United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
MARIE RHODES CHIPLEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE DECEDENT, MICHAEL WILLIAM RHODES, FOR AND ON BEHALF OF ALL WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL WILLIAM RHODES, DECEASED PLAINTIFF
YAZOO COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; SHERIFF JACOB SHERIFF, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; SERGEANT SHARKEY BROWLOW, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; CAPTAIN GARY EDWARDS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; SANDRA BANKS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY; WARDEN MARY RUSHING, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY DEFENDANTS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
LEE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
December 24, 2014, less than twelve hours after being
arrested and incarcerated in the Yazoo County Regional
Correctional Facility, Michael Rhodes committed suicide. His
daughter, Marie Rhodes Chipley, for herself and on behalf of
Rhodes' estate and wrongful death beneficiaries, filed
the present lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging
violations of Rhodes' constitutional rights by Yazoo
County; Yazoo County Regional Correctional Facility (YCFCF);
the arresting officer, Simon Stubblefield; Yazoo County
Sheriff Jacob Sheriff; YCRCF Warden Mary
Rushing; YCRCF Captain Gary Edwards; and various
jail employees, including Sergeant Sharkey Brownlow, Sandra
Banks and Sederick Clark. She also included a state law cause
of action for negligence. The case is presently before the
court on separate motions for summary judgment by defendant
Sharkey Brownlow, in his individual capacity,  and by defendants
Sheriff, Rushing, Edwards and Banks, in their individual
capacities. Plaintiff has responded in opposition to
the motions. The court, having considered the memoranda of
authorities, together with attachments, submitted by the
parties, concludes that Brownlow's motion should be
denied and the motion of Sheriff, Rushing, Edwards and Banks
should be granted.
following undisputed facts are drawn from the record
evidence. On December 23, 2014, the Yazoo County
Sheriff's Office received a report that plaintiff's
decedent, Michael Rhodes, had run off the road and damaged
some property and then left the scene. Deputies Simon
Stubblefield and Dave Collins, responding to this call,
separately drove to Rhodes' residence. When they arrived,
they found Rhodes sitting in his vehicle in the woods near
his home; the vehicle was stuck in the mud. Family members at
the scene reported that Rhodes, who had been drinking, was in
the vehicle with a gun to his head, threatening to harm
himself. The family asked the officers to back off, since
Rhodes was reportedly upset by their presence. The officers
backed away for about twenty minutes, and after the family
was able to get the gun away from Rhodes, they returned at
the family's request and took Rhodes into
custody. Stubblefield then transported him to the
Yazoo County Regional Correctional Facility.
it was apparent to Stubblefield that Rhodes was intoxicated
and unable to walk, he radioed ahead to the jail to request
assistance with Rhodes. When they arrived at the jail, they
were met by Sergeant Sharkey Brownlow, who was working as a
floor supervisor at the jail. Brownlow helped get Rhodes out
of the car and into the jail. Once inside the jail, Brownlow
and Stubblefield took Rhodes into the booking room. Brownlow
told the booking officer, Sandra Banks, to skip the standard
booking procedure, ostensibly because Rhodes was too
intoxicated to answer questions. Stubblefield helped Brownlow
get Rhodes changed into inmate clothing and together, they
helped Rhodes walk to a segregation/isolation cell.
Stubblefield then departed the jail. Brownlow checked on
Rhodes a couple or a few times during the night and in the
early morning hours (though the evidence as to how often is
contradictory). When Brownlow checked on Rhodes around 5:30
a.m. on December 24, he discovered that Rhodes had committed
suicide; he had used the sheet to make a noose and hanged
himself from the top bunk. Strips of sheet were found hanging
from the light fixture and a chair in the cell, suggesting
failed attempts at suicide.
time of Mr. Rhodes' suicide, YCRCF had in place a
“Suicide Plan for County Offenders”, which
provided, among other requirements, that:
1. All threats ... of intentional self-injury shall be taken
seriously and REPORTED IMMEDIATELY TO MEDICAL
STAFF for directions and appropriate medical
treatment and mental health evaluation. ...
2. An officer must stay with the offender at all
3. The offender is to be placed in the medical isolation cell
(C1006) for continual observation by an officer.
4. Offender should be dressed out in suicide watch garments,
and all items must be removed from the cell that may be used
to injure him/her self (pants, shirts, linens, towels,
razors, strings of any kind, etc).
5. Once the offender is dressed in suicide garments and all
items have been removed from the offender, a correctional
officer will be posted outside the medical isolation cell to
physically observe the offender.
6. Offender must be under CONTINUOUS observation AT
in original). There was also a written policy requiring that
“[i]nmates who have ... exhibited suicidal tendencies
will be housed in a more secure location than the general
population. Correctional Staff will observe these inmates no
less frequently than fifteen (15) minute intervals.”
