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S.O. v. Hinds County School District

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

July 3, 2018




         Defendants Tommy Brumfield, Ben Lundy, Shannon Rankin, and Michelle Ray (the “District Defendants”), and Byram Police Department and Ricardo Montez Kincaid (the “Byram Defendants”) have filed motions to dismiss based on qualified immunity [57, 59]. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies the District Defendants' motion [57] as to Brumfield and Ray in their individual capacities regarding the Fourth Amendment claim but otherwise grants the Defendants' motions [57, 59].

         I. Background

         Plaintiff S.O., individually and on behalf of her child B.O., is suing Defendants due to alleged conduct that occurred during a school disciplinary action. At the time of the incident, B.O. was a 12-year-old seventh-grade student at Byram Middle School. S.O. says that, on April 4, 2017, Defendant Shannon Rankin, a social-studies teacher, accused B.O. of violating school policy by selling bite-sized candy bars during class. She therefore directed B.O. to go to Assistant Principal Tommy Brumfield's office. See Am. Compl. [3] at 4-8. On his way to the office, B.O. encountered Defendant Michelle Ray, another assistant principal. B.O. admitted to Ray that he had hidden some candy in a trashcan while on his way to Brumfield's office. Following this encounter, B.O. says Ray forced him to don rubber gloves and dig the candy out of the trashcan.

         In Brumfield's office, Brumfield searched B.O. for evidence of the alleged violation. According to B.O., Brumfield put his hands in B.O.'s pockets and touched his penis during the search. Brumfield and Ray, who was present, adamantly deny this allegation and say instead that Brumfield merely instructed B.O. to pull his pockets out to check their contents. In any event, nothing was found. The Brumfield and Ray also searched B.O.'s school bag and found various items, including a purse, expo-board cleaner, feminine looking OtterBox cases, and six calculators, three of which were school property. Although B.O. claimed that his math teacher authorized him to carry the calculators and that the purse belonged to his aunt, Brumfield wrote B.O. up for theft of school property. B.O. alleges that all of this occurred in the presence of Defendant Ricardo Montez Kincaid, a sergeant with the Byram Police Department.

         Based on these events, S.O. filed this suit asserting claims under § 1983 for violating the Fourth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments as well as various state-law causes of action. Defendants have since filed motions to dismiss based primarily on qualified immunity [57, 59]. Having both subject-matter and personal jurisdiction, the Court is ready to rule on these motions.

         II. Standards

         A. Motions to Dismiss

         Both sets of Defendants seek dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Under that rule, the Court must determine-based on the face of the complaint-whether Plaintiffs have stated a claim. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). But here, all parties submitted record evidence that is beyond Rule 12(b)(6)'s scope of review. When that happens, “Rule 12(d) gives a district court ‘complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.”' Isquith ex rel. Isquith v. Middle S. Utils., Inc., 847 F.2d 186, 194 n.3 (5th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). But if “matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); see also In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2011). In this case, the Court will exercise its discretion and consider the motions and supporting materials under Rule 56.

         B. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) when 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. 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).

         C. Qualified Immunity

         Defendants assert qualified immunity. “The privilege is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; and like an absolute immunity, it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial.” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200-01 (2001). As the Fifth Circuit recently summarized:

[T]he doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from civil damages liability when their actions could reasonably have been believed to be legal. This immunity protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law. Accordingly, we do not deny immunity unless existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.

Anderson v. Valdez, 845 F.3d 580, 599-600 (5th Cir. 2016) (footnotes and citations omitted, punctuation altered). Furthermore, “[w]hen a defendant raises qualified immunity, the burden is on the plaintiff to ‘demonstrate the inapplicability of the defense.'” Coleman v. Marion Cty., No. 2:14-CV-185-DPJ-FKB, 2015 WL 5098524, at *6 (S.D.Miss. Aug. 31, 2015) (quoting McClendon v. City of Columbia, 305 F.3d 314, 323 (5th Cir. 2002)).

         Courts use a two-step analysis to determine whether qualified immunity applies. The traditional first step asks whether “the plaintiff has adduced facts sufficient to establish a constitutional or statutory violation.” Collier v. Montgomery, 569 F.3d 214, 217 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201). Second, if a violation has been alleged, the Court must determine “whether [the officer's] actions were objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law at the time of the conduct in question.” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Freeman v. Gore, 483 F.3d 404, 411 (5th Cir. 2007)). In appropriate cases, courts can skip the first step and ask whether the alleged violation violates clearly established law. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 242 (2009).

         Whether a law is clearly established “must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition.” Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198-99 (2004) (citing Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201). Thus,

[t]he contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right. The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.

Id. (citations omitted). “This does not require that ‘the very action in question has previously been held unlawful,' merely that a reasonable officer would understand that his or her conduct was unlawful.” Weisler v. Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, No. 17-30951, 2018 WL 3031437, at *2 (5th Cir. June 18, 2018) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)).

         III. Analysis

         Defendants' motions focus on Plaintiffs' federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. That statute “provides a claim against anyone who, under color of state law, deprives another of his or her constitutional rights.” Doe v. Taylor Indep. Sch. Dist., 15 F.3d 443, 452 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (quotation marks omitted). Here, Plaintiffs say Defendants violated their rights under the Fourth, ...

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