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Champion v. Sheriff's Department of Bienville Parish

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

March 13, 2018


         Section P



          Karen L. Hayes, Judge

         Before the undersigned magistrate judge, on reference from the District Court, is a motion for summary judgment [doc. # 28] filed by defendant, Deputy Rusty Poland a/k/a Ellis B. Poland. For reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the motion be GRANTED. It is further recommended that plaintiff's claims against Michael Crawford be dismissed, without prejudice.


         On August 25, 2016, plaintiff pro se Julian Champion, who is proceeding in forma pauperis in this matter, filed the instant civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various law enforcement agencies and officers involved with his May 6, 2016, arrest. According to his complaint, as amended, Champion learned on May 6, 2016, that a warrant had been issued for his arrest on a charge of armed robbery. Accordingly, Champion set out that day to meet his grandfather, who was to accompany him to the Sheriffs' Department to “clear his name.” Whilst en route to his grandfather's house, however, Champion encountered Bienville Parish Sheriff's deputies and a David Wade Man Search officer, who proceeded to shoot Champion in his right leg, below the knee. Fearing for his life, Champion fled from the officers as they continued to discharge their weapons at him. Champion eventually came across additional officers and raised his hands to surrender, but nevertheless was tased twice.

         Once Champion was secured, the officers did not take him to the hospital to treat his gunshot wound; rather, they took him to the Bienville Parish Courthouse where they interrogated him for the next three or so hours. Only after the interrogation was finished did a deputy finally escort Champion to the emergency room.

         Plaintiff's complaint included claims for excessive force, racial profiling, [1] and torture stemming from defendants' refusal to provide him with prompt medical care. He named the following defendants: (1) Michael Crawford (spelled in his complaint as “Micheal Crawford”); (2) John Ballance, Sheriff of Bienville Parish; (3) Glenn Fallin, 2nd Judicial District Court Judge; (4) David Wade Man Search Task Force; (5) Unknown officers of the David Wade Man Search Task Force; (6) Bienville Parish Sheriff's Department; and (7) Rusty Poland. Plaintiff alleged that he suffered permanent injury because of loss of sensation to his shin. He seeks dismissal of the pending criminal charges against him, release from custody with permission to leave the state, and monetary damages for the violation of his rights.

         On February 16, 2017, the undersigned recommended dismissal of plaintiff's claims against the Sheriff's Department of Bienville Parish, Sheriff's Department of Bienville Parish, Lt. Investigators, David Wade Man Search Task Force, John Ballance and Glen Fallin. (Feb. 16, 2017, R&R [doc. # 10]. The court concomitantly determined that plaintiff's complaint sufficiently pleaded a cause of action against remaining defendants, Michael Crawford and Rusty Poland, and therefore, ordered service as to them. (Feb. 16, 2017, Mem. Order [doc. # 11]). On April 24, 2017, the U.S. Marshal filed an executed return of service for Rusty Poland, but service for Michael Crawford was returned un-executed. [doc. #s 13-14].

         On June 12, 2017, Poland filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On September 12, 2017, the undersigned recommended that the motion be denied. (Sept. 12, 2017, R&R [doc. # 20]). The court contemporaneously re-ordered defendant to provide plaintiff with a copy of all documents pertinent to the issues in the case that were in his possession. (Sept. 12, 2017, Order [doc. # 21]). The court further ordered that,

within 14 days after service of the discovery documents from defendant, plaintiff may seek leave of court to amend his complaint to join other responsible parties and to allege what role Michael Crawford played in his constitutional deprivations. Within that same period, and if he intends to purse his claims against Crawford, plaintiff should provide the Clerk of Court with an updated agency affiliation and address for Crawford. Plaintiff is cautioned that if he fails to do so comply, then the court may dismiss his claims against Crawford for failure to prosecute, serve, and/or heed court order(s)


         On September 22, 2017, defendant complied with the order to provide plaintiffs with all documents in his possession. See doc. #s 22 & 23.

         On October 26, 2017, the District Court adopted the undersigned's report and recommendations and dismissed all defendants, save for Rusty Poland and Michael Crawford. [doc. #s 26 & 27].

         On November 9, 2017, Poland filed the instant motion for summary judgment, invoking the defense of qualified immunity and seeking dismissal of plaintiff's claims against him. On November 20, 2017, plaintiff filed a response to the motion for summary judgment in which he discussed the actions of other officers whom he had not sought to add as defendants in this matter, and complained that he still did not know the name of the officer who shot him. [doc. # 31]. He also remarked that Rusty Poland directed an officer to transport him to the sheriff's office for investigation, and that Poland interrogated him at the office. Id.

         Poland did not file a reply brief, and the time to do so has lapsed. See Notice of Motion Setting [doc. # 30]. Thus, the matter is ripe.

         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence before the court 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). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under applicable law in the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable fact finder could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

         “[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, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the 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) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247). “The moving party may meet its burden to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact by pointing out that the record contains no support for the non-moving party's claim.” Stahl v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., 283 F.3d 254, 263 (5th Cir. 2002). Thereafter, if the non-movant is unable to identify anything in the record to support its claim, summary judgment is appropriate. Id.

         In evaluating the evidence tendered by the parties, the court must accept the evidence of the non-movant as credible and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. While courts will “resolve factual controversies in favor of the non-moving party, ” an actual controversy exists only “when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air. Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). There can be no genuine dispute as to a material fact when a party fails “to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-323. The non-moving party may not rely merely on the allegations and conclusions contained within the pleadings; rather, the non-movant “must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Wallace v. Texas Tech Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996). The non-movant does not satisfy his burden merely by demonstrating some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by setting forth conclusory allegations and unsubstantiated assertions, or by presenting but a scintilla of evidence. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (citations omitted).

         Moreover, “summary judgment is appropriate in any case ‘where critical evidence is so weak or tenuous on an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant.'” Little, supra (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). In sum, “[a]fter the non-movant has been given the opportunity to raise a genuine factual issue, if no reasonable juror could find for the non-movant, summary judgment will be granted.” Mississippi River Basin Alliance v. Westphal, 230 F.3d 170, 174 (5th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted).

         Relevant Facts[2]


         Deputy Poland had reason to believe that on May 6, 2016, Julian Champion was armed and dangerous. (Ellis B. “Rusty” Poland Affidavit, ¶34; Def. MSJ, Exh. A).


         On May 6, 2016, deputies involved in the search, other than Poland, as well as the Wade Correctional Center K9 Tracking Team, headed toward the area where Champion was last seen. Id.


         Poland stationed himself in his Sheriff's Department vehicle just north of downtown Gibsland on Highway 154. Id., at ¶35.


         Poland received a call from another Sheriff's Deputy stating that Julian Champion was in custody. Id., at ¶36.


         Poland was not at the scene when Champion was arrested, and he never discharged a firearm or a Tazer during the course of the search for Champion. Id.


         After learning that Champion was in custody, Poland drove to the location where Champion was with the officers who apprehended him. Id., at ¶37.


         The first time Poland saw Champion on May 6, 2016, he was sitting in the back of a Sheriff's Department pickup truck with ...

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