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Ahasrt v. Mouton

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

July 20, 2015

MICHAEL AHART, ET AL
v.
PAUL MOUTON, ET AL

MEMORANDUM RULING

PATRICK J. HANNA, Magistrate Judge.

Currently pending is the motion for summary judgment (Rec. Doc. 30), which was filed on behalf of defendant Paul Mouton, the duly elected City Marshal of the City of Opelousas, Louisiana, and defendant Frank Angelle, individually and in his capacity as Deputy Marshal of the City of Opelousas. The motion is opposed. Oral argument was held on June 23, 2015. Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained below, the motion is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

This lawsuit was brought on behalf of Michael Ahart, individually and acting on behalf of his minor daughter, Alexis Ahart. According to the complaint, Opelousas Deputy Marshal Frank Angelle entered the Aharts' home on August 22, 2013, without a search warrant and without consent of the owner of the property. It is alleged that Deputy Marshal Angelle searched and photographed the residence in violation of Mr. Ahart's constitutional rights. It is also alleged that, after he observed Alexis videotaping him while he was in the Aharts' home, Angelle injured her wrist while taking her phone out of her hand to delete the video, using force that was excessive under the circumstances and amounted to both a violation of her Constitutional rights and state-law assault and battery.

The plaintiff claims that he was harmed in two ways. First, Mr. Ahart alleges that he is aggrieved by Deputy Marshal Angelle entering his home and searching it without his consent. Second, Mr. Ahart alleges that his daughter was injured when Deputy Marshal Angelle used excessive force in stopping her from taking photos of him during the search.

ANALYSIS

The defendants' motion for summary judgment seeks to have this Court dismiss the claims asserted against Deputy Marshal Angelle on the basis of qualified immunity, dismiss the claims asserted against Marshal Mouton, and decline jurisdiction over the state-law claims.

A. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the applicable governing law.[1] A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could render a verdict for the nonmoving party.[2]

The party seeking summary judgment has the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that demonstrate the absence of genuine issues of material fact.[3] If the moving party carries its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of a material fact.[4]

All facts and inferences are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, [5] but the nonmoving party may not rely on mere allegations in the pleading; rather, the nonmovant must respond to the motion for summary judgment by setting forth particular facts indicating that there is a genuine issue for trial.[6] After the nonmovant has been given an opportunity to raise a genuine factual issue, if no reasonable juror could find for the nonmovant, summary judgment will be granted.[7]

If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by pointing out that there is insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim.[8] The motion should be granted if the nonmoving party cannot produce evidence to support an essential element of its claim.[9]

When, as in this case, the defendants advance the affirmative defense of qualified immunity, the usual summary judgment burden shifts to the plaintiffs to show that the defense is not available.[10]

B. THE STANDARD FOR EVALUATING A SECTION 1983 CLAIM

The complaint states that the plaintiff's claims are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1988 as well as under Louisiana law. Section 1983 provides a cause of action against anyone who "under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State" violates another person's Constitutional rights. Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights; it merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights conferred elsewhere.[11] To state a section 1983 claim, 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.[12] In this case, the defendants do not contest whether Marshal Mouton or Deputy Marshal Angelle acted under color of law at any relevant time. They do challenge whether the defendants' actions or omissions are constitutional violations.

C. THE STANDARD FOR EVALUATING QUALIFIED IMMUNITY

Qualified immunity, an affirmative defense to a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, protects government officials in their personal capacity, while performing discretionary functions, not only from suit, but from "liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known."[13] ...


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