THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI MEDICAL CENTER, SYRONE McBEATH AND DAVID STEWART
OF JUDGMENT: 06/07/2016
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. WINSTON L. KIDD.
COURT ATTORNEYS: EVERETT T. SANDERS LYDIA ROBERTA BLACKMON
ROBERT V. GREENLEE THOMAS EUGENE WHITFIELD, JR. JOHN T.
KITCHENS KELLY HARDWICK MARK D. RAY SIMINE BAZYARI REED.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: THOMAS EUGENE WHITFIELD, JR. ROBERT
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: LYDIA ROBERTA BLACKMON EVERETT T.
WALLER, C.J., KING AND MAXWELL, JJ.
This is an interlocutory appeal of the denial of summary
judgment. The circuit court ruled Enoch Oliver could proceed
to trial with his malicious-prosecution claim against
University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) and two of
its law-enforcement officers, Syrone McBeath and David
Stewart. But after de novo review, we disagree.
As a matter of law, malice-based torts do not fall under the
Mississippi Tort Claims Act's sovereign-immunity waiver.
So Oliver has no malicious-prosecution claim against UMMC or
its employees in their official capacity. Oliver
also brought malicious-prosecution claims against the UMMC
officers in their individual capacity. But the
record shows Oliver failed to put forth any evidence the
officers acted with malice or lacked probable cause.
We thus reverse the circuit court's denial of summary
judgment and render a final judgment in the defendants'
Facts and Procedural History
Confrontation with Officers
On the morning of January 16, 2008, Officer Deficio Stoglin
responded to a domestic- violence call at UMMC's Wiser
Hospital for Women and Infants. The nurses told Stoglin they
heard loud shouting in Room 310 and then saw Oliver storm
out. Stoglin entered the room to interview Oliver's wife,
who had just given birth. According to Stoglin, Oliver's
wife was visibly upset. She also had a black eye. The wife
claimed Oliver had given her the black eye before she went to
the hospital. But she did admit that "he definitely hit
her with his hands." Stoglin radioed to the other UMMC
officers to be on the lookout for a man matching Oliver's
description leaving Garage B. Officer Stoglin remained with
Oliver's wife, further investigating her domestic
violence allegations. Instead of going home after her release
from the hospital, she told Stoglin she planned to go to a
hotel, because "she does not want [Oliver] near her or
Officer Charlene Burfield was in Garage B when she heard
Stoglin's dispatch. She immediately noticed a man
matching the suspect's description trying to exit the
garage. She stopped Oliver's van and asked him who he had
been visiting. When Oliver said "Room 211, " she
asked him if he was sure. Oliver backtracked and said,
"No, 310 in the Wiser." Burfield then asked him to
pull behind her vehicle. At this point, Officer Cecil Lott
drove up, blocking Oliver's van from behind. Lott
approached Oliver's van and asked him to get out.
Officers Andre Watson and David Stewart also responded to
Stoglin's dispatch. According to Watson, Oliver shouted
at Lott and Burfield, "What the hell do you want, you
ain't the police." Several times, Lott and Burfield
ordered Oliver to exit the van, but he refused. When Oliver
did not comply, Lott, Watson, and Stewart tried
unsuccessfully to pull Oliver out of the van. That did not
work either, so Officer Lott "pepper sprayed"
Oliver. In response, Oliver pulled a pistol from behind his
back and pointed it at Officer Lott's face. Lott ducked.
And Watson screamed "gun, " hit Oliver, disarming
him, and pulled him out of the vehicle.
After the officers handcuffed Oliver, Officer Burfield
approached the van and found a loaded .40-caliber Smith and
Wesson handgun on the driver's seat. Lott escorted Oliver
to UMMC's emergency room for burn treatment from the
pepper spray. Officer Lott then took Oliver to UMMC's
police headquarters to fill out an arrest report. Oliver was
later transferred to the Hinds County jail.
