Francois v. Anslum et al
MEMORANDUM RULING re 31 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Scott Anslum. Based upon the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that defendant Anslum is entitled to summary judgment o n the basis that the claims asserted by Francois are barred by the one-year limitations period applicable to these claims. The Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED, and the claims asserted by Francois are DISMISSED. Signed by Judge Robert R Summerhays on 6/3/2021. (crt,Jordan, P)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
ALVIN FRANCOIS CASE NO. 6:18-CV-00661
VERSUS JUDGE ROBERT R. SUMMERHAYS
SCOTT ANSLUM ET AL MAGISTRATE JUDGE CAROL B.
The present matter before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 31] filed
by defendant Scott Anslum, Sheriff of St. Mary Parish, Louisiana. Anslum contends that plaintiff
Alvin Francois' section 1983 claims are barred by the statute of limitations. For the reasons
explained below, the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
Francois filed his Original Complaint on May 17, 2018, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C.
1983 against Scott Anslum in his official capacity as Sheriff of St. Mary Parish, Louisiana.1
Francois alleges that he was physically abused while he was incarcerated at the St. Mary Parish
Law Enforcement Center ("SMPLEC").2 He also alleges that SMPLEC failed to provide medical
treatment for his mental illness. Anslum filed a Motion for More Definite Statement, arguing that
the Original Complaint failed to identify when Francois was detained at SMPLEC and the
timeframe for the events underlying his section 1983 claims. In that motion, Anslum asserted that
SMPLEC's records reflect that Francois had not been incarcerated at the facility since April of
1 Complaint [ECF No. 1].
2 Mat WO-13.
3 Motion for More Defmite Statement [ECF No. 17].
2016.4 The Magistrate Judge granted the motion,5 and Francois filed his Amended Complaint on
March 30, 2020.6 In the Amended Complaint, Francois alleges that the conduct underlying his
section 1983 claims occurred between May 17-19, 2017.7
Anslum then filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that there is no
evidence that Francois was incarcerated at SMPLEC between May 17-19, 2017—or, indeed, at
any time after April of 2016. Francois filed an Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment
but did not attach any evidence supporting the May 17-19, 2017 timeline alleged in the Amended
Complaint. Critically, Francois submitted a sworn affidavit that does not identify his dates of
incarceration or otherwise support the timeframe in the Amended Complaint.
LAW AND ANALYSIS
A. Summary Judgment Standard
"A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense—or the part
of each claim or defense—on which summary judgment is sought."8 "The court shall grant
summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."9 "A genuine issue of material fact exists
when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party."10
As summarized by the Fifth Circuit:
When seeking summary judgment, the movant bears the initial responsibility of
demonstrating the absence of an issue of material fact with respect to those issues
on which the movant bears the burden of proof at trial. However, where the
nonmovant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may merely point to an
absence of evidence, thus shifting to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating
5 ECF No. 20.
6 ECF No. 25.
8 Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
10 Quality Infusion Care, Inc. v. Health Care Service Corp., 628 F.3d 725, 728 (5th Cir. 2010).
by competent summary judgment proof that there is an issue of material fact
When reviewing evidence in connection with a motion for summary judgment, "the court must
disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe, and
should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmoving party as well as that evidence
supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached."12 "Credibility
determinations are not part of the summary judgment analysis."13 Rule 56 "mandates the entry of
summary judgment . . . against a party who 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
B. Are Francois9 Section 1983 Claims Barred By Limitations?
A cause of action under section 1983 is a federal cause of action. However, section 1983
contains no independent limitations period. As a result, the "settled practice is to borrow an
'appropriate' statute of limitations" from the forum state.15 The Fifth Circuit has held that
Louisiana's one-year prescriptive period for personal injury actions under La. Civ. Code Ann. art
3492 governs the limitations period for section 1983 claims filed in Louisiana.16 The parties do
not dispute that a one-year limitations period applies to Francois5 claims.
Based on the records submitted by Anslum, Francois was booked into SMPLEC on April
8,2015 and subsequently transferred to the custody of Rivers Correctional on April 4, 2016. 7 The
11 Lindsey v. Sears Roebuck and Co., 16 F.3d 616, 618 (5th Cir.1994) (internal citations omitted).
12 Roberts v. Cardinal Servs., 266 F.3d 368, 373 (5fh Cir. 2001); see also Feist v. Louisiana, Dept. of Justice, Office
of the Atty. Gen., 730 F.3d 450, 452 (5th Cir. 2013) (court must view all facts and evidence in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party).
