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Lester v. Parish

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

December 27, 2017

JAMES HAYWARD LESTER
v.
CADDO PARISH, ET AL.

          HORNSBY MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          S. MAURICE HICKS, JR., CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court are Defendants Lieutenant Jay Long (“Long”), Sergeant John May (“May”), and Sheriff Steve Prator's (“Prator”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Record Document 13) under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure seeking dismissal of all of Plaintiff James Hayward Lester's (“Lester”) claims. For the reasons stated in the instant Memorandum Ruling, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is hereby GRANTED.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Lester is a resident of Tarrant County, Texas, but for many years has been active as a commercial contractor in Shreveport. See Record Document 1 at 1-4. On February 28, 2003, Lester first filed an application for a Louisiana commercial contractor's license in Shreveport. See id. at 4, ¶ 13. This application included a statement that Lester had never been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor; in fact, Lester had previously been convicted of a misdemeanor in Texas. See id. at 5, ¶ 25; see also State v. Lester, 49-787 (La.App. 2 Cir. 5/20/15), 165 So.3d 1181. Lester received a Louisiana commercial contractor license on May 15, 2003. See Record Document 1 at 4, ¶ 14. He reapplied annually for such a license and held a renewed license during all times relevant to this case. See id. at 4, ¶ 15.

         Part of Lester's contracting work involved making repairs to houses of people who applied for grants from the City of Shreveport's Bureau of Housing and Business Development. See id. at 4, ¶¶ 16-17. Lester would submit a bid for the requested work and, if he had the lowest bid, he would receive the contract to perform the work. See Id. In October 2007, Lester was awarded the contract to perform work on Ms. Bessie Lee Broadway's (“Broadway”) home. See id. On January 14, 2008, a change order for the original contract was approved, allowing Lester to receive an additional fee of $5, 100 for additional work. See id. at 4, ¶ 21. On January 24, 2008, Lester, Broadway, and City Inspector Daniel Lacour (“Lacour”) executed a “Contractor's Pay-Out Request” to pay Lester $17, 900 for work that Lester had completed. See id. at 4, ¶ 20.

         On March 8, 2008, Lacour and Lester orally agreed to a second change order which would allow Lester to repair and service the furnace in the home rather than replace it entirely and use the money that would have paid for a new furnace to replace a deteriorated wall. See id. at 4-5, ¶ 22. Lacour later admitted that he forgot to complete a written change order for these changes. See id. On April 1, 2008, Lester, Broadway, and Lacour executed a second “Contractor's Pay-Out Request” to pay Lester $7, 090 for the remainder of the work that Lester had completed. See id. at 5, ¶ 23.

         On March 19, 2009, Sergeant Jason Turner (“Turner”) of the Louisiana State Police and Long and May of the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Department began an investigation into Lester's activities as a contractor. See id. at 5, ¶ 24. During the investigation, Turner found Lester's previous misdemeanor conviction and received documents related to the repairs Lester completed on Broadway's house. See id. at 5-6, ¶¶ 24-27. On July 15, 2009, Turner obtained a warrant for Lester's arrest for filing or maintaining false public records in violation of La. Rev. Stat. § 14:133 by submitting renewal applications for his contractor's license without correcting the statement that he had not been convicted of a previous misdemeanor. See id. at 6, ¶ 28.

         Turner, Long, and May continued their investigation of Lester by inspecting Broadway's property with another inspector, Timothy Weaver (“Weaver”). See id. at 6, ¶ 29. Weaver later sent a letter to Turner stating that he found that Lester had failed to install as much insulation in Broadway's attic as the contract specified. See id. at 7, ¶ 30. On August 29, Turner obtained an arrest warrant for Lester and Lacour's arrests for home improvement fraud in violation of La. Rev. Stat. § 14:202.1. See id. at 7 ¶ 31. In interviews with the officers after the arrest warrants were issued but prior to his actual arrest, Lacour admitted that he had failed to complete a second change order for Broadway's house, and he stated that if the officers had found something wrong with the repairs to the house, “its my fault, nobody elses . . . I should've did my job right (sic).” See id. at 8, ¶ 32.

