Miller v. Harrison County, Mississippi et al

Filing 68

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting 15 Motion to Dismiss/for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge Louis Guirola, Jr on 10/28/08. (JCH)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI S O U T H E R N DIVISION R O D E R IC K CLARK MILLER V. H A R R IS O N COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, et al. P L A IN T IF F N O . 1:07cv541-LG-JMR DEFENDANTS M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING A M E R IC A N CORRECTIONAL ASSOCIATION SUMMARY JUDGMENT T H IS MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Defendant American Correctional A s so c ia tio n ' s ("ACA") Motion to Dismiss [15] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12 (b)( 6), or in the alternative 56(c). Plaintiff Roderick Clark Miller initiated this action for federal and state law claims arising from his detention at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center (" H C A D C "). He alleges that ACA wrongfully accredited the jail, and as a result, he was beaten an d deprived of personal property. ACA argues (1) it is not a state actor, (2) it did not participate in a conspiracy to deprive him of his rights or to beat him, (3) it had no authority to prevent a con spiracy, and (4) ACA did not breach the accreditation contract. Miller did not file a response. The Court has considered the motion, brief, record, and relevant legal authority. ACA is granted sum m ary judgment. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY M iller was arrested and placed into the custody of the HCADC on April 17, 2004. He alleges that while detained in the Booking area, his house and car keys were given to his girlfrien d 's friend, and Harrison County Deputies beat him, verbally threatened him, and refused to let him make his phone call. At the time, the jail was ACA accredited. ACA is a national organization that publishes stan d ard s for and provides accreditation to correctional facilities. ACA contracted with Harrison C o u n ty to inspect HCADC and, if it was found in compliance with ACA standards, to accredit H C A D C . Pursuant to the contract, ACA granted accreditation on January 11, 2003. The Complaint asserts claims against ACA under Section 1983, for a violation of Miller's F ifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. "The violations . . . include, but are not limited to , the use of excessive force . . . deprivation of identifiable civil rights, i.e., liberty and/or property. . . and thereafter, evidence a deliberate indifference to the immediate, grave and serious medical n eed s of the Plaintiff. . . ." (Compl. at 12 (27)). The Complaint appears to also allege that ACA co n sp ired with the Harrison County defendants to interfere with Miller's civil rights in violation of S ectio n 1985, and failed to prevent that conspiracy in violation of Section 1986. Finally, ACA is c h ar ge d with civil conspiracy, breach of a non-delegable fiduciary duty (to provide medical care), breach of a third party beneficiary contract, and infliction of emotional distress. DISCUSSION B e cau se the Court was presented and has considered matters outside the pleadings, the C ou rt converts the motion to one for summary judgment. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(d). A motion for su m m ary judgment shall be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and ad m issio n s on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any m aterial fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P . 56. The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Abarca v. Metro. Transit. Auth., 404 F.3d 938, 940 (5th Cir. 2005). A "material fact" is one that m ight affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U .S . 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute about a material fact exists when the evidence is such 2 that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. The party that bears the burden of proof at trial also bears the burden of proof at the sum m ary judgment stage. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A party seeking su m m ary judgment bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the pleadings and d isco v er y on file, together with any affidavits, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genu ine issue of material fact. Id. at 325. Once the movant carries its burden, the burden shifts to the non-movant to show that summary judgment should not be granted. Id. at 324-25. "[W]hen a m otion for summary judgment is made and supported . . . an adverse party may not rest upon . . . m ere allegations or denials . . . but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). S ECTION 1983 M iller accuses ACA of violating his constitutional rights by wrongfully accrediting the jail. ACA argues that it is not a state actor. To prove Miller's claim under Section 1983, he will have