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Harris v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

September 15, 2014

TENASSA HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES, INC. d/b/a/ WALMART, CITY OF HUMBOLDT, TENNESSEE, RAYMOND SIMMONS, In his individual capacity and official capacities as the Chief of Police for the City of Humboldt, and DALE BAKER, in his individual and official Capacities as an officer of the Humboldt Police Department, Defendants

Order Filed: July 1, 2014

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Amanda Brown, Miscellaneous, Pro se, Humboldt, TN.

For Tenassa Harris, Plaintiff: Robert L Thomas, LEAD ATTORNEY, WEINMAN & ASSOCIATES, JACKSON, TN.

For Walmart Stores, doing business as Walmart, Defendant: Russell E. Reviere, LEAD ATTORNEY, RAINEY KIZER REVIERE & BELL, PLC - Jackson, Jackson, TN.

For City of Humboldt, Tennessee, Raymond Simmons, Dale Baker, Defendants: Matthew Robert Courtner, RAINEY KIZER REVIERE & BELL, PLC - Jackson, Jackson, TN; Milton Dale Conder, Jr., RAINEY KIZER REVIERE & BELL, Jackson, TN.

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ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DISMISSING CASE WITH PREJUDICE

JOHN T. FOWLKES, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Before the Court is Defendants City of Humboldt, Raymond Simmons, and Dale Baker's Motion for Summary Judgment filed on August 27, 2013. (ECF No. 11.) On October 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed her Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 17.) On February 19, 2014, the Court referred the motion to the United States Magistrate Judge for Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). (ECF No. 19.) On July 1, 2014, the Magistrate Judge issued his Report and Recommendation that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted. (ECF No. 26.) Plaintiff filed objections to the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation on July 15, 2014 (ECF No. 28.), to which Defendants responded on July 25, 2014 (ECF No. 30.).

After reviewing Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff's Response, the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation, Plaintiff's Objections, Defendants' response, and the entire record, the Court finds the Objections should be overruled and the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation should be adopted. Thus, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED, and the case DISMISSED with prejudice.

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I. FACTUAL HISTORY

The Plaintiff filed no objections to the Magistrate Judge's proposed facts. Consequently, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's proposed findings of fact as the factual history of this case.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Magistrate Judge's Reports and Recommendations

The district court has the authority to refer certain pre-trial matters to a magistrate judge for resolution. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b); Callier v. Gray, 167 F.3d 977, 980 (6th Cir. 1999). These referrals may include non-dispositive pretrial matters, such as a motion to compel or a motion for a protective order concerning discovery. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). They may also include dispositive matters such as a motion for summary judgment or a motion for injunctive relief. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). When a dispositive matter is referred, the magistrate judge's duty is to issue proposed findings of fact and recommendations for disposition, which the district court may or may not adopt. " The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

The district court has appellate jurisdiction over any decisions the magistrate judge issues pursuant to such a referral. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72. The standard of review that is applied by the district court depends on the nature of the matter considered by the magistrate judge.

If the magistrate judge issues a non-dispositive pretrial order, the district court should defer to that order unless it is " found to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). However, if the magistrate judge order was issued in response to a dispositive motion, the district court should engage in de novo review of all portions of the order to which specific written objections have been made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); Baker v. Peterson, 67 F.App'x 308, 311, 2003 WL 21321184 *2 (6th Cir. 2003) (" A district court normally applies a 'clearly erroneous or contrary to law' standard of review for non[-]dispositive preliminary measures. A district court must review dispositive motions under the de novo standard." )

B. Summary Judgment

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party moving for summary judgment " bears the burden of clearly and convincingly establishing the nonexistence of any genuine [disputed] issues of material fact, and the evidence as well as all inferences drawn therefrom must be read in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Kochins v. Linden-Alimak, Inc., 799 F.2d 1128, 1133 (6th Cir. 1986); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party can meet this burden by showing respondent, after having sufficient opportunity for discovery, has no evidence to support an essential element of his case. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2); Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479 (6th Cir. 1989).

District courts " possess the power to enter summary judgment sua sponte, so long as the losing party was on notice that she had to come forward with all of her evidence." Bowling v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 233 F.App'x 460, 464 (6th Cir. 2007). Because " the scope of discovery is within the sound discretion of the

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trial court," the non-movant has " no absolute right to additional time for discovery." Id. Summary Judgment may be entered before the end of the discovery period, as long as there was a chance for sufficient discovery. Id.

When confronted with a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the respondent must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine dispute for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine dispute for trial exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The nonmoving party must " do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Furthermore, one may not oppose a properly supported summary judgment motion by mere reliance on the pleadings. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Instead, the nonmoving must present " concrete evidence supporting [her] claims." Cloverdale Equip. Co. v. Simon Aerials, Inc., 869 F.2d 934, 937 (6th Cir. 1989) (citations omitted); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The district court does not have the duty to search the record for such evidence. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3); InterRoyal Corp. v. Sponseller, 889 F.2d 108, 111 (6th Cir. 1989). The nonmoving has the duty to point out specific evidence in the record that would be sufficient to justify a jury decision in her favor. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); InterRoyal Corp., 889 F.2d at 111.

IV. ANALYSIS

On July 1, 2014, the Magistrate Judge issued his Report and Recommendation regarding Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. In addition to proposed findings of fact, the Magistrate Judge recommended that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted. Plaintiff filed objections to the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation on July 15, 2014 which are discussed below.

