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Hamilton v. Powell

United States District Court, Western District of Louisiana, Alexandria Division

December 2, 2014





Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 18) filed by defendants Deputy Clinton Dunn, Sheriff Victor E. Jones, Jr., and Lieutenant Brian K. Powell. The time limits for responding have run, but no opposition has been submitted by Plaintiff, John Willie Hamilton. For the following reasons, the motion will be GRANTED.

I. Background

The facts in this case arise from a visit Mr. Hamilton made to Wal-Mart in Natchitoches on the night of September 20, 2012. On that night, as Mr. Hamilton entered the store, he responded to a greeting by displaying his middle finger to Deputy Dunn and Lieutenant Powell. (Doc. 18-2). When those two men approached Mr. Hamilton to question him about the rude gesture, he told them "don't fucking talk to me." (Doc. 18-2). Deputy Dunn and Lieutenant Powell asked Mr. Hamilton to calm down and leave the store, and when he did not comply, they escorted him out.

Mr. Hamilton then called Sheriff Jones and told him that he had loaded guns and that he intended to return to Wal-Mart to shop. He also made several 9-1-1 calls and relayed this same information to the dispatcher. Sheriff Jones subsequently informed Lieutenant Powell of his phone call with Mr. Hamilton, and also warned Lieutenant Powell that Mr. Hamilton had previously made threats against the police. This was Sheriff Jones's only involvement in this matter, (see Doc. 18-6). Lieutenant Powell then informed Wal-Mart about Mr. Hamilton's threats. Deputy Dunn obtained a warrant for Mr. Hamilton's arrest for two counts of Threatening a Public Official (La. Rev. Stat. § 14:122.2), two counts of Simple Assault (La. Rev. Stat. § 14:38), and one count of Attempted Terrorizing (La. Rev. Stat. § 14.40.1 and §14:27).

Deputy Dunn and Lieutenant Powell had no further involvement in the events of the night (see Doc. 18-4). After the warrant was obtained, Lieutenant Carl Taylor and other deputies went to Mr. Hamilton's home to arrest him. Mr. Hamilton refused to answer their knocks at his door and called to them that he would not come outside. Because of this refusal, a SWAT team was activated to enter Mr. Hamilton's house. They entered his home, found him wrapped in a blanket in his attic, arrested him, and transferred him to the Natchitoches Parish Detention Center.[1]

Mr. Hamilton filed this complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging various constitutional violations and state law claims. He named only Deputy Dunn, Lieutenant Powell, and Sheriff Jones as defendants. All defendants filed the instant motion alleging that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law because no constitutional violation occurred, that they are entitled to qualified immunity, and that respondeat superior liability (the only theory under which Mr. Hamilton makes claims against Sheriff Jones) does not apply in §1983 actions.

II. Law & Analysis

A. Summary Judgment Standard

A court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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). A dispute of material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). We consider all "evidence in the light most favorable to the party resisting the motion." Trevino v. Celanese Corp., 701 F.2d 397, 407 (5th Cir. 1983). When the nonmovant ultimately would bear the burden of proof at trial, however, the movant may satisfy its summary judgment burden by showing the absence of evidence in the record to establish an essential element of the nonmovant's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). It is important to note the standard for summary judgment is two-fold: (1) there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and (2) the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

A court cannot grant summary judgment simply because the nonmoving party fails to oppose the motion, even if the failure to oppose violates a local rule. Hibernia Nat. Bank v. Administracion Cent. Sociedad Anonima, 776 F.2d 1277, 1279 (5th Cir. 1985). The moving party "has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine [dispute] of material fact and, unless he has done so, the court may not grant the motion, regardless of whether any response was filed." Id. However, in this District, Local Rule 56.2 gives added direction when summary judgment is unopposed: "All material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party will be deemed admitted, for the purposes of the motion, unless controverted as required by this rule." Therefore, as there is no opposition to the current motion, all facts in the statement of material facts provided by Movants (Doc. 18-2) are deemed admitted for purposes of this Court's decision.

B. Section 1983 Actions

42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a viable claim under § 1983, "'a plaintiff must (1) allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) demonstrate that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law."' James v. Tex. Collin Cntv., 535 F.3d 365, 373 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Moore v. Willis Indep. Sch. Dist., 233 F.3d 871, 874 (5th Cir. 2000)). Because § 1983 contemplates violations of both constitutional and statutory mandates, "'a plaintiff must assert the violation of a federal right, not merely a violation of federal law.'" Equal Access for El Paso, Inc. v. Hawkins, 509 F.3d 697, 702 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Blessing v. Freestone, 520 U.S. 329, 340 (1997) (emphasis in original)).

In his complaint, Mr. Hamilton asserts that defendants committed violations of § 1983 in the form of "arrest, " "detention and confinement, " "conspiracy, " and also in the form of "refusing or neglecting to prevent" a list of actions including "malicious prosecution, " "malicious abuse of process, " violations of the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses in the United States and Louisiana Constitutions, "false arrest and imprisonment, " "assault, " "battery, " "conspiracy, " and "intentional infliction of emotional distress." (Doc. 1).

Mr. Hamilton's claims of assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress are state law torts, not constitutional or federal law violations, so they are not cognizable under § 1983. However, this Court has supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367, so we address those claims as well. Additionally, because Mr. Hamilton asserts claims against ...

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