Hale alleges that Defendant Lea immediately tased him “without any provocation, warning, threats or resistance by” him, and, additionally, “Defendant Garner simultaneously discharged his firearm at Mr. Hale, shooting Mr. Hale in his abdominal region.” (See Id. at 6). Hale was eventually transported to the hospital where he received treatment for his injuries.

         Hale instituted this civil action against Defendants Garner, Lea, and City of Biloxi under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA). He has stated claims for (1) § 1983/Fourth Amendment excessive force against Defendant Garner in his individual capacity for shooting Hale; (2) § 1983/Fourth Amendment excessive force against Defendant Lea in his individual capacity for tasing Hale; (3) § 1983 municipal liability against Defendant City of Biloxi based on the alleged excessive force; and (4) reckless disregard under the MTCA against all Defendants.


         Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims stated against them. A motion for summary judgment shall be granted “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). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Abarca v. Metro. Transit Auth., 404 F.3d 938, 940 (5th Cir. 2005). If the movant carries its burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-movant to show that summary judgment should not be granted. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986).

         The non-movant's “burden is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations and quotation marks omitted); see also Sanches v. Carrollton Farmers Branch Indep. Sch. Dist., 647 F.3d 156, 165 (5th Cir. 2011). The Court will not, in the absence of proof, assume that the non-moving party could or would prove the necessary facts. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

         I. Spoliation

         Hale contends that one or more City officials destroyed or intentionally lost video from Defendant Lea's body camera, and that such conduct creates an adverse inference that is sufficient to overcome summary judgment on all claims. “‘Under the spoliation doctrine, a jury may draw an adverse inference that a party who intentionally destroys important evidence in bad faith did so because the contents of [the evidence] were unfavorable to that party.'” Schreane v. Beemon, 575 F. App'x 486, 490 (5th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). “An adverse inference of spoliation can be relevant on summary judgment.” Id. “The Fifth Circuit permits an adverse inference against the destroyer of evidence only upon a showing of ‘bad faith' or ‘bad conduct.'” Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted). It is within the Court's discretion whether to permit an evidentiary inference of spoliation. See id.

         While there is some dispute as to whether Lea's body camera was functioning at the time and whether it produced any video at all, for summary judgment purposes, the Court accepts Hale's claim that a video exists. However, there is no genuine dispute - beyond Hale's mere speculation, which is not probative on summary judgment - that Lea did not remember to turn on his body camera until after the tasing or shooting. Therefore, the resulting video would be tangentially relevant to the actual claims in this action at best. Regardless, having reviewed the evidence, the Court is of the opinion that Hale has not made the requisite showing of bad faith or bad conduct necessary to draw an adverse inference. See, e.g., Moss v. Alcorn Cty., No. 1:13-CV-00167-SA-DAS, 2015 WL 419655, at *4-5 (N.D. Miss. Feb. 2, 2015). At most, he has shown that the video, if it exists, was misplaced, but “‘[m]ere negligence is not enough . . . .'” See Id. at *4 (citation omitted).

         II. Excessive Force Against The Defendant ...

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