Stringfellow v. City of Ruston et al
MEMORANDUM RULING granting 49 Motion for Summary Judgment and denying as moot 28 Motion to Compel and associated request for fees. Signed by Magistrate Judge Karen L Hayes on 7/26/2017. (crt,Crawford, A)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
NICHOLAS T. STRINGFELLOW AND
CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-0756
MAG. JUDGE KAREN L. HAYES
CITY OF RUSTON, ET AL.
Pending before the court are two motions filed by defendants City of Ruston, Officer
Jason Burnham, Officer Slade Darden, Officer Tyler Davidson, and Chief Steve Rogers: 1)
motion for summary judgment [doc. # 49]; and 2) motion to compel discovery responses, plus
associated request for fees, [doc. # 28]. For reasons assigned below, the motion for summary
judgment is GRANTED, and the motion to compel is DENIED, as moot.1
On the evening of May 31, 2015, Jyone Cottingham, a black female, was standing in line
to purchase groceries at the Ruston Wal-Mart store, when she was accosted by three black males
(later identified as Tyler Ward, Nicholas Stringfellow, and Julian Tellis). After asking the males
to cease and desist – without success – Cottingham called the police.
City of Ruston police officers, Slade Darden, Jason Burnham, and Tyler Davidson (all
white males) were dispatched to the call, and quickly arrived on scene. The officers proceeded to
register 6 where they encountered Ms. Cottingham and one of the three men, Nicholas
With the consent of all parties, the District Court referred this matter to the undersigned
magistrate judge for the conduct of all further proceedings and the entry of judgment. 28 U.S.C.
Stringfellow, who was standing in line behind her. Julian Tellis briefly had left to use the
restroom, but returned while the officers were engaged with Cottingham and Stringfellow.2
After listening to Cottingham and Stringfellow’s versions of the encounter, the officers
separated Stringfellow and Tellis from Ms. Cottingham. As the officers attempted to obtain
identity information from the men, both Stringfellow and Tellis informed the officers that they
were not following proper procedures and stepped towards the officers. This prompted the
officers to handcuff Stringfellow. Meanwhile, one of the officers grabbed Tellis to escort him
outside. However, Tellis became rigid and would not move, thereby prompting the officer to
take Tellis to the ground to handcuff him.
The officers transported Stringfellow and Tellis to the detention center where the men
were booked on various charges. The men bonded out later that morning. On July 7, 2015, the
City of Ruston filed bills of information against Stringfellow and Tellis on charges of resisting an
officer (violence) in violation of Ruston Ordinance 11:108B(1)(b). On January 21, 2016, the
prosecutor dismissed the charge against Stringfellow and “nolle prossed” the charge against
On May 31, 2016, Stringfellow and Tellis filed the instant civil rights complaint under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Ruston, Chief Steve Rogers, and Officers Jason Burnham,
Slade Darden, and Tyler Davidson. Plaintiffs alleged violations of their rights under the 4th, 5th,
6th, 9th, and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. They also asserted a state law tort claim
and claims for violation of rights under Article I, Sections 2, 3, 4, and 13 of the Louisiana
As it turns out, the principal harasser, Tyler Ward, exited the store before the police
As a result of the incident, Tellis alleged that he suffered abrasions to his wrists, and had
to undergo hernia repair surgery. Moreover, both Stringfellow and Tellis’s photographs were
placed on the front page of the local newspaper. Stringfellow also had to defer military
enlistment. Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages for mental distress, loss of liberty, invasion of
privacy, pain and suffering, loss of earning capacity, loss of enjoyment of life, embarrassment,
and humiliation. They also seek punitive damages against the officers, plus an award of
attorney’s fees and costs.
On April 3, 2017, all defendants joined in the instant motion for summary judgment
seeking dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims in their entirety. Plaintiffs filed an opposition brief on
May 5; defendants filed a reply on June, 2, 2017. Thus, the matter is ripe.
Summary Judgment Standard
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.
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 nonmovant “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 nonmovant 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).
On May 31, 2015, at approximately 11:40 p.m., Jyone Cottingham was standing in line to
purchase groceries at the Ruston Wal-Mart store, when she was accosted by Tyler Ward,
Nicholas Stringfellow, and Julian Tellis. (Deposition of J. Cottingham, pgs. 7-12; Pl. Opp. Exh.
10). According to Cottingham, the three men were loud, disrespectful, and saying sexual things
to her. Id.3 Cottingham asked the men several times to leave her alone, but to no avail. Id. As a
lone female at a store, late at night, Cottingham feared for her safety. Id. She warned the men
that she intended to call the police. Id., at pgs. 50-51. However, the individual who later walked
outside (Tyler Ward), replied “we don’t care . . . the police can’t do nothing to us.” Id.
Accordingly, after enduring the unwanted attention for approximately three to four minutes,
Cottingham called 9-1-1 for her protection. Id., at pgs. 9-12, 50.
The transcript from Cottingham’s 9-1-1 call reflects that the conversation occurred at
11:46:45 p.m. on May 31, 2015, and went as follows,
Cottingham: Yes ma’am. I have . . . uh . . three black males that are acting ignorant in
Wal-Mart. And, I’m trying to . . . uh check out. And they are being very
Cottingham testified at her deposition that the men were recording something on their
phones. Id., pgs. 14-16. They were saying such things as “oh dang, she’s fine . . . she fine . . .
pretty little something something.” Id. They also discussed the shape of her posterior. Id. The
individual that had “dreads” (Tellis) nodded in agreement as the comments were made. Id.
disrespectful. And, I . . . I need somebody up here.
How are . . . how are they being disrespectful?
Cottingham: They are just saying sexual things, and I’m trying to check out.
Do you know them?
Cottingham: No, I do not. And, I asked them to not to talk to me, and to leave me
Okay. Where are you at the store?
Cottingham: Uh . . . Aisle Number 6.
Cottingham: Yes ma’am.
(9-1-1 Transcript; Pl. Opp., Exh. 1) (in pertinent part).
City of Ruston police officers, Slade Darden, Jason Burnham, and Tyler Davidson were
dispatched to the scene.4 According to all three officers, they were advised by dispatch that a
woman at Wal-Mart had called in a complaint of three males harassing her. (Darden Depo., pgs.
21-22; Burnham Depo., pgs. 53-54; Davidson Depo., pg. 11). The officers quickly arrived on
Slade Darden worked for the Ruston Police Department from 2014 until September
2015. (Darden Deposition, pgs. 11-12; Pl. Opp., Exh. 4-1). Prior to that, he was employed as a
deputy for one and one-half years with the Union Parish Sheriff. Id. He attended the police
academy in 2013, and S.W.A.T. school training. Id. As of January 2017 (the date of his
deposition), he had not worked in law enforcement since September 2015. Id., pg. 71. He
planned to obtain employment overseas once this case is resolved. Id., pgs. 71-73.
Jason Burnham worked for the Ruston Police Department from March 2009 until January
2017. (Burnham Deposition, pgs. 7-8; Pl. Opp., Exh. 5-1). Prior to that, he worked for the
Louisiana Tech University Police Department for three years. Id. In January 2017, he was hired
as a deputy with the Ouachita Parish Sheriff. Id.
Tyler Davidson began his law enforcement career with the Ruston Police Department in
November 2014. (Davidson Deposition, pgs. 8-10; Pl. Opp., Exh. 9). He attended basic police
academy for approximately four months. Id. On May 31, 2015, he was in the field officer
training program, assigned to Officer Burnham. Id.
scene, entered Wal-Mart at the east-side entrance and encountered Cottingham at one of the
registers. (Davidson Depo., pg. 23; Burnham Depo., pg. 12; Davidson Depo., pgs. 13-14).
The sequence of events that transpired at the Wal-Mart store (and outside) is compiled
from the following:
a police motor vehicle recorder (“MVR”) in Officer Burnham/Davidson’s squad
car with forward and rear facing cameras and audio from a microphone attached
to Officer Davidson or Burnham, Def. Exh. C;
Wal-Mart Video 1 (depicting the entrance from inside both sets of front doors),
Def. Exh. D-1;
Wal-Mart Video 2 (depicting the Wal-Mart foyer in between the outer and inner
doors), Def. Exh. D-2;
Wal-Mart Video 3 (an overhead camera looking down at register 6), Def. Exh. D3;
Wal-Mart Video with MVR Audio Overlay, Def. Exh. E;
Shondra Fobbs Cell Phone Video; Pl. Exh. 3;5 and
Other written evidence submitted by the parties, as noted in the chronology
The Fobbs video was a cell phone video capture by Fobbs of someone else’s phone
video depicting the officer(s) already on the ground with Tellis. See discussion, infra.
Defendants objected to the evidence because plaintiffs failed to timely submit it and because it
constitutes hearsay, speculation, and conjecture. (Defs.’ Reply Memo., pgs. 8-9).
Defendants’ objection is overruled. Defendants were not materially prejudiced by the late
submission of the video. They were aware of it, and extensively questioned Ms. Fobbs about the
video at her January 17, 2017, deposition. See Fobbs Deposition; Pl. Opp., Exh. 12. Moreover,
the court only considered the recording for what is depicted visually, not for anything uttered by
an unknown third person.
