Patton v. Hinds County Juvenile Detention Center et al
Memorandum Opinion and Order granting 46 MOTION for Summary Judgment. A separate judgment will be entered. Signed by District Judge Tom S. Lee on 10/23/12 (LWE)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:10CV138TSL-LRA
HINDS COUNTY JUVENILE DETENTION CENTER
(HENLEY-YOUNG); WILLIAM SKINNER,
INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS
OPERATOR/DIRECTOR OF HINDS COUNTY JUVENILE
DETENTION CENTER (HENLEY-YOUNG); HINDS
COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS; ROBERT GRAHAM,
INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS BOARD
OF SUPERVISORS; DOUGLAS ANDERSON,
INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS BOARD
OF DEFENDANTS SUPERVISORS; PEGGY HOBSON
CALHOUN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER CAPACITY AS
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS; PHILIP FISHER,
INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS; GEORGE S. SMITH,
INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS BOARD OF
SUPERVISORS; AND VERN GAVIN, INDIVIDUALLY
AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This cause is before the court on the motion of defendants
Hinds County Board of Supervisors and individual board members
Robert Graham, Douglas Anderson, Peggy Hobson Calhoun, Phillip
Fisher and George Smith, in their official capacities, for summary
judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Plaintiff Willie Patton has responded to the motion
Inexplicably, defendants’ motion does not identify
either Skinner or Gavin as a movant; the rebuttal references
Skinner but not Gavin. However, since the only claims remaining
against any of the individually named defendants are the officialcapacity claims, and these defendants are all identically situated
and the court, having considered the memoranda of authorities,
together with attachments, submitted by the parties, concludes
that the motion is well taken and should be granted.
Following his termination from employment at the Hinds County
Henley-Young Juvenile Detention Center, plaintiff Willie Patton
filed the present action against the Hinds County Board of
Supervisors and its members, in their individual and official
capacities, and against Hinds County Juvenile Court Judge William
Skinner and County Administrator Vern Gavin in their individual
and official capacities, asserting various causes of action
relating to his termination, including state law tort claims for
negligence, bad faith, breach of fiduciary duty, negligent
omission, fraudulent omission, slander, libel and defamation;
state law contract claims for wrongful termination, breach of
contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair
dealing; federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for race
discrimination and hostile work environment pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1981; federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged
violations of his constitutional rights to equal protection and
due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, to freedom of speech
as to those claims, see McCarthy ex rel. Travis v. Hawkins, 381
F.3d 407, 413 (5th Cir. 2004) (lawsuit brought against a
government actor in his official capacity is treated as suit
against actor’s agency), the court will consider that the motion
is filed on behalf of Gavin and Skinner, as well as the named
under the First Amendment, and for violation of the
separation-of-powers doctrine (including claims for failure to
train, failure to supervise, deliberate indifference and
harassment), and lastly, a conspiracy claim brought pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1985(2)2.
The basic facts underlying plaintiff’s complaint were
previously set forth in a July 18, 2011 opinion issued by Judge
Carlton Reeves dismissing plaintiff’s individual capacity claims
against Judge Skinner,3 as follows:
Willie Patton is an African American and a former
employee of the Henley-Young Juvenile Detention Center in
Hinds County, Mississippi. He worked as a shift supervisor
at the facility from January 2000 to August 13, 2008.
According to Patton, in November 2007 he was among
several employees on whose paychecks a white payroll clerk
made errors. After testifying against the clerk in a
disciplinary hearing, Patton claims that “he began to be
harassed, threatened, and subsequently demoted.” Thereafter,
while on duty on May 6, 2008, he was escorted from the
facility by police, and his keys were confiscated. After a
hearing – at which Patton avers “the hearing officer stated
he did not want to hear any further evidence” just “shortly
after the proceeding began” – Patton received an Order of
Reprimand on May 19, 2008, and he was demoted from supervisor
to senior officer. Patton’s troubles did not end then,
though, and he claims that his “employment became very
stressful and difficult” because “the defendants continued to
harass and humiliate him.”
