Jordan v. Wayne County, Mississippi et al
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 28 Motion for Summary Judgment Signed by District Judge Keith Starrett on 5/17/2017 (dtj)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:16-CV-70-KS-MTP
WAYNE COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, et al.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
For the reasons below, the Court grants in part and denies in part
Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment . The Court grants the motion with
respect to Plaintiff’s First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection
claims, but the Court denies it in all other respects. The Court also denies Plaintiff’s
Motion to Strike  as moot.
This is a Section 1983 case arising from a traffic stop and search of a vehicle. On
or about March 14, 2016, Defendant Jody Ashley, the Sheriff of Wayne County,
Mississippi, initiated a traffic stop of Plaintiff’s vehicle. Defendant claimed that
Plaintiff has swerved and/or crossed the center line. During the traffic stop, Defendant
asserted that he needed to search the vehicle, but Plaintiff declined to consent, and
asked why Defendant needed to search his vehicle. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant
then threatened to arrest him if he did not consent to a search. Other officers were
present, including narcotics agents of the City of Waynesboro, Mississippi. One of the
City narcotics agents took Plaintiff aside to speak with him. After a brief conversation,
Plaintiff acquiesced to the search. Officers searched his vehicle, found nothing, and the
traffic stop concluded.
Plaintiff filed this suit against Wayne County, Mississippi, and Sheriff Jody
Ashley in both his individual and official capacities. Plaintiff believes that Defendant
Ashley initiated the traffic stop in retaliation for Plaintiff’s failure to support him in
the most recent election. Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated a variety of his
constitutional rights. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment , which
the Court now addresses.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 56 provides that “[t]he 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.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); see also Sierra Club, Inc.
v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). “An issue is
material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Sierra Club, Inc., 627
F.3d at 138. “An issue is ‘genuine’ if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626
F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010).
The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the
evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding
whether a genuine fact issue exists, “the court must view the facts and the inference
to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sierra
Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, “[c]onclusional allegations and denials,
speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic
argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue
for trial.” Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).
First, Plaintiff conceded his First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment
Equal Protection claims. Therefore, the Court grants Defendants’ motion as to those
claims against both Defendants.
Individual Capacity Claims Against Defendant Ashley
Next, Defendant Ashley argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity against
Plaintiff’s claims against him in his individual capacity. “The doctrine of qualified
immunity protects government officials 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, 172 L. Ed. 2d 565 (2009). “Although nominally a defense, the plaintiff has
the burden to negate the defense once properly raised.” Poole v. Shreveport, 691 F.3d
624, 627 (5th Cir. 2012).
There are two steps in the Court’s analysis. First, the Court determines whether
the defendant’s “conduct violates an actual constitutional right.” Brumfield v. Hollins,
551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir. 2008). Second, the Court must “consider whether [the
defendant’s] actions were objectively unreasonable in the light of clearly established
law at the time of the conduct in question.” Id. The Court may address either step first.
Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236. “The qualified immunity standard gives ample room for
mistaken judgments by protecting all but the plainly incompetent or those who
knowingly violate the law.” Brumfield, 551 F.3d at 326. The Court “applies an objective
standard based on the viewpoint of a reasonable official in light of the information then
available to the defendant and the law that was clearly established at the time of the
defendant’s actions.” Freeman v. Gore, 483 F.3d 404, 411 (5th Cir. 2007). Each
Defendant’s “entitlement to qualified immunity must be considered on an individual
basis.” Randle v. Lockwood, No. 16-50393, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 20326, at *11 n. 7
(5th Cir. Nov. 10, 2016) (citing Meadours v. Ermel, 483 F.3d 417, 421-22 (5th Cir.
Fourth Amendment – Initial Stop
Plaintiff claims that Defendant’s initial traffic stop of his vehicle violated his
Fourth Amendment rights. “The stopping of a vehicle and detention of its occupants
constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment.” United States v. Brigham, 382
F.3d 500, 506 (5th Cir. 2004). Traffic stops are examined pursuant to the framework
provided in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889 (1968). Id. Under
Terry, “the legality of police investigatory stops is tested in two parts. Courts first
examine whether the officer’s action was justified at its inception, and then inquire
whether the officer’s subsequent actions were reasonably related in scope to the
circumstances that justified the stop.” Id. The “touchstone of the analysis is
reasonableness,” and the Court must “consider the facts and circumstances of each
case, giving due regard to the experience and training of law enforcement officers, to
determine whether the actions taken by the officers, including the length of the
detention, were reasonable under the circumstances.” Id. at 507.