In support of their motion for summary judgment, defendants submitted affidavits from
Officers Darden and Burnham. (Def. MSJ, Exhs. H & I). Plaintiffs urged the court to strike and
disregard the affidavits because they are self-serving and contrary to the evidence. (Pl. Opp.
Memo., pg. 13). In connection with their opposition brief, plaintiffs submitted the deposition
transcripts for all three officers. (Pl. Opp., Exhs. 4-1, 5-1, & 9).
[Officers, Jason Burnham, Slade Darden and Tyler Davidson, arrived at the
Wal-Mart parking lot.]
[Officers Jason Burnham, Slade Darden and Tyler Davidson exited their vehicles
and walked into Wal-Mart. They proceeded to cash register 6.]
(The officers approached Jyone Cottingham)
Cottingham: “How ya’ll doing?”
“Alright, how’re you ma’am?”
Cottingham: “Two of them walked away.”7
Cottingham: they were saying, “oh baby, can you please take me home.”
Stringfellow: “I really don’t understand.”
Stringfellow: “I wasn’t doing anything.”
Stringfellow: “Me and my homeboys were here to get . . . food.”
Stringfellow: “I said she was beautiful. She was like . . . don’t talk to me . . .
Oh okay, I understand. You don’t want to talk no more . . . ”
Stringfellow: “We weren’t saying nothing to her. Ask her what we said to her
that was out of hand . . .”
[to Stringfellow] “How’re you doing man?”
“What were you doing?”
A party cannot rely on an affidavit that impeaches, without explanation, prior sworn
testimony. S.W.S. Erectors, Inc. v. Infax, Inc., 72 F.3d 489, 495 (5th Cir.1996) (citations
omitted). Here, however, it is not apparent hat Darden and Burnham’s affidavits are inconsistent
with their deposition testimony. Nevertheless, the court will rely on, and cite to the officers’
depositions in lieu of their affidavits.
Prior to the officers’ arrival, Ward left the store, and Tellis went to the restroom. See
Cottingham Depo., pgs. 17-18.
Cottingham: “Y’all were very [inaudible].”
“Excuse me ma’am what did he say . . .?”
[Julian Tellis returns from the restroom around this time.]
Cottingham: “Hey . . . how’re you doing . . . I had the same thing today
[The Wal-Mart overhead camera for register 6 reveals at least one of the officers resting his
hands on his belt.]
[to Tellis] beckoning him to come to him.
“You too . . . come here!”
“Okay . . . come here!”
“Okay, come here.” (in a softer tone).
[Tellis and Stringfellow slowly walked towards the officers.]
“How much you had to drink tonight?”8
“I ain’t had none.”
“Step over here. I’m not playing with ya’ll. Step over here. Come
At his deposition, Darden stated that he smelled alcohol as soon as he made initial
contact with Stringfellow and Tellis. See Darden Depo., pgs. 52-53; Pl. Opp., Exh. 4-1. He also
observed them walk with unsure balance from the cash register to the front of the store. Id., pgs.
“Well, walk a little faster. Let’s go.”
“I can’t walk any faster.”
“People don’t come to Wal-Mart to be harassed by ya’ll. People
come in here to shop.”
[Stringfellow and Officer Darden are facing one other and standing inside both sets of doors at
the Wal-Mart store’s east entrance.]
Stringfellow told the officers that he did not harass her.
Stringfellow told the officer that he told her that she was “very beautiful.”
“You said [sic] there and you said you said something to her.”
[Burnham walks into camera view and is standing facing Stringfellow and Darden.]
“How old are you?”
Stringfellow: “I’m 20 years old.”
Stringfellow: “I didn’t harass her. I said, ‘you’re very beautiful.’ She said, don’t
talk to me; don’t talk to me. Okay ma’am, okay, I understand.” . .
. That was it. That was it.”
“This is what you’re NOT old enough to do.”
[Tellis walked into camera view, with Officer Davidson behind him.]
[to Tellis] “How old are you?”
Stringfellow told the officer that he was not bothering anybody.
“How old are you?! . . . You got I.D.?”
“Tyler, will you get his name?”
“What’s your name?”
Stringfellow: “Nicholas Stringfellow”
[talking to Tellis] “You’re getting on my nerves. When I ask you
your name, or ask you a question, you answer it. You don’t look all
around and ignore me. We got called here because ya’ll were
bothering somebody. So when I ask you something, you answer
Tellis told Officer Darden that he was supposed to ask him for his birthday.
Stringfellow: “Hey, we can step outside, sir. You gotta do all this, we can step
“I don’t want to step outside.”
[to Stringfellow] “When is your birth date?”
Stringfellow: “January __.”
“Don’t tell me how to do my job!”
[During this time, Tellis is talking to Darden and Burnham, but it is inaudible.]
“You don’t know our procedures.”
“I actually do.”
[to Tellis] “No you don’t.”
Stringfellow: “We actually do.” [leaning his head forward for emphasis]
The party of five are standing facing inward, as follows:
F = Darden
G = Stringfellow
‡ = Tellis
M = Davidson
© = Burnham
Stringfellow: “We actually DO.”
[Stringfellow took a single, long step towards the officers, while Tellis contemporaneously took a
small step forward. Stringfellow stepped inside Davidson and came close to Burnham.]
At that point, they looked like this:
“Turn around; turn around.”
[Officer Burnham placed Stringfellow in handcuffs without incident Meanwhile, Officer Darden
reached forward and grabbed Tellis’s left arm, which caused Tellis’s right shoulder to swing
around and make contact with Darden.]
[Darden briefly tried to escort Tellis toward the exit, but Tellis immediately stopped moving and
became rigid. (Stringfellow Deposition, pgs. 114-117; MSJ, Exh. N; Tellis Deposition, pgs. 110111 ).9 In a purposeful move, Darden then pushed/pulled Tellis backwards across Darden’s
outstretched leg, thereby causing Tellis to lose his balance and fall to the ground with Darden
landing on top on him.]
[to Davidson] “Help him.”
“Put them behind your back . . . Now!”
[While on the ground, Tellis squirmed and moved his limbs about. See Fobbs Depo., pgs. 97-98,
110-111; Pl. Opp., Exh. 12. Davidson assisted Darden with immobilizing Tellis so Darden could
handcuff him. In so doing, Darden placed his knee on Tellis’ back. Once Darden secured Tellis
with handcuffs, he roughly jerked him to his feet.]
Stringfellow: “What was that? Where did that come from?”
Stringfellow: “What procedure was that?”
Stringfellow: “Tell me what procedure was that?”
Darden explained that he had Tellis in an “escort position,” which is a technique taught
at the police department. (Darden Depo., pg. 67). The technique entails grabbing the suspect by
the back of his arm and walking him out. Id.
Stringfellow: “Sir, that’s some money and a phone. [apparently referring to
objects in his pocket.] Tell me, what procedure was that?”
[The officers quickly walked Stringfellow and Tellis to the squad cars parked outside.
Stringfellow and Tellis appeared to be walking at a slower pace than the officers, thus prompting
the officers to push them along from behind].
Stringfellow: “What procedure was that?”
[The officers and Stringfellow briefly appeared behind the police unit on its rear-facing camera.]
Stringfellow: “Sir, what did I do?”
[to Stringfellow] “Shut up!”
“It’s called resisting.”
Stringfellow: “Wait, what? Wh . . .?”
[The officers and Stringfellow again appeared behind the police unit on its rear-facing camera.]
Stringfellow: “Tell me what happened? What happened between us having a
conversation and now this is going on?”
“Oh my God, oh my God, what’s gonna happen to my son, man?”
[to Stringfellow] “Lean up against the damn car.”
[The video depicted Officer Burnham gripping Stringfellow’s neck and forcing it down towards
the trunk of the car.]
Stringfellow: “I’m not doing any . . .”
[The video showed Burnham, with his arm wrapped around Stringfellow’s neck, pulling his head
down towards the trunk as he yelled in Stringfellow’s ear.]
“Do you understand me? I said lean up against the car!”
Stringfellow: [to Officer Burnham] “I’m not doing anything . . .”
[to Stringfellow] “Lean down!”
[to other officer] “Open the Door.”
[Burnham pulled Stringfellow back from the trunk.]
Stringfellow: “Sir, what’s going on? I’m not resisting.”
[sound of car door opening]
Stringfellow: “Sir, what’s going on, man?”
Stringfellow: “Okay, I’m sitting down.”
Stringfellow: “What’s going on . . . Sir, why?”
“Get your feet in the car, you’re about to get tased.”
“Get your foot in the car!”
“Why you got to push me man?”
[to second officer] “I didn’t see what happened . . . With him, I
have charges on him.”
[to Burnham] “He was in his face.”
“Okay, we’re taking them both.”
“Get your feet in the car.”
[Tyler Ward arrived and starting talking to the officers.]
“Let me tell you what happened . . . I was on the phone with my
girlfriend. And she was like, can y’all, you know, stop acting
childish? I’m like ma’am, did we do anything to you? She was
like, y’all momma didn’t teach you that way.
[sound of car door opening]
[screaming at Tellis] “Get out the car!”
[One of the officers removed Tellis from the adjacent vehicle, and pushed him against the trunk
of the car that Stringfellow was in.]
“What did I do, man?”
“Do NOT remove your handcuffs!”
“I was calling someone. I was calling my momma. I was calling
my lawyer and everything.”
