United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
REGINA WILLIAMS, Individually and on Behalf of the Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of SAMANTHA CRUZ PLAINTIFF
BRYAN ANDERSON, et. al DEFENDANTS
Cruz died when the car in which she was a passenger struck a
tree at the end of a high-speed police chase. Plaintiff
Regina Williams brings this § 1983 and state law
negligence action against the officers and government units
involved. The Court now has before it three motions: a motion
to dismiss  filed by Defendants Alcorn County and Mackie
Sexton; a motion for judgment on the pleadings
 filed by Defendants Tippah County, Donald Austin, Josh
Bate-man, Karl Gailard, Billy Johnson, Jeremy Rainey, and
Jonathan Stanford; and a motion to dismiss  filed by
Defendant Bryan Anderson. Williams has responded to each of
these motions, and they are now ripe for review. For the
reasons set forth below, the Court finds that each motion
should be granted in part and denied in part.
and Procedural Background
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. Amended Complaint  ¶¶ 19-20. Talley,
driving with decedent Samantha Cruz as a passenger, arrived
at the house while Sexton was attempting to serve the
warrant. When Talley spotted Sexton, he sped away.
Id. Sexton pursued. Talley briefly evaded Sexton,
but the pursuit resumed when Talley was spotted in
neighboring Tippah County. Id. ¶ 20. Law
enforcement officials from both the Tippah County Sheriffs
Department, the City of Ripley Police Department, and the
Mississippi Highway Patrol eventually joined the pursuit.
Id. ¶¶ 23-25. The chase ended when Bryan
Anderson, a trooper with the Mississippi Highway Patrol,
deployed spike strips in order to stop Talley's car.
Id. ¶ 26. Talley ran over the strips, and the
car left the road and struck a tree, killing
Cruz. Id. ¶¶ 27-28.
estate, through Plaintiff Regina Williams, filed this action
alleging that the defendants violated Cruz's Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights by continuing and terminating the
chase in a manner that led to her death. Williams also
alleges that defendants negligently caused her death. The
Alcorn County Defendants and Anderson each now move to
dismiss all claims against them, arguing that the complaint
fails to state a claim and they are entitled to qualified
immunity. The Tippah County Defendants move for a
judgment on the pleadings as to the negligence claims alone.
Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss
deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court is
limited to the allegations set forth in the complaint and any
documents attached to the complaint. Walker v. Webco
Indus., Inc., 562 Fed.Appx. 215, 216-17 (5th Cir. 2014)
(citing Kennedy v. Chase Manhattan Bank USA,
NA, 369 F.3d 833, 839 (5th Cir. 2004)). "[A
plaintiffs] complaint therefore 'must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.'" Phillips v.
City of Dallas, Tex., 781 F.3d 772, 775-76 (5th Cir.
2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678,
129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)).
is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content
"allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing
Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127
S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). "[P]laintiffs must
allege facts that support the elements of the cause of action
in order to make out a valid claim." Webb v.
Morella, 522 Fed.Appx. 238, 241 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting
City of Clinton, Ark. v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp.,
632 F.3d 148, 152-53 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation
marks omitted)). "[C]onclusory allegations or legal
conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not
suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss." Id.
(quoting Fernandez-Montes v. Allied Pilots Ass'n
987 F.2d 278, 284 (5th Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks
omitted)). "Dismissal is appropriate when the plaintiff
has not alleged 'enough facts to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face' and has failed to
'raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.'" Emesowum v. Hous. Police
Dep't, 561 Fed.Appx. 372, 372 (5th Cir. 2014)
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127 S.Ct.
Rule 12(c) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay
trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A Rule 12(c) motion is governed by the
same standards as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See Brown v.
Citi Mortgage, Inc., 472 Fed. App'x. 302, 303 (5th
Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co.
v. Williamson, 224 F.3d 425, 440 n.8 (5th Cir. 2000)).
"A motion brought pursuant to [Rule] 12(c) is designed
to dispose of cases where the material facts are not in
dispute and a judgment on the merits can be rendered by
looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially
noticed facts." Hebert Abstract Co. v. Touchstone
Props., Ltd., 914 F.2d 74, 76 (5th Cir. 1990) (per
curiam) (citing 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller,
Federal Practice and Procedure § 1367, at 509-10
immunity * gives government officials breathing room to make
reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal
questions.'" Lane v. Franks, __U.S.__, 134
S.Ct. 2369, 2381, 189 L.Ed.2d 312 (2014) (quoting
Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743, 131 S.Ct.