“The police can stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the
officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity
may be afoot . . . .” Turner v. Driver, 848 F.3d 678, 690 (5th Cir. 2017). The officer is
required to have a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing
. . . .” Id. The Court “will find that [reasonable suspicion] existed if the officer was
aware of facts justifying a reasonable belief that an offense was being committed,
whether or not the officer charged the arrestee with that specific offense.” Club Retro
LLC v. Hilton, 568 F.3d 181, 204 (5th Cir. 2009); see also Davidson v. City of Stafford,
848 F.3d 384, 391-92 (5th Cir. 2017). Therefore, the reasonable suspicion “may be for
any crime and is not limited to the crime that the officers subjectively considered at the
time they perform an arrest.” Davidson, 848 F.3d at 392. However, “[t]he facts must
be known to the officer at the time of the arrest; post-hoc justifications based on facts
later learned cannot support an earlier arrest.” Club Retro, 568 F.3d at 204. The Court
may “consider only the information available to the officer at the time of the decision
to stop a person.” Turner, 848 F.3d at 691.
Defendant argues that the initial stop was constitutionally permissible because
he had reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff had committed a crime. First, he claims that
Plaintiff crossed the road’s center line in violation of MISS. CODE ANN. § 63-3-1213's
prohibition of careless driving. Defendant testified that he witnessed Plaintiff’s truck
cross the center line of Azalea Drive in Waynesboro, Mississippi. Exhibit A to Motion
for Summary Judgment at 1, Jordan v. Wayne County, Miss., No. 2:16-CV-70-KS-MTP
(S.D. Miss. Apr. 3, 2017), ECF No. 28-1; Exhibit B to Motion for Summary Judgment
at 5, Jordan v. Wayne County, Miss., No. 2:16-CV-70-KS-MTP (S.D. Miss. Apr. 3, 2017),
ECF No. 28-2. Likewise, Defendant’s passenger, Steve Smith, testified that he observed
Plaintiff’s truck “swerve and generally drive in a careless manner. Specifically, the
Ford pickup crossed the center line of Azalea Drive.” Exhibit D to Motion for Summary
Judgment at 1, Jordan v. Wayne County, Miss., No. 2:16-CV-70-KS-MTP (S.D. Miss.
Apr. 3, 2017), ECF No. 28-4. However, Plaintiff testified that he never swerved or
crossed the center line. Exhibit C to Motion for Summary Judgment at 13, Jordan v.
Wayne County, Miss., No. 2:16-CV-70-KS-MTP (S.D. Miss. Apr. 3, 2017), ECF No. 28-3.
Therefore, there exists a genuine dispute of material fact on this issue, and summary
judgment on this basis is not appropriate.
Next, Defendant argues that the stop was constitutionally permissible because
Plaintiff was driving with an expired license plate in violation of MISS. CODE ANN. § 2719-131. With respect to the license plate, Defendant Ashley testified: “I didn’t know it
was expired. . . . I didn’t pull him over for that.” Exhibit B to Response at 6, Jordan v.
Wayne County, Miss., No. 2:16-CV-70-KS-MTP (S.D. Miss. Apr. 17, 2017), ECF No. 312. Although the reasonable suspicion justifying a stop “may be for any crime and is not
limited to the crime that the officers subjectively considered at the time they perform
an arrest,” Davidson, 848 F.3d at 392, “[t]he facts must be known to the officer at the
time of the arrest . . . .” Club Retro, 568 F.3d at 204. The Court may “consider only the
information available to the officer at the time of the decision to stop a person.” Turner,
848 F.3d at 691. It is undisputed that Defendant did not know that the license plate
was expired at the time of the stop. Therefore, the expired license plate does not justify
Failure to Yield
Defendant argues that the stop was constitutionally permissible because he had
reasonable suspicion to believe that Plaintiff had failed to yield to the approach of a
law enforcement vehicle as required by MISS. CODE ANN. § 63-3-809. Plaintiff testified:
“I look back, I see he’s got lights on pulling up real fast, so I pull to the side of the road
to let him pass, thinking he’s getting a call on something. And then once I see him pull
in behind me, I pull back out into the road because I knew it wasn’t no good in an area
with no witnesses, so I pulled on to my shop.” Exhibit C [28-3], at 11. Plaintiff admitted
that he failed to yield to Defendant because he “had a lot of phone calls of people telling
me the sheriff said he was going to get you if that’s the last thing he do, so once he
pulled me over and I was in this spot with no witnesses, I knew then it wasn’t a good
idea for me to stop at a place with no witnesses, so I pulled back out in the road so
people could see what was happening.” Id. at 13. It is undisputed, therefore, that
Plaintiff pulled off the road to let Defendant pass, but once he realized that Defendant
was pulling him over, he pulled back out into the road and continued driving.