[Officers appear to re-handcuff Tellis’s hands behind his back.]
Stringfellow: “What the f___?!”
Stringfellow: “Oh my f___ God!”
[still explaining what happened to the officers] “She’s not being
sweet. She’s talking about our mommas. We didn’t say nothing to
you. Like . . . He’s [Tellis] getting groceries for his son. He’s
getting his Enfamil. And she started talking to us . . . I’m like
uhhhh. Why you talking to us like that? . . . I’m not going to keep
talking. I already know . . . I got a lawyer. I gotta stay cool . . .
She called the police, real like . . . Get what you gotta do. ‘Cause I
seen y’all putting the law outside. I don’t know what happened. I
know this is what happened inside the store. But I know like, we
didn’t do nothing. Everything was verbally. You know. There
was no harsh account. Like nothing harsh said to her like could
manipulate her or hurt her in any kinda way. Everything . . . I
don’t know what happened when y’all went in the store . . . but,
that’s what happened when I was in the store. That’s what
happened when I was in the store.
[to Ward] “You got your ID?”
“Nah, I ain’t got no ID.”
“Who was driving?”
“What’s your name?”
“My name’s Tyler Ward.”
“How do you spell that?”
“T-Y-L-E-R . . . W-A-R-D”
“When’s your birth date?”
“ . . . see your hand [inaudible]”
“I had to walk outside. I couldn’t deal with that.”
“What’s your phone number, Tyler?”
“318 ___ _____”
[An officer shined a flashlight behind Stringfellow’s back in the car. The officer
also reached in with his hand to check Stringfellow’s handcuffs.]
Stringfellow: [to officer] “So, what happened, really? Where all this happened?”
[to officer] “Can you tell me what happened?”
[to Ward] “He’s going to jail. How old is he?”
“What’d he do?”
“How old is he?”
“He’s old enough. He’s over 21.”
[to Ward] “Hang on . . .”
Stringfellow?:“Please call my Mom, man. . . I’m going to jail for what?”
[to Ward] “We tried to talk to them and ask them what happened.
He’s drunk [pointing towards Stringfellow]; he smells like booze
[gesturing offscreen, presumably towards Tellis]. I tried to get
them to come outside and he [pointing towards Stringfellow]
jumps in his face and he [gesturing offscreen, presumably towards
Tellis] starts fighting me.”
[to officers] “I understand where you’re coming from.”
[to other officers] “Let’s get them to the station.”
[to officer] “Alright, man.”
[to Ward] “Thank you”10
[Ward departed. Officers Burnham and Davidson sat down in the squad car with Stringfellow.
They departed for the detention center.]
Stringfellow: “Excuse me sir, I just wanna know to what point did it happen to
where . . .”
Stringfellow: “Sir, I never got in your face.”
Stringfellow: “It’s on camera; it’s on camera in Wal-Mart.”
Stringfellow: “I NEVER, I NEVER got in your face!”
Stringfellow: “. . . you’re a grown man, I’m a grown man . . . I RESPECT you!
Everything that I say CAN and will be used in a court of law . . .
So, please talk to ME! To where I’m in handcuffs, right now . . . to
where I’m in handcuffs right now, sir, please tell me this. To what
happened, in what degree did you have to take it to where you
pulled a taser on me and I’m in handcuffs? Tell me!
Stringfellow: “Oh ok, you don’t wanna talk now, ‘cause this can be used in a
court of law. You don’t wanna talk now. I can’t believe this, bro.
How did we come to get my man some food for his BABY? It’s a
young lady at the counter – she’s BEAUTIFUL.”
“When y’all wouldn’t shut up, and when you started getting up in
“You don’t get up in an officer’s face.”
Officer Davidson explained that, based on Ward’s actions and demeanor, he exercised
his discretion not to arrest Ward. (Davidson Depo., pg. 39).
Stringfellow: “God know. That’s all I know . . . God know.”
Stringfellow: “I can’t BELIEVE this.”
[cell phone ringing]
[apparently talking on the phone] “They appear to have been
drinking and s__. And uh, one of them started getting all crazy . . .
and the other one jumped up in my face [inaudible] . . . Put one of
them on the ground. The other one . . . did alright.
Yeah, well I got . . . Slade has charges and I have charges.
Stringfellow: “Wal-Mart got it on camera.”
[over the radio] “51 to 53”
“We’re going to go ahead and get them both with “PPB [?]
appearing intoxicated, as well.”
“Ahh, it don’t matter. You can go ahead.”
“Look, you’re going to jail for disturbing the peace, appearing
intoxicated . . . and for resisting an officer.”
Stringfellow: “You say I’m going to jail?”
Stringfellow: “For doing what?”
[conversation over the radio concerning “some more mouth pieces”]
Stringfellow: “ . . . alcohol, and I’m intoxicated? Excuse me sir, you smell
alcohol and I’m intoxicated? . . . [inaudible]”
[over the radio] “Bring me the intoxilizer.”
The police units arrived at the detention center. The officers exited the vehicle
and escorted Stringfellow inside.
Stringfellow: [sounded like] “you’re really a dumbass”
Stringfellow: “I don’t understand . . . maybe you had a bad day today? But, it’s
okay . . . God got you, bro.”
[to Stringfellow] [inaudible]
[The officers and Stringfellow entered the detention center through the sally port]
[The other squad car (presumably with Tellis) drove inside the sally port.]
[The audio became inaudible.]
On the evening of May 31/June 1, 2015, Sarah Love-Campbell, a Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s
deputy, was the booking officer at the Lincoln Parish Detention Center when Stringfellow and
Tellis arrived. (Love-Campbell Affidavit, MSJ, Exh. R). She documented in the booking
records that both Stringfellow and Tellis appeared to be under the influence of alcohol. Id.
(LPDC Booking Records, pgs. 000368, 370, 377, & 379). In addition, Stringfellow exhibited
slurred speech. Id. Tellis’s booking record further reflects that two weeks earlier, he had been
hospitalized or treated by a doctor for hernia. Id. The records indicate that both Stringfellow and
Tellis were assigned “Detox” cells. Id., LPDC pgs. 000372 & 000381.
The booking charges for Tellis included, disturbing the peace – simple drunk, in violation
of “103 SD,” La. R.S. 14:103A(3), and resisting an officer in violation of “108,” La. R.S. 14:108.
(LPDC pg. 000372; Def. MSJ, Exh. R). The booking charges for Stringfellow included,
disturbing the peace – simple drunk, in violation of “103 SD,” La. R.S. 14:103A(3), resisting an
officer in violation of “108,” La. R.S. 14:108, and possession of marijuana in violation of
“966E,” La. R.S. 40:966E. (LPDC pg. 000381; Def. MSJ, Exh. R).
On June 1, 2015, Officers Darden and Burnham each executed nearly identical sworn
affidavits of probable cause for arrest without a warrant for Tellis and Stringfellow, respectively.
(Aff.s of Prob. Cause; Def. MSJ, Exh. F).11 The narrative portion for each affidavit stated that,
[o]n 5-31-15 officers responded to Walmart in reference to two black males
harassing a female n the store. Upon arrival, contact was made with the
complainant and she advised three black males were making sexual remarks to
her, telling her she was beautiful and that they could make her night. The
complainant advised she asked them to stop and they continued with other sexual
remarks she could not remember. Officers made contact with two of the males,
identified as Nicholas Stringfellow and Julian Tellis. Both appeared to be
impaired with slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, unsure balance, and an odor
associated with that of the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Officers began to
advise both Tellis and Stringfellow that they were harassing the female which
both denied then they began to get upset and questioned officers’ procedures.
Stringfellow then lurched toward Officer Burnham, getting close to Officer
Burnham’s face and raising in voice, appearing to be a threatening posture.
Officer Burnham immediately began to handcuff Stringfellow. Once handcuffed,
Stringfellow began to jerk away from Officer Burnham and refused to enter the
At the same time when Stringfellow was being placed into handcuffs, Officer
Darden attempted to escort Tellis outside of the store. Tellis immediately shoved
Officer Darden with his shoulder and jerked away from him. Tellis was taken to
the floor using hard empty hand control and placed in handcuffs. While escorting
Tellis to the patrol unit, Tellis continuously attempted to jerk away from Officer
Darden and once inside the patrol unit placed his handcuffs in front of his body
and had to be handcuffed again behind his back.
Darden stated in his deposition that he completed the probable cause affidavit while
still at the detention center. (Darden Depo., pgs. 46-47; Pl. Opp., Exh. 4-1). Burnham was in
accord. (Burnham Depo., pg. 51; Pl. Opp. Memo., Exh. 5-1).
Burnham’s affidavit is virtually identical to Darden’s, except it includes an additional
sentence and charge relating to the discovery of a small amount of marijuana in Stringfellow’s
The officers later completed incident detail reports that elaborated upon their probable
cause affidavits. (Incident Detail Reports; Def. MSJ, Exh. F, COR 000393, 000397).
The affidavits charged Tellis and Stringfellow with violations of City of Ruston ordinances for
disturbing the peace (appearing intoxicated), 11:103; and resisting an officer (violence) 11:108;
(plus, as to Stringfellow, an additional charge for simple possession of marijuana, 11:300). Id.13
Booking records confirm that Stringfellow and Tellis’s personal items were returned to
them at 3:41 a.m. and 3:46 a.m., respectively,14 which suggests (but by no means establishes) that
they were released around that time – i.e., within four hours after they were taken into custody.
