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Lung v. City of Jackson

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

April 12, 2019

CHARLES LUNG PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF JACKSON, ET AL. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          DANIEL P. JORDAN III, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This civil-rights action is before the Court on Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants the City of Jackson (“the City”) [26]; Lee Vance [28]; and Terri Thomas [30] (collectively “Defendants”). Plaintiff Charles Lung responded in opposition. For the following reasons, Thomas's motion is granted as to Lung's official-capacity claim but is otherwise denied due to questions of fact. The City and Vance's motions are granted as unopposed.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Charles Lung says his constitutional rights were violated when Officer Thomas shot him three times on November 6, 2016. That day, Lung was smoking crack cocaine in his car while nude. When Jackson Police Department officers approached, Lung led them on a short, low-speed chase before stopping his car. The officers then attempted to block Lung with their patrol cars while several officers surrounded his car on foot. From here, the stories diverge. Lung says he put his car in park and was making no attempt to flee when Defendant Thomas shot him three times through the front windshield. Thomas says instead that he shot in self-defense when Lung accelerated toward him.

         Lung filed his complaint against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that they violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive force. The parties now agree that Lung's § 1983 claims against the City, Vance, and the individual defendants sued in their official capacities must be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. They will be. So the only remaining dispute is whether the individual-capacity claim against Defendant Thomas should be dismissed based on qualified immunity.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 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 (1986).

         The party moving for summary judgment “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.” Id. at 323. 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 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). 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 (2000). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments have never constituted an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075; SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993).

         III. Analysis

         Officer Thomas says he is entitled to qualified immunity on Lung's excessive-force claim against him in his individual capacity. As the Fifth Circuit summarized:

[T]he doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from civil damages liability when their actions could reasonably have been believed to be legal. This immunity protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law. Accordingly, we do not deny immunity unless existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate. The basic steps of this court's qualified-immunity inquiry are well-known: a plaintiff seeking to defeat qualified immunity 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.

Anderson v. Valdez, 845 F.3d 580, 599-600 (5th Cir. 2016) (citation and quotation marks omitted, punctuation altered).

         “If the defendant's conduct did not violate [the] plaintiff's constitutional rights under the first prong, . . . he is entitled to qualified immunity.” Blackwell v. Laque, No. 07-30184, 2008 WL 1848119, at *2 (5th Cir. Apr. 24, 2008). But if it did, “the court then asks whether qualified immunity is still appropriate because the defendant's actions were ‘objectively reasonable' in light of ‘law which was clearly established at the time of the disputed action.'” Brown v. Callahan, 623 F.3d 249, 253 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Collins v. Ainsworth, 382 F.3d 529, 537 (5th Cir. 2004)). “It is important to emphasize that this inquiry ‘must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition.'” Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198-99 (2004) (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)). Thus,

[t]he contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right. The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable ...

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