Defendant contends that Plaintiff’s actions violated this statute:
Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle, when
the driver is giving audible signal by siren, exhaust whistle, or bell, the
driver of every other vehicle shall yield the right-of-way and shall
immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the
right-hand edge or curb of the roadway clear of any intersection and shall
stop and remain in such position until the authorized emergency vehicle
has passed, except when otherwise directed by a law enforcement officer.
MISS. CODE ANN. § 63-3-809(1). The statute only requires drivers to yield when the
driver of the authorized emergency vehicle “is giving audible signal by siren, exhaust
whistle, or bell . . . .” Id. Defendant has not directed the Court to any evidence that he
activated his siren when stopping Plaintiff. In his affidavit, he specifically declared
that he “activated [his] blue lights,” but he did not mention the siren. Exhibit A [28-1],
at 2. At deposition, he testified that the “proper procedure” for a traffic stop included
“turn[ing] your blue lights on,” but he did not mention the siren. Exhibit B [28-2], at
4. He also specifically testified that he turned his lights on when he stopped Plaintiff,
but he did not mention the siren. Id. at 5. Therefore, in the absence of any evidence
that Defendant Ashley activated his siren when stopping Plaintiff, the Court can not
find that Plaintiff violated MISS. CODE ANN. § 63-3-809(1). See United States v. Miller,
146 F.3d 274, 278-79 (5th Cir. 1998) (where statute did not prohibit the alleged actions
of defendant, no justification for stop); United States v. Lopez-Valdez, 178 F.3d 282, 288
(5th Cir. 1999) (where statute did not prohibit driving with cracked taillight, officer
could not have an objectively good faith belief that he had cause for stop).
Finally, Defendant Ashley argues that his actions were objectively reasonable,
even if Plaintiff can establish that they violated his Fourth Amendment rights. As
noted above, when an individual defendant invokes qualified immunity, the Court
must “consider whether [the defendant’s] actions were objectively unreasonable in the
light of clearly established law at the time of the conduct in question.” Brumfield, 551
F.3d at 326. Defendant Ashley contends that it was objectively reasonable for him to
stop Plaintiff because he “personally observed Plaintiff swerving and driving
carelessly,” and because his passenger also “observed the Plaintiff cross the center line
with his truck.”
First, when conducting a qualified immunity analysis, the Court considers the
information available to the defendant at the time of the alleged constitutional
violation. Freeman, 483 F.3d at 411. Defendant has not directed the Court to any
evidence that he was aware of what his passenger observed when he decided to initiate
the traffic stop, or that his passenger’s observations otherwise played any role in the
decision to stop Plaintiff. Accordingly, Mr. Smith’s observations are irrelevant to the
objective reasonableness of Defendant’s actions.
Defendant contends that his belief that Plaintiff violated the law was still
objectively reasonable even if Plaintiff did not actually do so, citing United States v.
Montes-Hernandez, 350 F. App’x 862, 867 (5th Cir. 2009). There, an officer initiated a
traffic stop based on a “perceived violation” of a Texas statute “which prohibits
displaying a license plate with a . . . covering . . . or other apparatus that . . . obscures
one-half or more of the name of the state in which the vehicle is registered.” Id. at 863.
The car was in motion at the time the officer decided to initiate a traffic stop, and the
letters on the license plate were less than two centimeters tall. Id. at 863-64. The
plaintiff argued that the officer’s actions were not reasonable because it was impossible
for him to determine whether the frame obscured at least half of the state’s name. Id.
at 868. The Fifth Circuit held that “an officer does not have to determine that a suspect
has in fact violated the law” to have an objectively reasonable suspicion that he has
done so. Id. In light of the specific facts of the case and the district court’s finding that
“it was a very close call” as to whether the license plate frame violated the law, the
appellate court found that the officer had an objectively reasonable suspicion that a
traffic violation had occurred. Id.
