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Blake v. Lambert

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

March 9, 2018




         Carla Blake filed this case on June 12, 2017 against Prentiss County, Mississippi, and Don Lambert, a Prentiss County School Attendance Officer.[1] In her Complaint [1], Blake alleges that Lambert and Prentiss County violated her constitutional rights and seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Lambert filed a Motion to Dismiss [9] all of the claims against him individually, arguing that Blake's Complaint fails to state a claim against him, and in the alternative, that he is entitled to the protection of qualified immunity.[2] The issues are fully briefed and ripe for review.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Sometime before September 2013, Blake had temporary custody of her nephew S.W., a minor school-age child. S.W. was enrolled in Prentiss County Public Schools, and Blake was listed as S.W.'s contact in school records. On September 5, 2013, Lambert mailed a form letter to Blake informing her that S.W. had five unexcused absences, that she was responsible for making sure S.W. attended school, and that continued accrual of unexcused absences could lead to potential penalties under Mississippi Code § 37-13-91. S.W. continued to accrue unexcused absences. In January of 2014, Lambert contacted Blake by phone, and Blake informed him that she no longer had custody of S.W., and was not S.W.'s caregiver. Blake also informed Lambert that S.W. was now in the custody of his mother, Tracey Perry, and gave him Perry's contact information. According to Blake, Lambert apologized for the confusion and said that he would follow up with S.W.'s mother. Lambert subsequently talked with Perry by phone. Perry apparently confirmed that she was S.W.'s mother, and informed Lambert that S.W. was sick. Lambert informed Blake and Perry that they needed to contact the School to update the official records as to S.W.'s custody.

         On June 10, 2014, Lambert swore out a “General Affidavit” for Blake's arrest, and filed the affidavit in Prentiss County Justice Court. The affidavit charged Blake with contributing to the delinquency of S.W. by refusing or willfully failing to make sure that S.W. attended school, in violation of Mississippi Code §§ 37-13-91, 97-5-39(1). According to school records, S.W. was absent from school at least sixteen days during the 2013-2014 school year.

         Based on Lambert's affidavit, the Prentiss County Justice Court Judge issued a warrant for Blake's arrest. Pursuant to this warrant, a Prentiss County Deputy Sheriff arrested Blake at her home on June 12, 2014. Blake was then booked into the Prentiss County Jail, strip-searched, and detained in a holding cell for a short period until she was able to arrange bond.

         On June 17, 2014, Lambert filed an affidavit in Prentiss County Justice Court requesting dismissal of the charges against Blake stating, “I filed an affidavit on the wrong person by mistake.” The Justice Court Judge subsequently dismissed the charges against Blake.

         Blake alleges that Lambert violated her constitutional rights because the affidavit he swore out against her was facially invalid, that Lambert intentionally withheld exculpatory information, and that Lambert recklessly caused Blake's arrest without probable cause. Lambert responds by arguing that Blake failed to state a cognizable constitutional claim against him, and that he is entitled to the protection of qualified immunity.

         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).

         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).

         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.” Celotex, 477 U.S. 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).

         Qualified Immunity and Arrest

         Lambert asserts that he is entitled to the protection of qualified immunity. 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 ...

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