On July 7, 2015, the City of Ruston filed bills of information against Stringfellow and
Tellis on charges of resisting an officer (violence) in violation of Ruston Ordinance
11:108B(1)(b). (Bills of Information; Pl. Opp., Exh. 8). On December 17, 2015, Cottingham
testified in the criminal proceedings against Stringfellow and Tellis. City of Ruston v. Tellis, No.
S-22610, S-22611, consolidated with, City of Ruston v. Stringfellow, S-22605, S-22607 (Dec. 17,
2015 Ruston); Pl. Opp., Exh. 6. She said that neither Stringfellow nor Tellis said anything to her
at the Wal-Mart store on the night in question. Id. She further testified that she did not smell any
alcohol on either of them. Id.15 On January 21, 2016, the prosecutor dismissed the charge
The officers stated that they could have charged Stringfellow and Tellis with more
charges, e.g., simple assault of a police officer. (Burnham Depo., pgs. 66-76). However, it is
department policy not to stack charges. Id.
Id., LPDC pgs. 000385 & 000376.
Defendants urge this court not to consider the transcripts from the December 17, 2015,
hearing because they constitute hearsay, and were not presented to Cottingham during her
deposition. (Defs.’ Reply Memo., pg. 8). However, defense counsel had the opportunity to
cross-examine Cottingham during her deposition. (Cottingham Depo., pgs. 101-102). Moreover,
plaintiffs’ counsel advised Cottingham that her testimony from the criminal trial differed from
her testimony at her deposition. (Cottingham Depo., pg. 91). In any event, it is manifest that
Stringfellow actually spoke to Cottingham prior to the officers’ arrival because he admitted as
much. (Fobbs Depo., pg. 141). Moreover, the audio and video evidence confirm that
Cottingham pointed out Stringfellow as one of the three men harassing her. See Scott v. Harris,
against Stringfellow and “nolle prossed” the charge against Tellis. (Pl. Opp., Exh. 7).
At her deposition, Cottingham reaffirmed that she did not smell any alcohol on
Stringfellow or Tellis, despite standing five to six feet away from them. (Cottingham Depo., pg.
83). However, she reaffirmed that Stringfellow had harassed her verbally. Id., pgs. 101-102.
Cottingham explained that the two individuals (i.e., Tellis and Stringfellow) who appeared in the
register 6 overhead camera were the same persons that she had called the police about.
(Cottingham Depo., pgs. 33, 56; Pl. Opp. Exh. 10). She stated that she told the police about the
sexual comments that the individuals had made to her. Id., pg. 53. Cottingham added that Ward
and Stringfellow were the ones doing the talking. Id., pg. 94. She believed that Tellis had fallen
in with a bad group of people. Id., pg. 72.
Cottingham explained that as the squad cars were driving away, the car that had the man
in dreads (i.e. Tellis) stopped and the officer (likely Darden) asked her for her I.D. (Cottingham
Depo., pg. 62). She advised the officer that the individual in his car (Tellis) did not say anything
to her. Id. The officer replied that, “[w]ell it’s not because of that. It’s something else.” Id.,
pgs. 62, 72, 80-81, 86.
Shondra Fobbs was standing in the check out line at Wal-Mart behind Ward,
Stringfellow, and Tellis on the night in question. (Fobbs Depo., pgs. 44; Pl. Opp., Exh. 12). She
knew all three of the young men from her days as a substitute teacher at Grambling High School.
Id., pg. 26-27. As Ms. Fobbs arrived at the checkout line, Tyler Ward was leaving. Id., pg. 55.
Fobbs heard Stringfellow say, “[t]his woman is crazy.” Id., pg. 56. She also heard Cottingham
550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769 (2007) (when testimony is “blatantly contradicted by the
record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of facts
for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.”).
tell Ward that she had just called the police, and that they were on their way. Id., pg. 57. Fobbs
added that Cottingham said that the men were sexually harassing her. Id., pg. 60. She also
overheard Cottingham tell the cashier that Stringfellow (plus Ward) had said something to her.
Id., pg. 66. Stringfellow replied, “I gave you a compliment.” Id., pg. 67. Tellis told Cottingham,
“I didn’t say anything to you.” Id. Cottingham replied, “I know. I’m not talking about you.” Id.
Ms. Fobbs did not smell any alcohol on Stringfellow or Tellis despite standing but an arm’s
length away from them. Id., pgs. 78, 163.
Federal Law Claims
Section 1983 provides that any person who, under color of state law, deprives another of
“any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws shall be liable to the
party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .”
Harrington v. Harris, 118 F.3d 359, 365 (5th Cir. 1997) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Section
1983, however, does not create any substantive rights; it simply provides a remedy for the rights
designated therein. Id. “Thus, an underlying constitutional or statutory violation is a predicate to
liability under § 1983.” Id. (citation omitted).
“To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must (1) allege a violation of rights secured by
the Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) demonstrate that the alleged deprivation was
committed by a person acting under color of state law.” Leffall v. Dallas Independent School
District, 28 F.3d 521, 525 (5th Cir. 1994). The first inquiry is whether plaintiff has alleged a
violation of a constitutional right at all. Id. Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 51 F.3d 512, 515 (5th
Claims under the Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
Plaintiffs asserted jurisdiction, inter alia, pursuant to the Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth
Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. (Compl., ¶ 1.1). Aside from this initial invocation,
however, plaintiffs never again mention these constitutional provisions. Indeed, the court
discerns no actionable grounds under these amendments. For example, “[t]he Fifth Amendment
applies only to violations of constitutional rights by the United States or a federal actor.” Jones
v. City of Jackson, 203 F.3d 875, 880 (5th Cir.2000) (citation omitted). Here, however, there are
no allegations or evidence that any defendant acted under the authority of the federal
Furthermore, while the Sixth Amendment provides the accused the right inter alia “to be
informed of the nature and cause of the accusation” against him, plaintiffs have not set forth any
facts to support a claim that they were materially harmed by any unarticulated violation of the
Sixth Amendment. See Burkett v. City of El Paso, 513 F. Supp. 2d 800, 813–14 (W.D.
Finally, plaintiffs are unable to assert a viable claim for relief under the Ninth
Amendment. The Ninth Amendment provides that, “[t]he enumeration in the Constitution, of
certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” U.S.
CONST. AMEND. IX. However, courts have recognized that the Ninth Amendment does not
specify any rights of the people and is not a vehicle for bringing civil rights claims. Mitchell v.
Town of Lake Arthur, No. 16-0064, 2016 WL 2726561, at *2 (W.D. La. May 9, 2016); Ned v.
Eunice Police Dep't, No. 16-1035, 2017 WL 369128, at *1 (W.D. La. Jan. 23, 2017).
Official Capacity Claims against the Individual Defendants
Plaintiffs sued defendants, Burnham, Darden, Davison, and Chief Rogers, in their
individual and official capacities. (Compl., ¶¶ 2.4-2.7). It is manifest, however, that official
capacity suits, “generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of
which an officer is an agent.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 3105
(1985) (citing, Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690, n. 55, 98
S.Ct. 2018, 2035, n. 55 (1978)). Thus, “an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than
name, to be treated as a suit against the entity.” Id.
When, as in this case, the local government entity itself is a defendant (i.e., the City of
Ruston) then official capacity claims against specific individuals employed by, or managers of,
that entity are redundant and subject to dismissal. Hicks v. Tarrant Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 352 F.
App'x 876, 877 (5th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted) (because local government entity was a named
defendant, district court did not err in dismissing official capacity claims against its
commissioners); Mason v. Lafayette City-Par. Consol. Gov't, 806 F.3d 268 (5th Cir.2015) (claim
against mayor in his official capacity was treated as claim against the municipality itself); see
also Butler v. Craft, No. 16-1158, 2017 WL 1366897, at *6 (W.D. La. Apr. 11, 2017) (collecting
Fourth Amendment (via the Fourteenth Amendment) Individual Capacity Claims and
When, as here, plaintiffs seek money damages from government officials in their
individual capacities under § 1983, the affirmative defense of qualified immunity is available to
protect defendants “from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 815 (2009) (citing Harlow v.
Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727 (1982)). The qualified immunity doctrine
balances two often conflicting interests — “the need to hold public officials accountable when
they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction,
and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Id. As such, “[t]he protection of
qualified immunity applies regardless of whether the government official's error is “a mistake of
law, a mistake of fact, or a mistake based on mixed questions of law and fact.” Id. (citations
omitted). In effect, qualified immunity “gives ample room for mistaken judgments by protecting
“all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Mendenhall v. Riser,
213 F.3d 226, 230 (5th Cir.2000) (citing Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 343, 341, 106 S.Ct.
1092 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Qualified immunity is nominally characterized as an affirmative defense. However, once
raised by defendants, it devolves upon plaintiffs to negate the defense by showing that the
officials’ conduct violated clearly established law. Brumfield v. Hollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th
Cir.2008) (citation omitted). Plaintiffs’ burden is two-pronged. Club Retro LLC v. Hilton, 568
F.3d 181, 194 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoted sources omitted). First, plaintiffs must demonstrate that the
defendant violated a constitutional right under current law. Id. “Second, [plaintiffs] must claim
that the defendant[s’] actions were objectively unreasonable in light of the law that was clearly
established at the time of the actions complained of.” Id. (quoted source and internal quotation
marks omitted). The courts are “permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of
the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the
circumstances of the particular case at hand.” Collier v. Montgomery, 569 F.3d 214, 217 (5th Cir.
