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Williams v. Mississippi Department of Public Safety

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

March 1, 2018

REGINA WILLIAMS, Individually and on Behalf of the Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of SAMANTHA CRUZ PLAINTIFFS


         Presently before this Court is Defendant Mississippi Department of Public Safety's ("MDPS") motion [21] to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. Having considered the matter, the Court finds that the motion should be granted.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On November 7, 2016, Defendant Mackie Sexton, a deputy with the Alcorn County Sherriff s Department attempted to serve an arrest warrant on Taylor Talley at his residence in Alcorn County. Compl. [1] ¶ 12. Talley, driving with decedent Samantha Cruz as a passenger, arrived at the house while Sexton was attempting to serve the warrant, and, after noticing Sexton, Talley sped away. Id. Sexton pursued. Talley was able to evade Sexton briefly, but the pursuit resumed when Talley was spotted in neighboring Tippah County. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. Law enforcement officials from both the Tippah County Sheriffs Department, City of Ripley Police Department, and the Mississippi Highway Patrol eventually joined the pursuit. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. During the chase, a trooper with the Mississippi Highway Patrol deployed spike strips in order to stop Talley's car. Id., ¶ 17. Talley ran over the strips, and the car left the road and struck a tree, where it burst into flames, killing Cruz. Id. ¶¶ 18-20.

         Cruz's estate filed this action against the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, the Alcorn County Sheriffs Department, the Tippah County Sheriffs Department, the City of Ripley, and Sexton under § 1983, alleging that Defendants' use of excessive force and Defendants' failure to train officers caused Cruz's death. Plaintiffs also brought state law claims for assault and battery and negligence. MDPS filed the present motion arguing that the Eleventh Amendment bars Plaintiffs' claims against it. Plaintiffs' responded, and the matter is now ripe for review.

         12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss Standard

         MDPS argues in its motion that under Rule 12(b)(1), Plaintiffs' claims against it should be dismissed due to sovereign immunity. "When a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, ... courts must consider the jurisdictional challenge first." McCasland v. City of Castroville, Tex., 478 Fed.Appx. 860, 860 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Wolcott v. Sebelius, 635 F.3d 757, 762 (5th Cir. 2011); Moran v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 27 F.3d 169, 172 (5th Cir. 1994)). This " 'prevents a court without jurisdiction from prematurely dismissing a case with prejudice.' " Id.

         A Rule 12(b)(1) motion allows a party to challenge the Court's subject matter jurisdiction. " '[A] factual attack under Rule 12(b)(1) may occur at any stage of the proceedings, and plaintiff bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist.' " Arena v. Graybar Elec. Co., 669 F.3d 214, 223 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit. Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980) (citations omitted)).

         The Fifth Circuit has instructed:

A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case. In considering a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, the district court is free to weigh the evidence and resolve factual disputes in order to satisfy itself that it has the power to hear the case. Thus, under Rule 12(b)(1), the district court can resolve disputed issues of fact to the extent necessary to determine jurisdiction]

Smith v. Reg'l Transit Autk, 756 F.3d 340, 347 (5th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks and citation omitted). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the Court can consider: "(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Tsolmon v. United States, 841 F.3d 378, 382 (5th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).


         The Eleventh Amendment provides that: "The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. Const, amend. XI; "The Eleventh Amendment strips courts of jurisdiction over claims against a state that has not consented to suit." Pierce v. Hearn Indep. Sch. Dist., 600 Fed.Appx. 194, 197 (5th Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (citing Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100-01, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984)).

         The Fifth Circuit has stated: "Eleventh Amendment immunity operates like a jurisdictional bar, depriving federal courts of the power to adjudicate suits against a state." Union Pac. R. Co. v. La. Pub. Serv. Comm'n, 662 F.3d 336, 340 (5th Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted). "The Eleventh Amendment grants a State immunity from suit in federal court by citizens of other States, and by its own citizens as well." Lapides v. Bd. of Regents, 535 U.S. 613, 616, 122 S.Ct. 1640, 152 L.Ed.2d 806 (2002) (citation omitted). Indeed, "[t]he amendment has been judicially construed to bar federal jurisdiction over suits brought against a state by its own citizens, despite the absence of language to that effect." See Jagnandan v. Giles, 538 F.2d 1166, 1177 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 432 U.S. 910, 97 S.Ct. 2959, 53 L.Ed.2d 1083 (1977) (citations omitted). Both federal and pendent state law claims are barred from being asserted against a state in federal court. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp., 465 U.S. at 119-21, 104 S.Ct. 900.

         This immunity extends only to states themselves. Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 756, 119 S.Ct. 2240, 144 L.Ed.2d 636 (1999). Entities that are not "arms of the state" are not afforded Eleventh Amendment immunity. Id. The Court, then, should first determine whether MDPS is an arm of the state. If so, the Court should determine whether an exception to the Eleventh Amendment nonetheless allows the suit to proceed.

         1. The Mississippi Department of Highway Safety is ...

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