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Renfroe v. Parker

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

August 13, 2019




         Plaintiff Amanda Kay Renfroe asks the Court to reconsider its decision awarding summary judgment to Defendants Robert Denver Parker and Randall Tucker, in their individual capacities, in this excessive-force case. Mot. [55]. She also asks for a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) continuance of the deadline to respond to the Court's show-cause order as to the official-capacity claims. Mot. [52]. For the reasons that follow, the Rule 56(d) motion is denied, and the motion to alter or amend is granted as to the state-law claims.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         The facts are more fully set forth in the Court's June 7, 2019 Order [46]. Renfroe filed the lead case of these consolidated lawsuits against Parker and Tucker, in their individual and official capacities, on August 31, 2018. She alleged excessive-force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and also asserted state-law tort claims. On January 31, 2019, Defendants asked for “summary judgment in their favor as to the individual liability claims asserted against them.” Mot. [17] at 1; see also Mem. [19] at 1 (seeking summary judgment “based on their individual immunity to the plaintiffs' federal and state law claims”). And while not moving for summary judgment on the official-capacity claims, Defendants in their memorandum asked the Court to “sua sponte address [Renfroe's] claims against them in their official capacities.” Mem. [19] at 24.

         On June 7, 2019, the Court granted Defendants' motion as to the individual-capacity claims, but declined Defendants' invitation to award summary judgment on the official-capacity claims. Instead, the Court gave Renfroe notice that it would consider Defendants' arguments and gave her “14 days to show cause why Defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on the official capacity claims.” Order [46] at 11; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f) (“After giving notice and a reasonable time to respond, the court may: (1) grant summary judgment for a nonmovant; (2) grant the motion on grounds not raised by a party; or (3) consider summary judgment on its own after identifying for the parties material facts that may not be genuinely in dispute.”).

         In lieu of a response to the show-cause directive, Renfroe filed her Motion for Continuance Pursuant to Rule 56(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [52] on June 28, 2019. She thereafter filed her Motion to Alter or Amend Order [55]. Renfroe asks the Court to set aside summary judgment on the individual-capacity claims and permit her to engage in discovery before responding to the official-capacity claims. Defendants responded to both motions, and Renfroe declined the opportunity to file a timely reply in support of either.

         II. Analysis

         A. Motion to Alter or Amend [55]

         Renfroe invokes Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) in her motion seeking reconsideration of the summary-judgment order. But “Rule 59(e) governs motions to alter or amend a final judgment, ” and there is no final judgment in this case. Austin v. Kroger Tex., L.P., 864 F.3d 326, 336 (5th Cir. 2017). Instead, Renfroe's motion should be considered under Rule 54(b), which “allows parties to seek reconsideration of interlocutory orders and authorizes the district court to ‘revise[] at any time' ‘any order or other decision . . . [that] does not end the action.'” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b)). Under the rule, the Court “is free to reconsider and reverse its decision for any reason it deems sufficient, even in the absence of new evidence or an intervening change in or clarification of the substantive law.” Lavespere v. Niagra Mach. & Tool Works, Inc., 910 F.2d 167, 185 (5th Cir. 1990).

         With this standard in mind, the Court addresses the four arguments Renfroe makes in support of her motion: (1) the Court failed to consider her expert's report; (2) the Court made impermissible credibility determinations; (3) Renfroe did not abandon her state-law claims against Defendants in their individual capacities; and (4) the Court did not address her argument challenging the constitutionality of qualified immunity.

         1. Expert Opinion

         Renfroe says the Court should have considered her expert's opinion when assessing the reasonableness of the force used against her husband. Specifically, she points out that her expert, Roy Taylor, opined that Parker's use of deadly force “was unnecessary and objectively unreasonable” and involved “a greater level of force than any other reasonable officer would have used under the same or similar circumstances in 2018.” Taylor Report [55-1] at 8. But as Defendants argued in their response to this motion, “[r]easonableness under the Fourth Amendment or Due Process Clause is a legal conclusion.” United States v. Williams, 343 F.3d 423, 435 (5th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It is therefore error to allow expert testimony on whether an officer used unreasonable force. Id. And “[evidence] that is inadmissible will not be considered on a motion for summary judgment because it would not establish a genuine issue of material fact if offered at trial[.]” Geiserman v. MacDonald, 893 F.2d 787, 793 (5th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). Renfroe offered no reply to this argument, and her expert's report does not create an issue of fact as to what occurred on the night of the shooting. Whether Parker's actions that night were reasonable is a question of law, and Taylor's contrary opinion receives no weight.

         2. Weighing the Evidence

         Renfroe says the Court “wrongly sided with the Defendants and made credibility determinations in favor of the Movants in several areas.” Am. Mem. [57] at 6. She then lists five instances where she says the Court impermissibly credited Parker's version of events. Those examples fall within three basic categories, none of which demonstrate that the Court impermissibly “pick[ed] sides” as Renfroe argues. Id. at 5.[1]

         First and foremost, under Rule 56(c)(1), Renfroe was required to present countervailing evidence regarding the events that night, something she could have easily done with her own affidavit. Instead, the Court was left with the dashcam video and Parker's record evidence that was largely consistent with that video. When a party fails to create a record, the Court is free to “consider the fact[s] undisputed for purposes of the motion.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). Indeed the Court pointed this out in the first passage Renfroe cites as proof of impermissible evidence weighing. As the Court ...

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