Patton says that, eventually, a recommendation to
terminate his employment was submitted to Judge William
In his response to the motion, plaintiff conceded that he
had no viable claims under the Fourth or Sixth Amendment.
On September 14, 2012, this case was transferred to the
undersigned following Judge Reeves’ recusal.
Skinner, who served as the detention center’s director.
According to Patton, his employers told him that he “was
terminated for insubordination, leaving his post while on
duty, tardiness, and for failing to complete cell checks” but
that he “was never counseled by the supervisors, director or
the judge in charge of the facility regarding the above
allegations.” “The defendants did not allow Willie Patton
the benefit of due process of the law,” Patton claims, “nor
did the defendants follow the Hinds County disciplinary
policies in his termination.” Patton later argued that he
“was terminated from his position . . . without the benefit
of the protections and safeguards provided to him by the
Hinds County Personnel Handbook . . . .”
Patton v. Hinds Cnty. Juvenile Det. Cntr. (Henley-Young), 2011 WL
2912897, *1 (S.D. Miss. July 18, 2011).
Following an appeal by
Patton to the County Appeals Board and a February 12, 2009 hearing
on his appeal, plaintiff was notified by letter dated April 28,
2009 that County Administrator Gavin had upheld his termination.
He filed the present action on March 3, 2010.
As indicated supra, on July 18, 2011, Judge Reeves issued an
opinion granting Judge Skinner’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s
individual-capacity claims against him.
Thereafter, on May 11,
2012, he entered an agreed order dismissing the individualcapacity claims against the remaining defendants, thus leaving for
resolution only the claims against the County.
See McCarthy ex
rel. Travis v. Hawkins, 381 F.3d 407, 413 (5th Cir. 2004) (lawsuit
brought against a government actor in his official capacity is
treated as suit against actor’s agency).
State Law Claims:
As Judge Reeves previously found, plaintiff has not
identified any specific statement that he contends constitutes
defamation, much less one uttered within the year preceding the
date on which he filed suit, and consequently, his claims for
libel, slander and defamation are due to be dismissed as they are
barred by the applicable one-year statute of limitations.
Patton, 2011 WL 2912897 at *6 (citing Miss. Code Ann. § 15-1-35);
Miss. Code Ann. § 15-1-35 (providing that “all actions for
slanderous words concerning the person ... and for libels, shall
be commenced within one (1) year next after the cause of such
action accrued, and not after”).4
Plaintiff’s remaining state law tort claims, all of which
stem from the termination of his employment, are governed by the
Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA), Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-1,
which provides that “[a] governmental entity and its employees
acting within the course and scope of their employment or duties
shall not be liable for any claim ... [b]ased upon the exercise or
performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary
function or duty on the part of [the] ... employee ... , whether
While state law tort claims against a governmental
entity and its employees for acts within the course and scope of
their employment are governed by the Mississippi Tort Claims Act
(MTCA), Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-1 et seq., plaintiff’s claims for
libel, slander and defamation do not fall under the MTCA, as it
shall not be considered “as acting within the course and scope of
his employment . . . if the employee’s conduct constituted ...
libel, slander, [or] defamation ....” Miss. Code Ann.
or not the discretion be abused ....”.
Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-
As Judge Reeves has already recognized, Patton’s
termination, like most hirings and firings, was a discretionary
Patton, 2011 WL 2912897 at *5 (observing that Patton was an
at-will employee, and explaining that “[o]nly under the narrowest
of circumstances does Mississippi law recognize the termination of
an at-will employment as anything but a matter of discretion”)
(citing inter alia Davis v. Biloxi Pub. Sch. Dist., 937 So. 2d
459, 462 (Miss. Ct. App. 2005) (“Davis was an at-will employee,
and the Biloxi Public School District had the discretion to
terminate him for any reason.”), cert. denied, 937 So. 2d 450
Plaintiff has neither contended, nor offered
evidence tending to show that he was not an at-will employee.
Therefore, summary judgment is appropriate as to all these claims.
It also follows from the fact that plaintiff was an at-will
employee and not employed pursuant to a contract, his claims
premised on a breach of contract are also subject to dismissal.
Plaintiff alleges he was the victim of race discrimination,
but in response to defendants’ motion, he has offered no evidence
to support his claim.
