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Smith v. City of McComb

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

August 25, 2017

CITY OF MCCOMB, MISSISSIPPI; ANTHONY DANIELS, in His Individual Capacity and in His Official Capacity as a Police Officer for the City of McComb, Mississippi; KENYANNA MARTIN, in Her Individual Capacity and in Her Official Capacity as a Police Officer for the City of McComb, Mississippi; ARMSTRONG NATIONAL SECURITY FORCE, LLC; and ELDRIDGE BULLOCK, in His Individual Capacity and in His Capacity as an Employee and Agent for ARMSTRONG NATIONAL SECURITY FORCE, LLC DEFENDANTS



         This cause is before the Court on plaintiff Sybil Smith (“Smith”)'s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (docket entry 81) and defendants Armstrong National Security Force, LLC (“Armstrong”) and Eldridge Bullock (“Bullock”)'s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (docket entry 95). Having carefully considered the motions, responses, and applicable law, and being otherwise fully informed in the premises, the Court finds as follows:

         I. Facts & Procedural History

         This case arises from a verbal dispute between plaintiff Sybil Smith (“Smith”) and her neighbor, Brittany Bullock, which occurred on June 21, 2014, at the Community Park Apartments in McComb, Mississippi. At the time of the altercation, defendant Armstrong National Security Force, LLC (“Armstrong”) was providing security services for the apartment complex. Defendant Eldridge Bullock (“Bullock”) was the Armstrong security guard on duty at the time of the event.

         On the day of the incident, Smith, who lived in unit 24-F of the apartment complex, was sitting on her porch when she observed Tracy Bullock, also known as “Baby T, ” standing by apartment building 19. Doc. 95-1, p. 6. Smith felt inclined to contact law enforcement to inform them of Baby T's presence at the complex. Though the plaintiff has acknowledged that she was unaware of any pending charges against Baby T, it appears that Smith suspected that Baby T was involved in some drug related activity within the residential community. Id. at 28-31. Upon seeing Baby T, Smith left her porch and walked to the security guard shack where Bullock was stationed. Smith informed Bullock that she was going to call the police and asked him to “keep an eye” on Baby T. Police responded to the call, but it appears that Baby T evaded capture by running into a nearby apartment. Id. at 24.

         Smith claims that she returned to her apartment porch after the police left the scene. Id. According to the plaintiff, Brittany Bullock (“Brittany”) approached Smith's apartment building shortly thereafter with a group of people.[1] It appears that plaintiff's apartment building was perpendicular to Building 19 and that there was a walkway located in-between the two buildings. Smith testified in her deposition that the group walked around the walkway until they were facing Building 24, where Smith was sitting upstairs.[2]Once Brittany arrived in front of Smith's building, the plaintiff claims that Brittany began pointing her finger and shouting in Smith's direction. According to Smith, Brittany stated, “My brother is going to keep going to jail as long as this b---- keep calling the MF police.” Doc. 95-1, p. 33. Brittany continued to curse the plaintiff by calling her “b----” and threating to “whoop [her] so and so a--.” Id. Smith testified that she responded to Brittany by declaring, “If you want to whoop my a--, come on up here and whoop my a--.” Id. at 45. The two continued this loud back and forth exchange by debating whether they would meet upstairs or downstairs. See Id. at 33.

         Meanwhile, Bullock had approached the scene and was standing downstairs as Smith and Brittany shouted back and forth. Id. at 127. As Brittany started to climb the stairs to reach the plaintiff, Bullock grabbed her and attempted to defuse the situation. A number of neighbors had walked outside by this point, and Smith claims that she was explaining the ongoing events to her neighbors when Bullock stated, “Didn't I tell you to shut up?” Id. According to Smith, Brittany continued “ranting and raving, ” and Bullock stated, “I'm calling the police on both of you, because I told both of you to shut up.” Doc. 95-1, p. 45; Doc. 81-6, pp. 37-38. Bullock called the McComb Police Department, and Officers Anthony Daniels and Kenyanna Martin arrived at the scene.

         Upon his arrival, Officer Daniels spoke with Bullock for a few minutes about the unfolding events. Officer Daniels testified that Smith was yelling from the top of her balcony and asking why she was being placed under citizen's arrest. Doc. 81-8, p. 21-22. Officer Daniels claims that he asked Smith to keep quiet while he was speaking with Bullock, but Smith continued. Id. During their conversation, Bullock told Officer Daniels that he wanted to place Smith and Brittany under citizen's arrest for disturbing the peace and using profane language. Doc. 81-8, pp. 22, 32. Officer Daniels then walked up the stairs, placed handcuffs on Smith, and advised her that she was being placed under Officer Daniels advised Smith that she was being placed under arrest for disturbing the peace. Id. at 22, 27; Doc. 95-1, p. 116. Once Officer Daniels and Smith made it downstairs to the sidewalk, Bullock also told Smith that she was under arrest. Id. at 38.

         Officer Daniels then placed Smith in Officer Martin's patrol car, and Officer Martin transported her to the McComb Police Department. Id. at 34. A few hours later, Bullock went to the police station and filled out a criminal affidavit charging Smith with disturbing the peace in violation of Miss. Code Ann. § 97-35-15. Docs. 81-6, p. 67-68; 95-2; 98-7; 85-1. Smith was ultimately found not guilty of the charge against her. Brittany was later arrested and convicted of the same offense.

         On June 22, 2015, Smith filed suit against the City of McComb and Officers Anthony Daniels and Kenyanna Martin in their individual and official capacities (collectively, “Municipal Defendants”), and Eldridge Bullock and Armstrong National Security Force (collectively, “Security Defendants”). Smith's complaint alleges a number of claims under state and federal law arising from the incident: (1) unlawful arrest under state and federal law against all defendants; (2) assault and battery against Officers Daniels and Martin; (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress against Bullock; (4) negligent infliction of emotional distress against Bullock; and (5) negligence against the Security Defendants. All claims against the Municipal Defendants were dismissed on June 5, 2017, upon stipulation of the parties. See Order of Dismissal, Doc. 121. Smith's claims against the Security Defendants remain.

         The plaintiff filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on March 17, 2017, seeking summary judgment on the issue of liability as to her claims of unlawful arrest and negligence. See Doc. 81. The Security Defendants subsequently filed their response to Smith's motion, followed by a cross-motion for summary judgment as to all claims asserted against them. See Docs. 93, 95.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant. LeMaire v. Louisiana Dept. of Transp. & Dev., 480 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2007). In determining whether a genuine dispute as to any material fact exists, the Court considers all of the evidence in the record but refrains from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence. Flock v. Scripto-Tokai Corp., 319 F.3d 231, 236 (5th Cir. 2003).

         “On cross-motions for summary judgment, [the Court] consider[s] ‘each party's motion independently, viewing the evidence and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.'” Aldous v. Darwin Nat'l Assurance Co.,851 F.3d 473, 477 (5th Cir. 2017). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of producing evidence that shows the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the movant makes such a demonstration, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and “designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). “Where the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); but seeLeBlanc ...

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