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Hughey v. Tippah County

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

September 17, 2018

JAMES ALLEN HUGHEY PLAINTIFF
v.
TIPPAH COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, TOMMY MASON, in his individual capacity, and “X” Bonding Company DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NEAL B. BIGGERS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently before the court is Defendant Tommy Mason's second motion for judgment on the pleadings. Upon due consideration of the motion, response, pleadings and applicable authority, the court is ready to rule.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The instant action arises out of Plaintiff James Allen Hughey's arrest. Hughey alleges that on June 7, 2017, he went and knocked on the door of the home of his ex-girlfriend to visit her step-father, Denver Crumpton. Hughey asserts that Defendant Mason, a deputy sheriff of Tippah County, Mississippi, answered, opened the door and “began beating Hughey savagely with his fists.” Hughey further alleges that he was unarmed and posed no danger to anyone. Hughey also contends that he “has no substantive memory of the events after the beating.”

         Following the alleged beating, Hughey was arrested by a different deputy, on charges not identified in the pleadings. According to Hughey, he recently learned that he was indicted for the felony offense of burglary. Hughey asserts that the alleged beating caused him to suffer injuries including rib fractures, transverse process fractures, and a splenic laceration, and that, because of these injuries, he was hospitalized for several weeks at The Med in Memphis, Tennessee.

         On January 4, 2018, Hughey filed the instant suit. He asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Mason, alleging that his actions constituted an unreasonable or excessive use of force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Hughey additionally asserts state law claims for assault and battery against Mason. Mason recently raised a defense of qualified immunity to which Hughey responded by filing a Schultea reply. Mason now moves for judgment on the pleadings as to Hughey's §1983 claim.

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Rule 12(c), “[a]fter 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). In considering a 12(c) motion, courts employ the same standard as that of deciding a motion to dismiss under rule 12(b)(6). Great Plains Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.2d 305, 313 (5th Cir. 2002). Accordingly, “[t]he central issue is whether, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint states a valid claim for relief.” Hughes v. Tobacco Institute, Inc., 278 F.3d 417, 420 (5th Cir. 2001). Pleadings, therefore, are to be construed liberally, and “judgment on the pleadings is appropriate only if there are no disputed issues of fact and only questions of law remain.” Id. (citing Voest-Alpine Trading USA Corp. v. Bank of China, 142 F.3d 887, 891 (5th Cir. 1998)).

         Analysis

         In moving for judgment on the pleadings, Mason asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity. When qualified immunity is asserted at this stage, the court utilizes a two-prong analysis. First, the court must determine whether the plaintiff has alleged a violation of a clearly established constitutional right. Griggs v. Brewer, 841 F.3d 308, 312-313(5th Cir. 2016). The court must also decide whether the defendant's actions were “objectively unreasonable” in light of the law that was clearly established at the time of the incident. Id. The court may conduct this inquiry in any order. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).

         To succeed on an excessive-force claim, the plaintiff must demonstrate “(1) an injury that (2) resulted directly and only from the use of force that was excessive to the need, and that (3) the force used was objectively unreasonable.” Brothers v. Zoss, 837 F.3d 513, 518 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing Hogan v. Cunningham, 722 F.3d 725, 734 (5th Cir. 2013)). The reasonableness of an official's conduct depends upon “the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Id. (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989)).

         Mason does not dispute that the right to be free from unreasonable or excessive force is a clearly established constitutional right. Rather, Mason simply argues that Hughey has failed to provide specific, particular factual allegations sufficient to meet the Fifth Circuit's heightened pleading standard for such claims.

         Turning to the pleadings, Hughey asserts that on the evening of June 7, 2017, he went to the home of his ex-girlfriend to visit her step-father. According to Hughey, he was unarmed and posed no danger to anyone. Hughey alleges that he knocked on the door of the residence and that Mason answered, opened the door and that, for unknown reasons, “Mason began beating Hughey savagely with his fists.”

         According to Hughey, he did nothing to provoke the alleged beating. Hughey additionally asserts that he has no substantive memory of what happened after the alleged beating. Hughey's alleged injuries include a splenic laceration, rib fractures and transverse process fractures. Moreover, Hughey's medical records demonstrate that he was hospitalized for more than a month following the alleged beating, and that he underwent various medical procedures before he was deemed well ...


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