13 Quorum Health Resources, L.LC. v. Maverick County Hosp. Dist., 308 F.3d 451, 458 (5th Cir. 2002).
14 Patrick v. Ridge, 394 F.3d 311, 315 (5th Cir. 2004) (alterations in original) (quoting Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
15 King-White v. Humble Indep. Sch. Dist., 803 F.3d 754, 758 (5th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted).
16 See Lavellee v. Listi, 611 F.2d 1129 (5tii Cir.1980)
17 See Exhibit A to ECF No. 31.
records further reflect that Francois was transferred to Elayn Hunt Correctional on June 20, 2016,
where he remained until his release from prison on March 25, 2017.18 Based on these records,
Francois was not incarcerated at SMPLEC after April of 2016. This evidence refutes the
allegations in the Amended Complaint that the events at SMPLEC—the denial of medical care
and physical abuse—occurred between May 17-19, 2017. In response, Francois presented no
evidence that he was incarcerated at SMPLEC during 2017, other than the bare allegations of the
Amended Complaint. Francois submitted a sworn affidavit in support of his opposition to the
Motion for Summary Judgment, but that affidavit does not identify the timeframe during which he
was incarcerated at SMPLEC. In light of the summary judgment record, the latest that the events
underlying Francois5 claims could have occurred is April 4, 2016. Based on this date, the one-year
statute of limitations expired on April 4, 2017. Since this action was not filed until May 2018,
Francois9 claims are barred by the statute of limitations.19
C. Equitable Tolling
Relying on Fisher v. Johnson20 Francois argues in the alternative that the doctrine of
equitable tolling preserved his claims. Specifically, Francois posits that he suffers from
schizophrenia and takes dmgs for the disease that affect his memory, judgment and decisionmaking.21 He argues that his claims were equitably tolled as a result of his mental illness and
treatment. Because Louisiana law applies to the applicable limitations period, Louisiana law also
applies to whether and under what circumstances that limitations period may be tolled.22 While
19 Francois points to an alleged inconsistency m the documents as to transfer dates: the documents apparently show
an April 4, 2016 transfer date not only for SMPLEC but also Rivers Correctional. Viewing this evidence in the light
most favorable to Francois, it does not create a genuine question of material fact as to Francois9 custody at SMPLEC.
The documents show that he left SMPLEC's custody on April 4, 2016, and Francois has come forward with no
evidence showing otherwise—not even in his sworn affidavit.
21 See Exhibit A to ECF No. 35
22 See Wilson v. Hargroder, 46 F.3d 67 (5th Cir. 1995).
Louisiana law does not recognize "equitable tolling" with respect to prescription, it recognizes the
doctrine ofcontra non valentem as an exception to the general rules of prescription. Louisiana's
doctrine of contra non valentem provides that "prescription does not run against one who is
ignorant of the facts upon which their cause of action is based and applies an exception to the
statutory prescriptive period where in fact and for good cause a plaintiff is unable to exercise his
cause of action when it accrues."24 The doctrine generally suspends prescription only if the facts
of the case fall into one of four narrow categories:
1. Where there was some legal cause which prevented the courts or their officers from
taking cognizance of or acting on the plaintiffs action;
2. Where there was some condition coupled with a contract or connected with the
proceedings which prevented the creditor from suing or acting;
3. Where the debtor himself has done some act effectually to prevent the creditor from
availing himself of his cause of action; and
4. Where some cause of action is not known or reasonably knowable by the plaintiff, even
though his ignorance is not induced by the defendant.25
These categories and the doctrine in general are narrowly construed by Louisiana courts.2
Francois9 grounds for applying the contra non valentem doctrine in the present case are his
mental illness and the effects of the treatment for that mental illness. Francois5 argument appears
to rely on the third and fourth categories of the doctrine; there is no evidence that would suggest
that this case falls into the first two categories. With respect to the third category, there is no
evidence that the actions ofAnslum or SMPLEC (as opposed to the effects ofFrancois9 mental
illness) prevented Francois from timely filing this action. For this category of the doctrine to apply,
23 Hillman v. .4^?, 63 1 So.2d I (La. 1994); Bouterie v. Crane, supra; Harvey v. Dixie Graphics, Inc., 593 So.2d 351
(La. 1992); Plaquemines Parish Comtn Council v. Delta Development Co., Inc., 502 So.2d 1034, 1054 (La. 1987).
