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Williams v. Zachary

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

January 30, 2019




         The Court has before it Defendants James Meyers and Cody Shankle's motion for judgment on the pleadings, Doc. 10, ; Defendant Chris Gilliard's motion to dismiss, Doc. 15; and Plaintiff Kameko Williams's motion to amend the complaint, Doc. 23. For the reasons set forth below Williams's motion to amend should be granted in part and denied in part, Gilliard's motion to dismiss should be granted, and Meyers and Shankle's motion for judgment on the pleadings should be denied as moot.


         According to the original complaint, on July 4, 2016, Adam Zachary, a patrolman with the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol, arrested James Lee Brownlee. Compl. ¶ 12, Doc. 1. Both during the actual arrest itself, and while Zachary transported him to jail, Brownlee repeatedly complained to Zachary of sharp pains in his extremities and chest. Id. ¶ 14.

         Zachary took Brownlee directly to the Chickasaw County Detention Center. Id. ¶ 16. There two deputies with the Chickasaw County Sheriffs Department, Cody Shankle and Diana Westmoreland, took custody of Brownlee. Brownlee repeated his complaints to them. Id. ¶ 17. Despite these complaints, Shankle and Westmoreland placed Brownlee into a solitary confinement cell and did not provide him any medical attention. The next morning, July 5, 2016, Brownlee died of a heart attack at the jail. Id. ¶¶ 18-20.

         Williams then brought this § 1983 wrongful death action. The complaint asserts that Zachary, Shankle, and Westmoreland violated Brownlee's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by deliberately ignoring his medical needs and that that ignorance caused his death. Williams also sued Chris Gilliard, the Director of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol, in his official capacity, asserting that he failed to train Zachary, and that that failure caused Zachary to violate Brownlee's constitutional rights. Likewise, she sued James Meyers, the Sheriff of Chickasaw County, in his official capacity for failing to train Shankle and Westmoreland.

         Gilliard filed a motion to dismiss asserting Eleventh Amendment immunity and Meyers and Shankle filed a motion for judgment in the pleadings, or in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment asserting qualified immunity. The Court dismissed Williams' claims against Zachary and Westmoreland without prejudice for failure to serve those defendants with process.

         Williams then filed a motion to amend her complaint. With respect to Gilliard, the proposed amended complaint now asserts injunctive relief against him. Prop. First Am. Compl. ¶ 61, Doc. 23-1. With respect to Meyers and Shankles, the proposed amended complaint contains additional factional assertions related to the causes of action against them. Id. ¶¶ 19-27, 37-46 Gilliard, Meyers, and Shankle oppose this amended complaint, arguing that it does not correct any of the alleged deficiencies of the original.


         A court should freely give leave to amend a pleading when justice requires. Fed. R. Civ. P 15(a)(2). "In the context of motions to amend pleadings, 'discretion' may be misleading, because Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) 'evinces a bias in favor of granting leave to amend.'" Martin's Her end Imports, Inc. v. Diamond & Gem Trading United States of Am. Co., 195 F.3d 765, 770 (5th Cir. 1999) (quoting Dussouy v. Gulf Coast Inv. Corp., 660 F.2d 594, 597(5thCir.l981)).

         However, "[t]he district court may deny leave to amend if the amendment would be futile because 'the amended complaint would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.'" McGee v. CitiMortage, Inc., 680 Fed.Appx. 287, 291 (5th Cir. 2017) (quoting Stripling v. Jordan Prod. Co., LLC, 234 F.3d 863, 873 (5th Cir. 2000)). To determine whether the amended complaint is futile, the court should apply "the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Rule 12(b)(6)." Stripling, 234 F.3d at 873.

         Applying this standard, Williams's motion to amend should be denied with respect to the claims against Gilliard. The proposed amended complaint fails to assert any claim against Gilliard over which this Court has jurisdiction.

         The Eleventh Amendment provides that "[t]he judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. Const, amend. XI; "The Eleventh Amendment strips courts of jurisdiction over claims against a state that has not consented to suit." Pierce v. Hearn Indep. Sck Dist, 600 Fed.Appx. 194, 197 (5th Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (citing Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100-01, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984)). It "grants a State immunity from suit in federal court by citizens of other States, and by its own citizens as well." Lapides v. Bd. of Regents, 535 U.S. 613, 616, 122 S.Ct. 1640, 152 L.Ed.2d 806 (2002) (citation omitted). Both federal and pendent state law claims are barred from being asserted against a state in federal court. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp., 465 U.S. at 119-21, 104 S.Ct. 900. This "immunity operates like ajurisdictional bar, depriving federal courts of the power to adjudicate suits against a state." Union Pac. R. Co. v. La. Pub. Serv. Comm'n, 662 F.3d 336, 340 (5th Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted).

         Eleventh Amendment immunity "extends to any state agency or entity deemed an 'alter ego' or 'arm' of the state." Perez v. Region 20 Educ. Serv. Ctr.,307 F.3d 318, 326 (5th Cir. 2002). "This immunity also extends to state officials who are sued in their official capacities because such a suit is actually one against the state itself." New Orleans TowingAss'n, Inc. v. Foster,248 F.3d 1143, 2001 WL 185033, at *3 (5th Cir. Feb. 6, 2001); see Hafer v. Melo,502 U.S. 21, 25, 112 S.Ct 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991) (citing Kentucky ...

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