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Robinson v. City of Tupelo

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

May 23, 2018

CITY OF TUPELO, MISSISSIPPI, LEE COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, OFFICER KAITLYN WEEKS, in her individual capacity, CAPTAIN TIM BELL, in his official and individual capacities for injunctive and declaratory relief only DEFENDANTS



         This matter arises on Defendant Weeks' Motion for Qualified Immunity and Defendant Lee County's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [66, 69]. Both motions are fully briefed and ripe for review.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On December 5, 2016, while patrolling on Beach Springs Road in Tupelo, Mississippi, Tupelo Police Officer Wisam Guerriere observed several items were hanging from the rearview mirror of a vehicle, potentially obstructing the driver's view. Officer Guerriere radioed for backup. Once backup Officer Kaitlyn Weeks arrived, Officer Guerriere initiated a routine traffic stop. Officer Guerriere approached the driver, Ashley Weichbrodt, while Officer Weeks approached the front passenger, Plaintiff Cameron Robinson. Though there is some dispute as to exactly what follows, Robinson alleges that after providing Officer Weeks with his identification, he rolled his window up, because he wanted to shield his sick children from the inclement weather.

         Robinson was frustrated at being pulled over. He reports that Officer Weeks knocked on the window, and Robinson rolled it down long enough to complain about being pulled over, and then rolled it up again. After Robinson did not comply, Weeks opened the passenger door, ordered Robinson out of the vehicle, and handcuffed him with Officer Guerriere's help. Officer Guerriere then took Robinson to her police car, but she purportedly told him that she was not arresting him. Officer Weeks later informed Robinson that he was, indeed, under arrest for rolling up his window.

         Upon arrival at the Lee County Jail, a Lee County correctional officer took $150.00 in cash from Robinson's person. His bail was set at $425.00, which included a $25.00 “release fee.” After his release, Robinson never received a refund for the “release fee.” Robinson filed suit, alleging in his Amended Complaint that Officer Kaitlyn Weeks improperly detained and arrested him in violation of the Fourth and First Amendment. Further, Robinson requests injunctive relief as to the City of Tupelo and Defendant Captain Tim Bell, arguing that City and County ticketing policies are unlawful and discriminatory, and that County and City agents often misappropriate the personal cash and bonds taken from arrestees. Finally, Robinson alleges that the Mississippi's statute requiring Sheriffs to charge inmates a $25.00 fee upon release from jail is unconstitutional.

         In response, Officer Weeks filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that she is entitled to qualified immunity, and Lee County filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Lee County argues that it may not be held liable under Section 1983 for following a mandatory state statute that requires them to assess a $25.00 fee to inmates upon release. The City has not moved for summary adjudication regarding allegations made against it, specifically that it denied Plaintiff due process, that it maintains discriminatory customs, that it improperly requires officers to meet ticketing requirements, and that it requires passengers of stopped vehicles to provide identification under circumstances that are not suspicious. Thus, the Court merely examines the claims made against individual Defendant Weeks and the County, as follows.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56 provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if 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); see also Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). “Where the burden of production at trial ultimately rests on the nonmovant, the movant must merely demonstrate an absence of evidentiary support in the record for the nonmovant's case.” Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). The nonmovant “must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. (punctuation omitted). “An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. “An issue is ‘genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Cuadra, 626 F.3d at 812.

         The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, “the court must view the facts and the inference to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, “[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).

         Discussion and Analysis

         In response to Plaintiff's allegations, Defendant Weeks asserts that she is entitled to qualified immunity. “A qualified immunity defense alters the usual summary judgment burden of proof. Once an official pleads the defense . . . [t]he plaintiff bears the burden of negating the qualified immunity, but all inferences are drawn in his favor.” Brown v. Callahan, 623 F.3d 249, 253 (5th Cir. 2010). In assessing a claim of qualified immunity, courts apply the two pronged analysis established in Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001), but the court may address the prongs in any order. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 225, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009).

         One prong asks, “whether plaintiff's allegations, if true, establish a constitutional violation.” Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 736, 122 S.Ct. 2508, 153 L.Ed.2d 666 (2002). The other prong asks “whether the right was clearly established.” Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151. “[T]he contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.” Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987). Regarding the first prong, Plaintiff alleges that individual Defendant Weeks improperly detained and arrested him in violation of the Fourth and First Amendment.

         A. The ...

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