24 Eastin v. Entergy Corp., 865 So. 2d 49, 55 (La. 2004) (emphasis in original).
25 Wimberlyv. Gatch, 635 So. 2d 206, 211-13 (La. 1994).
26 See, e.g., Doe v. Ainsworth, 540 So.2d 425, 426 (La. App. 1st Cir.1989) (noting that requests to apply the doctrine
are "rarely accepted").
the plaintiff must show that (1) the defendant has engaged in conduct "which rises to the level of
concealment, misrepresentation, fraud or ill practice,"27 (2) the defendant's actions "effectually
prevented the plaintiff from pursuing a cause of action,"28 and (3) the plaintiff must "have been
reasonable in his or her inaction."29 Here, Francois alleges that SMPLEC failed to treat his mental
illness but does not explain how this failure to treat his illness prevented him from timely filing
suit. In his affidavit, Francois states that "during all pertinent times, he was on suicide watch and
placed in solitary confinement at the Mary Parish Law Enforcement Center." [ECF No. 35-1 at ^
6]. However, even assuming that this period of solitary confinement prevented Francois from
pursuing his legal rights while confined at SMPLEC, it does not explain why he could not have
exercised his legal rights after his release from SMPLEC on April 4, 2016. As previously
explained, there is no evidence that Francois was incarcerated at SMPLEC from April 2016
through the expiration of the limitations period in April 2017. In sum, Francois fails to show how
Anslum's or SMPLEC's actions could have "effectually prevented [Francois] from pursuing a
cause of action" after he left SMPLEC custody in April 2016. 30
With respect to the fourth category of the doctrine, Francois has not explained how his
mental illness and the treatment for that illness prevented him from timely filing suit because his
claims were "not known or reasonably knowable."31 Nothing in the applicable Louisiana case law
holds that the mere presence of a mental illness is sufficient to invoke the contra non
valentem doctrine—rather the plaintiff must show that the illness actually prevented the timely
filing of a suit.32 Here, there is no evidence that Francois was ever adjudicated legally incompetent.
27 Fontenotv. ABC Ins. Co., 674 So. 2d 960, 963 (La. 1996).
28 Hendrickv. ABC Ins. Co., 787 So.2d 283, 290, 293(La. 2001).
29 Jordan v. Employee Transfer Corp., 509 So.2d 420, 423 (La. 1987).
30 Hendrick,1V1 So.2d at 290.
31 Wimberly, 635 So. 2d 206, 211-13 (La. 1994).
32 Wilson, 46 F.3d at 69.
Moreover, even ifFrancois9 treatments affected his memory, judgment, and decision-making, the
record does not create a genuine question of material fact over whether and how these conditions
prevented the timely filing of a suit for the entire period from April 4, 2016 (the date ofFrancois9
transfer from SMPLEC) through the expiration of the limitations period on April 4, 2017.
Finally, Francois9 reliance on Fisher v. Johns on is inapt because that case is
distinguishable. Fisher dealt with equitable tolling as a question of'federal law: whether equitable
tolling applied to the limitations period for filing a writ of habeas corpus under the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.33 The case did not address Louisiana's narrow contra
non valentem doctrine in the context of a section 1983 action. Moreover, even if Fisher were
applicable, in that case the Fifth Circuit actually affirmed the denial of tolling under circumstance
more extreme than the circumstances reflected in the record of the present case. Specifically, in
Fisher the plaintiff not only suffered from mental illness, he was confined in a special unit of the
state prison for psychiatric treatment, did not have access to the law library (or presumably to
incoming legal correspondence routed through the library), was legally blind without use of his
glasses, and was denied access to his glasses during confinement.34 Nevertheless, the court denied
relief: "But a brief period of incapacity during a one-year statute of limitations, even though rare,
does not necessarily warrant equitable tolling."35 The court concluded that the evidence did not
support the plaintiffs claim that his brief period of confinement prevented timely compliance with
the one-year statute of limitations.36 Here, like Fisher, even ifFrancois has demonstrated that he
suffers from a mental illness and adverse side effects from his treatment for that illness, he has
offered nothing to show the duration of these effects or that the effects were so severe they
36 Mat 715-16
prevented him from filing suit within the one-year limitations period. The doctrine of contra non
valentem is therefore unavailable to preserve Francois' claims from dismissal under the statute of
* * *
Based upon the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that there are no genuine issues of
material fact and that defendant Anslum is entitled to summary judgment on the basis that the
claims asserted by Francois are barred by the one-year limitations period applicable to these
claims. The Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED, and the claims asserted by Francois
THUS DONE in Chambers on this ^ day of June ,2021.
ROBERT R. SUMMEimAyS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT J08GE>/
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