to sho w , among other things, that ACA acted under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 4 8 (1988). "To constitute state action, `the deprivation must be caused by the exercise of some righ t or privilege created by the State . . . or by a person for whom the State is responsible,' and `the party . . . must be a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor.'" Id. at 49 (quoting L u g a r v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982)). "This may be because he is a state o fficial, because he has acted together with or has obtained significant aid from state officials, or becau se his conduct is otherwise chargeable to the state." Id. "Private individuals generally are not considered . . . state actors. . . . Notwithstanding this lim itatio n , a private individual may act under color of law in certain circumstances, such as when a 3 private person is involved in a conspiracy or participates in joint activity with state actors." Ballard v. Wall, 413 F.3d 510, 518 (5th Cir. 2005). State action may also be found where the state c o m p e ls the private party to act, "when the state provides `significant encouragement, either overt or covert,'" when the private entity is controlled by the State, when the private party performs a p u b lic function, or when the private party is so entwined with the State as to make the party a state actor. Brentwood Acad. v. Tenn. Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass'n, 531 U.S. 288, 296 (2001). It is undisputed that "ACA is a private, not-for-profit corporation" made up of "corrections o fficials and officers, sheriffs, probation and parole officers, members of the judiciary, exo ffen d er s, and others interested in the improvement of correctional systems." (Gondles Aff. at 1 ( 3 ) ) . ACA is an educational organization that "maintains a private, non-governmental, voluntary accred itatio n program, pursuant to which . . . [government] correctional facilities may apply for A C A accreditation." Id. at 2 (5). ACA is funded by fees from correctional facilities seeking accred itatio n . "Accreditation is based upon an applicant correctional facility's demonstration of com pliance with correctional facility standards adopted by ACA." Id. "ACA has no authority to req u ire a correctional facility to seek accreditation, to adopt any procedures or to change any ex istin g procedures. Rather, ACA's sole authority is to deny accreditation . . . from, any facility fou nd not to be in compliance. . . ." Id. at (6). D efend ant Harrison County Sheriff's Department entered into an accreditation contract w ith ACA, which required ACA to inspect the jail, determine if it was in compliance, and to a cc re d it it if it was in compliance. Pursuant to this contract, three ACA-appointed auditors insp ected the jail June 24-26, 2002, and found it to be in compliance with ACA standards. It was thu s awarded accreditation on January 11, 2003, for a period of three years. 4 W as ACA a state actor when it accredited the jail? There is no evidence that ACA entered in to a conspiracy with the State defendants to wrongfully accredit the jail. There is further no eviden ce that ACA was coerced or encouraged in its action by the government, nor that ACA was co n tro lled by the government, nor that ACA was delegated a public function that was traditionally the prerogative of the State, nor that the government entwined in ACA's management or control. Because there is no genuine dispute of material fact as to ACA's private status, it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the Section 1983 claim. SECTION 1985 M iller alleges that ACA entered into a conspiracy with the State defendants to deprive him of his Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. ACA argues that it did not participate in the conspiracy, and it was not motivated by racial animus. A C A is liable to Miller under Section 1985 if ACA conspired with another to deprive M iller, either directly or indirectly, of equal protection, privileges, or immunities of the law. 42 U .S .C . 1985. As stated previously, there is no evidence of a conspiracy to wrongfully accredit th e jail. On this record, there is likewise nothing from which a reasonable juror could conclude that ACA participated in any other kind of conspiracy to deprive Miller of his constitutional rights. The only evidence as to ACA's conduct demonstrates that it entered a contract to provide accreditation services, sent three auditors to evaluate the jail, found the jail to be in compliance w ith ACA standards, and so awarded the jail accreditation. Therefore, ACA is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Miller's Section 1985 claim. S ECTION 1986 M iller further contends that ACA is liable under Section 1986 for failing to stop the 5 co n sp irac y. ACA argues it was not present at any point during the conspiracy or the fulfilling of it; it had no authority to stop the conspiracy; and the Section 1986 claim is barred by the statute of lim ita tio n s . T h e United States Code provides in pertinent part: E very person who, having knowledge that any of the wrongs conspired to be done, an d mentioned in [Section 1985], are about to be committed, and having power to p re v en t or aid in preventing the commission of same, neglects or refuses so to do, if su ch wrongful act be committed, shall be liable to the party injured. 