2074, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149 (2011)). "The doctrine of
qualified immunity protects government officials from civil
damages liability when their actions could reasonably have
been believed to be legal." Morgan v. Swanson,
659 F.3d 359, 370 (5th Cir. 2011) (en banc).
immunity is an affirmative defense. However, the
"plaintiff has the burden to negate the assertion of...
immunity once properly raised." Collier v.
Montgomery, 569 F.3d 214, 217 (5th Cir.2009).
"'When a defendant invokes qualified immunity, the
burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate the
inapplicability of the defense.'" Beaulieu v.
Lavigne, 539 Fed.Appx. 421, 424 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Club Retro, LLC v. Hilton, 568 F.3d 181, 194 (5th
Cir. 2009)). The pleading standard for claims brought under
§ 1983 is heightened and the complaint must state
"claims of specific conduct and actions giving rise to a
constitutional violation." Mitchell v., Okolona Sch.
Dist., No. 1:10-CV-135-D-D, 2011 WL 1226023, at *2 (N.D.
Miss. Mar. 29, 2011) (citing Baker v. Putnal, 75
F.3d 190, 195 (5th Cir. 1996)).
plaintiff seeking to defeat qualified immunity must show: (1)
that the official violated a statutory or constitutional
right, and (2) that the right was 'clearly
established' at the time of the challenged
conduct.'" Da Vinci Inv., Ltd. P'ship v.
Parker, 622 Fed.Appx. 367, 374 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting
Morgan v. Swanson, 659 F.3d 359, 371 (5th Cir. 2011)
(en banc)). The plaintiffs complaint must allege facts that,
if true, demonstrate that the defendant violated his rights
by acting in a way that he or she should have known was
unlawful. See Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299,
309, 116 S.Ct. 834, 133 L.Ed.2d 773 (1996). "Dismissal
is warranted 'only if it appears that no relief could be
granted under any set of facts that could be proved
consistent with the allegations.'" DeLeon v.
City of Dallas, Tex., 141 Fed.Appx. 258, 261 (5th Cir.
2005) (quoting Morin v. Caire, 77 F.3d 116, 120 (5th
Court turns to the first question-whether the plaintiff
alleges facts that demonstrate a violation of a
constitutional right. The ultimate injury that befell Cruz
was that she was killed when Talley ran over the spike strips
that Anderson set. A seizure occurs when there is "a
governmental termination of freedom of movement through
means intentionally applied."" Brower v. Cty. of
Inyo, 489 U.S. 593, 597, 109 S.Ct. 1378, 1381, 103
L.Ed.2d 628 (1989) (emphasis in original). And even when it
is the driver whom police seek to seize, the passenger is
seized just as much, so long as the detention is willful.
Id. ("A seizure occurs even when an unintended
person or thing is the object of the detention or taking
...."; see also Brendlin v. California, 551
U.S. 249, 254, 127 S.Ct. 2400, 168 L.Ed.2d 132 (2007)
(holding that a "traffic stop subjects a passenger, as
well as the driver, to Fourth Amendment seizure.")
Williams alleges that Anderson deployed the spike strip with
the intent to stop the car, and that it did in fact stop the
car by causing it to crash. Thus, a seizure occurred.
Williams makes both Fourth Amendment excessive force and
Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claims for these
actions, if "a particular Amendment provides an explicit
textual source of constitutional protection against a
particular sort of government behavior, that Amendment, not
the more generalized notion of substantive due process, must
be the guide for analyzing these claims." Albright
v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 273, 114 S.Ct. 807, 813, 127
L.Ed.2d 114 (1994) (quoting Graham v. Connor, supra,
at 395, 109 S.Ct, at 1871) (internal quotation marks
omitted). Since the "particular sort" of conduct
here is the seizure of Cruz, and since the Fourth Amendment
is the explicit source of protection from "unreasonable
seizures", these claims must be analyzed solely under
the Fourth Amendment. U.S. Const., amend. IV. Accordingly,
any claims that the officers violated Cruz's substantive
due process rights by causing the crash are precluded.
succeed on an excessive force claim, the plaintiff must show
"(1) an injury (2) which resulted directly and only from
the use of force that was clearly excessive to the need and
(3) the force used was objectively unreasonable."