2009) (citation omitted).
In the peculiar context of a motion for summary judgment, “once [the court has]
determined the relevant set of facts and drawn all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party to
the extent supportable by the record, the reasonableness of [a police officer's] actions . . . is a
pure question of law.” Scott, 550 U.S. at 397, 127 S.Ct. at 1776 n.8 (2007). Consequently, the
Fifth Circuit has recognized that,
when facts are undisputed and no rational factfinder could conclude that the
officer acted unreasonably, we can hold that an officer acted reasonably as a
matter of law. But when facts are disputed and significant factual gaps remain
that require the court to draw several plaintiff-favorable inferences, our analysis is
more tentative. In these cases, we must consider what a factfinder could
reasonably conclude in filling these gaps and then assume the conclusion most
favorable to the plaintiff.
Lytle v. Bexar Cty., Tex., 560 F.3d 404, 411–12 (5th Cir.2009) (internal citation omitted).
In other words, there is no constitutional violation if – even after crediting the version of facts
most favorable to plaintiff – the officer’s conduct was objectively reasonable. Id.
In the case at bar, plaintiffs asserted claims for wrongful arrest and excessive force. Also
pertinent to the inquiry, however, is whether the officers unlawfully detained plaintiffs initially.
All of these rights are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment,16 which protects the “right of the
people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches
and seizures.” U.S. CONST. AMEND. IV. Of course, the protections of the Fourth Amendment
extend to the states pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment. Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S.
Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 1871 (1989) (“all claims that
law enforcement officers have used excessive force—deadly or not—in the course of an arrest,
investigatory stop, or other ‘seizure’ of a free citizen should be analyzed under the Fourth
Amendment and its ‘reasonableness’ standard . . .”).
200, 207, 99 S.Ct. 2248, 2253-2254 (1979) (citation omitted).
“A person is seized by the police and thus entitled to challenge the government's action
under the Fourth Amendment when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority,
terminates or restrains his freedom of movement, through means intentionally applied.” Brendlin
v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 127 S.Ct. 2400, 2405 (2007) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30,
88 S.Ct. 1868 (1968) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Under Terry v. Ohio, a law enforcement officer may temporarily detain a person when the
“officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that a person has committed or is about to commit
a crime.” United States v. Chavez, 281 F.3d 479, 485 (5th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted).
Reasonable suspicion may be described as “‘a particularized and objective basis’ for suspecting
the person stopped of criminal activity.” Id. (citing Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 696,
116 S.Ct. 1657 (1996)). To satisfy the Fourth Amendment, the stopping or detaining officer
must be able to “articulate more than an ‘inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch of
criminal activity.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
The Fourth Amendment requires but a “minimal level of objective justification for
making the stop,” and requires “a showing considerably less than preponderance of the
evidence.” Id. (citation omitted). The validity of the stop is determined under “the totality of the
circumstances-the whole picture.” Id. (citing United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7-8, 109
S.Ct. 1581 (1989)). Therefore, in assessing the legality of a detention, “courts are first to
evaluate whether the stop was lawful at the outset and second to determine whether the officers
conducted the stop in a manner reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified
the interference in the first place.” Brown v. Lynch, 524 Fed. Appx. 69, 75 (5th Cir.2013)
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the officers had reasonable
suspicion to detain Stringfellow and Tellis pursuant to Cottingham’s complaint.17 It is
uncontroverted that Cottingham called 9-1-1, and reported that three males were sexually
harassing her. The facts of this call were forwarded to the responding officers. See Evett v.
DETNTFF, 330 F.3d 681, 688 (5th Cir.2003) (probable cause may be supported by the collective
knowledge of law enforcement personnel who communicate with each other prior to the
Upon arriving at the scene, the officers encountered Cottingham who led the officers
reasonably to believe that Stringfellow and Tellis were two of three males whom she had called
about. In fact, the MVR audio captured Stringfellow acknowledging that he spoke to
Cottingham, albeit, according to him, only to tell her that she was beautiful. When Tellis
returned from the restroom, he took up position beside Stringfellow, thereby implicating himself
as another member of the trio that Cottingham had called about. Cottingham did not tell the
officers – at that time – that Tellis was merely a silent participant in his friends’ verbal
Furthermore, no reasonable jury could conclude that the officers’ decision to separate
Stringfellow and Tellis from Cottingham was not reasonably related in scope to the
circumstances that led to the initial detention. The officers wanted to obtain Stringfellow and
As it turns out, they also had probable cause to arrest plaintiffs. See discussion, infra.
Tellis’s identities before proceeding further.18 To do so, they separated the two from the
complainant.19 Of course, while in the process of trying to obtain Stringfellow and Tellis’s
identity information, the investigation escalated to an arrest.20
To be sure, probable cause is a defense to a § 1983 claim for false arrest. Pfannstiel v.
City of Marion, 918 F.2d 1178, 1183 (5th Cir.1990) (citation omitted). Further, even if there is
no probable cause to arrest the plaintiff for the crime charged, proof of probable cause to arrest
In a similar case sparked by a telephone call reporting a potential roadside assault
involving a man and young woman, the Supreme Court noted that,
[o]btaining a suspect's name in the course of a Terry stop serves important
government interests. Knowledge of identity may inform an officer that a suspect
is wanted for another offense, or has a record of violence or mental disorder. On
the other hand, knowing identity may help clear a suspect and allow the police to
concentrate their efforts elsewhere. Identity may prove particularly important in
cases such as this, where the police are investigating what appears to be a
domestic assault. Officers called to investigate domestic disputes need to know
whom they are dealing with in order to assess the situation, the threat to their own
safety, and possible danger to the potential victim.
Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial Dist. Court of Nevada, Humboldt Cty., 542 U.S. 177, 186, 124 S.Ct.
2451, 2458 (2004).
By detaining plaintiffs, at least initially for the purpose of requiring them to identify
themselves, the officers performed a seizure subject to the requirements of the Fourth
Amendment. Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 50, 99 S.Ct. 2637, 2640 (1979).
[t]here is no bright line point of distinction between an investigatory stop and an
arrest; indeed, the endless variations in facts and circumstances preclude efforts to
locate one. An officer may use some degree of physical force to effect an
investigatory stop, which force might, in some situations, include restraining the
suspect with handcuffs. But such force must be objectively reasonable under the
circumstances, and although an officer may resort to physical restraint in special
circumstances, doing so is not ordinarily proper without probable cause.
Brown, 524 Fed. Appx. at 75–76 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
Also, investigative detention may constitute a de facto arrest. United States v. Shabazz, 993 F.2d
431, 437 (5th Cir. 1993); Freeman v. Gore, 483 F.3d 404, 413 (5th Cir.2007) (“Police detention
constitutes an arrest”).
the plaintiff for a related offense also constitutes a defense. Id. (citation omitted). Indeed, the
officer’s “subjective reason for making the arrest need not be the criminal offense as to which the
known facts provide probable cause.” Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 152-154, 125 S.Ct.
588, 593-594 (2004). The offense establishing probable cause need not even be “closely related”
to, or based on the same conduct that motivated the arresting officer. Id.
“Probable cause exists when the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer's
personal knowledge, or of which he has reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient to
occasion a person of reasonable prudence to believe an offense has been committed.” Evett, 330
F.3d at 688 (citation omitted). In addition, “[p]robable cause is determined on the basis of facts
available to the officer at the time of the arrest, and an officer may be shielded from liability even
if he reasonably but mistakenly conclude[s] that probable cause is present.” Id. (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, “an acquittal does not necessarily signal an absence of
probable cause for an arrest, for the standards for a determination of probable cause and for a
criminal conviction markedly differ.” Brumfield v. Jones, 849 F.2d 152, 155 (5th Cir.1988)
The probable cause standard “applie[s] to all arrests, without the need to balance the
interests and circumstances involved in particular situations.” Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532
U.S. 318, 354, 121 S.Ct. 1536, 1557 (2001) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
Thus, once “an officer has probable cause to believe that an individual has committed even a
very minor criminal offense in his presence, he may, without violating the Fourth Amendment,
arrest the offender.” Id.
In this case, defendants contend that, by the time they placed hands on Stringfellow and
Tellis, they had probable cause to arrest the individuals on multiple charges. Initially, they
contend that they had probable cause to arrest plaintiffs for two separate violations of the
disturbing the peace statute:
Disturbing the peace is the doing of any of the following in such manner as would
foreseeably disturb or alarm the public:
(2) Addressing any offensive, derisive, or annoying words to any other person
who is lawfully in any street, or other public place; or call him by any offensive or
derisive name, or make any noise or exclamation in his presence and hearing with
the intent to deride, offend, or annoy him, or to prevent him from pursuing his
lawful business, occupation, or duty; or
(3) Appearing in an intoxicated condition . . .
La. R. S. § 14:103(A)(2)-(3).
As already discussed, Cottingham called 9-1-1 and reported that three men were sexually
harassing her at Wal-Mart. When the officers arrived on scene, Cottingham provided grounds
for the officers reasonably to believe that Stringfellow and Tellis were two of the three men
involved. She described to the officers the nature of the unwanted advances made by the men.