         On August 31, 2009, Lester and six other African American contractors and inspectors, including Lacour, were arrested. See id. at 9, ¶ 34. That day, a press conference “featuring Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator and Caddo Parish District Attorney Charles Scott” was held on the steps of the Caddo Parish courthouse. See Id. at 9, ¶ 35. At the press conference, Prator announced a $1.5 million scandal involving the arrestees to defraud the City of Shreveport, a statement that Lester alleges was made “falsely and with the full intention to mislead the public.” See id. at 9, ¶ 35. On November 18, 2009, Assistant District Attorney Lea Hall, Jr. (“Hall”) filed the first Bill of Information against Lester, charging him with home improvement fraud and filing or maintaining false public records. See id. at 10, ¶ 36.

         On May 25, 2010, the trial of one of the other contractors, James Alex III (“Alex”), resulted in a mistrial. See id. at 10, ¶ 37. According to Hall's statements to a reporter after the trial, the parties had made a joint motion for mistrial after they discovered that the jury instructions did not reflect the fact that Alex was charged with home improvement fraud that allegedly occurred under an old statute and an amended statute. See id. at 10, ¶ 37. On July 8, 2010, Lester filed a Motion to Quash the Information in his case on the basis of statutory affirmative defenses to home improvement fraud. See id. at 11, ¶ 38. The trial judge held a hearing on the motion, but reserved a ruling until after trial. See id. at 11, ¶ 39. On September 28, 2011, Lester provided the State with photographic evidence that allegedly proved that he was innocent of the home improvement fraud charge. See id. at 11-12, ¶ 40. On February 14, 2012, a second Bill of Information was filed against Lester which dropped the home improvement fraud charge and included only the filing or maintaining false public records charge. See id. at 12, ¶ 41.

         On April 9, 2014, Lester filed a Motion to Quash the Amended Information, which the trial court granted. See id. at 12, ¶¶ 42-43. On July 4, 2014, Sheriff Prator gave an interview to the editor of a local newspaper, The Inquisitor, in which he stated that he was frustrated with the fact that Lester had not been prosecuted for home improvement fraud and stating that Lester had committed theft and abuse of Broadway. See id. at 12-13, ¶ 44. That same day, acting District Attorney Dale Cox[1] (“Cox”) sent an email to the editor of The Inquisitor stating why the home improvement fraud charge against Lester was dropped and that the State would be appealing the trial court's decision to quash the filing or maintaining false public records charge against Lester. See id. at 13, ¶ 45. On May 20, 2015, the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision to quash the filing or maintaining false public records charge against Lester on the basis of prescription. See id. at 14-15, ¶ 51; see also State v. Lester, 49-787 (La.App. 2 Cir. 5/20/15), 165 So.3d 1181. Lester filed this suit against Hall, Scott, Cox, Turner, Long, May, and Prator on July 2, 2015. See Record Document 1. On October 29, 2015, Long, May, and Prator filed the instant Rule 56 Motion for Summary Judgment. See Record Document 13. Lester filed his Memorandum in Opposition to the instant Motion on November 24, 2015. See Record Document 28. On November 25, 2015, Lester filed a Motion to Amend his Original Complaint in which he sought to clarify that Long, May, and Prator are being sued in both their official and individual capacities. See Record Document 29. On December 1, 2016, the Court granted this Motion. See Record Document 32.

         On December 1, 2015, Lester filed an Amended Complaint adding Caddo Parish as a defendant. See Record Document 33. On December 8, 2015, Lester filed another Motion to Amend his Complaint, along with seventeen numbered exhibits. See Record Document 40. The Court granted this Motion, allowing Lester to file this Amended Complaint but stating that no further amendments will be allowed. See Record Documents 41, 42, and 42-1. This most recent Amended Complaint adds somewhat more specific allegations against some Defendants and cites to the attached exhibits as proof of these allegations. See Record Documents 42 and 42-1.

