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Patterson v. City of McComb

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

October 12, 2018

ZACHARY PATTERSON PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF McCOMB, MISSISSIPPI; SCOTT McKENZIE, in His Individual Capacity and His Official Capacity as the Chief of Police for the City of McComb, Mississippi; RODNEY NORDSTROM, in His Individual Capacity and His Official Capacity as a Deputy Chief of Police for the City of McComb, Mississippi; KURT TAYLOR, in His Individual Capacity and His Official Capacity as a Police Officer for the City of McComb, Mississippi; PIKE COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; WARREN GILMORE, in His Individual Capacity and in His Official Capacity as a Deputy Sheriff for Pike County, Mississippi; SONYA WELLS, in Her Individual Capacity and Her Official Capacity as the Municipal Court Clerk for the City of McComb, Mississippi; BARRETT PICKETT, and JOHN DOES 1-10 DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DAVID BRAMLETTE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause is before the Court on defendants Pike County, Mississippi, and Pike County Sheriff's Deputy Warren Gilmore (“Gilmore”)'s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (docket entry 25). [1]

         This Court's Order of September 18, 2018 (docket entry 52) stayed all discovery in this case until such time as the Court has ruled on the defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Upon careful consideration of the defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and the Memorandum Briefs of the parties, the Court finds the following:

         This case arises out of the January 26, 2017, arrest of Zachary Patterson by the City of McComb Police Department. Plaintiff Patterson contends that his arrest and incarceration violated both federal and state laws.

         On May 25, 2018, Patterson filed suit in this Court alleging federal and state law claims against Deputy Gilmore in both his official and individual capacities. (Docket entry 1). The plaintiff subsequently filed an Amended Complaint with identical allegations. (Hereinafter “Complaint” or “Docket entry 13”). In particular, Patterson asserts the following federal claims against Gilmore: (1) violation of due process; (2) false arrest; (3) malicious prosecution; (4) conspiracy to maliciously prosecute; and (5) negligence/gross negligence. The plaintiff also asserts state law claims for (1) violation of due process; (2) false arrest; (3) malicious prosecution; (4) conspiracy to maliciously prosecute; and (5) negligence/gross negligence.[2]

         The moving defendants contend that the plaintiff's claims against Deputy Gilmore in his individual capacity under federal law are barred by qualified immunity; that the plaintiff's federal claims against Deputy Gilmore in his official capacity are barred by Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); that the plaintiff's claims under state law against Deputy Gilmore in his official capacity as a Pike County Deputy are barred by the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”); and that the plaintiff's state law claims against Deputy Gilmore in his individual capacity are also barred by the MTCA.

         According to the plaintiff's Complaint, on January 26, 2017, Barrett Pickett filed a sworn criminal affidavit charging Patterson with disturbing the peace, accusing him of unlawfully surveying Pickett's property and continuing “to attempt to engage in a verbal altercation with Mr. Pickett until words were exchanged between the two of them.” Docket entry 13 at ¶ 15. The plaintiff further contends that on or about January 26, 2017, Pickett filed a second sworn criminal affidavit charging the plaintiff with trespass and accusing him of “unlawfully and knowingly without the authority of law [going] on the private property of Barrett Pickett at ... McComb MS 39648.” Id. at ¶ 16.

         The plaintiff further alleges that on February 23, 2017, he received a call from City of McComb Police Officer Rodney Nordstrom telling him that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. Id. at ¶17. Nordstrom purportedly told Patterson to come to the police station to pick up his paperwork. Id. at ¶ 18. The plaintiff consulted with attorney Ronnie Whittington, who allegedly told him that Deputy Warren Gilmore was being “pissy about the Plaintiff not being arrested.” Id. at ¶ 23. According to the plaintiff, Whittington told the plaintiff to fill out his paperwork at the police station. Id. at ¶ 24. The plaintiff asserts that he went to the Police Department where Officer Kurt Taylor had him enter the booking area and took his personal effects. Id. at ¶ 27-31. Thereafter, Taylor opened a jail cell door and placed Patterson in the cell. Id. at ¶ 32.

         The plaintiff asserts that the City of McComb Municipal Court had in effect, at the time of his arrest, a standing order that all persons arrested, with or without a warrant, for any misdemeanor prosecuted before the municipal court “will be released on their personal recognizance as soon as practicable after arrest ....” Id. at ¶ 19. Patterson further alleges that he was arrested and jailed in contravention of the standing order. Id. at ¶ 38.

         The plaintiff also contends “upon information and belief” that Warren Gilmore is friends with defendant Barrett Pickett and that Gilmore called City officers Scott McKenzie and Rodney Nordstrom to tell them that “he wanted the Plaintiff arrested and incarcerated” and that the City officers “agreed to arrest and incarcerate Plaintiff in violation of the City of McComb's standing Order on Recognizance Bonds.” Id. at ¶ 59.

         The plaintiff alleges that he was arraigned, and that subsequent to his arraignment he was found not guilty on the disturbing the peace and trespassing charges filed by Pickett. Id. at ¶¶ 63-64.

