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Whitfield v. Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics

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

February 13, 2019

LARRY E. WHITFIELD, JR. PLAINTIFF
v.
MISSISSIPPI BUREAU OF NARCOTICS; OFFICER D. RICE, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics; AND OFFICER JUAN CHAPA, Hinds County Sheriff’s Department DEFENDANTS

         MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT OFFICER JUAN CHAPA’S MOTION [38] FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS; DISMISSING PLAINTIFF LARRY E. WHITFIELD, JR.’S CLAIMS AGAINST DEFENDANT OFFICER JAUN CHAPA IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES WITH PREJUDICE; DENYING PLAINTIFF LARRY E. WHITFIELD, JR.’S MOTIONS [34] [35] [47] [48] [51] TO AMEND; GRANTING DEFENDANT OFFICER D. RICE’S MOTION [45] TO STRIKE DOCUMENT [44]; AND STRIKING DOCUMENT [44]

          HALIL SULEYMAN OZERDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT are Defendant Juan Chapa’s Motion [38] for Judgment on the Pleadings; Plaintiff Larry E. Whitfield, Jr.’s Motions [34] [35] [47] [48] [51] to Amend; and Defendant Officer D. Rice’s Motion [45] to Strike Document [44]. This suit arises out of a traffic stop conducted by Defendants, Officer D. Rice and Officer Juan Chapa, following which Plaintiff was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. Plaintiff Larry E. Whitfield, Jr. alleges that during this traffic stop Defendant Juan Chapa pulled a firearm and held it close to his face while repeatedly shouting that he would shoot him, and that when he refused to allow Defendants to conduct a cavity search, Defendant Officer D. Rice attacked him, placed him in a chokehold causing him to lose consciousness, and stepped on the back of his neck.

         After due consideration of the record, Defendant’s Motion, and relevant legal authority, the Court is of the opinion that Defendant Officer Juan Chapa’s Motion [38] should be granted and that Plaintiff Larry E. Whitfield Jr.’s claims against Defendant Officer Juan D. Chapa in his individual and official capacities should be dismissed. The Court further finds that Plaintiff Whitfield’s Motions [34] [35] [47] [48] [51] to Amend should be denied without prejudice. Plaintiff will, however, be allowed to refile a motion to amend and submit a single proposed amended complaint, stating all of his claims in one pleading, within thirty (30) days of entry of this Order. Finally, the Court finds that Defendant Officer D. Rice’s Motion [45] to Strike Document [44] should be granted in light of the Court’s Order permitting Plaintiff an opportunity to amend his pleadings. Document [44] will be stricken.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 7, 2017, Plaintiff Larry E. Whitfield, Jr. (“Whitfield” or “Plaintiff”) filed a pro se Complaint [1] in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics (“MBN”) as the sole Defendant. Compl. [1] at 1. Without any explanation or setting forth any facts, Whitfield alleged that he was deprived of his right to a trial, endured torture and abuse, and was unjustly imprisoned, including being placed in solitary confinement. Id. at 2. The Complaint sought monetary damages for pain and suffering and lost wages. Id.

         On February 7, 2018, Whitfield filed an Attachment to the Complaint, purporting to add further factual allegations in support of his claims. Attach. [10] to Compl. Whitfield claimed that he was pulled over by the MBN while driving in Jackson, Mississippi, on June 28, 2017, and was arrested, placed in custody “of a Sheriff Law Officer,” and transported to the Hinds County Detention Center. Id. Whitfield subsequently sought permission to proceed in forma pauperis, at which point the Magistrate Judge required him to answer a Questionnaire. On March 29, 2018, Whitfield answered the Magistrate Judge’s Questionnaire and clarified his claims. Pl.’s Resp. [17].

         In an Order [26] dated April 27, 2018, the Magistrate Judge construed the arguments, assertions, and legal bases presented in Whitfield’s Response [17] to the Questionnaire as an amendment to his Complaint, Order [26] at 1, and ordered that MBN Officer D. Rice (“Rice”) and MBN Officer Unknown be added as Defendants, Order [26] at 1-2. On May 15, 2018, the MBN responded to the Magistrate’s Order [26] indicating that it was unable to execute a waiver for MBN Officer Unknown because he was not employed by the MBN; however, it identified the Officer Unknown as “Juan Chapa, Hinds County Sherriff’s Department.” Resp. [29] to Order [26]. The Court then added Officer Juan Chapa as a Defendant.

