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Sudduth v. Lowndes County

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

February 28, 2019




         Mose Lee Sudduth, Jr. filed his Complaint [1] on March 19, 2018 asserting various claims against Lowndes County, Mississippi, and the security company that the County contracts with to provide security at its Justice Court building, North Atlantic Security. Sudduth also asserts various claims against Roger Coleman, one of North Atlantic's security guards. Now before the Court are two motions filed by Lowndes County requesting dismissal or summary judgment in its favor on Sudduth's state law claims [8], and his federal claims [11] respectively. Briefing is complete and these issues are ripe for review.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Lowndes County contracts with a private company, North Atlantic Security, to provide security at its Justice Court building. On May 24, 2018 Sudduth entered the Lowndes County Justice Court building wearing shorts, a t-shirt, flip flops, and a baseball hat. The entrance to the building consists of two sets of double glass doors that open into a hallway. In the hallway just inside the double doors is a small security guard office. A metal detector stands on the opposite side of the hallway with an unobstructed pathway between the metal detector and the security office door. Further down the hall is a glass bank-teller style window that opens into the Justice Court Clerk's office.

         Sudduth entered the building carrying a single piece of paper in one hand. As he entered the building, the security guard on duty, Roger Coleman, stepped out of the office and directed Sudduth to pass through the metal detector. Sudduth waved him off saying “I'm an attorney.” Sudduth proceeded to the Clerk's office window and passed his paper beneath the glass, asking the Clerk to file it for him. Coleman followed Sudduth to the Clerk's window and insisted that he pass through the metal detector. Sudduth refused, but did surrender a pocketknife that he was carrying in the pocket of his shorts. The two men continued to argue, even after the Clerk confirmed that Sudduth was indeed an attorney. Sudduth continued to refuse to pass through the metal detector, or to leave the building and demanded that Coleman return his knife. Coleman told Sudduth to leave, but Sudduth refused. Coleman told Sudduth, “I'm asking you one more time to leave, ” and Sudduth again refused. Coleman tackled Sudduth to the floor and dragged him by one arm through both sets of double doors, deposited him on the sidewalk in front of the building, and locked the doors.

         In his Complaint [1], Sudduth alleges seven separate constitutional violations, and further alleges numerous failures by the County to properly train and supervise its security personnel, namely Coleman. Sudduth argues that the County illegally abdicated its responsibility for maintaining security at its Courthouses, and that these failures by the County are representative of a larger custom and policy implemented by the County that directly caused the violation of Sudduth's constitutional rights.

         Finally, Sudduth alleges the following state law claims against the County: assault, battery, wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, outrageous conduct, negligence, gross negligence, and/or recklessness.

         As to Sudduth's federal claims, the County argues that Sudduth has asserted a claim based on a constitutional duty that does not exist, and that the County cannot be held liable for Coleman's actions in this context under the theory of respondeat superior. The County requests judgment in its favor on all of Sudduth's federal claims.

         As to Sudduth's state law claims, the County argues that it is immune under the terms of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-5, 7. The County also requests judgment in its favor on all of Sudduth's state law claims.

         Standard of Review[1]

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 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 showing sufficient 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. When such contradictory facts exist, the Court may “not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).

         The moving party “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party must then “go beyond the pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). Mere “conclusory allegations, speculation, [or] unsubstantiated assertions are inadequate to satisfy the nonmovant's burden.” Pree v. Washington Cty. Bd. of Supervisors, No. 4:16-CV-122-SA, 2018 WL 522776, at *6 (N.D. Miss. Jan. 23, 2018) (citing Douglass v. United Servs. Auto. Ass'n, 79 F.3d 1415, 1429 (5th Cir. 1996)). Mississippi substantive law applies in this diversity case. See Cox v. Wal-Mart Stores E., L.P., 755 F.3d 231, 233 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Wood v. RIH Acquisitions MS II, LLC, 556 F.3d 274, 275 (5th Cir. 2009)).

         Federal ...

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