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Higginbotham v. City of Louisville

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

October 7, 2019

KEITH HIGGINBOTHAM PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF LOUISVILLE, MISSISSIPPI; and WINSTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE DEFENDANTS

          OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND MOTION TO DISMISS

         Before this court are two separate motions of the Defendants to dismiss the Plaintiffs claims - a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by the Defendant City of Louisville pursuant to Rule 12(c) [Doc. No. 31] and a motion to dismiss filed by the Defendant Winston County Sheriffs Office pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) [Doc. No. 26]. Upon due consideration, the court finds that both motions should be granted and the Plaintiffs claims dismissed.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On July 3, 2016, the Plaintiff was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and public profanity after an incident that occurred outside of the Wal-Mart store in Louisville, Mississippi. Higginbotham v. State of Mississippi, 242 So.3d 949 (Miss. Ct. App. 2018). The Plaintiff was convicted of the charges in the Louisville Municipal Court and sentenced to pay a fine of $246.25 on each charge. Id. He appealed the convictions to the Circuit Court of Winston County; after a bench trial de novo in that court on November 14, 2016, he was found guilty of both charges and sentenced to pay the aforementioned fines plus court costs. Id.

         The Plaintiff then filed the present lawsuit on January 25, 2019, asserting various civil rights claims against numerous defendants [1]. He subsequently filed an amended complaint, naming solely the present two Defendants, and asserting claims for, inter alia, wrongful arrest and defamation [12]. The Defendants have now moved for dismissal of the Plaintiffs claims - the City of Louisville has filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that the Plaintiff has failed to set forth allegations that could plausibly support municipal liability, and the Winston County Sheriffs Office has filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the Plaintiff cannot state a claim for relief because the Sheriffs Office is not a separate legal entity capable of being sued.

         II. STANDARD FOR DISMISSAL UNDER RULE 12(B)(6) AND 12(C)

         When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court is limited to the allegations set forth in the complaint and any documents attached to the complaint. Walker v. Webco Indus., Inc., 562 Fed.Appx. 215, 216-17 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (citing Kennedy v. Chase Manhattan Bank USA, NA, 369 F.3d 833, 839 (5th Cir. 2004)). "[A plaintiffs] complaint therefore must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Phillips v. City of Dallas, Tex., 781 F.3d 772, 775-76 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007))). A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         In other words, "plaintiffs must allege facts that support the elements of the cause of action in order to make out a valid claim." Webb v. Morella, 522 Fed.Appx. 238, 241 (5th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (quoting City of Clinton, Ark v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 632 F.3d 148, 152-53 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss." Id. (quoting Fernandez-Montes v. Allied Pilots Ass'n, 987 F.2d 278, 284 (5th Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "Dismissal is appropriate when the plaintiff has not alleged 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face' and has failed to 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Emesowum v. Houston Police Dep't, 561 Fed.Appx. 372, 372 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

         As for the Defendant City of Louisville's motion for judgment on the pleadings, "after the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A Rule 12(c) motion is governed by the same standards as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Brown v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 472 Fed.Appx. 302, 303 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co. v. Williamson, 224 F.3d 425, 440 n.8 (5th Cir. 2000)). "A motion brought pursuant to [Rule] 12(c) is designed to dispose of cases where the material facts are not in dispute and a judgment on the merits can be rendered by looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts." Hebert Abstract Co. v. Touchstone Props., Ltd., 914 F.2d 74, 76 (5th Cir. 1990) (per curiam); Hall v. Hodgkins, 305 Fed.Appx. 224, 227-28 (5th Cir. 2008).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiffs Claims against the Winston County Sheriffs Department

         The Defendant Sheriffs Department argues that it is not a separate legal entity distinct from Winston County and that the Plaintiffs claims against it should therefore be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Whether the Sheriffs Department has the capacity to be sued must be determined according to Mississippi law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b)(3).

         It has been clear for some time under Mississippi law that a sheriffs department is not a separate legal entity that has the capacity to be sued. See Brown v. Thompson, 927 So.2d 733, 737 (Miss. 2006) ("[T]he Sheriffs Department does not enjoy a separate legal existence, apart from [the] County"); Harris v. Jackson County, Miss., No. 1:14CV435, 2015 WL 1427412, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Mar. 27, 2015); Cosner v. Lee County Sheriff's Dep't, No. 1:10CV4, 2010 WL 1759539, at *1 (N.D. Miss. Mar. 16, 2010); Miller v. Choctaw County Sheriff's Dep't, No.1:04CV96, 2006 WL 662340, at *2 (N.D. Miss. Mar. 13, 2006). Accordingly, the Plaintiff is unable to state a claim upon which relief can be granted against the Defendant Winston County Sheriffs Department, and it is entitled to dismissal.

         B. Plaintiffs Claims Against the City of Louisville

         The Plaintiff has asserted claims against the Defendant City of Louisville, presumably pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for wrongful arrest, violations of his First and Sixth Amendment ...


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