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Cannady v. Clay County

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

November 20, 2017



         The Court conducted a bench trial on October 16 and 17, 2017, to adjudicate the parties' dispute concerning the Plaintiff Calvin Cannady ("Plaintiff ')'s pretrial detention in Defendant Clay County, Mississippi ("Clay County") on a burglary charge that was ultimately dismissed. Upon careful consideration of the testimony and exhibits presented at trial, as well as the parties' pre- and post-trial submissions, the Court finds that the Plaintiff has not established his claims and that the Defendants are thus entitled to judgment in their favor as to all claims. The following constitutes the findings of fact and conclusions of law reached by this Court pursuant to Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:

         A. Findings of Fact

         On October 10, 2011, Plaintiff was indicted in Clay County on a burglary charge. (Trial Exh. P-9). He was then arrested on March 16, 2012, posted bail in the Municipal Court of West Point, Mississippi, and was released on bond until the first day of the Circuit Court of Clay County's July 2012 term of court, when he was required to appear for arraignment. (Trial Exhs. P-9, D-9). On that date, July 9, 2012, Plaintiff appeared in the Circuit Court of Clay County and waived arraignment, had his appearance bail for trial set, entered a plea of not guilty on the burglary charge, and was released on bond until the first day of the Circuit Court of Clay County's October 2012 term of court, when he was required to appear for trial. (Trial Exhs. D-10 through D-13). Jeff Hosford, an attorney from West Point, Mississippi, and a public defender for Clay County, was appointed as Plaintiffs attorney that day as well. (Trial Transcript (hereinafter "TT") at 172-176; Trial Exhs. D-l 1 and D-12). On that same day, the Circuit Court of Clay County also formally set the Plaintiffs criminal case for trial on October 10, 2012. (TT. 174-75; Trial Exh. D-12). Finally, Plaintiff signed two separate acknowledgements that day affirming the appointment of counsel on his behalf and acknowledging his trial date and that he would be jailed and his bond revoked if he failed to appear for the first day of the October 2012 term of court, i.e., on October 9, 2012. (TT. 172-176; Trial Exhs. D-9 through D-14). In other words, Plaintiff plainly acknowledged in multiple court s and documents that he understood and agreed that he was being released on bond and that his failure to appear in the Circuit Court of Clay County on October 9, 2012, would result in him being jailed and that his bond would be revoked.

         Nevertheless, on October 9, 2012, Plaintiff failed to appear for the first day of the Circuit Court of Clay County's court term; he then also failed to appear for his trial the next day, October 10, 2012. (TT. 121). After Plaintiff failed to appear, Circuit Court Judge Lee Coleman entered a Bench Warrant directing Plaintiffs arrest for his having failed to properly appear on his appearance bond. (TT. 121-124; Trial Exh. P-l). At the hearing prior to the entry of the bench warrant, Plaintiffs counsel, Jeff Hosford, who was present in court that day on the Plaintiffs behalf, told the court that he had been unable to make contact with Plaintiff. (TT. 132-33; Trial Exh.D-16).

         On October 29, 2012, the Flowood, Mississippi, Police Department arrested and detained Plaintiff at the Rankin County jail pursuant to the bench warrant. Subsequently, on November 9, 2012, Plaintiff was picked up at the Rankin County jail and transported to the Clay County Jail. (Trial Exh. P-l 6). Plaintiffs case was then placed on the January 2013 criminal docket, which was the next term of court in the Circuit Court of Clay County. (TT. 71-75, 78; Trial Exhs. D-4 andD-5).[1]

         The only means, outside a normal term of court, for an indicted criminal defendant to get out of jail after he has been arrested pursuant to a bench warrant for failure to appear for trial is for the criminal defendant's counsel to request and notice a hearing before the appropriate judge, a process which was available to Plaintiff had his counsel pursued it. (TT. 48). More specifically, Judge Coleman testified that in order for Plaintiff to appear in court before the next term of circuit court in Clay County, Plaintiffs counsel would have had to properly file and notice a motion and set the motion for hearing to come before Judge Coleman in another county, during that county's term of court. (TT. 125-26, 135). In the end, Plaintiffs criminal case was brought before the Circuit Court of Clay County in a timely manner and was continued through the January, April and July 2013 terms of court after requests by Plaintiffs counsel and through no action on the part of Clay County or Clay County Sheriff Eddie Scott ("Sheriff Scott") (collectively, "Defendants").[2]

