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Royal v. Boykin

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

September 5, 2017

PAUL N. ROYAL, as Administrator Ad Litem for the Estate of Ricky Javentia Ball, Deceased, and on Behalf of All Wrongful Death Beneficiaries PLAINTIFF
v.
CANYON BOYKIN, JOHNNY BRANCH, YOLANDA YOUNG, and GARRETT MITTAN, Individually and in Their Official Capacities as Officers of the Columbus Police Department; TONY CARLETON, Individually and in His Official Capacity as the Chief of Police of the Columbus Police Department; and CITY OF COLUMBUS, MISSISSIPPI DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

         Presently before the Court is Defendant Canyon Boykin's motion to dismiss [97] which the other Defendants have joined [109, 111]. Upon due consideration, the Court finds the motion to dismiss [97] is not well taken and must be denied.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On September 29, 2016, Plaintiff Paul N. Royal ("Plaintiff), as administrator ad litem for the Estate of Ricky Javentia Ball, deceased ("Decedent"), and on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries of Decedent, filed this action against Defendant City of Columbus, Mississippi, as well as the following Defendants in their individual and official capacities as officers of the Columbus Police Department: Canyon Boykin, Johnny Branch, Yolanda Young, and Garrett Mittan; and Tony Carleton in his individual and official capacity as Chief of Police of the Columbus Police Department (collectively, "Defendants"). Subsequently, Defendants filed their answers and affirmative defenses.

         It is undisputed that Decedent was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Lowndes County, Mississippi. Plaintiff, as administrator ad litem of Decedent's estate, contends that Decedent's estate is entitled to damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as wrongful death under Mississippi law. Defendants argue that the fatal shooting of Decedent was in self-defense.[1]

         On January 13, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion to amend his complaint which was subsequently granted by the Magistrate Judge in an Order [81] dated February 2, 2017. Plaintiff filed his amended complaint [82] on that same day, and Defendants filed answers to the amended complaint. On February 16, 2017, Defendant Boykin filed the present motion to dismiss [97]; the other Defendants joined in the motion [109, 111]. Plaintiff filed a response, and Defendants filed a reply.

         The sole issue before the Court on Defendants' present motion to dismiss is whether Plaintiff can properly bring the case subjudice. The Court addresses the issue as follows.

         II. Parties' Arguments

         Defendants argue that Decedent was a Mississippi resident who died intestate in Lowndes County, Mississippi, and that this case, which includes wrongful death claims, is governed by Mississippi's wrongful death statute. Defendants maintain that Plaintiff lacks standing to bring this action, because no proper estate was opened and no letters of administration were issued in the Chancery Court of Lowndes County, Mississippi, which Defendants contend were prerequisites to bringing this case under Mississippi's wrongful death statute. Defendants further argue that Plaintiff lacks standing because he is not a wrongful death beneficiary. Defendants also argue that no survival action can be filed without an estate being opened. Defendants maintain that Tennessee's administrator ad litem statute does not confer authority on Plaintiff to bring this case in federal court and that that statute applies only where no estate has been opened. Defendants request that the Court dismiss Plaintiffs claims in this case.

         Plaintiff argues that he has standing to bring this action for the following reasons. First, Plaintiff argues he has standing as a "personal representative" under Mississippi's wrongful death statute, Mississippi Code § 11-7-13, because he has met the only requirement of the statute that he be formally appointed at the time the wrongful death action commenced. Plaintiff maintains that the time of the appointment, not the place of the appointment, is the dispositive issue, and urges the Court to interpret Mississippi Code § 11-7-13 broadly. Second, Plaintiff argues that he has standing because Tennessee Code §301-1-109 does not limit his appointment to Tennessee chancery courts and circuit courts, but allows him as administrator ad litem to pursue cases on behalf of the estate in other courts, as well. Third, Plaintiff argues that he is not suing as a wrongful death beneficiary, but as a nominal plaintiff on behalf of the estate, and that this distinction does not matter. Fourth, Plaintiff argues that regardless of whether he has standing to bring the wrongful death claims in this case, the federal claims and beneficiaries' claims survive with or without his claims for the estate, because Rule 17 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows administrators and similar fiduciaries to initiate and prosecute claims on behalf of their wards.

         III. Analysis and Discussion

         The sole issue before the Court at this juncture is whether Plaintiff has standing to bring this case, which asserts Section 1983 and state law claims. The type of standing at issue in this case is not Article III standing, but statutory standing. "[S]tatutory standing is not indicative of Article III jurisdictional standing." Camsoft Data Sys., Inc. v. S. Elecs. Supply, Inc., 756 F.3d 327, 332 (5th Cir. 2014). "If a plaintiff does not have statutory standing, he lacks a cause of action, and the action should be dismissed under Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(6)." Walker v. New Orleans City, La., No. 16-31229, 2017 WL 3467879, at *1 (5th Cir. Aug. 11, 2017) (per curiam) (citing Malvino v. De lluniversita, 840 F.3d 223, 229-30 (5th Cir. 2016); Harold H. Huggins Realty, Inc. v. FNC, Inc., 634 F.3d 787, 795 n.2 (5th Cir. 2011) ("Unlike a dismissal for lack of constitutional standing, which should be granted under Rule 12(b)(1), a dismissal for lack of . . . statutory standing is properly granted under Rule 12(b)(6).")).[2] "[W]hether or not a particular cause of action authorizes an injured plaintiff to sue is a merits question ... not a jurisdictional question." Blanchard 1986, Ltd. v. Park Plantation, LLC, 553 F.3d 405, 409 (5th Cir. 2008).

         Therefore, although Defendants in the case sub judice urge their motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as a challenge to the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction, the issue of statutory standing instead presents a challenge to the merits of the action under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court will thus consider the motion as one filed under Rule 12(b)(6).

         "Standing to bring a [Section] 1983 claim 'is guided by 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which provides that state common law is used to fill the gaps in [Section 1983's] administration.' " Walker, 2017 WL 3467879, at *1 (quoting Pluet v. Frasier, 355 F.3d 381, 383 (5th Cir. 2004)). "Thus, in order to have statutory standing to bring a [Section] 1983 claim on behalf of another, a plaintiff 'must have standing under the state wrongful death or survival statutes.' " Id. (quoting Pluet, 355 F.3d at 383); accord Rodgers v. Lancaster Police & Fire Dep't, 819 F.3d 205, 208-09 (5th Cir.), cert denied, 137 S.Ct. 304, 196 L.Ed.2d 223 (2016), reh'g denied, 137 S.Ct. 545, 196 L.Ed.2d 440 (2016) ("[Section 1988 incorporates wrongful death statutes."). "A party must have standing at the time the complaint is filed." Pluet, 355 F.3d at 386.

         The specific question for the Court on the present motion to dismiss thus is whether Plaintiff has statutory standing to bring this case under Mississippi's wrongful death statute or survival statute. If Plaintiff has statutory standing, he can assert both the Section 1983 claims and state law claims against Defendants. If he does not have ...


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