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Gipson v. Management & Training Corp.

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

February 6, 2018




         Plaintiff Sandra Gipson has sued Defendant Management & Training Corporation (“MTC”) on behalf of the estate of Charles McGrew-McGrew died as an inmate in a prison MTC managed. This case is before the Court on two motions: MTC's Motion for Summary Judgment [51] and Gipson's Motion for Adverse Inference [57] based on alleged spoliation. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that both motions should be denied, although Gipson's motion will be denied without prejudice because it is premature.

         I. Background

         On June 10, 2014, inmate Brian Bullock murdered McGrew in his cell at MTC's East Mississippi Correctional Facility (“EMCF”). Bullock attempted to cover up the murder by staging it as a suicide but eventually confessed. In her suit, Gipson asserts Eighth Amendment claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and negligence-based claims under state law. The Court has both personal and subject-matter jurisdiction.

         II. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 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 (1986).

         The party moving for summary judgment “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. 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 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, “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 (2000). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments have never constituted an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. See TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075; SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993).

         In this case, MTC seeks summary judgment as to Gipson's § 1983 claims and her state-law claims. Because the issues related to the state-law claims are more obvious, the Court will begin there.

         A. Negligence Claims

         Gipson says MTC is vicariously liable because its employees negligently failed to protect McGrew and that MTC is directly liable for negligently hiring, training, and supervising its officers. To succeed on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must establish four familiar elements: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. Grisham v. John Q. Long V.F.W. Post, No. 4057, Inc., 519 So.2d 413, 416 (Miss. 1988).

         MTC starts its motion with the first element, arguing that as “the operator of a large prison with convicted inmates[, it] owes no general duty to keep every prisoner free from harm.” Def.'s Mem. [53] at 13. It explains that while Mississippi jailers may have a duty of reasonable care, the state has not extended that duty to large prison facilities like EMCF. Id. at 14. So the Court must first determine whether MTC owed McGrew the duty of reasonable care.

         MTC bases its duty argument on Bogard v. Cook, where the district court held that supervisory officers employed by the state at its maximum-security prison in Parchman, Mississippi, were not subject to a simple-negligence standard under common law. 405 F.Supp. 1202, 1215-16 (N.D. Miss. 1975), aff'd, 586 F.2d 399 (5th Cir. 1978). In reaching that result, the court distinguished cases holding county sheriffs liable for negligence:

It would be rare for a sheriff to have custody of more than two dozen prisoners at any time, at least half of whom would probably be pre-trial detainees rather than persons serving time pursuant to a conviction and sentence of a state court. On the other hand, we have seen that the superintendent at Parchman is charged with the custody of approximately 2000 inmates, all of whom are convicted felons.

Id. at 1215-16 (distinguishing Farmer v. State, 79 So.2d 528 (1955); Mississippi v. Durham, 444 F.2d 152, 157 (5th Cir. 1971)). MTC seizes on this language and argues that because EMCF is large, there can be no claim for negligence against MTC.

         MTC reads too much into this dicta. Significantly, Bogard addressed “the test for immunity of public officials” facing common-law claims for acts taken within the scope of their authority. Id. at 1215. Indeed the Fifth Circuit affirmed on that same basis. See Bogard, 586 F.2d at 401 (“[T]he qualified immunity enjoyed by all the employee-defendants could not be overcome on the basis of simple negligence.”).

         Unfortunately for MTC, it is not an individual state official as in Bogard, and it is not otherwise entitled to immunity. Miss. Code Ann. § 47-5-1219(b) (establishing that sovereign immunity does not extend to private-prison contractors); Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399, 405-06, 412 (1997) (finding “no evidence” that pre-section 1983 common law “gave purely private companies or their employees any special immunity from suits”); see also Leavitt v. Carter, 178 So.3d 334, 339 (Miss. Ct. App. 2012) (holding that “the immunity conferred under the MTCA does not apply to private prisons operated under a contract with the State”). Absent an argument that MTC enjoys immunity from suit, Bogard is inapplicable.

         Aside from Bogard, MTC offers no legal authority suggesting that the size of an entity shields it from the duty of reasonable care. To the contrary, other courts have applied that standard to private-prison entities-including MTC. See Lonoaea v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 665 F.Supp.2d 677, 682 (N.D. Miss. 2009) (“The court agrees that plaintiffs have established triable fact issues regarding whether [Corrections Corporation of America] acted negligently in this case.”); Elliott v. Mgmt. & Training Corp., No. 3:16-CV-088-MPM-JMV, 2017 WL 3089693, at *11 (N.D. Miss. July 19, 2017) (applying negligence standard to MTC).[1]

         Because MTC owed McGrew the duty of reasonable care, the Court must next consider MTC's argument that Gipson has not offered sufficient proof supporting her negligence claims. MTC starts by asserting that the vicarious-liability claims fail because Gipson has not identified any MTC employees whose negligence proximately caused McGrew's death. Def.'s Mem. [53] at 15. It is not clear whether MTC's argument is legally correct, and it offers no authority directly supporting it. Id. Regardless, Gipson ...

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