United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division
MAURICE HICKS, JR., CHIEF JUDGE
the Court is Defendant Quentin D. Holmes, Sr.'s
("Chief Holmes") Motion for Summary Judgment
(Record Document 16) pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure, filed on behalf of Chief Holmes,
individually, and the City of Monroe(the "City")
(collectively the "Defendants"), seeking to dismiss
all of Plaintiff Mark Edward Huggins'
("Huggins") claims. Huggins filed his response
(Record Document 20) to the motion on January 10, 2017, and
the Defendants filed a reply (Record Document 23) on January
13, 2017. For the reasons which follow, Chief Holmes'
Motion is hereby GRANTED.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
is Vice-President of the International Union of Police
Associations, Local 81, AFL-CIO ("the Union"). See
Record Document 1 at 2. In 2011, Chief Holmes was appointed
Chief of the Monroe Police Department. See id. The
Union serves as a mechanism for communicating concerns within
the rank and file of the Monroe Police Department. See
id. As Vice-President, Huggins acted as a spokesman for
the Union and participated in a number of discussions with
Chief Holmes. See id. As Huggins alleges, the
relationship between the Union and Chief Holmes ultimately
deteriorated. See id. On August 4, 2014, the Union
issued a vote of "no confidence" in Chief Holmes,
which was widely reported in the media in Monroe. See
id. at 3. Huggins was subsequently interviewed by
reporters for two local newspapers, The Ouachita
Citizen and The News Star, regarding the
"no confidence" vote. See Record Document
16-1 at 17.
mid-August, Huggins was told he would be transferred to the
Road Patrol Division of the Department. See id. at
8. On September 21, 2014, Huggins was in fact transferred.
See Record Document 1 at 3. Huggins alleges his
transfer was "a result of his union activities."
instant lawsuit was filed on September 18, 2015. See
Record Document 1. Huggins alleges his transfer was a
retaliatory punishment by Chief Holmes for his engagement in
union and free speech activities; the punishment and
retaliation violated his constitutionally protected right as
a citizen to participate in free speech, and to render an
opinion on matters of public concern; Chief Holmes'
actions violated his constitutionally protected right as a
civil service employee to be secure in his employment and to
avoid arbitrary reassignment; and his rights were denied
through the official custom and policy of Chief Holmes.
See id. at 3-4. Huggins asserts a First Amendment
retaliation claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Chief
Holmes, individually and in his official capacity as Chief of
the Monroe Police Department. See id. at 5. As part
of his Section 1983 retaliation claim, Huggins also asserts a
failure to promote cause of action, alleging
"[d]efendant has stated ... there will be no promotions
within the department for Complainant or others as a direct
result of Complainant's activities." Id. at
4. Huggins also alleges Chief Holmes' actions were a
violation of Louisiana state law, but fails to identify a
specific statute or provision. See id. Huggins seeks
damages for emotional distress, loss of income, and loss of
job opportunity; and also claims punitive damages, attorney
fees and interest. See id. at 4-5.
filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on December 16,
2016, arguing: (1) Huggins cannot show the required custom or
policy required under Monell; (2) Huggins'
retaliatory transfer claim has prescribed; (3) Chief Holmes
is not the final decision-maker regarding promotions within
the police department; (4) punitive damages are
unrecoverable; and (5) Defendants are entitled to qualified
immunity. See Record Document 16-9. Huggins filed a
response (Record Document 20) on January 10, 2017, and the
Defendants replied on January 13, 2017 (Record Document 23).
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)(l)(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.
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 (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 dispute of material fact exists. See
id. at 325; see Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37
F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994).
non-movant, however, cannot meet the burden of proving that a
genuine dispute 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
Court may "consider summary judgment on its own after
identifying for the parties material facts that may not be
genuinely in dispute." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f)(3). A court
may grant summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f)(3) so
long as it provides the parties with "ample notice [and]
time to respond" and "considers] everything"
that the parties claim to be probative of the matters that
have been identified. Santana v. Cook Co. Bd. of
Review, 679 F.3d 614, 619 (7th Cir. 2012); see also
Wang v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 439 Fed.Appx. 359,
363 n.2 (5th Cir. 2011).
Section 1983 Suits: Individual Capacity vs. Official Capacity
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. In Section 1983 suits,
government officials may be sued in either their individual
or official capacities. A claim against a state or municipal
official in his official capacity "generally
represent[s] only another way of pleading an action against
an entity of which an officer is an agent." Kentucky
v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-166, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 3105
(1985). Individual or personal capacity suits "seek to
impose personal liability upon a government official for
actions he takes under color of state law." Id.
Qualified Immunity in Section 1983 Suits
qualified immunity doctrine often protects public officials
from liability in section 1983 actions brought against a
person acting under the color of state law in his individual
capacity. "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).
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. Second, the court must determine whether the
constitutional right at issue was "clearly
established" at the time of the defendant's alleged
misconduct, Id. 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.
Section 1983 Claims against Chief Holmes in his Official
lawsuit against a municipal employee in his official capacity
"is a suit against the official's office, " and
is therefore tantamount to a suit against the municipality
itself. See Peterson v. Town of Boyce, 2010 WL
3363237, at *2 (W.D. La. 2010), quoting Will v. Mich.
Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S.Ct.
2304, 2312 (1989); Graham, 473 U.S. at 165-66.
Therefore, Huggins' claims against Chief Holmes in his
official capacity are simply another way of pleading
Monell claims against the City. Huggins alleges
"[i]t is also a violation under 42 U.S.C. 1983 due to a
constitutional deprivation inflicted through official custom
and policy by ... Holmes." Record Document 1 at 5.
Huggins' claims fail because Huggins cannot establish a
constitutionally deficient policy or custom that caused
Monell v. Dept. of Social Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 98
S.Ct. 2018 (1978), the Supreme Court held that a municipality
cannot be held liable for constitutional torts under section
1983 under a theory of respondeat superior, but they
can be held liable "when execution of a government's
policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those
whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official
policy, inflicts the injury." ki at 691, 694, 98 S.Ct.
at 2036, 2037-38. To succeed on a Monell claim
against a municipality, the plaintiff must establish (1) an
official policy or custom, of which (2) a policymaker can be
charged with actual or constructive knowledge, and (3) a
constitutional violation whose "moving force" is