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Williams v. Anderson

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

January 8, 2019

REGINA WILLIAMS PLAINTIFF
v.
BRYAN ANDERSON, et al DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         This Court has before it a motion for judgment on the pleadings [90] filed by Defendants Tippah County, Mississippi, Sheriff Karl Gailard, Josh Bateman, Donald Austin, Jonathan Rainey, and Billy Johnson (collectively the "Tippah County Defendants"); and a motion for judgment on the pleadings [95] filed by City of Ripley, Chief Scott White, and Officer Ryan Swallow (collectively the "Ripley Defendants"). For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds the motions should be granted.

         Background

         The Court has described the facts of this case in great detail in a prior opinion. See September 4, 2018 Memo. Op. [88] at 1-2. For the sake of brevity, the Court will provide an abridged version: Plaintiffs allege that Taylor Talley led a deputy with Alcorn County Sheriffs Department on a high-speed chase. Officers with the Tippah County Sheriffs Department, the Ripley Police Department, and Mississippi Highway Patrol joined in the pursuit. Bryan Anderson, a Mississippi State Trooper, ended the chase by deploying a spike strip, causing Talley to crash. Decedent Samantha Cruz, a passenger in Talley's vehicle, died in the crash.

         Plaintiff Regina Williams, on behalf of Cruz's wrongful death beneficiaries, filed this action against the officers directly involved in the chase, as well as the municipalities that employed them, and their supervisors, alleging that their actions violated Cruz's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Concerning the Tippah County Defendants, Williams asserts that: Sheriff Karl Gailard and Deputies Josh Bateman, Donald Austin, Jonathan Standford, Jeremey Rainey, and Billy Johnson used excessive force in seizing Cruz (count 1), deprived Cruz of her right to life, and Cruz's family of their right to a familial relationship with Cruz (count 2), failed to stop Anderson from using excessive force (count 3); and deprived Cruz of her life through arbitrary government action (count 10); and that Defendant Tippah County's failure to train its employees caused her death (count 9). As to the Ripley Defendants, she asserts that Chief of Police Scott White and Officer Ryan Swallow used excessive force in seizing Cruz (count 1), deprived Cruz of her right to life, and Cruz's family of their right to a familial relationship with Cruz (count 2), failed to stop Anderson from using excessive force (count 3); deprived Cruz of her life through arbitrary government action (count 12); and that the City of Ripley and Scott White's failure to train Swallow resulted in Cruz's death (counts 11 and 13). Williams also brings negligence claims against all defendants (count 15).

         Williams brought identical claims against Alcorn County, Mackie Sexton, and Bryan Anderson. They moved to dismiss, and the Court held that there was no excessive force used in seizing Talley and Cruz. Because all of Williams' federal claims were predicated on an excessive use of force, the Court dismissed her federal claims against Alcorn County, Sexton, and Anderson. As the Court will explain, that holding extends to the federal claims made against the Tippah County and Ripley Defendants.

         Judgment on the Pleadings Standard

         After 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). A Rule 12(c) motion is governed by the same standards as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See Brown v. Citi Mortgage, Inc., 477 Fed.App'x. 302, 303 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co. v. Williamson, 224 F.3d 425, 440 n.8 (5th Cir. 2000)). "A motion brought pursuant to [Rule] 12(c) is designed to dispose of cases where the material facts are not in dispute and a judgment on the merits can be rendered by looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts." Hebert Abstract Co. v. Touchstone Props., Ltd., 914 F.2d 74, 76 (5th Cir. 1990) (per curiam) (citing 5 A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1367, at 509-10 (1990)).

         When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court is limited to the allegations set forth in the complaint and any documents attached to the complaint. Walker v. Webco Indus., Inc., 562 Fed.Appx. 215, 216-17 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Kennedy v. Chase Manhattan Bank USA, NA, 369 F.3d 833, 839 (5th Cir. 2004))." [A plaintiffs] complaint therefore 'must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Phillips v. City of Dallas, Tex., 781 F.3d 772, 775-76 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)).

         A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). "[P]laintiffs must allege facts that support the elements of the cause of action in order to make out a valid claim." Webb v. Morella, 522 Fed.Appx. 238, 241 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting City of Clinton, Ark v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 632 F.3d 148, 152-53 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss." Id. (quoting Fernandez-Montes v. Allied Pilots Ass'n, 987 F.2d 278, 284 (5th Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "Dismissal is appropriate when the plaintiff has not alleged 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face' and has failed to 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Emesowum v. Hous. Police Dep't, 561 Fed.Appx. 372, 372 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

         Analysis

         The Tippah County Defendants argue that Gailard, Bateman, Austin, Standford, Rainey, and Johnson are entitled to the qualified immunity on the excessive force, familial relations, failure to intervene, and arbitrary government action claims. The Tippah County Defendants also argue that Williams has failed to state a failure to train claim against Tippah County.

         The Ripley Defendants argue that that White and Swallow are entitled to qualified immunity on excessive force, familial relations, failure to intervene, and arbitrary government action claims. They also argue that Williams has failed to state a failure to train claim against the City of Ripley or Chief White.

         1. Individual Claims

         The Tippah Deputies and the Ripley officers each argue they are entitled to qualified immunity on the claims made against them individually: that they used excessive force in seizing Cruz, that they deprived Cruz's family of their familial relations with Cruz, that they failed to intervene in other officers' use ...


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