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Sturkin v. Patrick

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

July 27, 2017

DONNA STURKIN PLAINTIFF
v.
VICKY PATRICK; LEAKE COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          CARLTON W. REEVES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Leake County's motion for summary judgment. The matter is fully briefed and ready for adjudication.[1]

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         In 2010, Donna Sturkin began to participate in the Drug Court for the Eighth Judicial District of Mississippi. Her parole officer was Vicky Patrick, who was appointed by Leake County Circuit Judge Vernon Cotten. Leake County paid Patrick's salary.

         Sturkin claims that Patrick grossly abused her authority. Patrick allegedly went to Sturkin's places of employment and demanded that Sturkin look the other way while Patrick stole goods or otherwise defrauded Sturkin's employers. When Sturkin worked at a hotel, for example, Patrick demanded and received free hotel rooms for herself, friends, and family.

         The most serious abuse of power happened when Sturkin refused to comply with Patrick's demands. Patrick subsequently told the Judge presiding over the Drug Court that Sturkin had tested positive for alcohol consumption. Patrick was lying to the Judge-to maintain control over Sturkin and perpetuate her fraudulent scheme-but the Judge ordered Sturkin to be imprisoned.

         Sturkin now claims that Patrick violated a number of rights secured by the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. She further claims that Leake County is liable for permitting a custom of constitutional violations to persist in the Drug Court. Sturkin seeks damages and a declaratory judgment that Leake County must pay any judgment rendered against Patrick.

         Before a case management conference could be held, Leake County filed the present motion. It contends that it has no liability for any custom of constitutional violations because the Drug Court's final policymaker-a Judge-is a State official, not a County official.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “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). A party seeking to avoid summary judgment must identify admissible evidence in the record showing a fact dispute. Id. at 56(c)(1); Tran Enterprises, LLC v. DHL Exp. (USA), Inc., 627 F.3d 1004, 1010 (5th Cir. 2010). The Court views the evidence and draws reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Maddox v. Townsend and Sons, Inc., 639 F.3d 214, 216 (5th Cir. 2011).

         III. Discussion

         A. Substantive Law

         “Local governing bodies . . . can be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief where . . . the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers.” Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). “For a municipality to be liable, the plaintiff must show that there was either an official policy or an unofficial custom, adopted by the municipality, that was the moving force behind the claimed constitutional violation.” Duvall v. Dallas Cty., Tex., 631 F.3d 203, 209 (5th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted).

Official policy . . . usually exists in the form of written policy statements, ordinances, or regulations, but it may also arise in the form of a widespread practice that is so common and well-settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents municipal policy. A policy or custom is official only when it results from the decision or acquiescence of the municipal officer ...

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