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Hammond v. Burns

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

August 7, 2019

CARMEN HAMMOND
v.
ANTHONY BURNS ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JACKSON JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Before the Court in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 21) filed by Defendants Anthony Burns, Andrew Poe, Kevin McDonald, Robert Myer, and the City of New Roads. For the reasons that follow, the Motion (Doc. 21) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Officers of the New Roads Police Department arrested Carmen Hammond for committing battery of a police officer. (Doc. 1). Hammond contends the arrest was bogus. (Id.). She sued the arresting officers, Anthony Burns and Andrew Poe; the City of New Roads Police Department's Chief of Police, Kevin McDonald; the City of New Roads' then-Mayor, Robert Myer; and the City of New Roads. (Id.). The well-pleaded facts of her complaint, accepted as true and viewed in her favor, follow. See Midwest Feeders, Inc. v. Bank of Franklin, 886 F.3d 507, 513 (5th Cir. 2018).

         Hammond's house caught fire on August 28, 2017. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 10). Seeking help, Hammond called the fire department and her father, a former firefighter with a heart condition. (Id. at ¶ 11). By the time her father arrived, the firefighting was well underway. (Id. at ¶ 12). But Hammond's father grew concerned: the house looked "too smoky" and the electrical supply had not been shut off (Id.). He feared the fire would spread "due to [an] electrical short circuit[.]" (Id.). So he asked the firefighters "several times" to shut off the electrical supply. (Id. at ¶ 13). The firefighters ignored him. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-14).

         At some point, Hammond's father asked the firefighters "what their problem was." (Id. at ¶ 15). One of the firefighters responded by calling the City of New Roads Police Department. (Id.). Hammond tried to escort her father away from the firefighters; before she could do so, however, Officer Burns "pepper sprayed" her father and then threw him to the ground. (Id. at ¶ 17). Officers Burns and Poe then arrested Hammond because she had tried to help her father. (Id. at ¶ 22). They charged her with battery of a police officer, handcuffed her "so tightly as to leave a mark on her wrist," "forced" her to sit in the police cruiser for "nearly two hours," and then transported her to jail. (Id. at ¶ 23).

         The following day, Hammond was released. (Id. at ¶ 24). Officers later dismissed the charge against her. (Id.). This lawsuit followed.

         Hammond purports to allege (1) § 1983 claims for "unlawful arrest or detention" against all Defendants (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 30-37); (2) § 1983 claims for abuse of process and malicious prosecution against all Defendants (Id. at ¶¶ 38-50); (3) § 1983 excessive-force claims against unspecified Defendants (Id. at ¶¶ 51-52); (4) assault and battery claims against Officers Burns and Poe (Id. at ¶¶ 53-56); (5) a Monell claim against the City of New Roads (Id. at ¶¶ 57-66); and (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress claims against all Defendants (Id. at ¶¶ 67-70).

         Now, Defendants invoke qualified immunity and move to dismiss Hammond's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 21). Hammond opposes. (Doc. 25).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To overcome Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Hammond must plead plausible claims for relief. See Romero u. City of Grapevine, Tex., 888 F.3d 170, 176 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). A claim is plausible if it is pleaded with factual content that allows the Court to reasonably infer that Defendants are liable for the misconduct alleged. See Edionwe v. Bailey, 860 F.3d 287, 291 (5th Cir. 2017) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The Court accepts as true the well-pleaded facts of Hammond's complaint and views those facts in the light most favorable to her. See Midwest Feeders, Inc., 886 F.3d at 513.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants move to dismiss Hammond's federal claims as barred by qualified immunity and her state-law claims as deficiently pleaded. (Doc. 21). Qualified immunity is not merely a defense to liability; it is an immunity from suit. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). It is "effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial." Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). So "qualified immunity questions should be resolved 'at the earliest possible stage in litigation.'" Porter v. Epps, 659 F.3d 440, 445 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232). Accordingly, the Court evaluates the federal claims, along with the qualified immunity defenses, first. See Porter v. Epps, 659 F.3d 440, 445 (5th Cir. 2011).

         A. Federal Claims

         Hammond purports to allege § 1983 claims of unlawful arrest, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, and excessive force. (Doc. 1). She also seeks an award of punitive damages. (Id. at ¶¶ 73-74). Defendants invoke qualified immunity in response. (Doc. 21).

         Qualified immunity protects government officials from civil liability so long as their conduct '"does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231 (quoting Barlow u. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). Because Defendants invoke qualified immunity, Hammond "bears the burden of pleading facts that demonstrate liability and defeat immunity." Shaw v. Villanueva, 918 F.3d 414, 416 (5th Cir. 2019). To meet that burden, Hammond must allege facts showing that (1) Defendants violated a statutory or constitutional right and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the conduct. See Id. at 416.

         1. Unlawful Arrest

         At the time of the alleged misconduct, Hammond enjoyed a clearly established right not to be arrested without probable cause. See Westfall v. Luna,903 F.3d 534, 542 (5th Cir. 2018). A police officer has probable cause "'when the totality of the facts and circumstances within [the] police officer's knowledge at the moment of arrest are sufficient for a reasonable person to conclude that the suspect had committed or was ...


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