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Butler v. Hinds County

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

September 17, 2018




         Defendants Hinds County Sheriff's Department [5] and Tyrone Lewis [6] seek judgment on the pleadings in this § 1983 case. Because it is not a separate legal entity amenable to suit, the Sheriff's Department's motion is granted. Lewis's motion is granted in part and denied in part as explained below.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         On May 3, 2015, three inmates escaped from the Hinds County Detention Center in Jackson, Mississippi. On May 20, 2015, Plaintiffs Reginald Butler and Jacobs Johnson, both employees of the Hinds County Sheriff's Department, were arrested and charged with aiding the escape of prisoners under Mississippi Code section 97-9-39. The charges against Butler and Johnson were dropped at their misdemeanor trials, with the deputy who filed the affidavits against them “stating that former sheriff Tyrone Lewis told her to blame Mr. Butler for the recent escapes” and “apologiz[ing] to Mr. Johnson for having to put him through all of this, [saying] that she didn't have a choice, due to the fear of retaliation by Tyrone Lewis, if she refused.” Am. Compl. [2] ¶ 13.

         Butler and Johnson filed this lawsuit asserting § 1983 false-arrest and related claims against Hinds County, Mississippi, the Hinds County Sheriff's Department, and former Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis, in his official and individual capacities, on May 20, 2018. Defendants answered the Amended Complaint, and on July 11, 2018, the Sheriff's Department and Lewis filed their motions for judgment on the pleadings. Following the entry of a show-cause order, Plaintiffs responded to Lewis's motion-but not the Sheriff's Department's motion-and Lewis filed a reply. The Court has personal and subject-matter jurisdiction.

         II. Standard

         “The standard for deciding a Rule 12(c) motion [for judgment on the pleadings] is the same as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.” Guidry v. Am. Pub. Life Ins. Co., 512 F.3d 177, 180 (5th Cir. 2007). 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 Rule 12(c) motion, 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).

         III. Analysis

         A. Hinds County Sheriff's Department

         The Sheriff's Department argues that it “does not enjoy a separate legal existence from that of Hinds County, Mississippi, ” such that Plaintiffs' claims against it cannot go forward. Def.'s Mot. [5] ¶ 4. Plaintiffs did not respond to the Sheriff's Department's argument, which is legally correct. See Cunningham v. Hinds Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, No. 3:12-CV-634-CWR-FKB, 2012 WL 5384642, at *2 (S.D.Miss. Nov. 1, 2012). The Sheriff's Department's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [5] is granted.

         B. Tyrone Lewis

         Lewis says the official-capacity claims against him should be dismissed because they are duplicative of the claims against Hinds County. See Castro Romero v. Becken, 256 F.3d 349, 355 (5th Cir. 2001) (affirming dismissal of official-capacity claims against municipal officers “as these allegations duplicate claims against the respective governmental entities themselves”); Williams v. Hargrove, No. 1:16-CV-266-KS-MTP, 2018 WL 310043, at *2 (S.D.Miss. Jan. 5, 2018) (dismissing official-capacity claims as “duplicative and redundant” where relevant government entity was also named as defendant). Plaintiffs did not respond to this argument, which appears correct. The official-capacity claims against Lewis are dismissed.

         As to the individual-capacity claims against him, Lewis asserts the defense of qualified immunity.

[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 ...

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