United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
LATASHA HANDY, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS
MADISON COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; ET AL. DEFENDANTS
OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM H. BARBOUR, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
cause is before the Court on two motions that have been filed
in this wrongful death action. Having considered the
pleadings, attachments thereto, as well as supporting and
opposing authorities the Court finds:
Motion for Summary Judgment-Related Discovery is not well
taken and should be denied.
Motion for Summary Judgment on the grounds of qualified
immunity is well taken and should be granted.
Factual Background and Procedural History
September 5, 2015, Willie Handy, Jr., died while detained at
the Madison County Detention Center (“MCDC”)
following an asthma attack. Thereafter, Latasha Handy
(“Handy”), on behalf of herself and Willie
Handy's heirs and wrongful death beneficiaries, filed a
lawsuit against Madison County, Mississippi, Madison County
Sheriff Randy Tucker, and MCDC Officers Master Sargent Jamal
Watkins (“Watkins”), Jeremiah Thornton
(“Thornton”), John Wingard
(“Wingard”), and Felicia Adams
(“Adams”). In her Complaint, Handy alleges,
inter alia, that “Defendants unlawfully
battered, applied mace, and choked Willie Handy., Jr.,
causing his asthma to flare intensely resulting in his
death.” Second Am. Compl. [Docket No. 25], ¶ 9.
Handy also alleges that the defendants failed to (1) provide
necessary medical attention to Willie Handy, (2) adequately
train personnel to promptly identify individuals who are
having asthma attacks, and (3) promptly respond to Willie
Handy's requests for medical care. Based on these
allegations, Handy seeks actual and punitive damages on
claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims
sounding in negligence.
the course of litigation, Officers Watkins, Thornton, and
Wingard, filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on any claims
alleged against them in their individual capacities on the
grounds they are immune from such claims. The pleadings on
the Motion for Summary Judgment provide the following facts
with respect to the events that preceded Willie Handy's
Handy had been detained at the MCDC numerous times between
May of 1995, and September of 2015. See Mot. for
Sum. J. [Docket No. 35], Ex. A (McNeal Aff.), ¶ 1.
Willie Handy's last period of detention began on July 19,
2015, and ended with his death on September 5, 2015.
Id. at ¶ 3. There is no evidence before the
Court that Willie Handy was choked or maced at any time
during his final period of detention. Id. at
¶¶ 3, 5. In other words, Handy has not provided any
evidence to either contradict the averments made by Major
McNeal with respect to whether Willie Handy was ever choked
or maced during his last period of detention at the MCDC, or
to show that Willie Handy had been choked and/or maced during
that time period.
to Officer Thornton, Willie Handy had been housed in area
“C4” while detained at the MCDC so he would be
closer to the medical unit. Id., Ex. C (Thornton
Aff.), ¶ 2. Willie Handy had a long history of asthma,
and received respiratory treatments for that disease. See
id. Ex. B (Palmer Aff.), ex. 1 at 35 (indicating that
Willie Handy had a documented medical history of asthma from
at least December of 2011). On September 5, 2015, Officer
Watkins spoke with Willie Handy at approximately 4:00 p.m.,
at which point Willie Handy did not appear in any distress.
Id., Ex. E (Watkins Aff.), ¶¶ 2, 3.
Sometime thereafter, Willie Handy told Thornton he wanted to
go to the medical unit to have a breathing treatment because
his chest felt “tight”. Id., Ex. C
(Thornton Aff.), ¶ 3. Willie Handy did not appear to be
in any distress at that time. Id. at ¶ 4.
Thornton contacted the medical unit, and was advised that
Willie Handy could be brought down for a breathing treatment
once the female detainees had left the unit. Id. at
¶ 5. Officer Wingard later escorted Willie Handy to the
medical unit at approximately 6:15 p.m. Id., Ex. D
(Wingard Aff.), ¶ 3. At that time, Willie Handy did not
appear to be experiencing any breathing problems, and was not
showing any signs of distress. Id. See also id., Ex.
C (Thornton Aff.), ¶ 7 (Thornton averring he witnessed
Willie Handy being escorted to the medical unit, and that
Willie Handy was not in any distress at that time).
Handy presented at the medical unit at approximately 6:17
p.m., complaining of shortness of breath and wheezing, and
requesting a new inhaler and breathing treatment.
Id., Ex. B (Palmer Aff.), ¶¶ 4, 5. Willie
Handy was assessed by Sheoashie Palmer, R.N.
(“Palmer”), who measured his heart rate to be 95
beats per minute, his respiratory rate to be 20 breaths per
minute, and his oxygen saturation level to be 95%.