         Plaintiff was represented by appointed counsel at all times during his incarceration and throughout his criminal case. Plaintiffs first attorney was Jeff Hosford, who was the public defender appointed to represent Plaintiff on July 9, 2012, and who appeared on Plaintiffs behalf at arraignment and at the originally scheduled first day of trial in October 2012. (TT. 144). Hosford was replaced by Mark Cliett as the public defender effective January 1, 2013, prior to the Circuit Court of Clay County's January 2013 term of court, at which time Cliett became Plaintiffs attorney. (TT. 128, 184). This substitution of attorneys led to Plaintiffs case being continued from the January 2013 term to the April 2013 term, through no fault of Defendants. (TT. 189). Plaintiff testified that he was aware that Hosford and then Cliett were his attorneys, and that he in fact made numerous attempts to contact Cliett in early 2013. (TT. 146-47, 169-70). According to Plaintiff, he then learned on the day of his potential trial in April 2013 that Cliett could not represent Plaintiff due to a conflict of interest. (TT. 147). Cliett, for his part, testified regarding his replacement of Hosford and the difficult time he had obtaining the criminal files, including Plaintiffs file, from Hosford (which was no fault of the Defendants). (TT 184-85). Once Cliett received Plaintiffs file from Hosford, after the January 2013 term but prior to the April 2013 term of court, Cliett recognized he had a conflict of interest because he as a Municipal Court Judge had set Plaintiffs initial bail amount in the West Point Municipal Court in early 2012, and thus he formally withdrew as Plaintiffs counsel on April 4, 2013. (TT. 189-90; Trial Exh. P-5).[3] This switch in attorneys, along with delays in receiving the Plaintiffs criminal file and the issue of Cliett's conflict, were the reasons for the criminal case delays and continuances in Plaintiffs case through the April 2013 term. Neither Sheriff Scott nor Clay County had anything to do with those delays or continuance orders. (TT. 190-191)

         As part of Cliett's withdrawal, Austin Vollor was appointed Plaintiffs counsel on April 5, 2013. (TT. 107). Plaintiffs case was then continued through the next two terms of court, both the April 2013 and July 2013 terms, due to motions for continuance that Vollor, as Plaintiffs counsel, filed on Plaintiffs behalf. (TT. 107-08; Trial Exhs. D-2 and D-3). Neither Sheriff Scott nor Clay County had any role in the case being continued on either occasion. Specifically, in the order entered on April 5, 2013, which continued the Plaintiffs trial until July 8, 2013, Vollor stated he needed time for investigation; in the next order of continuance, entered during the July 2013 term of court, the court noted that pretrial issues were still pending and the case was thus being continued until October 14, 2013. (Trial Exhs. D-2 and D-3). The burglary charge brought against Plaintiff was ultimately dismissed on October 14, 2013, by an Order of Nolle Prosse "based upon the fact that the State is unable to locate a material witness... and cannot meet its burden without said witness" and Plaintiff was released from custody. (Trial Exh. P-8).

         Plaintiff has now asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and violations of his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment against Defendants Clay County and Sheriff Scott. (TT. at 142-43). He also asserts a state law negligence claim against Sheriff Scott for his alleged failure to bring Plaintiff before a judicial officer in a timely manner. (TT. 142-43).

         B. Conclusions of Law

         1. Standard for Municipal Liability Against Clay County.

         As for Plaintiffs claims against Clay County, in order to establish municipal or county liability under Section 1983, Plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) the existence of an official policy or custom; (2) of which the policymaker may be charged with knowledge; (3) that is the moving force behind the constitutional violation. Pineda v. City of Houston, 291 F.3d 325, 328 (5th Cir. 2002). Plaintiff asserts that, because Sheriff Scott is an official policy maker for Clay County, his office's alleged failures here create liability for Clay County.

         2. Standard for Qualified Immunity for Sheriff Scott.

         Sheriff Scott has asserted that he is protected from liability by the doctrine of qualified immunity. "[Qualified immunity serves to shield ... government officials from civil liability for damages based upon the performance of discretionary functions if the official's acts were objectively reasonable in light of then clearly established law." Thompson v. Upshur County, Texas, 245 F.3d 447, 456 (5th Cir. 2001); see Hyatt v. Thomas,843 F.3d 172, 177 (5th Cir. 2016) ("Qualified immunity protects officers from suit unless their conduct violates a clearly established constitutional right.") (quoting Mace v. City of Palestine, Tex.,333 F.3d 621, 623 (5th Cir. 2003)). Qualified immunity calls for a bifurcated test in which the court must first determine (1) "whether the plaintiff has alleged a violation of a clearly established statutory or constitutional right and, if so, (2) whether the defendant [official's] conduct was objectively unreasonable." Palmer v. Johnson,193 F.3d 346, 351 (5th Cir. 1999). "Once a defendant asserts the qualified immunity defense, '[t]he plaintiff bears the burden of ...

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