Defendant’s reliance on Montes-Hernandez is misplaced. That case involved no
dispute of material fact. It was undisputed that the license plate frame conformed to
the law, and, therefore, that the defendant had not actually committed the traffic
violation for which the officer stopped him. Id. at 864. The issue was whether the
officer’s judgment call – determining whether letters less than two centimeters tall on
the license plate of a moving vehicle were at least half obscured – was reasonable
under the circumstances. Id. at 868. This case does not present a close judgment call
of that sort. It presents a significantly easier factual dispute: whether Plaintiff crossed
the center line or swerved. Plaintiff unequivocally testified that he did not do so, while
Defendant and his passenger unequivocally testified that he did.
The jury’s role has not been entirely abolished in qualified immunity cases.
Lampkin v. City of Nacogdoches, 7 F.3d 430, 435 (5th Cir. 1993). “Rule 56 still has
vitality in qualified immunity cases if the underlying historical facts in dispute . . . are
material to the resolution of the questions whether the defendants acted in an
objectively reasonable manner in view of the existing law and facts available to them.”
Id. In other words, “[a] finding of objective reasonableness is not appropriate . . . if the
material facts are in dispute . . . .” Rogers v. Lee County, No. 16-60537, 2017 U.S. App.
LEXIS 5747, at *15 (5th Cir. Apr. 3, 2017) (citing Lampkin, 7 F.3d at 435; Mangieri v.
Clifton, 29 F.3d 1012, 1016 (5th Cir. 1994)).
For these reasons, the Court declines to grant summary judgment in
Defendant’s favor as to Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim arising from the initial
Fourth Amendment – Search
Plaintiff argues that the search of his vehicle violated his Fourth Amendment
right to be free from unreasonable searches. Warrantless searches are presumptively
unconstitutional unless they fall within an exception to the warrant requirement.
United States v. Iraheta, 764 F.3d 455, 462 (5th Cir. 2014).
Defendant first argues that he can not be personally liable for the allegedly
illegal search because he did not conduct it. “Personal involvement is an essential
element of a civil rights cause of action,” Thompson v. Steele, 709 F.2d 381, 382 (5th
Cir. 1983), and “supervisory officials may not be found vicariously liable for the actions
of their subordinates under § 1983.” Hinojosa v. Livingston, 807 F.3d 657, 668 (5th Cir.
2015). But “a supervisor may be held liable if there exists either (1) his personal
involvement in the constitutional deprivation, or (2) a sufficient causal connection
between the supervisor’s wrongful conduct and the constitutional violation.”
Thompkins v. Belt, 828 F.2d 298, 304 (5th Cir. 1987).
Plaintiff testified that Defendant “said he needed to search the vehicle.” Exhibit
C [28-3], at 14. When Plaintiff protested, Defendant allegedly responded: “I’m going to
search your vehicle or I will take you to jail.” Id. at 15. A city narcotics officer, Johnny
Smith, allegedly pulled Plaintiff aside and told him “that’s just what they do whenever
they pull people over, they search them. If you go ahead and let us go ahead and search
it, we’ll let you go, won’t hold you up any longer.” Id. Plaintiff acquiesced and told
Smith they could search the vehicle. Id. Plaintiff watched approximately four officers
search the vehicle, id., but he did not recall seeing Defendant personally conduct the
search. Id. at 16.
Defendant provided conflicting evidence as to who conducted the search. First,
he testified via affidavit: “I obtained consent from the Plaintiff to search his vehicle,
but ultimately City of Waynesboro narcotics agents searched the vehicle.” Exhibit A
[28-1], at 2. But at his deposition, he plainly testified that his Sheriff’s Department
conducted the search. Exhibit B [28-2], at 7.
Moreover, at deposition, counsel asked Defendant: “Now, at what point did you
make the decision that you wanted to search the truck?” Defendant answered, “Let’s
see, I believe I got his driver’s license, went back, met Johnny Smith . . . ,” and “within
a few minutes” decided to search the truck. Id. at 6. Counsel asked him: “And why
would you do that?” Id. He answered: “Just for safety – officer safety.” Id. Finally,
counsel asked: “The decision – as I understand it, you’re saying the decision to search
the truck was made to search for weapons for officer safety?” Id. at 7. Defendant
answered: “Right.” Id. Therefore, while Defendant never directly stated that he ordered
the search, one could reasonably construe his answers as indicating that he at least
participated in the decision to search the truck.
