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Magee v. Pike County

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

December 20, 2019

THWANDA MAGEE, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND OF MINOR 1, MINOR 2, AND MINOR 3 PLAINTIFF
v.
PIKE COUNTY; KENNY COTTON, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; BENA WILLIAMS-JONES, IN HER INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY; OTHER UNKNOWN EMPLOYEES AND ELECTED OFFICIALS OF PIKE COUNTY, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND/OR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          DAVID BRAMLETTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause is before the Court on plaintiff Thwanda Magee (“Magee”)'s Complaint against defendants Pike County, Sheriff Kenny Cotton in his Official Capacity, Deputy Bena Williams-Jones in her Individual and Official Capacity, and Other Unknown Employees and Elected Officials of Pike County. [ECF No. 1]. Defendant Bena Williams-Jones (“Williams-Jones”) has filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Based on Qualified Immunity [ECF No. 13] and a Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 15]. Defendants Kenny Cotton (“Cotton”) and Williams-Jones have filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings as to Official Capacity Claims [ECF No. 17].

         Background

         On or about April 18, 2018, Magee was returning home after work and saw in her driveway Pike County law enforcement officers, who claimed to be looking for a “black male” carrying a gun. Pike County Deputy Williams-Jones and other deputies began to question Magee about the location of the man they were looking for. Magee told the law enforcement officer that she had no knowledge about such a man. After this interaction, Magee's mobile home and vehicles on her property were searched without a search warrant and without Magee's consent.

         Magee was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and for giving false identification. She was transported to the Pike County jail and held overnight. The Pike County Deputies contacted the Department of Human Services and/or other state agency regarding the removal of Magee's minor children from her custody. The next day Magee appeared in Pike County Justice Court where both charges were dismissed and withdrawn by a Pike County Justice Court Judge. Magee was released from custody, but her children remained separated from her for three months.

         Magee asserts that the deputies violated her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Constitutional rights when they: (1) “detained her without articulating a reasonable suspicion that she committed a crime;” (2) “searched her home and curtilage without consent or a warrant;” (3) “arrested Ms. Magee without probable cause to believe she committed a crime; and/or” (4) “lawfully arrested her for an unlawful reason.” [ECF No. 1] at p. 5.

         Standard of Review

         Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs a motion for judgment on the pleadings. The standard for addressing such a motion is the same as that for addressing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See In re Great Lakes Dredge & Co., 624 F.3d 201, 209-10 (5th Cir. 2010). To avoid dismissal, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. at 210(quoting Bell Atl. Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The factual allegations in a complaint must be enough to raise the right to relief above the speculative level. See id. The Court must “accept all well-pleaded facts as true and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id.

         Defendant Williams-Jones moves, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A party is entitled to 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). The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence at the summary judgment stage of litigation. See Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009)(citing Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2010)). All facts and inferences must be made in “the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” See Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assoc., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010)(citation omitted).

         Discussion

         Official Capacity Claims

         Plaintiff Magee filed suit against Sheriff Cotton and Deputy Williams-Jones in their official capacities. However, “a suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office.” Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). “[N]either a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are ‘persons' under § 1983.” Id. Because an official acting in his or her official capacity is not a “person” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, he or she cannot be sued in his or her official capacity under § 1983. See id. Therefore, Plaintiff Magee's claims against Sheriff Cotton and Deputy Williams-Jones in their official capacities must be dismissed. Magee only sues defendant Cotton “in his official capacity, ” so he shall be dismissed from this suit because there are no remaining claims against him. Magee's claims against Deputy Williams-Jones in her individual capacity will now be addressed.

         Personal Capacity Claims

         I. Unreasonable Search

         Plaintiff Magee's Complaint can be succinctly summarized: (1) when Magee arrived home from work, Pike County Law Enforcement officers were in Magee's driveway, searching for an African American man with a gun, (2) Magee informed the law enforcement officers that she had no knowledge of the man they were searching for, and (3) Deputy Williams-Jones searched her mobile home and the vehicles on her property without her consent or a search warrant.

         The Fourth Amendment provides:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

         The Supreme Court has made it explicitly clear that “[i]t is a ‘basic principle of Fourth Amendment law' that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.” Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980). Physical entry of the home is the “chief evil” that the Fourth Amendment is directed toward. See id. at 585. However, the presumption that a warrantless search of a home is unreasonable can be overcome in some circumstances. See Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 459 (2011). Some examples of exceptions to the warrant ...


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