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Beard v. Wolf

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 18, 2014



JAY C. ZAINEY, District Judge.

The following motion is before the Court: Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 77) filed by Defendants, Sheriff Daniel Edwards and Crane Wolf. Plaintiff, Janice Beard, has filed an opposition to the motion. The motion, noticed for submission on October 22, 2014, is before the Court on the briefs without oral argument. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.

Also before the Court is Defendants' Motion in Limine (Rec. Doc. 76) to exclude evidence and testimony at trial pertaining to several topics. The motion was noticed for submission on October 22, 2014. Plaintiff has not responded to the motion. The Court finds Defendants' unrebutted arguments to be persuasive. The motion in limine will therefore be GRANTED in its entirety.

I. Background

Plaintiff Janice Beard brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Deputy Crane Paul Wolf and Sheriff Daniel Edwards, both of Tangipahoa Parish.

This action arises out of plaintiff Janice Beard's arrest on February 22, 2013. Beard was a passenger in a vehicle that was attempting to exit a parking spot at a bar located in Hammond, Louisiana. (Comp. ¶ 6). The vehicle made contact with another vehicle and someone called 911. Defendant Wolf responded to the call. Beard contends that Wolf was belligerent and for no apparent reason pulled her from the vehicle, maced her, and threw her to the ground. ( Id. ¶ 10). Beard contends that she was then arrested without probable cause and subjected to excessive force in the process. ( Id. ¶¶ 11-2).

Beard alleges that she was denied timely medical treatment and food service while being held at the jail, and deprived of her personal belongings because she lacked the cash fee to obtain them. ( Id. ¶¶ 13-14, 18). The complaint against Wolf and the official capacity claims against Sheriff Daniel Edwards are brought pursuant to § 1983 and state law.

Plaintiff was charged with resisting an officer, battery of a police officer, and disturbing the peace. (Rec. Doc. 45, Fourth Amended Complaint ¶ 80). Those charges were nolle prossed on April 28, 2014. Plaintiff later amended her complaint to join claims against the District Attorney for Tangipahoa Parish for malicious prosecution. The Court dismissed those claims on July 23, 2014 (Rec. Doc. 64).

A jury trial in this matter is scheduled to commence on February 9, 2015. (Rec. Doc. 63).

Defendants now move for partial summary judgment on several issues, each of which the Court addresses below.

II. Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, " when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact." TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James, 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002) ( citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986)). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. ( citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). The court must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id. ( citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). Once the moving party has initially shown "that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's cause, " Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986), the non-movant must come forward with "specific facts" showing a genuine factual issue for trial. Id. ( citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). Conclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Id. ( citing SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993)).

The Court begins by noting that Plaintiff's opposition to Defendants' motion is for the most part unresponsive to the specific arguments that Defendants are making. The opposition not only fails in large part to address Defendants' arguments, but it also includes arguments in opposition to issues that clearly have not been raised, and to claims that are not part even part of this lawsuit.[1] Plaintiff's opposition totals 546 pages yet the briefing contains only two citations to the exhibits.[2] The party opposing summary judgment must do so by citing to specific evidence in the record. Willis v. Cleo Corp., 749 F.3d 314, 317 n.3 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Ragas v. Tenn. Gas Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998)). That party must also explain the "precise manner" in which that evidence supports her argument. Id. (quoting Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1536 (5th Cir. 1994)). Rule 56 does not impose on the district court a duty to sift through the record in search of evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment. Id. at 317 (quoting Ragas, 136 F.3d at 458).

A. Official Capacity Claims

Plaintiff has sued Sheriff Edwards in his official capacity only, and she has sued Deputy Wolf in both his official and individual capacities. (Rec. Doc. 3; Amended Comp. ¶ 3(A)-(C)). Official capacity suits represent another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent. Turner v. Houma Mun. Fire & Police Civil Serv. Bd., 229 F.3d 478, 483 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985)). Thus, all of the official capacity claims in this action are against the Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish.

The sole claim that the Court addresses for purposes of the official capacity claims are the Fourth Amendment claims for false arrest and excessive force. See the discussion infra regarding rights listed in the pleadings but that are not implicated under the facts of this case.

The official capacity claims are governed generally by the principles of Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Under Monell, for a municipality to be liable for the constitutional violations of one of its employees, the plaintiff must offer proof of a policy or custom that was the moving force behind the claimed constitutional violation. Duvall v. Dallas County Tex., 631 F.3d 203, 210 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694).

In her opposition, Plaintiff points to no evidence to support the inference that the Sheriff had an official policy or custom of allowing officers to use excessive force and to arrest citizens without probable cause, much less one that was the moving force behind Plaintiff's injuries.

Plaintiff asserts in her opposition that she should be granted a continuance on Defendants' motion and she makes reference to outstanding discovery requests but she does not describe what she expects to discover at this late date. The Court notes that no motions to compel are pending and Plaintiff's most recent motion before the magistrate judge was dismissed due to Plaintiff's counsel's failure to appear for the hearing. (Rec. Doc. 111; Minute Entry 11/19/14). Plaintiff did have a motion to compel pending but that motion was likewise dismissed because once again counsel did not appear. (Rec. Doc. 109; Minute Entry 11/12/14). Plaintiff has not demonstrated cause for delaying resolution of Defendants' motion so no continuance will be granted.

Plaintiff has failed to create an issue of fact as to a policy or custom that was the moving force behind her alleged injuries. The motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to this claim.

