United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
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
ATTALA COUNTY, THE CITY OF KOSCIUSKO, MISSISSIPPI, DARRIN FLEMING, LIEUTENANT STEVE ALLAN, in his individual and official capacity, OFFICER MAURICE HAWTHORNE, in his individual and official capacity DEFENDANTS
SHARION AYCOCK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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 , filed by
Defendants Attala County and Darrin Fleming and a Motion for
Summary Judgment , filed by Defendants Steve Allan,
Maurice Hawthorne, and the City of Kosciusko.
and Procedural Background
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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
Qualified Immunity and Deputy Fleming
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