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Barnett v. City of Laurel

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

November 8, 2019

JAMES DEMETRIUS BARNETT PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF LAUREL, et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KEITH STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         For the reasons below, the Court grants the City of Laurel's Motion for Summary Judgment [195], denies Wade Robertson's Motion for Summary Judgment [206], and denies Bryce Gilbert's Motion for Summary Judgment [209].

         I. Background

         The Court discussed the background of this case in a previous opinion. Memorandum Opinion and Order, Barnett v. City of Laurel, No. 2:18-CV-92-KS-MTP (S.D.Miss. Sept. 5, 2018), ECF No. 77. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Bryce Gilbert and Wade Robertson, officers of Laurel, Mississippi's police department, pursued him and pulled him over after he altered his route to avoid a roadblock. Plaintiff claims that he never resisted arrest, but that Gilbert and Robertson repeatedly kicked him in the head with steel-toed boots after he was face-down on the ground. Plaintiff, an African-American, believes that Defendants' alleged actions were motivated by his race.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, naming the City of Laurel, Bryce Gilbert, and Wade Robertson as Defendants. Both individual Defendants are named in their individual and official capacities. Plaintiff asserted numerous claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of constitutional rights. The Court already dismissed Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages as to the City and the individual Defendants in their official capacities, and Plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985 and 1986. Id. at 4, 6. The Court also addressed the parties' evidentiary motions and excluded much of Plaintiff's proposed expert testimony. Memorandum Opinion and Order, Barnett v. Laurel, No. 2:18-CV-92-KS-MTP (S.D.Miss. Nov. 6, 2019), ECF No. 251. The Court now addresses Defendants' motions for summary judgment.

         II. City of Laurel's Motion for Summary Judgment [195]

         First, the City filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [195]. Rule 56 provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). “Where the burden of production at trial ultimately rests on the nonmovant, the movant must merely demonstrate an absence of evidentiary support in the record for the nonmovant's case.” Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). The nonmovant “must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. “An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Sierra Club, 627 F.3d at 138. “An issue is ‘genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Cuadra, 626 F.3d at 812.

         The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, “the court must view the facts and the inference to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sierra Club, 627 F.3d at 138. However, “[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).

         A. Municipal Liability

         First, the City argues that the Court should grant summary judgment in its favor as to any Section 1983 claims because Plaintiff has no evidence of a municipal policy or custom that was the moving force behind the alleged constitutional deprivations. 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 intentional choice, not merely an unintentionally negligent oversight.

James v. Harris County, 577 F.3d 612, 617-18 (5th Cir. 2009) (punctuation and citations omitted).

         Plaintiff contends that the City had an unwritten policy and custom of allowing excessive force. Plaintiff cites alleged comments that officers made to him. He alleges that Defendant Gilbert said, “If you do wrong you get done wrong, ” and that another officer called him “boy” and made a comment about “steel-toed boots on [Plaintiff's] face.”[1]

         As noted above, a plaintiff can satisfy Monell's “policy or custom requirement” with proof of a “persistent, widespread practice of city officials or employees which, although not authorized by officially adopted and promulgated policy, is so common and well settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents municipal policy.” World Wide Street Preachers Fellowship v. Town of Columbia, 591 F.3d 747, 753 (5th Cir. 2009). But a single incident is not enough to prove such a custom. Id.; see also Pineda v. City of Houston, 291 F.3d 325, 329 (5th Cir. 2002). Plaintiff has not presented any evidence to support his allegation of a policy or custom of permitting the use of excessive force beyond a couple of remarks by officers at or around the subject incident. That is plainly insufficient to prove a “persistent, widespread practice” that is “so common and well settled as to constitute a custom . . . .” World Wide Street Preachers, 291 F.3d at 329.

         Therefore, the Court finds that there is no genuine dispute of material fact on this issue. Plaintiff cannot prove that a municipal policy or custom was the moving force behind the alleged constitutional deprivations in this case. The Court grants the City's motion as to all Section 1983 claims asserted against it.

         B. Failure to Train or Supervise

         Next, the City argues that Plaintiff has no evidence to support his claim that the City's failure to train or supervise its employees caused the alleged constitutional deprivation. Plaintiff did not respond to this argument in his brief.

         “To prevail on a failure-to-train theory, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) that the municipality's training procedures were inadequate, (2) that the municipality was deliberately indifferent in adopting its training policy, and (3) that the inadequate training policy directly caused the violations in question.” Westfall v. Luna, 903 F.3d 534, 552 (5th Cir. 2018). The “plaintiff must allege with specificity how a particular training program is defective.” Id.

         “[D]eliberate indifference is a stringent standard of fault, requiring [allegations] that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 179 L.Ed.2d 417 (2011). Plaintiff must show “that in light of the duties assigned to specific officers or employees the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need.” Valle v. City of Houston, 613 F.3d 536, 547 (5th Cir. 2010).

         Ordinarily, this standard “requires a pattern of similar conduct.” Jordan v. Brumfield, 687 Fed.Appx. 408, 415-16 (5th Cir. 2017). But a plaintiff can also “establish deliberate indifference by showing a single incident with proof of the possibility of recurring situations that present an obvious potential for violation of constitutional rights.” Burge v. St. Tammany Parish, 336 F.3d 363, 373 (5th Cir. 2003). The single-incident exception is narrow, though, and it only applies “where the facts giving rise to the violation are such that it should have been apparent to the policymaker that a constitutional violation was the highly predictable consequence of a particular policy or failure to train.” Id.

         Plaintiff did not direct the Court to any evidence demonstrating “(1) that the municipality's training procedures were inadequate, (2) that the municipality was deliberately indifferent in adopting its training policy, [or] (3) that the inadequate training policy directly caused the violations in question.” Westfall, 903 F.3d at 552. Plaintiff has not even articulated or alleged a specific deficiency in the City's training procedures. Therefore, the Court grants the City's motion as to any Section 1983 claim premised upon its alleged failure to train or supervise its employees.

         C. ...


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