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Ellis v. Lowndes County

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

December 6, 2017

JAVONTE ELLIS, Individually; and STATE OF MISSISSIPPI ex rel. Javonte Ellis PLAINTIFFS
v.
LOWNDES COUNTY; WILL SPANN; MIKE ARLEDGE; RON COOK; and OHIO CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DEBRA M. BROWN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This civil rights action is before the Court on (1) Mike Arledge and Will Spann's motion for judgment on the pleadings, Doc. #39; (2) Arledge, Spann, and Lowndes County's motion for judgment on the pleadings, Doc. #41; and (3) Arledge, Spann, and Lowndes County's motion to dismiss, Doc. #52.

         I

         Relevant Procedural History

         On September 29, 2016, Javonte Ellis filed a complaint in this Court naming as defendants Lowndes County, Will Spann (in his official and individual capacities), Mike Arledge (in his official and individual capacities), Ron Cook (in his official and individual capacities), and Ohio Casualty Insurance Company. Doc. #1. The complaint asserted state and federal claims based on an alleged false arrest of Ellis which occurred on March 27, 2015.

         Cook timely answered the complaint on March 26, 2017. Doc. #16. Two months later, on May 26, 2017, Cook filed a motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for judgment on the pleadings. Doc. #20.

         On July 3, 2017, Ellis, with leave of the Court, filed an amended complaint against the same defendants. Doc. #31. One week later, on July 10, 2017, Cook filed an answer to the amended complaint, Doc. #32; a second motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for judgment on the pleadings, Doc. #33; and a motion for sanctions, Doc. #35. Ellis responded in opposition to both motions. Doc. #43; Doc. #45. Cook did not reply to either response.

         On July 13, 2017, Lowndes County, Arledge, Ohio Casualty, and Spann filed a joint answer to the amended complaint. Doc. #37. The same day, Arledge and Spann filed a joint motion for judgment on the pleadings (“First Motion”). Doc. #39. Also that day, the County and Spann and Arledge in their official capacities filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. (“Second Motion”). Doc. #41. After seeking and receiving an extension to respond to the motions for judgment on the pleadings, Ellis filed a response addressing both motions on August 24, 2017. Doc. #49. The County, Arledge, and Spann filed a joint reply on August 31, 2017. Doc. #51.

         On September 1, 2017, the County, Arledge, and Spann filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) (“Third Motion”). Doc. #52. After seeking and receiving an extension to respond to the motion to dismiss, Ellis filed a response on September 22, 2017. Doc. #56. The County, Arledge, and Spann replied on September 29, 2017. Doc. #58.

         On October 17, 2017, this Court denied Cook's motions to dismiss and Cook's motion for sanctions. Doc. #60.

         II

         Standard of Review

         The moving defendants seek dismissal under both Rule 12(c) and Rule 12(b)(6). As a general matter, 12(b)(6) relief is unavailable where a moving party has filed a responsive pleading. Young v. City of Houston, 599 F. App'x 553, 554 (5th Cir. 2015). However, “[t]he standard for dismissal under Rule 12(c) is the same as that for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).” Edionwe v. Bailey, 860 F.3d 287, 291 (5th Cir. 2017). A district court therefore may treat a post- answer 12(b)(6) motion as a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings. Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir. 1999). Accordingly, to the extent the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, such motion will be treated as a motion for judgment on the pleadings.

         To survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings, as with a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bailey, 860 F.3d at 291. A complaint meets this standard when it “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. In making this determination, a court must “view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” McLin v. Ard, 866 F.3d 682, 688 (5th Cir. 2017). “When the motion ... raises the defense of qualified immunity, the plaintiff must plead specific facts that both allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the harm alleged and that defeat a qualified immunity defense with equal specificity.” Id. (quotation marks omitted).

         III

         Factual Allegations

         During the period relevant to this litigation, Javonte Ellis was an honors student at New Hope High School in Lowndes County, Mississippi. Doc. #31 at ¶ 9. Ron Cook was a justice court judge for Lowndes County. Id. at ¶ 10. Will Spann was a detective with the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department serving under Sheriff Mike Arledge. Id. at ¶¶ 10, 57.

         On or about March 27, 2015, Spann presented to Cook a charging affidavit against Ellis for the crime of sexual battery pursuant to § 97-3-65 of the Mississippi Code. Id. at ¶ 10. The affidavit[1] alleges:

Javonte Ellis, being 17 years of age at the time and whose date of birth was 4/[redacted]/1997, did willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, have sexual intercourse with a child, [MH], who was 14 years of age at the time and whose date of birth was 3/[redacted]/2000 and was thirty-six or more months younger than Javonte Ellis and not the spouse of Javonte Ellis at the time.

