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Keller v. Attala County

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

January 29, 2018

ELEANOR KELLER, individually and on behalf of all Heirs-at-Law and/or wrongful death beneficiaries of Gerald Simpson, deceased, and THE ESTATE OF GERALD SIMPSON, by and through Glen Simpson, Administrator of the Estate PLAINTIFFS



         Plaintiffs seek redress for certain state law claims involving the death of Gerald Simpson, as well as alleged Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment violations. Now before the Court are two separate motions-a Motion for Summary Judgment [74], filed by Defendants Attala County and Darrin Fleming and a Motion for Summary Judgment [76], filed by Defendants Steve Allan, Maurice Hawthorne, and the City of Kosciusko.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On the evening of January 26, 2015, Kosciusko Police Officer Steve Allan responded to a dispatch call regarding Gerald Simpson, who was walking in the middle of the highway in Kosciusko, Mississippi, eating from a box of chicken. By the time Officer Allan arrived on scene, Simpson had walked out of the Kosciusko city limits, so Allan alerted the Attala County Sheriff's Department. While waiting for the County officers to arrive, Officer Allan asked Simpson to step out of the highway and attempted to question him as to his behavior. Officer Allan was unable to understand Simpson, but Simpson pointed down Highway 12 West. Soon after, Officer Maurice Hawthorne, another Kosciusko city officer arrived on scene, and Officer Allan left the scene to respond to another call.

         Simpson began walking on the highway again, and Officer Hawthorne followed him in his patrol vehicle until he was able to convince Simpson to sit in the backseat of his vehicle. Simpson sat in the backseat with his feet on the ground and the door open. Officer Hawthorne remained with Simpson until Attala County Sheriff's Deputy Darrin Fleming arrived, at which point the officers purportedly decided to take Simpson to his residence, though both officers acknowledge that Simpson was still incoherent. Deputy Fleming put Simpson in the backseat of his vehicle and asked him where he resided. Simpson was unable to articulate the location of his residence, but merely pointed west, in the direction of Durant, Mississippi. Fleming did not ask for Simpson's address or identification card. After driving for several miles, Simpson had still not identified his residence. Upon arriving at the county line sometime after 5:00 p.m., Deputy Fleming pulled over and opened the door of his patrol vehicle. Simpson exited the vehicle and continued walking toward Durant on County Road 4101, out of Attala County's jurisdiction. Deputy Fleming testified that there was barely enough daylight to see someone walking, but that it was not dark yet. Later that night, a motorist struck and killed Simpson, who was walking east, back toward Kosciusko.

         The officers testified that they were aware that Simpson's behavior was strange, and that Simpson's speaking was incoherent. However, unbeknownst to the officers, Simpson had recently been released from East Mississippi State Hospital after spending twelve years confined there due to certain developmental disabilities, including a speech impediment. That day, he had wandered away from his sister's home, which was approximately seventeen miles from the county line, where Fleming left him.

         Pursuant to 42 Section 1983, Plaintiffs bring a substantive due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment and an improper seizure claim under the Fourth Amendment. Plaintiffs also bring state law claims under the Mississippi Torts Claims Act and the Mississippi Vulnerable Adults Act (MVAA). Defendants argue they are exempt from liability.

         Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         The moving party “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party must then “go beyond the pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). When such contradictory facts exist, the Court may “not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).

         Analysis and Discussion

         The Plaintiffs' allegations against the City officers and the County deputies are parallel, but the specific facts pertaining to each group of defendants is distinct. Effectively, Plaintiff alleges that all Defendants have a policy of providing unwanted “courtesy rides” to citizens, resulting in unwarranted seizures and known dangers. Plaintiffs argue that this courtesy ride violates the Constitution and results in liability to Defendants under the MTCA.

         A. Qualified Immunity and Deputy Fleming

         Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages to the extent that their conduct is objectively reasonable in light of clearly established law. Crostley v. Lamar Cty., Texas, 717 F.3d 410, 422-24 (5th Cir. 2013) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982); Kinney v. Weaver, 367 F.3d 337, 346 (5th Cir. 2004)). “[T]he usual summary judgment burden of proof is altered in the case of a qualified immunity defense.” Wolfe v. Meziere, 566 F. App'x 353, 354 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Michalik v. Hermann, 422 F.3d 252, 262 (5th Cir. 2005); Bazan ex rel. Bazan v. Hidalgo Cnty., 246 F.3d 481, 489 (5th Cir. 2001)). “An officer need only plead his good faith, which then shifts the burden to the plaintiff, who must rebut the defense by establishing that the officer's allegedly wrongful conduct violated ...

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