She also advised 9-1-1 that she had asked the men to stop their unwanted solicitation and
At no time prior to Stringfellow and Tellis’s arrests, did Cottingham disclose to the
officers that the three men exhibited varying degrees of participation in the harassment.21 In sum,
the officers possessed information from a complainant indicating that Stringfellow and Tellis
See Canady v. Prator, No. 13-0923, 2015 WL 507883, at *6 (W.D. La. Feb. 6, 2015)
(complainant’s after-the-fact averment that the arrestee-plaintiff was not screaming or disturbing
the peace does not generate genuine dispute of material fact as to whether a reasonable officer
had probable cause at the scene).
were two members of a trio who had addressed offensive or annoying words22 to someone in a
public place that foreseeably could disturb the public.23 A person of reasonable prudence could
conclude that an offense had been committed. See Canady, supra.
In addition, the officers had probable cause to arrest Stringfellow for the additional
offense of appearing in an intoxicated condition such that he foreseeably could disturb or alarm
the public. The officers observed both Stringfellow and Tellis to exhibit symptoms and odors
consistent with alcohol consumption. While Cottingham and Fobbs denied smelling alcohol
emanating from Stringfellow or Tellis, their testimony does not undermine the officers’
observations as to Stringfellow because he confirmed in his deposition that he had been drinking
that day. (Stringfellow Depo., pg. 216). Furthermore, the audio recording from the MVR
establishes that Stringfellow’s speech was slurred at times, disjointed, and less than pellucid.
As to Tellis, however, Cottingham and Fobbs’ testimony does suffice to create a fact
issue as to whether he was intoxicated. In contrast to Stringfellow, there is no corroborating
evidence to support the officers’ observations.
The officers further contend that they had probable cause to arrest Stringfellow and Tellis
Intent to deride, offend, or annoy may be inferred. Canady, supra (citation omitted).
The Louisiana Supreme Court has interpreted “in such a manner as would foreseeably
disturb or alarm the public” as applying only to “conduct which is violent or boisterous in itself,
or which is provocative in the sense that it induces a foreseeable physical disturbance.”
Netherland v. Eubanks, 302 Fed. Appx. 244, 247 (5th Cir.2008) (State v. Jordan, 369 So.2d
1347, 1350 (La.1979)). The alleged propositioning in this case certainly would qualify as
boisterous. Alternatively, if the unwanted advances continued, it is foreseeable that they would
provoke a physical reaction from the recipient, or even from the aggressor stemming from his
for resisting an officer. The statute provides in pertinent part:
A. Resisting an officer is the intentional interference with, opposition or resistance
to, or obstruction of an individual acting in his official capacity and authorized by
law to make a lawful arrest, lawful detention, or seizure of property or to serve
any lawful process or court order when the offender knows or has reason to know
that the person arresting, detaining, seizing property, or serving process is acting
in his official capacity.
B. (1) The phrase “obstruction of” as used herein shall, in addition to its common
meaning, signification, and connotation mean the following:
(b) Any violence toward or any resistance or opposition to the arresting officer
after the arrested party is actually placed under arrest and before he is incarcerated
(c) Refusal by the arrested or detained party to give his name and make his
identity known to the arresting or detaining officer or providing false information
regarding the identity of such party to the officer.
La. R.S. § 14:108(A) & (B)(1)(b)-(c).24
Here, the officers had lawfully detained Stringfellow and Tellis on suspicion of disturbing
the peace. The officers directed the men to step forward and accompany them. However,
Stringfellow and Tellis hesitated to do so, thus necessitating several loud commands to compel
In 2006, the legislature expanded the reach of the statute to include not only persons
under arrest, but also persons lawfully detained. See Acts 2006, No. 132, § 1 and State v.
Johnson, 109 So.3d 407, 412 n.3 (La. App. 2d Cir. 2013). Therefore, case law interpreting the
prior version of the statute is inapposite. See e.g., Brumfield v. Jones, 849 F.2d 152, 155 (5th
The individuals’ initial refusal to move constitutes intentional interference or
obstruction of a law enforcement officer conducting investigative work at the scene of a crime in
violation of Louisiana Revised Statute § 14:329. This transgression provides the officers with
additional probable cause to arrest Stringfellow and Tellis. See e.g., DeRamus v. City of
Alexandria, No. 14-03222, 2016 WL 285150, at *3 (W.D. La. Jan. 21, 2016).
After Stringfellow and Tellis reluctantly complied with the officers’ order to follow them
to the front of the store, the officers endeavored, with mixed success, to obtain identity
information from both men. While Stringfellow eventually disclosed his personal information,
Tellis proved more evasive. Instead of assisting the investigation, Tellis advised the officers that
they were doing things wrong. Stringfellow and Tellis emphasized to the officers that, in
contrast to the officers’ impressions, the two men were aware of proper police procedures. In so
doing, Stringfellow raised his voice and took a long step that brought him in close proximity to
the officers. Tellis simultaneously took a small step towards another officer.
Under the totality of these circumstances, a person of reasonable prudence could conclude
that Stringfellow and Tellis’s actions intentionally interfered with, opposed, or resisted their
lawful detention. These same movements by Stringfellow and Tellis towards the officers
reasonably could be interpreted by the officers as “threatening force or violence” by someone
detained,26 or alternatively, assault, in violation of Louisiana Revised Statutes §§ 14:108.2 and
In sum, the defendant-officers had probable cause to arrest Stringfellow and Tellis for
myriad offenses at the time that they laid hands on them. Even if the officers were mistaken in
their probable cause assessment, their belief was reasonable. Therefore, the officers are entitled
Stringfellow and Tellis received notice that they were detained by virtue of the
officers’ insistent commands for the men to come with them. See La. R.S. § 14:108.2(A)(1).
Defendants further contend that the officers had probable cause to arrest Tellis for
battery and Stringfellow for possession of marijuana. However, the video confirms that Tellis
bumped Officer Darden’s shoulder after Darden grabbed Tellis’s other arm, thus forcing his
shoulder to turn into Darden’s. Consequently, it does not appear that Tellis intentionally used
force upon Darden. Moreover, the officers did not have probable cause to arrest Stringfellow for
marijuana possession because they were unaware of the contraband at the time of arrest.
to qualified immunity from plaintiffs’ claim for wrongful arrest as a matter of law. See Lock v.
, 2017 WL 2643957, at *3 (5th Cir. June 19, 2017) (officer is
entitled to qualified immunity even if she “reasonably but mistakenly conclude[d] that probable
cause [was] present”).28
Having determined that the officers not only had reasonable suspicion to detain plaintiffs,
but also probable cause to arrest them, the court must consider plaintiffs’ claim for excessive
force.29 By nature, excessive force claims are fact-intensive and dependent on the circumstances
of each case. Hanks v. Rogers, 853 F.3d 738, 745 (5th Cir.2017) (citations omitted). Factors that
the court should consider include “the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an
immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest
or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
The court must analyze the claim from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene. Id.
(citation omitted). Thus, the “inquiry is whether the officer’s actions were objectively reasonable
in light of the facts and circumstances confronting him, without regard to his underlying intent or
motivation.” Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
Applying the foregoing considerations here, the court initially finds that the officers, and
Officer Burnham in particular, reasonably opted to handcuff Stringfellow in response to
The court need not reach the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis as to
plaintiffs’ claim for wrongful arrest. Nonetheless, it is clearly established that a person has the
right to be free from arrest without probable cause. Lock, supra (citation omitted).
Plaintiffs’ excessive force claim is separate and distinct from their unlawful arrest
claim. Freeman v. Gore, 483 F.3d 404, 417 (5th Cir.2007). The court must analyze the
excessive force claim without regard to whether the arrest itself was justified. Id. (citations
Stringfellow’s escalating tone and aggressive move towards the officers. Although the crime that
the officers were investigating initially was not that severe, the encounter escalated pursuant to
Stringfellow’s subsequent conduct. Burnham also had probable cause at that time to arrest
Stringfellow. See discussion, supra.
The court viewed the video depicting Burnham’s forced-march of Stringfellow to the car,
and his efforts to compel Stringfellow to lean over the trunk.30 It is apparent, however, that
Stringfellow resisted Burnham’s efforts such that Burnham was unable to thoroughly pat him
down. In fact, the marijuana secreted in Stringfellow’s sock was not uncovered until he was
booked into the detention center. Burnham also did not gratuitously strike or purposefully injure
Stringfellow without cause. (Stringfellow Depo., pgs. 123-124). Whilst Burnham apparently
threatened Stringfellow with a taser in an effort to coax Stringfellow into placing his feet inside
the vehicle, the compliance technique achieved its goal without the need to make good on the
Furthermore, at best, Stringfellow has asserted no more than fleeting injury to his wrist
from the handcuffs and rough handling by the officer. However, the Fifth Circuit has held that
“minor, incidental injuries that occur in connection with the use of handcuffs to effectuate an
arrest do not give rise to a constitutional claim for excessive force.” Freeman v. Gore, 483 F.3d
404, 417 (5th Cir.2007) (citations omitted). The same result obtains as to any claim for rough
As for Tellis, Officer Darden was confronted with two increasingly agitated suspects who
In Louisiana, an individual “has a time-honored right to resist an illegal arrest.”