Plaintiff also asserts a failure to train/supervise claim as one of her theories of official capacity liability. To succeed on a failure to train claim the plaintiff must demonstrate that 1) the municipality's training policy procedures were inadequate, 2) the municipality was deliberately indifferent in adopting its training policy, and 3) the inadequate training policy directly caused the plaintiff's injuries. Sanders-Burns v. City of Plano, 594 F.3d 366, 381 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 200 (5th Cir. 1996)). A § 1983 failure to supervise claim requires proof that 1) the supervisor failed to supervise the officer; 2) a causal link exists between the failure to supervise and the violation of the plaintiff's rights; and 3) the failure to supervise amounts to deliberate indifference. Goodman v. Harris County, 571 F.3d 388, 395 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Smith v. Brenoettsy, 158 F.3d 908, 911-12 (5th Cir. 1998)). To establish deliberate indifference the plaintiff usually must demonstrate a pattern of violations and that the inadequacy of the training is obvious and obviously likely to result in a constitutional violation. Id. (quoting Cousin v. Small, 325 F.3d 627, 637 (5th Cir. 2003)).

In her opposition Plaintiff suggests that Wolf was unable to testify regarding his general understanding of the Sheriff's policies.[3] Plaintiff points out, without citation to any evidence or reference to any details, that Wolf had a prior disciplinary history. These arguments do not address the culpability of the Sheriff as a moving force behind any violation. Plaintiff has failed to create an issue of fact as to a failure to train/supervise claim. The motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to these theories of liability.

B. Miscellaneous Claims

The Original and Amended Complaints contain references to various rights and causes of action that are not implicated under the facts of this case. Defendants have moved to dismiss any claims under the Second, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff has not responded to this aspect of the motion. Thus, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to any claims brought under these Amendments.

Any purported separate claim for invasion of privacy is likewise DISMISSED.

C. Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 1985(3), and 1986

Defendants move for summary judgment on any claims asserted under §§ 1981, 1985(3), and 1986. Section 1981 prohibits intentional racial discrimination in the making and enforcing of contracts. Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160, 168 (1976); Oden v. Oktibbeha Cnty., 246 F.3d 458, 463 (5th Cir. 2001).[4] This provision is not implicated under the facts of this case.

Section 1985 is a civil conspiracy statute.[5] The law in this circuit recognizes that a § 1985(2) or (3) claim must be grounded on racial animus. Bryan v. City of Madison, 213 F.3d 267, 276 (5th Cir. 2000) (citing Newberry v. East Tex. State Univ., 161 F.3d 276, 281 n.2 5th Cir. 1988)); Mitchell v. City of Sugar Land, No. 10-223, 2011 WL 1156253, at *8 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 25, 2011) (citing Wong v. Stripling, 881 F.2d 200, 202-03 (5th Cir. 1989)).

Plaintiff produces no evidence whatsoever that race played a factor in Wolf's conduct, much less that he conspired with others to do it. Further, a municipality cannot as a matter of law enter into a conspiracy. Batiste v. City of Beaumont, 421 F.Supp.2d 969, 988 (E.D. Tex. 2005); Mitchell, 2011 WL 1156253, at *8 (citing Benningfield v. City of Houston, 157 F.3d 369, 378 (5th Cir. 1998); Hiliard v. Ferguson, 30 F.3d 649, 653 (5th Cir. 1994)). Plaintiff has no plausible claim under § 1985. And §1986 does not provide an independent cause of action but instead requires the existence of a valid claim under § 1985.[6] Bradt v. Smith, 634 F.2d 796, 799 n.3 (5th Cir. 1981).

The motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to any claims under §§ 1981, 1985, and 1986.

D. State Law Claims

To recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Louisiana law, a plaintiff must establish 1) that the conduct of the defendant was extreme and outrageous; 2) that the emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff was severe; 3) and that the defendant desired to inflict severe emotional distress or knew that severe emotional distress would be certain or substantially certain to result from his conduct. Stevenson v. Lavalco, Inc., 669 So.2d 608, 611 (La.App. 2nd Cir. 1996) (citing White v. Monsanto, Co., 585 So.2d 1205 (La. 1991)).

Defendants point out that Plaintiff has not sought any type of psychiatric or other psychological help as a result of the encounter with Wolf. Plaintiff fails to point to any competent evidence to create an issue of fact on this claim, particularly with respect to the requirement of severe emotional distress. The motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to this claim.

Defendants move for summary judgment on any claims that Plaintiff might have asserted for abuse of process and malicious prosecution. Plaintiff did not address this aspect of Defendants' motion in her opposition. The motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to these claims.

III. Motion in Limine

Plaintiff has not filed an opposition to Defendants' motion in limine. The Court finds merit to the motion, which will be granted in its entirety, and the following evidence will be excluded at trial: 1) references to drug usage and/or shooting up the crowd; 2) references to a lost wage claim (including any expert testimony in this area); 3) accident reconstruction (including any expert testimony in this area); 4) expert Lloyd Grafton; and 5) references to settlement.

IV. Conclusion

All federal claims are dismissed against Defendants in their official capacities. The only federal claims remaining for trial are Beard's Fourth Amendment claims against Wolf in his individual capacity for excessive force and false arrest. The supplemental state law tort claims asserted against Wolfe personally, and against the Sheriff vicariously, for excessive force and false arrest, also remain for trial. Expert testimony for purposes of establishing liability will not be admitted.

Accordingly, and for the foregoing reasons;

IT IS ORDERED that the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 77) filed by Defendants, Sheriff Daniel Edwards and Crane Wolf, is GRANTED as explained above;

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Motion in Limine (Rec. Doc. 76) filed by Defendants, Sheriff Daniel Edwards and Crane Wolf, is GRANTED as explained above.

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