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Kearns v. Kite

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

December 17, 2018



         The Court has before it a motion for partial summary judgment [Doc. 28] filed by Plaintiffs John and Tamera Kearns and a motion for summary judgment [Doc. 30] filed by Defendants Keith Kite, Max Herring, and Desoto County, Mississippi. Having considered the matter the Court finds that the defendants' motion should be granted in part and denied in part, and the plaintiffs' motion should be denied.


         In May 2016, Defendants Keith Kite and Max Herring, deputies with the DeSoto County Sheriffs Department, received an arrest warrant for Justin Kearns for unpaid child support. Warrant, Pls.' Mot. for Partial Summ. J., Ex. A, [Doc. 28-1]. The deputies investigated Justin's address listed on the warrant but found it abandoned. Max Herring Deposition, Pls.' Mot. for Partial Summ. J., Ex. B [Doc. 28-2] at 21. Herring later found the address of Tamera Kearns, Justin's mother, and the deputies went to that address. Herring Dep., Defs.' Mem., Ex. B [Doc. 31-2] at 22.

         Upon arriving at the house, the deputies testified that they observed a vehicle in the driveway, a running air conditioning unit, a light on in the house, and oxygen bottles in the carport. Herring Dep. at 27. The deputies stated that they approached the house and knocked on the carport door but received no answer. Statement of Max Herring, Defs.' Mem., Ex. C [Doc. 31-3]. They then moved around to the front of the house. Id. The front door contained two doors: a storm door and an inner door. Herring Dep. at 27. The deputies testified that both doors were open. Id; Keith Kite Deposition, Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. D [Doc. 28-4] at 6. The officers testified that Herring knocked again on the open inner door and yelled into the house announcing his presence. Herring Dep. at 27-28; Statement of Keith Kite, Defs.' Mem., Ex. D [Doc. 31-4]. Again, they received no answer. The deputies also testified that from outside, they were able to observe another oxygen bottle in the living room. Herring Dep. at 27-28.

         Tamera Kearns disputes that the doors were open, and testified that she and John always keep the doors shut to keep their pets in. Tamera Kearns Dep., Pls.' Resp. in Opp., Ex. A [Doc. 34-1] at 47-48. Tamera further testified that a box of groceries was placed against the inner door on the day in question that would have prevented it from being cracked open. Id. at 48.

         Kite and Herring entered the house and began checking rooms. According to the deputies, this was because the front door was open; oxygen bottles were present both outside and inside the house; and no one responded to Herrings calls. Herring Dep. at 28, 34. Eventually, they located Tamera in a back room. Id. at 54. The deputies testified that they told Tamera they were checking on her, and that Tamera asked them to the kitchen and to retrieve her oxygen bottle. Id. at 54-55. Tamera informed the officers that Justin no longer lived in Mississippi. Id. at 55. The officers testified that Tamera then handed Herring a key and asked him to lock the front door of the house. Id. at 56.

         Tamera testified that when the deputies arrived, she was sleeping and wearing earplugs. Tamera Kearns Dep. at 42. She could hear the officers yelling, which startled her. Id. She testified that when the deputies made it to her room, Herring repeatedly asked her "Where's Mr. Kearns", which she later realized meant her son, Justin. Id. at 42-45. John was not present in the home during any of these events.

         The Kearns brought this § 1983 action against Kite, Herring, and the DeSoto County Sheriffs Department. The Kearns bring two claims: first, that Kite and Herring violated their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures by entering their home without a warrant when no warrant exception applied; and second, that DeSoto County's inadequate training of the deputies was a driving force behind the illegal search. After discovery was concluded, the Kearns moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability against Kite and Herring. Kite, Herring, and Desoto County moved for complete summary judgment.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Id. "An issue of fact is material only if 'its resolution could affect the outcome of the action'." Manning v. Chevron Chem. Co., LLC, 332 F.3d 874, 877 (5th Cir. 2003) (quoting Wyatt v. Hunt Plywood Co., 297 F.3d 405, 408 (5th Cir. 2002)).

         The burden then shifts to the nonmovant to "go beyond the pleadings and by ... affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (internal quotation marks omitted.); Littlefleld v. Forney Indep. Sch Dist., 26S F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir. 2001); Willis v. Roche Biomedical Labs., Inc., 61 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir. 1995). The Court "resolve[s] factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party, but only where there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Antoine v. First Student, Inc., 713 F.3d 824, 830 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005)). "[T]he nonmoving party 'cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence.'" Hathaway v. Bazany, 507 F.3d 312, 319 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Turner v. Baylor Richardson Medical Center, 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007)).


         I. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Defendants assert that Deputies Herring and Kite are entitled to qualified immunity because they were permitted to enter the residence under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment. Defendant's further argue that summary judgment against DeSoto County should be granted because there is no evidence of a policy or practice that caused the alleged constitutional violations here. Finally, Defendants' argue that John Kearns claims should be dismissed because he was not present when the deputies entered the home and because there is no evidence that he suffered any damages.

         a. Qualified Immunity as to ...

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