Id. at ¶ 8. Although Willie Handy had some
wheezing, he indicated he was “fine” and could
wait for his breathing treatment. During the time the
breathing treatment was later being administered, Willie
Handy did not appear to be in any distress. Id. at
Ex. C (Thornton Aff.), at ¶ 9 (Thornton averring that at
the time Willie Handy was being given the breathing
treatment, he was watching the people passing by the medical
unit, talking to the nurse, and was not displaying any signs
of distress). There were no changes in Willie Handy's
vital signs after the breathing treatment was given, and he
was kept near the medical unit for observation. Id.,
Ex. B (Palmer Aff.), ¶¶ 8, 9.
under observation, Willie Handy developed labored breathing
at which point he was brought back to the medical unit.
Id. at ¶ 10. At that point, while there were no
changes in his heart or respiratory rate, Willie Handy's
oxygen saturation level was measured at 82%. Id. at
¶ 11. Palmer immediately began giving Willie Handy a
second breathing treatment. Id. at ¶ 12. During
this treatment, Willie Handy became diaphoretic and restless
and was given a Decadron (steroid) injection. Id. at
¶ 13. Thereafter, Willie Handy became unresponsive, and
Palmer immediately began to perform CPR and requested that an
ambulance be called. Id. at ¶ 15.
next time Watkins, Thornton, and/or Wingard saw Willie Handy
was after the three were summoned to the medical unit. Upon
their arrival, Willie Handy was being administered CPR by the
medical staff. Id., Ex. E (Watkins Aff.),
¶¶ 6, 7; Id., Ex. D (Wingard Aff.),
¶¶ 4, 5; Id., Ex. C (Thornton Aff.),
¶ 10. Thornton accompanied Willie Handy both in the
ambulance where emergency medical technicians continued to
perform CPR, and in the emergency room where Willie Handy was
declared dead. Id., Ex. C (Thornton Aff.),
¶¶ 12, 13. Watkins, Thornton, and Wingard each aver
that they never choked or maced Willie Handy, and never
witnessed such actions being taken against Willie Handy by
any other officer. Id., Ex. E at (Watkins Aff.),
¶ 10; Id., Ex. D (Wingard Aff.), ¶6;
Id., Ex. C (Thornton), ¶¶ 14, 15. The
cause of Willie Handy's death was identified as
“Acute Asthma Exacerbation (Status Astematicus)”.
See Resp. [Docket No. 40], Ex. D. The Court now
considers the motions before it.
Motion for Summary Judgment-Related Discovery
addition to responding to the Motion for Summary Judgment,
Handy has requested leave to conduct summary judgment-related
discovery. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Circuit permits immunity-related discovery in cases in which
“the defendant's immunity claim turns at least
partially on a factual question”, “the district
court is unable to rule on the immunity defense without
further clarification of the facts”, and the discovery
requested is “narrowly tailored to uncover only those
facts needed to rule on the immunity claim [and] are neither
avoidable nor overly broad.” Lion Boulos v.
Wilson, 834 F.2d 504, 507-08 (5th Cir. 1987). Here,
Handy seeks leave to (1) conduct discovery to “fully
ascertain each and every officer, jailer, medical provider,
and other possible witnesses present at MCDC” at the
time of Willie Handy's death; (2) depose multiple
individuals including the responding paramedics, the coroner,
and the medical examiner who performed Willie Handy's
autopsy; and (3) subpoena unedited surveillance video and
investigatory files from the Madison County District Attorney
as well as the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation. Mot. for
Discovery [Docket No. 39], Ex. A, ¶¶ 2,
The Court finds these requests should be denied because they
are clearly overly broad in that they seek information that
has not been shown to have any bearing on the claim of
immunity raised on summary judgment. Handy also seeks
discovery to determine whether the actions of any of the
summary judgment movants were motivated by policy or
practice, and/or to “test the strength and
credibility” of their affidavits. Id. at
¶¶ 3-4. The Court finds these requests should
likewise be denied because the defense of qualified immunity
is predicated on the individual conduct of the state actor,
and the Court does not make credibility determinations on
although Handy argues that she is in need of additional
discovery in order to respond to the immunity defenses raised
on summary judgment, such general statement of need is
insufficient to warrant Rule 56(d) discovery. See Krim v.
BancTexasGroup, Inc., 989 F.2d 1435, 1442 (5th Cir.
1993) (explaining that “vague assertions that
additional discovery will produce needed, but unspecific
facts” does not warrant discovery under Rule 56(d)).
Accordingly, the Court will deny Handy's Motion for
Motion for ...