For these reasons, the Court concludes that there exists a genuine dispute of
material fact as to whether Defendant was personally involved in the search. Although
it is undisputed that he did not actually conduct the search himself, the record contains
evidence indicating that he directed or ordered it.
Defendant Ashley also argues that Plaintiff provided consent for the search.
“One of the specifically established exceptions to the requirements of both a warrant
and probable cause is a search that is conducted pursuant to consent.” United States
v. Scroggins, 599 F.3d 433, 440 (5th Cir. 2010). To satisfy the consent exception,
Defendant “must demonstrate that there was (1) effective consent, (2) given
voluntarily, (3) by a party with actual or apparent authority.” Id. Consent can be
express or implied. Id. at 441-43; King v. Handorf, 821 F.3d 650, 654 (5th Cir. 2016).
Here, Plaintiff provided consent for the search, but he contends that he did not do so
Defendants have the burden of proving that the consent was voluntary. United
States v. Arias-Robles, 477 F.3d 245, 248 (5th Cir. 2007).
A court should consider the totality of the circumstances, focusing on six
factors: 1) the voluntariness of the defendant’s custodial status; 2) the
presence of coercive police procedures; 3) the extent and level of the
defendant’s cooperation with the police; 4) the defendant’s awareness of
his right to refuse consent; 5) the defendant’s education and intelligence;
and 6) the defendant’s belief that no incriminating evidence will be found.
Although all factors are relevant, none is dispositive.
It is undisputed that Plaintiff was never handcuffed, restrained, or arrested
during the traffic stop. Plaintiff testified that he was “surrounded” by officers, Exhibit
C [28-3], at 16, but the record contains no evidence that an officer told him he was not
free to leave. However, Plaintiff testified that the officers did not return his driver’s
license until after they had finished the search. Id. at 18. Therefore, at the time he
gave consent for the search, the officers had his driver’s license.
As for coercive police conduct, Plaintiff admitted that no one drew a weapon,
searched his person, or otherwise physically seized him during the stop. Id. at 17.
However, he claims that he was “surrounded” by officers, id. at 16, and he testified that
Defendant Ashley threatened to arrest him if he did not consent to a search. Id. at 15.
Defendant Ashley admitted that he told Plaintiff that he could arrest him for careless
driving. Exhibit B [28-2], at 7.
Plaintiff appears to have cooperated with the officers, in substantial part.
Although he questioned their instructions, he complied with them. The record does not
indicate that Plaintiff’s intelligence is deficient in any way, and it is undisputed that
he understood his right to refuse the search. It is likewise undisputed that the search
revealed no contraband.
Finally, the Court notes that Plaintiff testified that he “voluntarily allow[ed]
them to search” his vehicle. Exhibit C [28-3], at 15. After Plaintiff refused Defendant
Ashley’s request to search the vehicle, one of the city narcotics agents took him “away
from everybody else,” and told him “that’s just what they do whenever they pull people
over, they search them. If you go ahead and let us go ahead and search it, we’ll let you
go, won’t hold you up any longer.” Id. at 15. Plaintiff agreed. Id. He then made small
talk with one of the officers, id., and let the others complete the search because he “was
already late for work.” Id. at 16.
In the Court’s opinion, there exists a genuine dispute of material fact as to
whether Plaintiff’s consent was voluntary. The Court must consider the totality of the
circumstances, and no single fact is determinative. Arias-Robles, 477 F.3d at 248. The
record contains sufficient evidence to support a jury’s finding in either direction,
depending on which facts they weighted most heavily. For example, the record contains
evidence that Defendant Ashley threatened to arrest Plaintiff if he did not consent to
a search, but there is also evidence that Plaintiff acquiesced to a search because he just
wanted the traffic stop to end quickly. Plaintiff was never restrained or otherwise
informed that he was not free to leave, but the officers held his driver’s license,
preventing him from leaving. It is not the Court’s place to balance these facts against
one another and determine what motivated Plaintiff’s acquiescence to the search. That
task belongs to the jury.