         CLAIMS

         On May 25, 2018, Patterson filed suit in this Court alleging both federal and state law claims against Pike County Deputy Warren Gilmore in both his official and individual capacities. (Docket entry 1). Subsequently, he filed an Amended Complaint containing identical allegations. (“Complaint” or “Docket entry 13”). He asserts the following federal claims against the moving defendants: (1) violation of due process; (2) false arrest; (3) conspiracy to maliciously prosecute; and (4) negligence/gross negligence. As stated above, the Court treats these claims as being alleged under both federal and state law.

         The plaintiff also seeks declaratory relief on the same basis as the claims above. The moving defendants contend that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim and is not entitled to any declaratory relief.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the defendants' Motion inasmuch as a responsive pleading has already been filed. See, e.g., Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5thCir.1999); Robertson v. Mullins, 2:12-cv-57, 2013 WL 1319759, at *1 (N.D. Miss. Mar. 26, 2013). The standard for addressing a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is the same as that for addressing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). In re Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 624 F.3d 201, 209-10 (5th Cir. 2010).

         Therefore, to survive the moving defendants' motion the plaintiff's Complaint must provide the grounds for entitlement to relief - including factual allegations that, when assumed to be true, “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Cuvillier v. Sullivan, 503 F.3d 397, 401 (5th Cir. 2007)(quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 553-56 (2007)).

         The complaint must allege sufficient factual matter “to state a claim that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “[W]hen the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, ‘this basic deficiency should ... be exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money by the parties and the court.'” Id. at 558 (quoting 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216 at 234)(quoting Daves v. Hawaiian Dredging Co., 114 F.Supp. 643, 645 (D. Haw. 1953)).

         A court should not accept “threadbare recitals of a cause of action's elements, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” which “do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-679 (2009).

         PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS UNDER FEDERAL AND STATE LAW

         I. Federal Claims - Individual Capacity

         The plaintiff asserts his claims under Section 1983 against Deputy Gilmore in his individual capacity for: (1) violation of due process; (2) false arrest; (3) conspiracy to maliciously prosecute; and (4) negligence/gross negligence.

         Law enforcement officials, “like other public officials acting within the scope of their official duties, are shielded from claims of civil liability, including § 1983 claims, by qualified immunity.” Morris v. Dillard Dept. Stores, Inc., 277 F.3d 743, 753 (5th Cir. 2001). A law enforcement officer is entitled to the cloak of qualified immunity “unless it is shown that, at the time of the incident, he violated a clearly established constitutional right.” Mangieri v. Clifton, 29 F.3d 1012 (5th Cir. 1994). Significantly, qualified immunity provides “ample protection to all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986).

         In assessing a claim of qualified immunity, courts apply a two-part analysis. The threshold question is “whether Plaintiff's allegations establish a constitutional violation.” Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 736 (2002). If “no constitutional right would have been violated were the allegations established, there is no necessity for further inquiries concerning qualified immunity.” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001); see also Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009)(holding that “order of battle” outlined in Saucier is not mandatory in every instance). However, “if a violation could be made out, the next sequential step is to ask whether the right was clearly established.” Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. 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 confronted.” Id. at 202.

         The purpose of qualified immunity is to protect public officials from the “burden of fighting lawsuits which arise from the good faith performance of their duties.” Ren v. Towe, 130 F.3d 1154, 1159 (5th Cir. 1997). Thus, qualified immunity “is not just immunity from judgment, but rather, is immunity from all aspects of suit.” Jacques v. Procunier, 801 F.2d 789, 791 (5th Cir. 1986). The qualified immunity issues in a case are “threshold” issues and must be dealt with as expeditiously as possible and prior to resolving non-immunity issues. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2728 (1982); see also L.U.Civ.R. 16.1(B)(4).

         The Fifth Circuit, in order to fulfill the protective purpose of qualified immunity, has long required more than mere “notice pleading” when a claimant asserts a Section 1983 claim against an official in his individual capacity. Elliott v. Perez, 751 F.2d 1472 (5th Cir. 1985). More specifically, when an officer raises the qualified immunity defense, a complaint “must present more than bald allegations and conclusory statements.” Wicks v. Mississippi State Employment Svcs., 41 F.3d 991, 995 (5th Cir. 1995). In fact, a plaintiff must “allege with sufficient particularity all facts establishing a right to recovery, including facts which negate the official's immunity defense.” Id.; see also Nunez v. Simms, 341 F.3d 385 (5th Cir. 2003)(holding that heightened pleading in qualified immunity cases requires plaintiff to rest complaint on more than conclusions alone); Foster v. City of Lake Jackson, 28 F.3d 425 (5th Cir. 1994)(burden of negating qualified immunity defense lies with plaintiff).

         Plaintiffs “cannot be allowed to rest on general characterizations, but must speak to the factual particulars of the alleged actions.” Floyd v. City of Kenner, 351 Fed.Appx. 890, 893 (5th Cir. 2009)(citing Schultea v. Wood, 47 F.3d 1427, 1433-34 (5thCir. 1995). Furthermore, “[h]eightened pleading requires allegations of fact focusing specifically on the conduct of the individual who caused the plaintiff's injury.” R ...


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