United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
reasons below, the Court grants in part and denies in
part Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings . The Court grants the motion as to
Plaintiff's excessive-force claim against Defendant
Sellers, her false arrest claims against both Sellers and
Nate Cook, her First Amendment retaliation claims against
both Sellers and Nate Cook, her failure-to-train claims
against both Sellers and Nate Cook, and her Section 1983 and
1985 conspiracy claims against both Sellers and Nate Cook.
The Court denies the motion in all other respects. The Court
likewise denies Plaintiff's request to amend the
Complaint and correct the pleading deficiencies, but
Plaintiff may file a separate motion for leave to amend
accompanied by a proposed Amended Complaint.
claims that she was beaten by a police officer at a traffic
checkpoint while her children watched. She admits that she
did not immediately stop, claiming that she did not recognize
that it was a checkpoint. She also admits that she had no
driver's license or proof of insurance. However, she
alleges that Defendant Nate Cook, a police officer employed
by Columbia, Mississippi, was immediately hostile toward her,
belittling her and using profanity. She further alleges that
he forcibly removed her from the vehicle before she had a
chance to comply with his order to exit, and that he began
beating her when she asked why she was being arrested.
Plaintiff claims that she cried for help, but two other
officers on the scene, Defendants Jeremy Sellers and Jason
Cook, ignored her.
filed this lawsuit against Columbia, Mississippi, Nate Cook,
Jeremy Sellers, and Jason Cook, claiming that they caused
severe injuries. She asserted federal claims of false arrest
and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment,
retaliation for the exercise of her right to free speech in
violation of the First Amendment, a failure-to-train claim
against the City, as well as various state-law claims.
Defendants Nate Cook and Jeremy Sellers filed a Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings , which the Court now addresses.
Standard of Review
“motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c)
is subject to the same standard as a motion to dismiss under
Rule 12(b)(6).” Doe v. MySpace, Inc., 528 F.3d
413, 418 (5th Cir. 2008). 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).
argue that “heightened pleading” is required in
cases where the defendant asserts qualified immunity as a
defense. Plaintiff argues that no heightened pleading
standard applies. Although the Fifth Circuit's case law
has been less than clear on this point - and, unfortunately,
this Court has perpetuated the lack of clarity - Plaintiff is
correct: “[W]hen, as here, a qualified immunity defense
is asserted in an answer or a motion to dismiss, the district
court must - as always - do no more than determine whether
the plaintiff has filed a short and plain statement of his
complaint, a statement that rests on more than conclusions
alone.” Anderson v. Valdez, 845 F.3d 500,
589-90 (5th Cir. 2016).
confusion surrounding this issue appears to stem from
Reyes v. Sazan, 168 F.3d 158 (5th Cir. 1999). In
Reyes, the Court of Appeals held that when a
plaintiff asserts claims against individual defendants but
fails to plead them with particularity, the trial court
should order them to file a Rule 7(a) reply, as provided in
Schultea v. Wood, 47 F.3d 1427, 1430 (5th Cir.
1995). Reyes, 168 F.3d at 161. The Court said:
“The Schultea rule governing the Rule 7(a)
reply is an instantiation of the more general principle that
‘heightened pleading' is needed in qualified
immunity cases. Heightened pleading requires allegations of
fact focusing specifically on the conduct of the individual
who caused the plaintiffs' injury.” Id.;
see also Nunez v. Simms, 341 F.3d 385, 388 (5th Cir.
2003); Wicks v. Miss. State Employment Servs., 41
F.3d 991, 995 (5th Cir. 1995).
Court of Appeals has since clarified that “the
heightened pleading standard derived from Rule 9 does not
apply to the complaint or to any reply merely because an
answer or motion to dismiss asserts a defense of qualified
immunity.” Anderson, 845 F.3d at 590. Rather,
“the general pleading standard from Rule 8(a)(2)”
applies when considering whether a plaintiff has stated a
claim against an individual defendant for the violation of
constitutional rights. Id.
the district court must insist that a plaintiff suing a
public official under § 1983 file a short and plain
statement of his complaint, a statement that rests on more
than conclusions alone, ” as required by Rule 8(a)(2).
Schultea, 47 F.3d at 1433-34; see also
Anderson, 845 F.3d at 590; O'Reilly v. Univ. of
Miss. Med. Ctr., 2019 WL 2583520, at *5 (S.D.Miss. June
24, 2019); Rodriguez v. Bexar County, 2018 WL
4431433, at *9 (W.D. Tex. Sept. 17, 2018). This is not a
heightened pleading standard, Anderson, 845 F.3d at
590, but the plaintiff must “plead specific facts that
both allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the harm he has alleged and that
defeat a qualified immunity defense with equal
specificity.” Hinojosa v. Livingston, 807 F.3d
657, 664 (5th Cir. 2015). In that respect, it is no different
than the typical 12(b)(6) standard of review under
the Court may, “in its discretion, insist that a
plaintiff file a reply tailored to the defendant's answer
or motion to dismiss pleading the defense of qualified
immunity.” Anderson, 845 F.3d at 590.
“Even if the district court does so insist,
Schultea requires it to apply Rule 8(e)(1)'s
standard to the reply, emphasizing that it is the only rule
that governs the content of replies.” Id.
raised the defense of qualified immunity. “The doctrine
of qualified immunity protects government officials from
liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not
violate clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct.
808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). “Although nominally a
defense, the plaintiff has the burden to negate the defense
once properly raised.” Poole v. Shreveport,
691 F.3d 624, 627 (5th Cir. 2012).
are two steps in the Court's analysis. First, the Court
determines whether the defendant's “conduct
violates an actual constitutional right.” Brumfield
v. Hollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir. 2008). Second,
the Court must “consider whether [the defendant's]
actions were objectively unreasonable in the light of clearly
established law at the time of the conduct in
question.” Id. The Court may address either
step first. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236.
qualified immunity standard gives ample room for mistaken
judgments by protecting all but the plainly incompetent or
those who knowingly violate the law.”
Brumfield, 551 F.3d at 326. The Court “applies
an objective standard based on the viewpoint of a reasonable
official in light of the information then available to the
defendant and the law that was clearly established at the
time of the defendant's actions.” Freeman v.
Gore, 483 F.3d 404, 411 (5th Cir. 2007). Each
Defendant's “entitlement to qualified immunity must
be considered on an individual basis.”
Randle v. Lockwood, No. 16-50393, 2016 U.S. App.
LEXIS 20326, at *11 n. 7 (5th Cir. Nov. 10, 2016) (citing
Meadours v. Ermel, 483 F.3d 417, 421-22 (5th Cir.