Claims Against Wayne County
Plaintiff also asserted the claims discussed above against Wayne County.1 The
Plaintiff also asserted them against Defendant Ashley in his official
capacity. When a plaintiff asserts official-capacity claims against a government
Fifth Circuit has provided the following summary of the law concerning municipal
liability under Section 1983:
A municipality is not liable under § 1983 on the theory of respondeat
superior, but only for acts that are directly attributable to it through
some official action or imprimatur. To hold a municipality liable under §
1983 for the misconduct of an employee, a plaintiff must show, in addition
to a constitutional violation, that an official policy promulgated by the
municipality’s policymaker was the moving force behind, or actual cause
of the constitutional injury. The official policy itself must be
unconstitutional or, if not, must have been adopted with deliberate
indifference to the known or obvious fact that such constitutional
violations would result.
Official policy can arise in various forms. It usually exists in the form of
written policy statements, ordinances, or regulations, but may also arise
in the form of a widespread practice that is so common and well-settled
as to constitute a custom that fairly represents municipal policy. A policy
is official only when it results from the decision or acquiescence of the
municipal officer or body with final policymaking authority over the
subject matter of the offending policy.
Although an official policy can render a municipality culpable, there can
be no municipal liability unless it is the moving force behind the
constitutional violation. In other words, a plaintiff must show direct
causation, i.e., that there was a direct causal link between the policy and
A plaintiff must show that, where the official policy itself is not facially
unconstitutional, it was adopted with deliberate indifference as to its
known or obvious consequences. Deliberate indifference is a degree of
culpability beyond mere negligence; it must amount to an intentional
choice, not merely an unintentionally negligent oversight.
James v. Harris County, 577 F.3d 612, 617-18 (5th Cir. 2009) (punctuation and
official under Section 1983, “the real party in interest is the [government] entity.”
Goodman v. Harris County, 571 F.3d 388, 395-96 (5th Cir. 2009). Therefore, the
Court construes Plaintiff’s claims against Ashley in his official capacity as claims
against the County.
However, “[w]hen a municipality’s final policy and decision maker in a single
action directly and intentionally deprives a person of a federal constitutional right, .
. . the person need not show that a policy or custom caused his injury in order to
recover. In such a case, the municipality’s action is deemed to be the direct cause or
moving force behind the deprivation of right and injury.” Coggin v. Longview Indep.
Sch. Dist., 289 F.3d 326, 333 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing Bd. of County Comm’ners v. Brown,
520 U.S. 397, 402-04, 117 S. Ct. 1382, 137 L. Ed. 2d 626 (1997)). “To prove liability
under the single-incident exception, a plaintiff must at least show (1) that the
defendant acted with deliberate indifference by disregarding a known or obvious
consequence of his action and (2) that there is a direct causal link between the
defendant’s action and the deprivation of federal rights.” Waltman v. Payne, 535 F.3d
342, 350 (5th Cir. 2008). Therefore, a single action by one who establishes
governmental policy is sufficient to impose municipal liability in certain circumstances.
Id. (citing Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481, 106 S. Ct. 1292, 89 L. Ed.
2d 452 (1997)).
Under Mississippi law, a county’s sheriff is its final policymaker for law
enforcement decisions. Id.; Brooks v. George County, 84 F.3d 157, 165 (5th Cir. 1996).
It is undisputed that Defendant Ashley, Wayne County’s Sheriff, initiated the traffic
stop at issue in this case. As discussed above, there exists a genuine dispute of material
fact as to whether he had reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff had committed or was
committing a crime at the time he initiated the stop. Likewise, there exists a genuine
dispute of material fact as to Defendant Ashley’s involvement in the search of
Plaintiff’s car. Finally, there exists a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether
Plaintiff’s consent to the search was voluntary or – as Plaintiff argues – coerced by
Defendant Ashley’s threat to arrest him. Depending on the outcome of these numerous
factual disputes at trial, Plaintiff could prove the County’s liability under the singleincident exception, given Defendant Ashley’s status as the final policymaker in all
Wayne County law enforcement matters, and his alleged personal involvement in these
events. Accordingly, the Court finds that there exist genuine disputes of material fact
bearing on the question of municipal liability.
For these reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants’
Motion for Summary Judgment . The Court grants the motion with respect to
Plaintiff’s First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claims, but
the Court denies it in all other respects. The Court also denies Plaintiff’s Motion to
Strike  as moot.
SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED this
day of May, 2017.
s/ Keith Starrett
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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