And, there were segregation policies which required that
inmates in segregation “be personally observed by a
correctional staff member at least every FORTY
(40) minutes on an irregular schedule. ... Suicidal
inmates shall be under continuous observation....” It
is undisputed that none of these policies was followed in the
case of Michael Rhodes.
individual defendants have moved for summary judgment as to
plaintiff's § 1983 claims against them in their
individual capacities on the basis of qualified immunity.
They also contend they are entitled to immunity under the
Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA), Miss. Code Ann. §
11-46-1, et seq. as to plaintiff's state law
claim for negligence.
1983 and Qualified Immunity
1983 prohibits the deprivation of constitutional rights under
color of state law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To
establish personal liability in a § 1983 action, the
plaintiff must prove that the defendant official, acting
under color of state law, caused the deprivation of a right
secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
Anderson v. Valdez, 845 F.3d 580, 599 (5th Cir.
2016). The doctrine of qualified immunity shields officials
from civil liability so long as their conduct
“‘does not violate clearly established statutory
or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would
have known.'” Pearson v. Callahan, 555
U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009) (quoting
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct.
2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). “Qualified immunity gives
government officials breathing room to make reasonable but
mistaken judgments about open legal questions. When properly
applied, it protects all but the plainly incompetent or those
who knowingly violate the law.” Ashcroft v.
al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2085, 179
L.Ed.2d 1149 (2011) (internal quotation marks and citation
official raises qualified immunity, the plaintiff has the
burden to overcome the defense by showing that “(1) the
defendant violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights
and (2) the defendant's actions were objectively
unreasonable in light of clearly established law at the time
of the violation.” Porter v. Epps, 659 F.3d
440, 445 (5th Cir. 2011). “A government official's
conduct violates clearly established law when, at the time of
the challenged conduct, ‘[t]he contours of [a] right
[are] sufficiently clear' that every ‘reasonable
official would have understood that what he is doing violates
that right.'” al-Kidd, 563 U.S. at 741,
131 S.Ct. 2074 (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483
U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)). The
Supreme Court has cautioned against defining
“‘clearly established law ... at a high level of
generality, ' since doing so avoids the crucial question
whether the official acted reasonably in the particular
circumstances that he or she faced.” Plumhoff v.
Rickard, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 2012, 2023, 188 L.Ed.2d
1056 (2014) (quoting al-Kidd, 563 U.S. at 742, 131
S.Ct. 2074). To find that the law was clearly established,
“[the court] must be able to point to controlling
authority-or a robust consensus of persuasive authority-that
defines the contours of the right in question with a high
degree of particularity.” Morgan v. Swanson,
659 F.3d 359, 371-72 (5th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (brackets and
internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting al-Kidd,
563 U.S. at 741, 131 S.Ct. 2074). That does not mean that
there must be a case “directly on point, but existing
precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional
question beyond debate.” Al-Kidd, 563 U.S. at
741, 131 S.Ct. 2074.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is
required when “the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). Typically on a summary judgment motion, the moving
party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91
L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If the moving party demonstrates an
absence of evidence supporting the nonmoving party's
case, then the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come
forward with specific facts showing that a genuine issue for
trial does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89
L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). However, a government official's good
faith assertion of a qualified immunity defense alters the
usual summary judgment burden of proof. Michalik v.
Hermann, 422 F.3d 252, 262 (5th Cir. 2005). Once the
official asserts qualified immunity, the plaintiff has the
burden to show there is a genuine and material dispute as to
whether qualified immunity applies. Castorena v.
Zamora, 684 Fed.Appx. 360, 363 (5th Cir. 2017)
(citations omitted). See also Thompson v. Upshur Cty.,
TX, 245 F.3d 447, 456 (5th Cir. 2001) (“We do not
require that an official demonstrate that he did not violate
clearly established federal rights; our precedent places that
burden upon plaintiffs.”) (internal quotation marks and
genuine issue exists “if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
Conversely, “[n]o genuine dispute of fact exists if the
record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of
fact to find for the non-moving party.” EEOC v.
Simbaki, Ltd., 767 F.3d 475, 481 (5th Cir. 2014). When
evaluating whether a genuine dispute as to any material fact
exists, the court considers “all of the evidence in the
record but refrain[s] from making credibility determinations
or weighing the evidence.” Delta & Pine Land
Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395,
398-99 (5th Cir. 2008). In so doing, the court must draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, even
on a summary judgment motion based on qualified immunity.
See Brown v. Callahan, 623 F.3d 249, 253 (5th Cir.
2010) (“The plaintiff bears the burden of negating
qualified immunity, but all inferences are drawn in his
Constitutional Rights ...