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Hassan v. City of Shreveport

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

November 30, 2017





         Before the Court are two motions for summary judgment: Plaintiff s motion regarding several of her claims against the City of Shreveport, [Record Document 53], and a broader motion by the City of Shreveport ("the City") and Willie Shaw ("Shaw"), the former chief of the Shreveport Police Department ("the Department"), on all of Plaintiff s claims against them, [Record Document 54]. The City and Shaw have filed opposition and reply briefs, and Plaintiff has filed an opposition brief, all of which have been considered by the undersigned. [Record Documents 56-58].

         M'Leah Hassan ("Hassan") was allegedly raped at the Shreveport police station by James Greene ("Greene"), then an officer with the Department. In addition to federal and state law claims against Greene in his individual and official capacities, Hassan brings the following claims against the City and Shaw: (1) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against the City and against Shaw in his individual and official capacities for failure to train Greene appropriately and for maintaining a policy, custom, or practice that allowed the alleged rape to occur; (2) a state law claim against the City for negligent hiring, training, and supervision of Greene; and (3) state law claims for assault, battery, and false imprisonment against the City as Greene's employer.

         For the reasons discussed below, Hassan's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, The City and Shaw's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The motion is GRANTED on Hassan's claims for punitive damages against the City and for punitive damages against Shaw in his official capacity. The motion is DENIED on all of Hassan's remaining claims against the City and against Shaw in his official capacity and on all of Hassan's claims against Shaw in his individual capacity.

         I. Background

         On February 10, 2015, Hassan went to the Department to file a report against a former boyfriend who had threatened her life. [Record Document 53-1 at 1]. Greene took her report inside his office. [Id.]. While she was there, he touched her breast under the guise of looking at a tattoo that she had; she swatted his hand away and left. [Record Documents 53 at 4 and 53-4 at 4], The following day, Greene telephoned Hassan and asked her to return to the police station. [Record Document 53-1 at 2]. When she did so, Greene again interviewed her in his office where the two had sexual intercourse; Greene contends that the sex was consensual, while Hassan alleges that it was rape. [Id.].

         After Hassan reported the incident, an investigation was opened that led to Greene's termination. [Record Document 54-2 at 2]. The state charged Greene with abuse of office under La. R.S.14:134.3; he was acquitted following a trial. [Record Document 40 at 2]. An important witness at the trial was Officer Stephen Gipson ("Gipson"), who at the time of the alleged rape was romantically involved with Hassan. [Record Document 54-4 at 3-5]. Hassan told Gipson that Greene had raped her, though he testified that he was uncertain whether or not he believed her. [Record Document 57-4 at 5]. Believing that Gipson had perjured himself on the stand to protect Greene and the Department, Hassan moved to amend her complaint to name Gipson as an additional defendant and to add two counts of conspiracy. [Record Document 37]. The Court denied Hassan's motion as both untimely and futile. [Record Document 40].

         II. Analysis

         A. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs a court to "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."[1] Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, answers to interrogatories, admissions, depositions, and affidavits on file indicate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). When the burden at trial will rest on the non-moving party, the moving party need not produce evidence to negate the elements of the non-moving party's case; rather, it need only point out the absence of supporting evidence. See Id. at 322-23. However, "if the movant bears the burden of proof on an issue, ... he must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense to warrant judgment in his favor." Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986).

         If the movant satisfies its initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact, the nonmovant must demonstrate that there is, in fact, a genuine issue for trial by going "beyond the pleadings" and designating specific facts for support. Little v. Liquid A ir Corp., 3 7 F. 3 d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325). "This burden is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " by conclusory or unsubstantiated allegations, or by a mere "scintilla of evidence." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). However, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1985). While not weighing the evidence or evaluating the credibility of witnesses, courts should grant summary judgment where the critical evidence in support of the nonmovant is so weak and tenuous that it could not support a judgment in the nonmovant's favor. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (citing Armstrong v. City of Datt., 997 F.2d 62 (5th Cir. 1993)).

         B. Section 1983 Claims Against the City and Shaw

         Hassan raises two § 1983 claims against the City and Shaw. First, she alleges a failure to train Greene in the proper procedures for taking a complainant's report, in a person's right to be free from unlawful seizures, and in Greene's "duties as a police officer [to] refrain from bringing a complainant in a criminal case to his office so he can satisfy his sexual desires." [Record Document 1 at 9].[2] Second, she alleges a policy, custom, or practice of providing inadequate training and employing, retaining, and failing to discipline an officer that the City "knew or reasonably should have known had dangerous propensities for abusing authority and for using his position... to make inappropriate sexual advances toward women." [Id. at 14].

         1. Adverse Inference from Gipson's Refusal to Answer Questions at His Deposition

         As discussed below, in order to prevail on her § 1983 claim that the City failed to adequately supervise and discipline Greene, Hassan must establish that the City and Shaw had reason to know that Greene was likely to engage in sexual misconduct. Shaw has submitted an affidavit stating that during his six-year term as police chief he was unaware of Greene or anyone "having sexual activity in their [sic] office at the Shreveport Police Department while on or off duty." [Record Document 57-2 at 1]. In response, Hassan points out that when asked whether he ever told anyone that Greene "had a reputation for getting fresh with women at the police department, " Gipson asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. [Record Documents 53 at 7-8 and 53-1 at 8-9][3]Hassan argues that this assertion is "affirmative evidence, not only of a cover-up and concealment of wrongdoing, but the deliberate promotion of a false counter-narrative intended to exonerate ... the City of Shreveport of civil liability." [Record Document 56-1 at 5].[4]

         The Fifth Amendment does not prohibit a factfinder from drawing adverse inferences in a civil trial from a non-party witness's invocation of the Fifth Amendment. FDIC v. Fid. & Deposit Co. of Md, 45 F.3d 969, 977(5thCir. 1995) (citing Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308, 318(1976); RAD Servs., Inc. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 808 F.2d 271, 275 (3d Cir. 1986)). In this case, it is not clear why Gipson invoked the Fifth Amendment with regard to this question. The question does not involve any action by Gibson-other than making the statement-but by Greene. However, the adverse inference that could be drawn from Gipson's invocation of his right against self-incrimination is that Greene had a reputation in the Department for inappropriate conduct toward women while on duty. Because at the summary judgment stage all inferences must be made in favor of the non-movant, Anderson, Ml U.S. at 255, for purposes of evaluating the City and Shaw's motion, it must be taken as proven that Greene had a reputation in the Department for inappropriate sexual behavior.

         2. Section 1983 Claims Against the City

         Both parties seek summary judgment on Hassan's § 1983 claims against the City. [Record Documents 53 at 7 and 54-1 at 7]. Hassan raises two interconnected claims: a failure to adequately train Greene and a policy or practice of inadequately supervising and disciplining an officer that the City knew or should have known had a ...

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