         On September 29, 2016, the Court granted the Rule 12(b)(6) Motions to Dismiss filed by Hall and Scott, dismissing all claims against them with prejudice. See Lester v. Caddo Parish, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136192 (W.D. La. 2016). On October 26, 2016, the Court granted in part and denied in part a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss by Cox, dismissing most claims against him with prejudice but allowing the defamation claims under federal and state law to proceed past the Motion to Dismiss stage. See Lester v. Caddo Parish, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148414 (W.D. La. 2016). On March 30, 2017, the Court granted the Rule 12(b)(6) Motion by Caddo Parish, dismissing all claims against Caddo Parish with prejudice. See Lester v. Caddo Parish, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48031 (W.D. La. 2017). On October 12, 2017, the Court granted the Rule 12(b)(6) Motion by Turner, dismissing all claims against Turner with prejudice. See Lester v. Prator, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169259 (W.D. La. 2017).

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         I. Legal Standards

         A. The Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs summary judgment. This rule provides that the court "shall 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Also, "a party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the motion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record." Fed R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). "If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may . . . grant summary judgment." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3).

         In a summary judgment motion, "a party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings . . . [and] affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553 (1986) (internal quotations and citations omitted). If the movant meets this initial burden, then the non-movant has the burden of going beyond the pleadings and designating specific facts that prove that a genuine issue of material fact exists. See id. at 325, 106 S.Ct. at 2554; see Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). A non-movant, however, cannot meet the burden of proving that a genuine issue of material fact exists by providing only "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence." Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. Additionally, in deciding a summary judgment motion, courts "resolve factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party, but only when there is an actual controversy, that is when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Id. Courts "do not, however, in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." Id.

         Rule 56 states that “a party asserting that a fact . . . is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Once the party seeking to establish that there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact has cited to such materials, the opposing party “may object that the material cited to support or dispute a fact cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. “At the summary judgment stage, materials cited to support or dispute a fact need only be capable of being presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.” LSR Consulting, LLC v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 835 F.3d 530, 534 (5th Cir. 2016) (emphasis in original). However, once a party has challenged the admissibility of the evidence relied upon to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact, the proponent of that evidence must show that the evidence is capable of being presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence. See id. at 534.

         B. Qualified Immunity in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims

         Section 1983 authorizes the assertion of a claim for relief against a person who, acting under the color of state law, allegedly violated the claimant's rights under federal law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 actions are often brought against persons acting under the color of state law in their individual capacities, but these persons are often protected from liability by qualified immunity. “The basic thrust of the qualified-immunity doctrine is to free officials from the concerns of litigation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 685, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1953 (2009) (internal quotations and citations omitted). In fact, a qualified immunity defense is truly “an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 815 (2009).

         Once the defendant raises a qualified immunity defense, the plaintiff carries the burden of demonstrating the inapplicability of qualified immunity. See Floyd v. City of Kenner, 351 Fed.Appx. 890, 893 (5th Cir. 2009). First, the court must determine whether the plaintiff demonstrated a genuine dispute of material fact as to a violation of a constitutional right. See Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232, 129 S.Ct. at 816. Second, the court must determine whether the constitutional right at issue was “clearly established” at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct. Id. at 232, 129 S.Ct. at 816. A defendant who can validly raise a qualified immunity defense will enjoy its protection so long as the allegedly violated constitutional right was not clearly established at the time of the violation. See id. In other words, the defendant can only be held liable if he violates a right that is clearly established at the time of the violation.

         Additionally, when the plaintiff seeks to impose supervisory liability on a defendant public official in his individual capacity, “the plaintiff must show that: (1) the supervisor either failed to supervise or train the subordinate official; (2) a causal link exists between the failure to train or supervise and the violation of the plaintiff's rights; and (3) the failure to train or supervise amounts to deliberate indifference." Estate of Davis v. City of N. Richland Hills, 406 F.3d 375, 381 (5th Cir. 2005). Thus, in a supervisory liability case, a plaintiff must demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact as to each of these elements once the defendant has asserted a qualified immunity defense to survive a motion for summary judgment.

         C. Section 1983/ Monell Claims against ...


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