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Salley v. Webster County, Mississippi

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi

February 21, 2019

WEBSTER COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, SHERRIF TIM MITCHELL, in his Official Capacity, CHIEF DEPUTY DILLON CATES, in his Individual Official Capacities, AND DEPUTY BLAKE LOVE, in his Individual and Official Capacities DEFENDANTS



         This cause comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [9] and Motion to Dismiss via Abstention [11]. Having reviewed the motions, the parties' submissions, the complaint, and relevant case law, the Court is now prepared to rule.

         I. BACKRGOUND

         On March 3, 2018, Robert Salley and Bonita Cunningham (“Plaintiffs”) traveled to the Town of Mantee, Mississippi in Webster County. While making their way home to Grenada County, Salley took a series of Webster County back roads and, regrettably, took a wrong turn onto Highway 50. Salley noticed some stopped cars ahead and assumed that the drivers had pulled over to “chat.” This presumption proved wrong for, unbeknownst to Salley, Webster County Sherriff deputies were conducting a road block, though their “blue lights” were not active. Consequently, Salley did not identify the vehicles as law enforcement.

         Salley turned his vehicle around and reversed direction. Checking his rear-view mirror, he noticed flashing blue lights on a vehicle behind him, indicating the vehicle was a law enforcement cruiser, but Salley could not ascertain whether the cruiser was attempting to pull him over or pass, so he continued down the road. Further examination by Salley revealed the driver of the cruiser to be Chief Deputy Dillon Cates of Webster County. Salley alleges that given the tempestuous history between himself and the Webster County Sheriff's Office, he decided not to pull over.

         Salley travelled through Slate Springs in Calhoun County and then, according to the Plaintiff's allegations, through the community of Sabola[1] with deputies following behind with blue lights flashing. At some point, Chief Deputy Cates rear-ended Salley's vehicle. Undeterred, Salley journeyed on and merged onto Highway 8 and headed west toward Pleasant Grove Road in Grenada County. Yet again, Salley made a wrong turn, missing his intended turn onto Cadaretta Road, and instead turned left onto Millhouse Road where he “overshot” his left turn and landed his vehicle in a ditch. As Salley attempted to coax his vehicle out of the ditch Chief Deputy Cates exited his cruiser and, pistol drawn, approached Salley's vehicle yelling “Let me see your hand. . . Let me see your hand.” Salley's vehicle leapt from the ditch and Chief Deputy Cates opened fire. Bullets struck the vehicle's rear window, dashboard, tire and body, and Salley absorbed “bullet wounds to the back of his right shoulder and right arm.” Nevertheless, the intrepid Salley raced on, finally arriving at his mother's home in Grenada County, where he ran into the house, out the back door, and hid under a parked truck.

         Chief Deputy Cates, along with other Webster County deputies, and now including a K-9 unit, arrived at the matriarch's residence where they arrested Bonita Cunningham, Salley's passenger, and detained her while they tried to get their man. It appears, though the facts alleged by the parties are lacking, that despite pleas from the deputies, Salley would not come out from under the truck. Continuing his pattern of defying law enforcement directives, Salley stayed under the truck, at which point, the deputies threatened to release the dog. According to Salley, he stayed under the truck “in an attempt to give his mother additional time to get to the residence and witness what was happening.” The deputies released the dog, which apparently went under truck, though this fact is not established by the parties. Nevertheless, the deputies got their man. Officers transported Salley to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford for treatment and later delivered him into the custody of the Grenada Police Department.

         Salley and Cunningham filed suit on March 15, 2018. Defendants subsequently filed a Motion to Dismiss [9] in which they ask this Court to “make a finding of qualified immunity, dismissal and/or judgment on the pleadings” as to most of Plaintiff's claims, and in the alternative filed a Motion to Dismiss via Abstention [11]. We now address these motions.

         II. STANDARDS

         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Before the Court can grant a motion to dismiss, Defendant must show that Plaintiffs have not met the relevant pleading standard to state a claim. Defendant must show that Plaintiff's complaint fails to contain enough facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 697, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. It is not necessary that a complaint contain detailed factual allegations, but it must set forth “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Colony Ins. Co. v. Peachtree Constr., Ltd., 647 F.3d 248, 252 (5th Cir.2011) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Upon reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must limit its examination to the complaint, documents attached to the complaint, and documents accompanying the motion to dismiss that reference the complaint. Lone Star Fund V(US), LP v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir.2010). The Court must liberally construe the complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff and accept all well-pleaded facts as true. Woodard v. Andrus, 419 F.3d 348, 351 (5th Cir.2005).

         B. Qualified Immunity Standard

         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). Qualified immunity requires a two-pronged analysis. Kinney v. Weaver, 367 F.3d. 337, 374 (5th Cir. 2004). The court has discretion to decide “which of the two prongs” to address first. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). To rebut a defendant's qualified immunity defense, the plaintiff must show: “(1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was ‘clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2085, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149 (2011). For a right to be clearly established, it must be sufficiently clear “that every ‘reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.'” Id. 563 U.S. at 741, 131 S.Ct. at 2083 (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)).

         III. ...

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