Sturkin v. Patrick et al
ORDER granting in part 28 Leake County's Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge Carlton W. Reeves on 7/27/2017. (AC)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
CAUSE NO. 3:16-CV-434-CWR-FKB
VICKY PATRICK; LEAKE COUNTY,
Before the Court is Leake County’s motion for summary judgment. The matter is fully
briefed and ready for adjudication.1
Factual and Procedural History
In 2010, Donna Sturkin began to participate in the Drug Court for the Eighth Judicial
District of Mississippi. Her parole officer was Vicky Patrick, who was appointed by Leake
County Circuit Judge Vernon Cotten. Leake County paid Patrick’s salary.
Sturkin claims that Patrick grossly abused her authority. Patrick allegedly went to
Sturkin’s places of employment and demanded that Sturkin look the other way while Patrick
stole goods or otherwise defrauded Sturkin’s employers. When Sturkin worked at a hotel, for
example, Patrick demanded and received free hotel rooms for herself, friends, and family.
The most serious abuse of power happened when Sturkin refused to comply with
Patrick’s demands. Patrick subsequently told the Judge presiding over the Drug Court that
Sturkin had tested positive for alcohol consumption. Patrick was lying to the Judge—to maintain
control over Sturkin and perpetuate her fraudulent scheme—but the Judge ordered Sturkin to be
Several other defendants were sued, but they have since been dismissed.
Sturkin now claims that Patrick violated a number of rights secured by the Fourth, Fifth,
and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. She further claims that Leake
County is liable for permitting a custom of constitutional violations to persist in the Drug Court.
Sturkin seeks damages and a declaratory judgment that Leake County must pay any judgment
rendered against Patrick.
Before a case management conference could be held, Leake County filed the present
motion. It contends that it has no liability for any custom of constitutional violations because the
Drug Court’s final policymaker—a Judge—is a State official, not a County official.
Summary judgment is appropriate when “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). A party seeking to avoid summary judgment must identify admissible evidence in
the record showing a fact dispute. Id. at 56(c)(1); Tran Enterprises, LLC v. DHL Exp. (USA),
Inc., 627 F.3d 1004, 1010 (5th Cir. 2010). The Court views the evidence and draws reasonable
inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Maddox v. Townsend and Sons, Inc., 639
F.3d 214, 216 (5th Cir. 2011).
“Local governing bodies . . . can be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory,
or injunctive relief where . . . the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or
executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and
promulgated by that body’s officers.” Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658,
690 (1978). “For a municipality to be liable, the plaintiff must show that there was either an
official policy or an unofficial custom, adopted by the municipality, that was the moving force
behind the claimed constitutional violation.” Duvall v. Dallas Cty., Tex., 631 F.3d 203, 209 (5th
Cir. 2011) (citation omitted).
Official policy . . . usually exists in the form of written policy statements,
ordinances, or regulations, but it 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 or custom 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.
Peterson v. City of Fort Worth, Tex., 588 F.3d 838, 847 (5th Cir. 2009) (quotation marks and
citation omitted, emphasis added). “The fact that a tortfeasor is an employee or an agent of a
municipality is therefore not sufficient for city liability to attach.” Bolton v. City of Dallas, Tex.,
541 F.3d 545, 548 (5th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).
Sturkin argues that Leake County is not entitled to summary judgment because Patrick
was a Leake County employee. She has attached documents suggesting a fact dispute on whether
Leake County employed Patrick. The dispute must be credited in her favor at this stage.
Respectfully, though, that employment relationship is insufficient to hold Leake County
liable under Monell and its progeny. Sturkin must show that Leake County was the decisionmaker that promulgated the policy or, in the absence of an actual policy, acquiesced to or ratified
the custom which caused her injuries. That element is missing here.
Sturkin does not claim, present evidence, or seek discovery to prove that the Leake
County Board of Supervisors ratified the custom. She writes, “the moving force was the
misconduct of the individual Defendants, not that of a judge that punished Ms. Sturkin after
being misled.” Docket No. 37, at 9. But Monell liability requires the municipality’s policy or
custom to be the moving force of the plaintiff’s constitutional violation. Pinning responsibility on
“the misconduct of the individual Defendants” is tantamount to saying that there is no Monell
The official with final authority in this situation appears to be the Judge who presided
over the Drug Court. But that Judge is a state official, not a county official. Since Leake County
was not the decision-maker which allegedly knew about and turned a blind eye to Patrick’s
misdeeds, it cannot be held liable for Sturkin’s constitutional injuries.
What remains is whether Mississippi law requires Leake County to pay a federal
judgment rendered against an employee (Patrick) sued in her individual capacity. It is not clear
that this is an appropriate forum for resolving that issue. The Court will wait until the claims
against Patrick are more fully fleshed out.
The motion is granted in part and deferred in part.
SO ORDERED, this the 27th day of July, 2017.
s/ Carlton W. Reeves
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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