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Evern v. Chisolm

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

September 17, 2018




         This civil-rights case is before the Court on Defendants' motions to dismiss [4, 10] filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the Motion to Dismiss [4] filed by Defendants Rankin County, Mississippi, and Sheriff Bryan Bailey (the “Rankin Defendants”). The Motion to Dismiss [10] filed by the City of Pearl, Mississippi, and Officer Bradford Chisholm (the “Pearl Defendants”) is denied in part as to some of the individual-capacity claims against Officer Chisholm and otherwise granted.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Jack Evern says he was wrongfully charged with two felony offenses and then remained in the Rankin County Jail for almost a year before being released. It all started on November 27, 2014, when Evern was a passenger in a car that was stopped at a checkpoint. Compl. [1] ¶ 10. Officers discovered that Evern possessed a 9mm firearm, and Defendant Bradford Chisholm, [1] an officer with the Pearl Police Department, ran a background check on Evern and on the firearm. Id. ¶¶ 11-14. He learned that Evern had three felony arrests. Id. ¶ 12. He was also told the “hit confirmation [on the firearm] could not be sent to the Pearl Police Department, and further that the Jackson Police Department advised holding off on the hit confirmation.” Id. ¶ 11. Nevertheless, Chisholm arrested Evern and later swore out two affidavits-one charging him with being a felon in possession of a firearm and the other with possessing a stolen firearm. Id. ¶ 13. But contrary to those affidavits, Evern was not actually a convicted felon and “there has never been a hit confirmation on the validity of the firearm that Mr. Evern was accused of possessing.” Id. ¶ 14.

         Despite his professed innocence, Evern waived his preliminary hearing and was remanded to the Rankin County Jail where he remained for 342 days before being released. Id. ¶ 16. He says that in that time he “suffered physical injuries, and developed an onset of seizures and even had to be hospitalized.” Id. ¶ 17.

         On November 27, 2017, Evern sued Officer Chisholm; the City of Pearl, Mississippi; Rankin County, Mississippi; and Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey in his individual and official capacities. In general terms, the pleaded claims against the Pearl Defendants relate to the arrest and affidavits, whereas the claims against the Rankin Defendants relate to Evern's injuries while incarcerated. All four defendants seek dismissal under Rule 12(c), and the Court has personal and subject-matter jurisdiction.

         II. Standards of Review

         A. Rule 12(c)

         Under Rule 12(c), the Court applies “the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Doe v. MySpace, Inc., 528 F.3d 413, 418 (5th Cir. 2008). Accordingly, the “court accepts ‘all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'” Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir. 1999) (per curiam)). But “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To overcome a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555 (citations and footnote omitted).

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). It follows that “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). “This standard ‘simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary claims or elements.” In re S. Scrap Material Co., LLC, 541 F.3d 584, 587 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         B. Qualified Immunity

         Evern sues both Chisholm and Bailey in their individual capacities, and both Defendants assert their right to qualified immunity. As the Fifth Circuit neatly 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. The basic steps of this court's qualified-immunity inquiry are well-known: a 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.

Anderson v. Valdez, 845 F.3d 580, 599-600 (5th Cir. 2016) (citation and quotation marks omitted, punctuation altered).

         “[T]o hold that the defendant violated the law at step one of the qualified-immunity analysis . . . is simply to say that the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Morgan v. Swanson, 659 F.3d 359, 384 (5th Cir. 2011). To meet that burden, a plaintiff “must plead specific facts that both allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the harm he has alleged and that defeat a qualified immunity defense with equal specificity.” Hinojosa v. Livingston, 807 F.3d 657, 664 (5th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Significantly, the burden is on the plaintiff to “demonstrate the inapplicability of the defense.” McClendon v. City of Columbia, 305 F.3d 314, 323 (5th Cir. 2002).

         At step two, the plaintiff must show that the legal principle has “a sufficiently clear foundation in then existing precedent.” District of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S.Ct. 577, 589 (2018). “The rule must be settled law, which means it is dictated by controlling authority or a robust consensus of cases of persuasive authority.” Id. (citations omitted). The rule cannot merely be “suggested by then-existing precedent, ” but must instead “be clear enough that every reasonable official would interpret it to establish the particular rule the plaintiff seeks to apply.” Id. at 589-90. (citations omitted).

         III. Analysis

         Evern asserts his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a cause of action against any person who, under color of law, deprives another of “any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” Here, the Complaint asserts claims against all Defendants under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. This Order separately examines Defendants' Rule 12(c) motions seeking dismissal of those claims.

         A. Rankin Defendants' Rule 12(c) Motion

         Although the Complaint asserts a host of alleged constitutional violations against the Rankin Defendants, Evern refined the scope of his case in his response to their Motion to Dismiss [4]. In it, he states:

The vast majority of the claims set forth in Mr. Evern[']s Complaint are directed towards Officer Chisholm and The City of Pearl, Mississippi. Mr. Evern's claims against Sheriff Bailey and Rankin County, Mississippi are narrow - injuries sustained while in the Sheriff's custody and failure to provide adequate medical care for those injuries.

Pl.'s Mem. [13] at 3.

         As a result, the Court dismisses the Fourth Amendment claims unrelated to events at the Rankin County Jail. In addition, Evern did not respond to the Rankin Defendants' arguments regarding claims based on the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, or state law. Accordingly, those claims are likewise dismissed. That leaves two potential claims-failure to protect against injuries while incarcerated and alleged denial of medical care-both of which fall under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Gutierrez v. City of San Antonio, 139 F.3d 441, 452 (5th Cir. 1998) (noting that post-arrest claims by pre-trial detainees in state custody fall under the Fourteenth Amendment).

         Both of Evern's purported claims are cognizable when properly pleaded. First, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment creates a duty to protect pretrial detainees. See Hare v. City of Corinth, 74 F.3d 633, 639 (5th Cir. 1996) (en banc). To establish a failure-to-protect claim, a prisoner must show that he was “incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm and that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to [his] need for protection.” Neals v. Norwood, 59 F.3d 530, 533 (5th Cir. 1995).

         Second, a pretrial detainee has a due-process right to receive reasonable medical care. See Hare, 74 F.3d at 650. The right is equivalent to the Eighth Amendment right enjoyed by prisoners. Id. Thus, a pretrial detainee seeking to recover for a denial of reasonable medical care must allege deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. See Varnado v. ...

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