42 U.S.C. 1986. Importantly, to be liable for failure to stop the commission of a Section 1985 c o n s p ir ac y, Miller need not prove that ACA was a co-conspirator. N o n eth eless, there is no evidence that ACA had knowledge of any conspiracy to deprive M iller of his civil rights. Thus, ACA is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Miller's Section 19 86 claim. CIVIL CONSPIRACY M iller also advances a state law claim for civil conspiracy that, "[o]n the date in question th e Defendants . . . entered into an agreement" to beat him. (Compl. at 19 (49)). Again, ACA argues that it was never present during the formation of this conspiracy. To prove civil conspiracy, Miller must show "an agreement between [ACA and another] for the purpose of accomplishing an unlawful purpose or a lawful purpose unlawfully" which results in damages to Miller. Braddock Law Firm, PLLC v. Becnel, 949 So. 2d 38, 44 (20) (Miss. C t. App. 2006). "It is elementary that a conspiracy requires an agreement between the cocon spirators." Gallagher Bassett Servs., Inc. v. Jeffcoat, 887 So. 2d 777, 786 (37) (Miss. 2004). It is undisputed that ACA was not present at the jail on April 17, 2004. There is no evidence that A C A agreed to beat Miller, or agreed to perform any conduct that would facilitate or cover up his 6 beating. This claim likewise fails. B REACH OF NON-DELEGABLE DUTY In Count VI.B. of his Complaint, Miller alleges that ACA failed to provide him necessary m ed ical care after his beating. ACA argues that it was not present during Miller's incarceration. T his claim also fails for lack of knowledge on ACA's part. It is undisputed that ACA was n o t present during his beating, nor had any knowledge of it nor his actual or potential need for m edical attention. BREACH OF THIRD PARTY BENEFICIARY CONTRACT M iller alleges that he was a third party beneficiary to the accreditation contract between A C A and the Sheriff's Department. Miller claims that ACA breached that contract, because it kn ew or should have known that the jail was not up to ACA standards. This breach, he alleges, led to his beating and deprivation of property. ACA argues that Miller was not a third party ben eficiary, ACA did not breach the contract, and in the alternative, the breach did not cause Miller dam ages. Under the contract, ACA was required to evaluate the jail, and to accredit it only if it co m p lied with ACA standards. It is undisputed that ACA accredited the jail in 2003, because ACA fo u n d the jail to be in compliance with ACA standards. Because there is no genuine issue of m aterial fact as to whether ACA breached its duty, this claim must likewise be dismissed. INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS M iller alleges, "The Defendants['] overall conduct on the date in question was so o u trageo u s that it shocks the moral and legal conscience of the community. This outrageous co n d u ct resulted in the beating of the Plaintiff." (Compl. at 21 (55)). Miller also asserts a claim 7 fo r negligent infliction of emotional distress. ACA argues it did not participate in the conspiracy, beating, or deprivation of property during Miller's incarceration, and so cannot be liable for either intention al or negligent infliction of emotional distress. To recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress, Miller must prove that ACA's con du ct was "wanton and wilful and it would evoke outrage or revulsion." Speed v. Scott, 787 So. 2d 626, 630 (17) (Miss. 2001). To recover for negligent infliction of emotional distress, Miller m ust prove, among other things, that ACA acted negligently. Mabus v. St. James Episcopal C hu rch , 884 So. 2d 747, 764 (39) (Miss. 2004). The evidence reveals that ACA's only conduct w as to abide by the terms of a lawful contract. There is no evidence that ACA breached any duties to plaintiff, either negligently or intentionally. Therefore, ACA is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Miller's outrage and negligent infliction of emotional distress claims. IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that Defendant American C o r r ec tio n a l Association's [15] Motion to Dismiss, which this Court converts to one for summary ju d gm en t, should be and is hereby GRANTED. S O ORDERED AND ADJUDGED this the 28th day of October, 2008. s/ Louis Guirola, Jr. LOUIS GUIROLA, JR. U N IT E D STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 8

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