Doc. #39-2.[2] Based on the affidavit, Cook issued a warrant for Ellis' arrest. Doc. #31 at ¶ 21. Thereafter, Ellis was publicly arrested, transported to the Lowndes County Detention Center, and jailed. Id. at ¶¶ 31-32. Sometime later, Ellis was expelled from school. Id. at ¶ 35.

         Contrary to the allegation in the affidavit, Ellis was not thirty-six months older than MH and thus was not in violation of § 97-3-65. Id. at ¶ 13; see Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-65(1)(a) (listing elements for statutory rape involving victim between 14 and 16 years of age). The charges against Ellis were dismissed on April 14, 2015. Doc. #31 at ¶ 40.

         IV

         Analysis

         Ellis' amended complaint asserts: (1) § 1983 claims against Spann in his individual capacity; (2) state common law claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, abuse of process, and malicious prosecution against Spann in his individual capacity; (3) a claim on Spann's public official bond against Spann in his individual and official capacities; (4) a claim on Spann's public official bond against Ohio Casualty; (5) derivative liability claims under Miss. Code Ann. § 19-25-19 against Arledge in his individual and official capacities; (6) a claim on Arledge's public official bond against Ohio Casualty; (7) § 1983 claims against Cook in his individual capacity; (8) state common law claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, abuse of process, and malicious prosecution against Cook in his individual capacity; (9) a claim on Cook's public official bond against Cook in his individual and official capacities; (10) a claim on Cook's public official bond against Ohio Casualty; (11) state common law claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process against the County; and (12) state common law claims for negligence, gross negligence, and reckless disregard against the County.

         In the First Motion, Spann and Arledge, in their individual capacities, argue (1) the § 1983 claims brought against Spann are barred by qualified immunity and the independent intermediary doctrine; (2) all state common law claims against Spann in his individual capacity should be dismissed under the personal liability immunity provision of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”); (3) Arledge cannot be held individually liable under either § 1983 or the MTCA; and (4) the public official bond claims against them both in their individual capacities are barred by the MTCA.

         In the Second Motion filed by the County and Spann and Arledge in their official capacities (collectively, “County Defendants”), the County Defendants argue (1) the federal claims against them are barred by the independent-intermediary doctrine; (2) all state law claims against them which accrued while Ellis was incarcerated are barred by the inmate exception to the MTCA; and (3) the official capacity claims against Spann and Arledge should be dismissed as duplicative.

         Finally, in the Third Motion, the moving defendants argue (1) the County Defendants are entitled to the dismissal of Ellis' claims for malicious prosecution and false arrest; and (2) the false arrest and malicious prosecution claims brought against Spann and Arledge in their individual capacities are time barred.

         Because these motions implicate some of the same claims against the same defendants, the Court considers the motions claim by claim, rather than motion by motion.[3]

         A. Individual Capacity Claims Against Spann

Ellis' amended complaint alleges:
The Defendant Spann, In His Individual Capacity, is liable to Mr. Ellis for the constitutional torts of false arrest, false imprisonment, and prosecution without probable cause, by initiating charges and causing the arrest and prosecution of Mr. Ellis in the absence of probable cause.
The Defendant Spann, In His Individual Capacity, is liable to Mr. Ellis for the common law torts of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and abuse of process, by initiating charges and causing the arrest of Mr. Ellis without probable cause, for initiating a baseless prosecution against Mr. Ellis without probable cause and with malice, and for abuse of process by perverting the process of the court for some ulterior purpose after its issuance so as to accomplish a result not commanded by it or not lawfully obtainable under it.

Doc. #31 at ¶¶ 51-52 (paragraph numbering omitted).

         1. Federal claims

         Ellis bases his federal claims on violations of his “Fourth Amendment right to be free from wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, and prosecution without probable cause, made actionable pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Doc. #31 at 1. Spann argues that these claims should be dismissed on the ground of qualified immunity because he did not submit false or misleading information in the affidavit and because he is shielded by the impartial intermediary doctrine.

         “To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must assert facts to support that a person acting under color of state law denied the plaintiff a right under the Constitution or federal law.” Stem v. Gomez, 813 F.3d 205, 210 (5th Cir. 2016). Additionally, “[w]hen a government official is sued under Section 1983, the plaintiff must allege that the official was either personally involved in the deprivation or that his wrongful actions were causally connected to it.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). Furthermore, even when a § 1983 cause of action exists, “[t]he doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from civil damages liability when their actions could reasonably have been believed to be legal.” Ard, 866 F.3d at 688-89. Thus, the Court must decide whether (1) Ellis suffered a deprivation of a federally protected right; (2) Spann was personally involved in the deprivation or his wrongful actions were causally connected to it; and (3) if Spann was personally involved or causally connected to a deprivation, whether Spann is entitled to qualified immunity for any such violation.

         a. Deprivation of ...


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