That day, Oliver was charged with three
misdemeanors-disorderly conduct for failure to comply with
the commands of a police officer, resisting arrest, and
carrying a concealed weapon. UMMC Investigator Syrone McBeath
was assigned to investigate potential felony charges. McBeath
reviewed Stoglin's, Lott's, Burfield's, and
Watson's officer reports. Based on his review of the
officers' statements-which all corroborated the fact
Oliver pulled a gun on Officer Lott-and the fact they
recovered a gun from Oliver's van, McBeath concluded
Oliver had committed felony assault on a police officer.
See Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-7 (Rev. 2014). He
presented this evidence to a county court judge, who issued
an arrest warrant on January 17, 2008.
On February 7, 2008, Officer Lott transported Oliver to the
Hinds County Justice Court for trial. According to Officer
Lott, the justice-court judge dismissed the charges,
reasoning the officers "had no legal right to stop and
question Enoch Oliver about a domestic violence complaint
since [the officers] did not arrest him on that charge."
But see Floyd v. City of Crystal Springs, 749 So.2d
110, 114 (Miss. 1999) (holding an officer may stop a suspect
for questioning if the officer has reasonable suspicion the
suspect was involved in a felony); see also Qualls v.
State, 947 So.2d 365, 372-73 (Miss. Ct. App. 2007)
(holding that, because officer had reasonable suspicion to
make an investigatory stop, suspects' failure to comply
with officer's commands provided probable cause to arrest
suspects for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest).
McBeath's investigation led to a felony charge being
presented to the grand jury, which indicted Oliver on April
30, 2008, for felony assault of a law-enforcement officer.
But on October 14, 2009, the Hinds County Circuit Court,
First Judicial District, entered an order of nolle
prosequi on that charge. According to the State, it
could not meet its burden on all required elements of
aggravated assault. The State reasoned in the order that it
could prove, at most, Oliver pointed a gun at the officers.
Citing Gibson v. State, 660 So.2d 1268 (Miss. 1995),
the State did not believe this act constituted an aggravated
assault. According to the State, pointing a gun at a police
officer merely supports a charge of simple assault. But the
State neglected to point out that, under Mississippi Code
Section 97-3-7(1)(b), assault on a law-enforcement officer is
an aggravating circumstance, making an otherwise simple
assault a felonious aggravated assault. See Hitt v.
State, 988 So.2d 939, 941 (Miss. Ct. App. 2008) (noting
the enhanced penalty for simple assault on a law-enforcement
officer). So, contrary to the faulty reasoning in its
nol-pros order-which the circuit judge signed and
entered-the State's ability to prove Oliver pointed a
pistol at Officer Lott's face was sufficient to
prove felony assault.
The nol-pros order also was incorrect in another
material respect. According to the written order, the State
could not prove simple assault because "this case is
premised on three underlying offenses, " which
"were dismissed on February 7, 2008, before Oliver was
indicted on April 30, 2008." But there is no requirement
under Section 97-3-7(1)(a) that any underlying offenses be
committed to prove simple assault.
On July 20, 2010-nine months after the court signed the
State's nol-pros order dismissing his felony
charge and two-and-a-half years after the incident in Garage
B-Oliver filed a complaint in Hinds County Circuit Court,
First Judicial District. He named as defendants UMMC,
Investigator McBeath, and Officers Burfield, Lott, Watson,
and Stewart. He alleged the officers "at times"
were acting within the course and scope of their employment
with UMMC, making UMMC vicariously liable. He also insisted
that "[a]t other times, " these defendants acted
outside the course and scope of their employment and thus
were individually liable. Oliver brought claims of
negligence, gross negligence, negligence per se,
defamation/libel, invasion of privacy, negligent/intentional
infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery, false
imprisonment, false arrest, and malicious prosecution based
on both the misdemeanor charges and the felony charge.
UMMC, McBeath, and Stewart were served with process, but
Lott, Burfield, and Watson were not. UMMC, McBeath, and
Stewart filed a motion to dismiss, which was joined by the
unserved defendants, who specially appeared. The unserved
defendants requested dismissal for Oliver's failure to
serve them with process. The served defendants argued
Oliver's claims were governed by the Mississippi Tort
Claims Act (MTCA) and its one-year statute of limitations.
See Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-11(3)(a) (Rev.
2012). Thus, they asserted Oliver's claims were
time-barred. The lone ...