Brown, 524 Fed. Appx. at *4 (citations omitted). Here, however, the officers had probable cause
to arrest both individuals.
made simultaneous moves towards the officers. Darden initially grabbed Tellis’s arm and tried
to gain compliance. He then attempted to walk Tellis out the door, but both plaintiffs admitted
that Tellis tensed up and braced himself against further movement. (Stringfellow Depo., pg. 117;
Tellis Depo., pgs. 110-111). In a controlled move, Darden took Tellis to the ground where Tellis
continued to wiggle about. Officer Davidson held Tellis’s legs as Darden used his knee to pin
Tellis down while he handcuffed him. Darden then roughly jerked Tellis up, forced-marched
him to the car, and placed him inside. Darden later had to remove Tellis and re-handcuff his
hands behind his back after Tellis moved his hands to the front of his body.
Under these circumstances, it was objectively reasonable for Darden to restrain Tellis
once he and Stringfellow moved towards the officers (i.e., once they posed an immediate threat).
Moreover, Tellis’s refusal to be escorted outside (i.e., actively resisting arrest), reasonably
compelled Darden to take him to the ground to handcuff him, with Davidson’s assistance. See
Hogan v. Cunningham, 722 F.3d 725, 734 (5th Cir. 2013) (suspect’s attempt to shut the door on
the officers reasonably could be viewed as resisting arrest which provided support for the
officers’ decision to tackle the suspect while he remained in sight, especially where a reasonable
officer could consider that tackling a suspect was unlikely to cause serious injury); Poole v. City
of Shreveport, 691 F.3d 624, 629 (5th Cir.2012) (plaintiff ignored repeated commands to turn
around and give up his arm, thus necessitating taser deployment and take down after plaintiff
kicked and screamed); see also Poole v. Russell, No. 14-0611, 2016 WL 6082041, at *6 (W.D.
La. Oct. 18, 2016) (placing a knee on plaintiff’s back while another officer held him down until
handcuffs could be secured was objectively reasonable).
In Collier v. Montgomery, an officer stopped the plaintiff motorist for a seatbelt
infraction. Collier v. Montgomery, 569 F.3d 214, 218 (5th Cir.2009). When the plaintiff
attempted to grab the officer’s pen, the officer advised him that he was under arrest and reached
for his wrist. Id. The plaintiff pulled away, and a struggle ensued. Id. The officer pushed the
plaintiff onto the hood of the car and forced his arm behind his back, eventually obtaining
compliance. Id. Plaintiff suffered abdominal bruising, other bruises, plus chest pain stemming
from the encounter. Id. However, the court concluded that given plaintiff’s physical resistance,
the use of force was reasonable under the circumstances. Id.
The foregoing authority impels the same result here. Although Tellis alleged in his
complaint that he suffered a hernia from the encounter, the uncontroverted summary judgment
evidence establishes that his hernia was a preexisting condition. In fact, the only evidence of
injury suffered by Tellis uncovered by the court was in Ms. Fobbs’ deposition where she stated
that she had observed bruising around Tellis’s torso. However, the use of force remained
proportionate and reasonable, give Tellis’s non-compliance. See Collier, supra.
In his report, defendants’ expert, George J. Armbruster, explained that Tellis, by moving
his handcuffed hands from behind his back to the front of his body, made it possible to use his
hands offensively. (Defs. MSJ, Exh. G).31 This development presented a safety risk, thereby
requiring Darden to extract Tellis from the car to re-cuff his hands behind his back.
In sum, even after crediting the version of facts most favorable to plaintiff, no reasonable
Plaintiffs objected to the court’s consideration of defendants’ expert report. However,
“[a]n opinion is not objectionable just because it embraces an ultimate issue.” Fed.R.Evid.
704(a). Nonetheless, an expert is not permitted to offer legal conclusions. McBroom v. Payne,
478 Fed. Appx. 196, 200 (5th Cir.2012) (citation omitted). Whether an officer’s actions were
reasonable constitutes a legal conclusion. Id. Accordingly, the court will not consider
Armbruster’s report insofar as it addresses legal conclusions.
juror could conclude that the officers’ use of force was not objectively reasonable.32 Moreover,
even if the use of force in this case were unreasonable, plaintiffs have not shown that it was
clearly established in May/June 2015 that a reasonable officer would have known that the level
of force used under the circumstances was excessive. See Hogan, supra (citations omitted).
“While the right to be free from excessive force is clearly established in a general sense, the right
to be free from the degree of force used in a given situation may not have been clear to a
reasonable officer at the scene. Hogan, 722 F.3d at 735 (citation omitted).
A law is clearly established when there exists “controlling authority—or a ‘robust
consensus of persuasive authority’—that defines the contours of the right in question with a high
degree of particularity.” Id. Although a case directly on point is not required, “existing
precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.” Id.
(citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, the question becomes whether the right is
“sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would [have understood] that what he is doing
violates that right.” Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
Here, plaintiffs have not identified controlling authority that satisfies the foregoing
criteria.33 At minimum, plaintiffs have not shown that every reasonable official would have
The court acknowledges that Officer Darden’s initial interaction with Stringfellow and
Tellis appeared to be unprofessional. Moreover, his tone and overbearing conduct likely
exacerbated the encounter and fueled plaintiffs’ resistance to the investigation. If all parties had
maintained their composure, it is conceivable that the officers could have exercised their
discretion to issue a citation or even released plaintiffs with a warning after completing the
investigation. Compare Tyler Ward’s interaction with Officer Davidson. In the end, while
Darden’s conduct was distasteful and intemperate, it fell short of the threshold required to
support constitutional redress.
To be sure, there is recent authority confirming that of February 2013:
clearly established law demonstrated that an officer violates the Fourth
known that the conduct at issue in this case violated the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly,
plaintiffs have failed to overcome defendants’ qualified immunity defense.
First Amendment/Retaliatory Arrest Claim against the Individual Defendants
In their brief, plaintiffs argued that they were engaged in protected speech when they
questioned the officers’ procedures. The First Amendment “prohibits not only direct limits on
individual speech but also adverse governmental action against an individual in retaliation for the
exercise of protected speech activities.” Keenan v. Tejeda, 290 F.3d 252, 258 (5th Cir. 2002)
(internal citations omitted). To prevail on a First Amendment retaliation claim plaintiffs must
(1) they were engaged in constitutionally protected activity, (2) the defendants'
actions caused them to suffer an injury that would chill a person of ordinary
firmness from continuing to engage in that activity, and (3) the defendants'
adverse actions were substantially motivated against the plaintiffs' exercise of
constitutionally protected conduct.
Id. (citations omitted).
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has never recognized a First Amendment right to be free from a
retaliatory arrest that is supported by probable cause. Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. 658, 132
S.Ct. 2088, 2093 (2012).34 Here, plaintiffs’ arrest was supported by probable cause. See
discussion, supra. As the Fifth Circuit explained,
Amendment if he abruptly resorts to overwhelming physical force rather than
continuing verbal negotiations with an individual who poses no immediate threat
or flight risk, who engages in, at most, passive resistance, and whom the officer
stopped for a minor traffic violation.
Hanks, 853 F.3d at 747.
However, the circumstances of this case are materially distinct. Tellis physically impeded
Darden’s efforts to escort him outside. Moreover, the officers did not strike either plaintiff.
Plaintiffs have not shown any subsequent change in the law.
when a person's conduct gives an officer probable cause to believe that she is
guilty of a crime, that person does not taint a proper arrest by contemporaneously
shouting “police officers are corrupt.” Probable cause is an objective standard. If
it exists, any argument that the arrestee's speech as opposed to her criminal
conduct was the motivation for her arrest must fail, no matter how clearly that
speech may be protected by the First Amendment. Of course, this is nothing more
than a recognition that the Fourth Amendment's concern with reasonableness
allows certain actions to be taken in certain circumstances, whatever the
subjective intent of the officer.
Mesa v. Prejean, 543 F.3d 264, 273 (5th Cir.2008).
Accordingly, qualified immunity shields defendants from plaintiffs’ retaliatory arrest claim under
the First Amendment.
§ 1983 Claim Against Chief Steve Rogers
Plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that Chief Rogers was liable for his failure to
supervise and/or discipline Officers Darden, Burnham, and Davidson. However, supervisory
officials are not liable under § 1983 for the actions of subordinates under any theory of vicarious
liability. Turner v. Lieutenant Driver, 848 F.3d 678, 695 (5th Cir.2017) (citation omitted).
Rather, to be liable under § 1983, the supervisor
must have been personally involved in the alleged constitutional deprivation or
have engaged in wrongful conduct that is causally connected to the constitutional
violation. Personal involvement of supervising personnel generally includes
giving a “command, signal, or any other form of direction to the officers that
prompted” the detention or arrest.
Plaintiffs did not allege or adduce any evidence to show that Chief Rogers was personally
involved in any alleged constitutional violation.
Nevertheless, a supervisor not personally involved in the acts that purportedly deprived
plaintiffs of their constitutional rights is subject to liability under § 1983 if: “1) the [supervisor]
failed to train or supervise the officers involved; 2) there is a causal connection between the
alleged failure to supervise or train and the alleged violation of the plaintiff's rights; and 3) the
failure to train or supervise constituted deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's constitutional
rights.” Thompson v. Upshur Cty., TX, 245 F.3d 447, 459 (5th Cir.2001) (citations omitted).