         According to Whitfield’s Questionnaire [17], Officer Rice pulled him over after he swerved to miss a pothole. Plaintiff then consented to a search of his vehicle, during which Officer Rice discovered drug paraphernalia. Pl.’s Resp. to Questionnaire [17] at 2. Although Plaintiff was not under arrest, Officer Rice allegedly gave Officer Chapa permission to perform a cavity search, but Whitfield refused the Officers’ request for consent to search him. Id. at 3. Officer Rice then allegedly “attacked him” and put “his hands around his throat.” Id. After losing and then regaining consciousness, Whitfield alleges that Officer Chapa placed a firearm to his head and repeatedly threatened to shoot him. Id. Whitfield was placed under arrest, and while he was lying on his stomach, Officer Rice “stepped on the back of [Whitfield’s] neck applying pressure.” Id. Whitfield was booked and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.

         This Court previously granted the MBN’s Motion [21] to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction and, in the Alternative, Failure to State a Claim, and dismissed Whitfield’s claims against the MBN for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Order [32]. Officer Chapa has now filed a Motion [38] for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Officer Chapa argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity as to Plaintiff’s individual capacity claims against him, and that Whitfield has failed to state a claim against him in his official capacity. Motion [38]; Pl’s Mem. in Support [39].

         Whitfield has filed many documents which all appear in some fashion to attempt to add claims to the Complaint [1]. First, Whitfield filed Document [34] to amend his Complaint “as a matter of right,” to add a claim of punitive damages. Subsequently, Whitfield filed numerous other Motions [35] [47] [48] [51]. Additionally, Whitfield filed Document [44] entitled “Pleadings,” which the Clerk filed as a Rebuttal [44] to Officer Chapa’s Motion [38] for Judgment on the Pleadings. In response to Document [44], Officer Rice filed a Motion [45] to Strike Document [44], arguing that it should be stricken because Whitfield failed to seek leave of Court to amend his Complaint.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Plaintiff’s Motions [34] [35] [47] [48] [51] to Amend should be denied without prejudice.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 allows a party to amend its pleading once as a matter of course within either twenty-one days after serving the pleading or within twenty-one days after service of a responsive pleading or motion. Fed. R.Civ. P. 15(a)(1). In any other instance, a party may amend its pleading “only with the opposing party’s written consent or the court’s leave.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). Courts, however, freely give leave to amend a complaint “when justice so requires.” Id. In exercising its discretion to grant or deny leave to amend, a court may consider whether the party seeking leave is doing so after undue delay, in bad faith, or for a dilatory motive. See Jamieson By and Through Jamieson v. Shaw, 772 F.2d 1205, 1208 (5th Cir. 1985). “It is within the district court’s discretion to deny a motion to amend if it is futile.” Stripling v. Jordan Prod. Co., LLC, 234 F.3d 863, 872-73 (5th Cir. 2000). Futility means “that the amended complaint would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” Id. To determine futility, the court “appl[ies] the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Rule 12(b)(6).” Id.

         Whitfield filed his Complaint [1] on December 7, 2017. Two months later, on February 7, 2018, he submitted Document [10], entitled “Attachment.” Despite that Document’s title, it purports to elaborate on the factual allegations in the Complaint [1] and was filed a full two months afterwards. Because Defendants had not yet been served, the Court is of the opinion that this “Attachment [10]” constituted an amendment to the Complaint [1] as a matter of course. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1).

         A party may amend its pleading only “once as a matter of course.” Id. Nevertheless, on May 24, 2018, Whitfield filed another Document [34] seeking to amend “as a matter of right.” Although Whitfield filed this document within twenty-one days after service of process upon Officers Rice and Chapa, Whitfield was not entitled to amend his Complaint [1] a second time as a matter of course. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15; Barksdale v. King, 699 F.2d 744, 747 (5th Cir. 1983) (“[W]here some but not all defendants have answered, plaintiff may amend as of course claims asserted solely against the non-answering defendants.”). As such, the Clerk properly docketed this Document as a Motion [34] to Amend.

         In addition to this Motion [34] to Amend, Whitfield has filed numerous other Documents [35] [47] [48] [51] purporting to assert new facts or causes of action, or seeking leave of Court to amend. Some documents are styled as Motions to Amend or specifically request an amendment. See, e.g., Mot. [35]. Others are styled as new pleadings and appear to be submitted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1) as a matter of course and without first seeking leave of Court. See, e.g., [48]. The majority of these documents plead no new facts but list only criminal statutes, the Restatement of Torts, or the numbers of certain Constitutional Amendments. See [48] [51-1].

         The Court is cognizant that leave to amend should be freely given “when justice so requires.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). In this instance, given the sheer number of documents submitted by Whitfield and for the purpose of clarity of the record, the Court will deny these Motions without prejudice, but will permit Whitfield thirty (30) days from the date of this Order in which to file a motion to amend his Complaint, and attach a single proposed amended complaint stating all of his claims in one pleading. See L.U. Civ. R. 7(b)(2) (“If leave of court is required under Fed. R. Civ. P. 15, a proposed amended pleading must be an exhibit to a motion for leave to file the pleading.”). Plaintiff is cautioned that he must do more than provide the Court with a list of causes of action, and that ...


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