A. Additional Time to File Response

Plaintiff claims, as part of his objections to the Magistrate Judges' findings, that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is not ripe for adjudication because the parties have not completed discovery. Plaintiff filed with the Court a Motion to Amend the Scheduling Order, complete with a Rule 56(d) affidavit. The Affidavit states that " (a)t this early stage in the discovery process, the Plaintiff is unable to 'present facts essential to justify its opposition' to the Motion for Summary Judgment, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d), and needs to complete additional discovery, including written discovery and depositions, in this matter in order to test the veracity of the Defendants' declarations and to properly respond to said motion." (ECF No. 13.) As the Magistrate Judge observed, this Court has already ruled on Plaintiff's motion by granting an additional thirteen days to respond. (ECF No. 15.)

Summary judgment may be entered before the end of the discovery period, as long as there has been a sufficient time for discovery. Bowling v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 233 F.App'x 460 (6th Cir. 2007). However, if a party needs additional time to respond or needs to conduct additional discovery, a properly supported motion must be filed with the court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d) provides: " [i]f a non-movant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, the court may: (1) defer considering the motion or deny it;

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(2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declaration or take discover; or (3) issue any other appropriate order." In addition, it has been observed that " [b]are allegations or vague assertions of the need for discovery are not enough. . . . . In order to fulfill the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 56([d]), [plaintiff] must state with some precision the material [she] hopes to obtain with further discovery, and how exactly [she] expects those materials would help [her] in opposing summary judgment." Summers v. Leis, 368 F.3d 881, 887 (6th Cir. 2004).

Plaintiff was allowed additional time to respond to the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, and the Court notes that Plaintiff made no additional requests for time to respond. Also, besides vague requests for additional discovery, Plaintiff does not specify with any precision the materials she wishes to obtain and how said materials would assist her in opposing the Motion. Further, the parties indicated that they would not engage in any additional discovery until after the Court's ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 24.) Thus, she failed to meet the requirements of Rule 56(d). Therefore, any objection relative to her request for additional time to respond is DENIED.

B. Fourteenth Amendment: Equal Protection Claim

In his Report and Recommendations, the Magistrate Judge determined that Plaintiff's claims under the Equal Protection Clause should be dismissed because the Plaintiff is unable to establish a claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff objects that the Defendants are not entitled to summary judgment with regard to her equal protection claim arguing: 1) that as an African-American female, she is a member of at least one protected class; and 2) she was singled out in the past for discriminatory treatment by a Wal-Mart employee, who was acquainted with Defendant Baker. In response, Defendants contend that Plaintiff must allege facts showing Defendant Baker treated similarly-situated persons outside of Plaintiff's protected class more favorably than he treated her. See Harajli v. Huron Twp., 365 F.3d 501, 508 (6th Cir. 2004).

In Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, she argues that under the liberal pleading requirement of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, her Complaint adequately sets forth a claim against the Defendants under the Equal Protection Clause. Ridgway v. Ford Dealer Computer Servs., 114 F.3d 94, 96 (6th Cir. 1997). Defendants reply that the Supreme Court in Iqbal held that factual allegations are necessary in an equal protection claim to show that the defendants' actions were " for the purpose of discriminating on the account of race . . . ." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). The Magistrate Judge found nothing in Plaintiff's Complaint that satisfies Iqbal and allows the Court to draw the inference that Simmons or Baker acted because of Plaintiff's race.

In responding to a Rule 56(c) motion, the non-movant must demonstrate that there is " significant probative evidence" to support their claims, not just a mere doubt about the material facts involved. Moore v. Philip Morris Cos., 8 F.3d 335, 340 (6th Cir. 1993). A " mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" supporting the non-movant's stance is not enough; the evidence must be sufficient for a jury to be able to find in favor of the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall " deny to any person within

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its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U.S. Const. amend XVI, § 1. It " prohibits discrimination by government which either burdens a fundamental right, targets a suspect class, or intentionally treats one differently than others similarly situated without any rational basis for the difference." Rondigo, L.L.C. v. Twp. of Richmond, 641 F.3d 673, 681-82 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Radvansky v. City of Olmsted Falls, 395 F.3d 291, 312 (6th Cir. 2005)). Thus, [i]n order to state an equal protection claim, Plaintiff must show that Defendants treated Plaintiff 'disparately as compared to similarly situated persons and that such disparate treatment either burdens a fundamental right, targets a suspect class, or has no rational basis.'" Ctr. For Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. v. Napolitano, 648 F.3d 365, 379 (6th Cir. 2011). Here, Plaintiff has failed to establish any evidence that the Defendants treated similarly situated persons outside of Plaintiff's protected class more favorably. Therefore, the Plaintiff's Objection to the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation on the Equal Protection claim is DENIED.

C. Malicious Prosecution Claim

The Magistrate Judge concluded that Defendant Baker had sufficient information to establish probable cause. Consequently, the malicious prosecution claim was without merit.

Plaintiff argues in her response to the summary judgment motion, and again in her objection to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation that the record supports a malicious prosecution claim on the basis that: (1) Officer Baker lacked probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for criminal trespass; (2) Officer Baker filed the criminal charges with malice; and (3) the legal proceeding was terminated in Plaintiff's favor. The Magistrate Judge indicated that the (1) Defendants provided evidence that established probable cause; (2) Plaintiff has not alleged facts that establish a reasonable inference that Defendant Baker acted with malice; (3) Plaintiff admits that she had never met Defendant Baker prior to the arrest; and (4) the criminal charge did not terminate in Plaintiff's favor, but was a compromise.

A police officer can base his probable cause determination on statements of witnesses. See Ahlers v. Schebil, 188 F.3d 365, 370 (6th Cir. 1999). In this case, Defendant Baker spoke with a Walmart loss prevention employee, Mr. Hurt, with whom he had a prior work relationship. (ECF No. 11-2 ¶ 7). Mr. Hurt told Defendant Baker that the Plaintiff was banned from the store and showed Defendant Baker a Notification of Restriction from Property dated December 28, 2011. (ECF No. 11-2 ¶ ...


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