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The University of Mississippi Medical Center v. Oliver

Supreme Court of Mississippi

August 24, 2017

THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI MEDICAL CENTER, SYRONE McBEATH AND DAVID STEWART
v.
ENOCH OLIVER

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/07/2016

         HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. WINSTON L. KIDD.

          TRIAL 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 V. GREENLEE.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: LYDIA ROBERTA BLACKMON EVERETT T. SANDERS.

          BEFORE WALLER, C.J., KING AND MAXWELL, JJ.

          MAXWELL, JUSTICE

         ¶1. 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.

         ¶2. 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.

         ¶3. We thus reverse the circuit court's denial of summary judgment and render a final judgment in the defendants' favor.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         I. Confrontation with Officers

         ¶4. 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 her children."

         ¶5. 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.

         ¶6. 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.

         ¶7. 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.

         II. Criminal Charges

         ¶8. 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.[1] UMMC Investigator Syrone McBeath was assigned to investigate potential felony charges. McBeath reviewed Stoglin's, Lott's, Burfield's, and Watson's officer reports.[2] 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.

         ¶9. 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).

         ¶10. 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.

         ¶11. 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.

         III. Complaint

         ¶12. 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.

         ¶13. 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. ยง 11-46-11(3)(a) (Rev. 2012). Thus, they asserted Oliver's claims were time-barred. The lone ...


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