To prevail on a claim of race
discrimination under § 1981, plaintiff must first establish a
prima facie case of racial discrimination, which requires proof
that (1) [he] is a member of a protected group or class; (2) [he]
was qualified for [his] position; (3) [he] was subjected to an
adverse employment action; and (4) [he] was replaced by someone
outside the protected class, other similarly-situated employees
were treated more favorably, or [he] was otherwise discharged
because of [his] race.”
Lawson v. Southern Components, Inc., 410
Fed. Appx. 833, 835, 2011 WL 480038, 1 (5th Cir. 2011) (citations
Plaintiff has offered no evidence in support of the
fourth element of his prima facie case.
Instead, in response to
defendants’ motion, plaintiff offers only his speculation that “it
was Skinner’s intent in his handling of personnel to relegate
black employees to positions beneath the few white employees
employed at the facility.”
Such conclusory, unsupported
allegations are not sufficient to preclude the entry of summary
judgment as to this claim.
Ramsey v. Henderson, 286 F.3d 264, 269
(5th Cir. 2002).
As to plaintiff’s claims for “harassment” and “hostile
environment,” Judge Reeves noted that plaintiff had failed to
state a cognizable claim for relief, because “The United States
Constitution does not preclude harassment” and “contains no
provision guaranteeing a right to a peaceful work environment.”
Patton, 2011 WL 2912897 at *7, n.11.
Apparently, judging from his
response to defendants’ motion, plaintiff’s position is that he
was subjected to harassment by Judge Skinner on account of his
race which created a hostile work environment.
However, even if
such a claim could be found in the complaint, plaintiff has
offered no evidence that would create a genuine issue of material
fact warranting a trial on this claim.
See Barkley v. Singing
River Elec. Power Ass'n, 433 Fed. Appx. 254 (5th Cir. July 19,
2011) (“To prevail on a hostile work environment claim under
§ 1981, [plaintiff] must show that (1) he belongs to a protected
group, (2) he was subjected to unwelcome harassment, (3) the
harassment complained of was based on race, (4) the harassment
complained of affected a term, condition, or privilege of his
employment, and (5) the employer knew or should have known of the
harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action.”).
Accordingly, this claim will be dismissed.
Turning to plaintiff’s claims brought pursuant to § 1983,
defendants correctly argue that plaintiff cannot establish
liability because he has not identified or presented proof of an
official custom or policy that was the moving force behind any
See Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S.
312, 326, 102 S. Ct. 445, 70 L. Ed. 2d 509 (1981) (holding that
“official policy must be ‘the moving force of the constitutional
violation’ in order to establish the liability of a government
body”) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694,
98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978)).
Further, to the extent
Patton’s response could be interpreted as arguing that the County
ratified Skinner’s allegedly unconstitutional decisions, the facts
of this case are not so extreme as to warrant application of the
theory of ratification.
See Peterson v. City of Fort Worth, Tex.,
588 F.3d 838, 848 (5th Cir. 2009)(stating that Fifth Circuit
precedent limits theory of ratification to “extreme factual
situations”) (comparing Grandstaff v. City of Borger, 767 F.2d 161
(5th Cir. 1985) (finding ratification in case in which officers
“poured” gunfire onto a truck and killed innocent occupant), with
Snyder v. Trepagnier, 142 F.3d 791, 798 (5th Cir. 1998) (refusing
to find ratification where officer shot fleeing suspect in the
Accordingly, summary judgment is appropriate as to
plaintiff’s § 1983 claims.
Finally, inasmuch as the County cannot conspire with itself,
the court easily concludes that summary judgment is appropriate as
to plaintiff’s federal conspiracy claim.
Ferguson, 30 F.3d 649, 653 (5th Cir. 1994) (“Under the intracorporate conspiracy doctrine, alleged concerted action by
employees or officials of the same entity or organization cannot
constitute a conspiracy for purposes of § 1985).
Based on the foregoing, it is ordered that defendants’ motion
for summary judgment is granted.
A separate judgment will be entered in accordance with Rule
58 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
SO ORDERED this 23rd day of October, 2012.
/s/ Tom S. Lee
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?