Williams v. Bramer, 180 F.3d 699, 703,
clarified, 186 F.3d 633, 634 (5th Cir. 1999). It
goes without saying that Cruz suffered an injury. The only
question is whether under the facts of the complaint,
Anderson's deployment of the spike strips was clearly
excessive to the need to stop the car, and whether it was
whether the force used was objectively reasonable in this
scenario is necessarily fact based. In Scott v.
Harris, the Supreme Court considered whether a police
officer used excessive force by ramming the plaintiffs car
from behind in an attempt to end a high-speed chase. 550 U.S.
372, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). To determine
reasonableness the Court said:
Thus, in judging whether [the officer]'s actions were
reasonable, we must consider the risk of bodily harm that
[the officer]'s actions posed to respondent in light of
the threat to the public that [the officer] was trying to
eliminate. Although there is no obvious way to quantify the
risks on either side, it is clear from the videotape that
respondent posed an actual and imminent threat to the lives
of any pedestrians who might have been present, to other
civilian motorists, and to the officers involved in the
chase. It is equally clear that [the officer]'s actions
posed a high likelihood of serious injury or death to
respondent-though not the near certainty of death
posed by, say, shooting a fleeing felon in the back of the
head, or pulling alongside a fleeing motorist's car and
shooting the motorist. So how does a court go about weighing
the perhaps lesser probability of injuring or killing
numerous bystanders against the perhaps larger probability of
injuring or killing a single person? We think it appropriate
in this process to take into account not only the number of
lives at risk, but also their relative culpability. It was
respondent, after all, who intentionally placed himself and
the public in danger by unlawfully engaging in the reckless,
high-speed flight that ultimately produced the choice between
two evils that [the officer] confronted. Multiple police
cars, with blue lights flashing and sirens blaring, had been
chasing respondent for nearly 10 miles, but he ignored their
warning to stop. By contrast, those who might have been
harmed had [the officer] not taken the action he did were
entirely innocent. We have little difficulty in concluding it
was reasonable for Scott to take the action that he did.
Id. at 383-384 (citations omitted); see also
Plumhoff v. Richard, 134 S.Ct. 2012, 2020-21, 188
L.Ed.2d 1056 (2014) (holding that officers use of deadly
force was not objectively unreasonable to terminate police
chase that "exceeded 100 miles per hour" and
"passed more than two dozen vehicles, several of which
were forced to alter course".)
Williams admits that Talley was driving in the same manner as
the drivers in Scott and Plumhoff. Williams
alleged that the officers knew "Talley was driving at
speeds of 130 mph while cutting into and out of
traffic," that "Talley was driving erratically and
at speeds that posed significant danger to the public,"
and that "Talley was proceeding through stop signs and
red lights without stopping and otherwise driving
erratically." Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 84, 105, 116.
argues that Anderson's actions were unreasonable because
the officer could have simply stopped pursuing Talley. The
Scott Court, however, rejected that argument:
Couldn't the innocent public equally have been protected,
and the tragic accident entirely avoided, if the police had
simply ceased their pursuit? We think the police need not
have taken that chance and hoped for the best. Whereas [the
officer]'s action-ramming respondent off the road-was
certain to eliminate the risk that respondent posed
to the public, ceasing pursuit was not. First of all, there
would have been no way to convey convincingly to respondent
that the chase was off, and that he was free to go. Had
respondent looked in his rearview mirror and seen the police
cars deactivate their flashing lights and turn around, he
would have had no idea whether they were truly letting him
get away, or simply devising a new strategy for capture.
Perhaps the police knew a shortcut he didn't know, and
would reappear down the road to intercept him; or perhaps
they were setting up a roadblock in his path. Given such
uncertainty, respondent might have been just as likely to
respond by continuing to drive recklessly as by slowing down
and wiping his brow.
Second, we are loath to lay down a rule requiring the police
to allow fleeing suspects to get away whenever they drive
so recklessly that they put other people's lives
in danger. It is obvious the perverse incentives such a rule
would create: Every fleeing motorist would know that escape
is within his grasp, if only he accelerates to 90 miles per
hour, crosses the double-yellow line a few times, and runs a
few red lights. The Constitution assuredly does not impose
this invitation to impunity-earned-by-recklessness. Instead,
we lay down a more sensible rule: A police officer's
attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that