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Patton v. Wayne County

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

January 10, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Leave to File a Sur-response (“Motion for Leave”) [144] filed by Plaintiffs, and the Motion for Summary Judgment [135] filed by Defendant Wayne County, Mississippi. After considering the submissions of the parties, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the Motion for Leave [144] is well taken and should be granted. The Court further finds that the Motion for Summary Judgment [135] should be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Sheriff Jody Ashley (“Sheriff Ashley”) was elected Sheriff of Wayne County, Mississippi, in 2015, and took office in January 2016. Plaintiffs Michael Patton (“Patton”), Patrick Johnson (“Johnson”), Chartaviaunca Odom (“Odom”), Dawatha Pickens (“Pickens”), Mamie Turner (“Turner”), Reginald Evans (“Evans”), and DeAnthony Jones (“Jones”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”) were employed by the Sheriff Department under the previous administration headed by Sheriff Darryl Woodson (“Sheriff Woodson”). Plaintiffs are all African American. Prior to Sheriff Ashley taking office, Plaintiffs were informed that they would not have a job under the Ashley administration.

         On November 3, 2016, Plaintiffs filed suit in this Court against Sheriff Ashley[1] and Wayne County, Mississippi (the “County”), bringing claims of racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII, as well as claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

         II. MOTION FOR LEAVE [144]

         Plaintiffs assert that the County included new evidence and arguments in their Reply [143] and request leave to file the Sur-response [144-1] attached to the motion. The County argues that because the entire depositions cited were attached to its original motion, not just the excerpts cited by their arguments, then there is no new evidence presented.

         The Fifth Circuit has said that a district court has discretion to rely on new evidence and arguments presented for the first time in a reply brief, but must “give the non-movant an adequate opportunity to respond prior to ruling.” Vais Arms, Inc. v. Vai, 383 F.3d 287, 292 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting S.W. Bell Tel. Co. v. City of El Paso, 346 F.3d 541, 545 (5th Cir. 2003)). Even if all the evidence used by Defendant in reply was submitted with its original motion, it undoubtedly used different excerpts of the depositions to support new arguments. To fairly consider these, the Court will grant Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave [144]. In the interest of judicial expediency, the Sur-response [144-1] will be considered as attached, and Plaintiffs need not refile it as a separate docket entry.


         A. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Where the burden of production at trial ultimately rests on the nonmovant, the movant must merely demonstrate an absence of evidentiary support in the record for the nonmovant's case.” Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The nonmovant must then “come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. “An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Daniels v. City of Arlington, Tex., 246 F.3d 500, 502 (5th Cir. 2001)). “An issue is ‘genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable [fact-finder] to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Cuadra, 626 F.3d at 812 (citation omitted).

         The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007)). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, “the court must view the facts and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sierra Club, 627 F.3d at 138. However, “[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is mandatory “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Brown v. Offshore Specialty Fabricators, Inc., 663 F.3d 759, 766 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)).

         B. § 1981 and Title VII Claims

         Discrimination claims under § 1981 and Title VII are evaluated under the same rubric of analysis. See Byers v. Dallas Morning News, Inc., 209 F.3d 419, 422 n.1 (5th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). Absent direct evidence of racial discrimination, the Court applies the burden-shifting framework articulated by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green. Id. at 425 (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973)).

Under that framework, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. If the plaintiff succeeds in showing a prima facie case, the defendant must then provide some legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the employee's rejection. Lastly, if the employer gives a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the employment action, the plaintiff must then prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the proffered reason was mere pretext for discrimination.

Id. (internal citations omitted). In order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, Plaintiffs must each show: “(1) that [they are] member[s] of a protected group; (2) that [they were] qualified for the position[s] held; (3) that [they were] discharged from the position[s]; and (4) that [they were] replaced by someone outside of the protected group.” Id. at 426 (citing Sing v. Shoney's, Inc., 64 F.3d 217, 219 (5th Cir. 1995)). Once Plaintiffs have established a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the County to show a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions. Id. at 425. Plaintiffs then have the burden of showing that these reasons are pretextual by offering

sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact either (1) that the defendant's reason is not true, but is instead a pretext for discrimination . . .; or (2) that the defendant's reason, while true, is only one of the reasons for its conduct, and another motivating factor is the plaintiff's protected characteristic.

Keelan v. Majesco Software, Inc., 407 F.3d 332, 341 (5th Cir. 2005) (quoting Rachid v. Jack In The Box, Inc., 376 F.3d 305, 312 (5th Cir. 2004)).

         Though the County appears to concede that Plaintiffs have made their prima facie case, they make numerous arguments that go directly to the elements of that case. Because of the ambiguity created by these arguments and in the name of judicial economy, [2] the Court will first look at whether a prima facie case can be ...

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