However, proof of more than one instance of lack of training or supervision resulting in a
deprivation of constitutional rights is required before it may arise to the level of deliberate
indifference. Id.; see also Brown, supra.
Plaintiffs have not made the requisite showing in this case. In any event, supervisors
cannot be held liable for alleged constitutional violations by their subordinates, when, as here,
plaintiffs failed to establish any constitutional transgressions by the subordinates. Estate of
Pollard v. Hood Cty., Tex., 579 Fed. Appx. 260, 266 (5th Cir.2014) (citations omitted).
§ 1983 Claim Against the City of Ruston
A local government entity or municipality is not subject to liability under § 1983 by virtue
of the doctrine of respondeat superior. O'Quinn v. Manuel, 773 F.2d 605, 608 (5th Cir.1985).
Instead, to impose § 1983 liability against a government entity for the misconduct of one of its
employees or officers, plaintiffs must demonstrate that the constitutional deprivation was caused
by a policy or custom of the entity. Kohler v. Englade, 470 F.3d 1104, 1115 (5th Cir. 2006)
(citing Monell v. New York City Dept. of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 690-691, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2036
(1978)). Specifically, a plaintiff must identify (a) a policymaker, (b) an official policy or custom
or widespread practice, and (c) a violation of constitutional rights whose “moving force” is the
policy or custom. Monell, 436 U.S. at 694.35 “In a Section 1983 case, the burden of proving the
For purposes of Monell liability, “[t]he final policymaker is the official or body upon
whom state or local law has conferred the power to adopt rules governing the conduct of the
entity’s employees; merely granting an employee discretionary authority does not make the
existence of an unconstitutional municipal policy or established custom rests upon the plaintiff.”
McConney v. City of Houston, 863 F.2d 1180, 1184 (5th Cir. 1989).36
Stringfellow and Tellis did not adduce evidence to meet the requirements for a Monell
claim against the city. Moreover, plaintiffs have not established an underlying constitutional
violation by the individual defendants. A fortiori, they have not identified a precipitating
unconstitutional custom or policy enacted by the government entity. See Bustos v. Martini Club
Inc., 599 F.3d 458, 467 (5th Cir. 2010) (because the officers did not violate plaintiff’s
constitutional rights, neither did the city).
State Law Claims
Plaintiffs asserted state law claims for excessive force, unlawful arrest, failure to train,
negligent hiring, and respondeat superior. In support of their claims, they invoked, inter alia,
Article I, § 5 of the Louisiana Constitution and Louisiana Civil Code Article 2315.37
The Fifth Circuit has recognized that Louisiana's excessive force tort mirrors its federal
employee a final policymaker.” Lee v. Morial, No. 99-2952, 2000 WL 726882, at *2 (E.D. La.
June 2, 2000).
Insofar as plaintiffs fault the city for failure to discipline the officers, a theory of
ratification is limited to “extreme factual situations.” Quinn v. Guerrero,
WL 2951586 (5th Cir. July 10, 2017) (citation omitted). “[I]t is nearly impossible to impute lax
disciplinary policy to the City without showing a pattern of abuses that transcends the error made
in a single case.” Id. (citation omitted). Plaintiffs did not make that showing here.
Also, Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 220 provides that “[a] person
shall submit peaceably to a lawful arrest. The person making a lawful arrest may use reasonable
force to effect the arrest and detention, and also to overcome any resistance or threatened
resistance of the person being arrested or detained.” La.Code Cr.P. Art. 220. However, if an
officer uses unreasonable or excessive force, the officer and his or her employer are liable for any
resulting injuries. Kyle v. City of New Orleans, 353 So.2d 969, 972 (La.1977) (citations
constitutional counterpart. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 172–73 (5th Cir.2009).38
Furthermore, “Louisiana applies qualified immunity principles to state constitutional law claims
based on ‘[t]he same factors that compelled the United States Supreme Court to recognize a
qualified good faith immunity for state officers under § 1983.’” Roberts v. City of Shreveport,
397 F.3d 287, 296 (5th Cir.2005) (citing Moresi v. Dep't of Wildlife and Fisheries, 567 So.2d
1081, 1093 (La.1990)). Because plaintiffs’ excessive force claims under the Louisiana
Constitution and Louisiana Civil Code parallel their § 1983 allegations, the court’s resolution of
plaintiffs’ § 1983 claims necessitates the same disposition as to their state law claims. Roberts,
supra; DeVille, supra; Thomas, supra.
Under Louisiana law, “[f]alse arrest and imprisonment occur when one arrests and
restrains another against his will without a warrant or other statutory authority.” Deville, 567
F.3d at 172 (citation omitted). An arrest is unlawful and actionable when the arresting officer
lacks probable cause for the arrest. Thomas, supra (citation omitted). Here, the court has
determined that the officers had probable cause to arrest plaintiffs, which undermines any basis
for a false arrest claim under state law.
Insofar as plaintiffs advanced a claim against the city and Chief Rogers for negligent
hiring, they must satisfy the five elements for a negligence claim under Louisiana law:
(1) the defendant had a duty to conform his conduct to a specific standard (the
duty element); (2) the defendant failed to conform his conduct to the appropriate
standard (the breach of duty element); (3) the defendant's substandard conduct
was a cause-in-fact of the plaintiff's injuries (the cause-in-fact element); (4) the
Article I § 5 of the Louisiana Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and
seizures and, therefore, is analogous to the federal Fourth Amendment. Thomas v. Town of
Jonesville, No. 11-048, 2013 WL 265235, at *6 (W.D. La. Jan. 23, 2013), affirmed, 539 Fed.
Appx. 645 (5th Cir.2013).
defendant's substandard conduct was a legal cause of the plaintiff's injuries (the
scope of liability or scope of protection element); and, (5) actual damages (the
Roberts v. Benoit, 605 So.2d 1032, 1051 (La.1991), on reh'g (May 28, 1992).
Apparently in an effort to show that the city and Chief Rogers breached a duty to hire
competent officers, plaintiffs point to other § 1983 cases filed against Slade Darden in this
district. See Jakob v. Darden, No. 15-0085 (W.D. La.) and Antley v. Darden, No. 14-3307 (W.D.
La.). Although the plaintiffs in Jacob and Antley included allegations of excessive force
committed by Darden, the allegations have not been substantiated. The Jacob suit settled prior to
trial. Jacob, supra. Moreover, the Antley case has yet to go to trial. In the absence of any
findings that Darden violated any civil rights in those cases, they do not establish that the city and
Chief Rogers breached any duty owed to plaintiffs.
Moreover, even if plaintiffs had shown that the city’s hiring practices breached a duty
owed to plaintiffs, any such breach was not a cause-in-fact of plaintiffs’ injuries, where, as here,
the court has determined that the officers’ actions were objectively reasonable. See Thomas,
supra (plaintiff cannot show causation between alleged breach and harm suffered where plaintiff
cannot establish a constitutional violation by the officer).39
Relatedly, under Louisiana law, cities do not enjoy special protection from vicarious
liability for their employee-officers’ tortious conduct. DeVille, supra. In this case, however,
there is no liability to impute to the city because the court found no actionable transgressions by
the officers. See Poole v. Russell, No. 14-0611, 2016 WL 6082041, at *7–8 (W.D. La. Oct. 18,
Finally, in their complaint, plaintiffs invoked Article I, Sections 2,40 3,41 4,42 and 1343 of
the Louisiana Constitution. (Compl., ¶ 1.1). However, these constitutional clauses are
“substantially equivalent” to their federal counterparts, and thus the same analysis applies to
both. Powers v. United States, 783 F.3d 570, 577 (5th Cir.2015) (citations omitted); see also
Miller v. Summit Health & Rehab Servs., Inc., No 16-1066, 2017 WL 2625123, at *6 (W.D. La.
June 16, 2017) (citations omitted). The court’s disposition of any claims under the parallel
provisions of the federal constitution condemns plaintiffs’ bare invocation of these state law
clauses to the same fate. Moreover, plaintiffs did not advance any argument related to these state
For the foregoing reasons, the court finds that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact, and that movants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.
“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, except by due process of
law.” La. Const. Art. I, § 2.
“No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws. No law shall discriminate
against a person because of race or religious ideas, beliefs, or affiliations . . .” La. Const. Art. I, §
“Every person has the right to acquire, own, control, use, enjoy, protect, and dispose of
private property . . .” La. Const. Art. I, § 4.
“ When any person has been arrested or detained in connection with the investigation or
commission of any offense, he shall be advised fully of the reason for his arrest or detention, his
right to remain silent, his right against self incrimination, his right to the assistance of counsel
and, if indigent, his right to court appointed counsel . . .” La. Const. Art. I, § 13.
IT IS ORDERED that the motion for summary judgment [doc. # 49] filed by defendants
City of Ruston, Officer Jason Burnham, Officer Slade Darden, Officer Tyler Davidson, and Chief
Steve Rogers is hereby GRANTED. Judgment shall issue accordingly.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that defendants’ motion to compel discovery responses and
associated request for fees [doc. # 28] is DENIED, as moot.
In Chambers, at Monroe, Louisiana, this 26th day of July 2017.
KAREN L. HAYES
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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