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Wilson v. City of Hattiesburg

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

June 10, 2019

LEONARD WILSON PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF HATTIESBURG, et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KEITH STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         For the reasons provided below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [3]. Specifically, the Court grants the motion as to Plaintiff's failure-to-train and due process claims. The Court denies the motion in all other respects.

         I. Background

         This is a First Amendment retaliation case. Plaintiff was an employee in Hattiesburg, Mississippi's department of sanitation and public works. He witnessed a fellow employee, a truck driver, texting and driving. Plaintiff complained to his supervisor, Defendant Larry Barnes, but Barnes did nothing in response to his complaints. Wilson then filmed the truck driver texting and driving and showed the video to Barnes. Barnes allegedly became hostile toward Plaintiff, displeased that Plaintiff had made the video. After the City failed to respond to his complaints, Plaintiff released the video to the public, purportedly out of concern for public safety. Shortly thereafter, the City terminated Plaintiff's employment. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, alleging that the City fired him in retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment rights, and that it deprived him of due process. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss [3], which the Court now considers.

         II. Standard of Review

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC v. La. State, 624 F.3d 201, 210 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). “To be plausible, the complaint's factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. (punctuation omitted). The Court must “accept all well-pleaded facts as true and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id. But the Court will not accept as true “conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions.” Id. Likewise, “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” PSKS, Inc. v. Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc., 615 F.3d 412, 417 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

         III. Discussion

         A. Municipal Liability

         First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff did not plead sufficient facts to establish municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, Defendants contend that Plaintiff failed to plead specific facts showing that a city policy or custom was the moving force behind the alleged constitutional violation.

         The Fifth Circuit provided the following summary of the law concerning municipal liability under § 1983:

A municipality is not liable under § 1983 on the theory of respondeat superior, but only for acts that are directly attributable to it through some official action or imprimatur. To hold a municipality liable under § 1983 for the misconduct of an employee, a plaintiff must show, in addition to a constitutional violation, that an official policy promulgated by the municipality's policymaker was the moving force behind, or actual cause of the constitutional injury. The official policy itself must be unconstitutional or, if not, must have been adopted with deliberate indifference to the known or obvious fact that such constitutional violations would result.
Official policy can arise in various forms. It usually exists in the form of written policy statements, ordinances, or regulations, but may also arise in the form of a widespread practice that is so common and well-settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents municipal policy. A policy is official only when it results from the decision or acquiescence of the municipal officer or body with final policymaking authority over the subject matter of the offending policy.
Although an official policy can render a municipality culpable, there can be no municipal liability unless it is the moving force behind the constitutional violation. In other words, a plaintiff must show direct causation, i.e., that there was a direct causal link between the policy and the violation.
A plaintiff must show that, where the official policy itself is not facially unconstitutional, it was adopted with deliberate indifference as to its known or obvious consequences. Deliberate indifference is a degree of culpability beyond mere negligence; it must amount to an ...

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