District Court denies summary judgement for excessive force and false arrest. The 5th circuit lacks jurisdiction to intervene


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On March 15, 2018, defendants Justin Landrum, Josh Welch, Clint Hedgepeth, and John Windsor—officers of the Laurel Police Department—responded to a call about an unruly customer, Mekale Ducksworth, at the Rainforest Carwash in Laurel, Mississippi. Before seeing him, the officers believed that Ducksworth was a man with open warrants named Kenny Rogers Jr.

When they arrived, the car wash attendant told them that Ducksworth (unnamed to the officers at this point) had pulled his truck into a vacuum bay before paying for a car wash and became belligerent when she told him that he had to pay first. She told the officers that Ducksworth apologized before they arrived and when the officers asked if she wanted Ducksworth to leave, she responded, “As long as he stays out there and he does what he’s doing now, he’s fine.”

The officers went to talk to Ducksworth. After walking to Ducksworth’s truck, one of the officers told him to exit his truck. As soon as he exited, the officers knew he was not Rogers, the individual with open warrants. Ducksworth explained that he apologized to the attendant but that he saw someone else pull into the vacuum bay without paying for a car wash first. Welch told Ducksworth, “Get in your vehicle, leave, and don’t come back. You’re banned from this place.”

Ducksworth responded, “I’m gonna vacuum my truck out first. I paid for my service.” Welch continued to tell him to leave, and he refused. Landrum took a step toward Ducksworth, and Ducksworth said, “Don’t put your hands on me, brah. Don’t put your hands on me, man.” Landrum stated, “What you gonna do is put your hands behind your back.” At the same time, Landrum immediately drew his taser and ordered Ducksworth to turn around and place his hands behind his back.

Ducksworth refused and said, “I’m gonna get in my truck and leave, bro.” Landrum continued to order Ducksworth to put his hands behind his back and Ducksworth asked, “What’s your name, man?” Landrum then shot Ducksworth with the taser, but the taser failed. Ducksworth looked down at the defective taser coils, looked up at Landrum, then turned and moved toward his truck.

Simultaneously, Hedgepeth and Windsor moved in, stopping Ducksworth from entering his truck and pulling him towards the ground. With Ducksworth a few feet from the open truck door, Welch said, “Taser! Taser!” as he shot coils into Ducksworth’s back and then applied the taser gun itself to his left quadricep while Ducksworth screamed. Welch continued to tase Ducksworth as he fell to the ground, and Hedgepeth and Windsor put cuffs on him. Welch exclaimed: “When we tell you to do something, you do it! I don’t care who you think you are!” The officers arrested Ducksworth.

That day, Landrum submitted an affidavit stating Ducksworth unlawfully and willfully refused to comply with the commands of Officer Justin Landrum by failing to leave the business when asked to do so. He also filed an Offense/Incident Report and a Use of Force Report where he claimed car wash staff stated that the suspect refused to leave the carwash. The City of Laurel charged Ducksworth with failure to comply with an officer’s order or direction, and a municipal judge found Ducksworth not guilty. At Ducksworth’s trial, Landrum admitted that both statements were false.

Ducksworth sued the individual officers and the City of Laurel under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. The defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. The district court denied summary judgment as to Ducksworth’s claims of excessive force by Officer Welch, false arrest by all officers, and fabrication of evidence by Officer Landrum. The officers timely appealed each surviving claim. The 5th held that they lacked jurisdiction over the appeal.


A. Excessive Force as to Welch

Ducksworth alleged the four officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force during arrest. The district court granted summary judgment to Hedgepeth, Windsor, and Landrum, only denying it as to Welch, who appeals here. In reviewing a denial of summary judgment, we must first determine if we have jurisdiction over the appeal. We lack jurisdiction over Welch’s appeal because his appeal boils down to a challenge of the genuineness, not the materiality, of factual disputes.

The district court denied Welch’s motion for summary judgment as to excessive force because a reasonable jury could conclude, after viewing the body camera video, that Windsor and Hedgepeth had Ducksworth under reasonable control at the time that Welch used the taser, and, therefore, he posed no threat to the safety of the officers or others. In viewing the officer’s bodycam video, the district court identified these facts as genuinely disputed. We agree.

The video demonstrates that Ducksworth exited his vehicle in a friendly manner with his cell phone in hand and greeted the officers, explaining that he saw someone else use the car wash without paying as he then attempted to do. The officers then told him he was banned from the car wash and must leave. Ducksworth responded peacefully that he had since paid for his car wash and that he wanted to finish cleaning his car. At that point, the officers attempted to seize him, first by tasing him and then by seizing him as Ducksworth turned to leave.

On appeal, Welch recounts these facts of genuine dispute in his own favor. He argues that Ducksworth took a defensive and threatening posture, resisted being pulled from the vehicle, struggled after being removed, and willfully and aggressively refused to follow commands while resisting the officer’s detainment. Contrary to Welch’s argument, those facts are of genuine dispute. Welch fails to take the facts in a light most favorable to Ducksworth, instead relying on facts different from those assumed by the district court. We lack jurisdiction to consider Welch’s appeal of the genuineness of the district court’s factual determinations.

B. False Arrest as to all four officers

Our analysis of Ducksworth’s false arrest claim mirrors his excessive force claim. While the district court only denied summary judgment as to Welch for excessive force, it denied summary judgment as to all officers for false arrest. As with excessive force, we dismiss the officers’ appeal because it only challenges the genuineness of the factual dispute.

In discussing this claim, the district court identified a factual dispute—that Ducksworth did not become physically combative until after Defendants first used force on him. Again, the officers invite us to assume facts different from those assumed by the district court, including that Ducksworth made a defensive gesture and closed his fists when approached. We lack jurisdiction to consider the officers’ appeal of the genuineness of the district court’s factual determinations.

C. Fabrication of evidence by Landrum

Finally, we must address the basis of our jurisdiction over Landrum’s appeal, which does not invoke qualified immunity. Federal courts of appeal have jurisdiction of appeals from all final decisions of the district courts. Denial of summary judgment is not a final decision. Orders that resolve a fact-related dispute of evidence sufficiency, i.e. which facts a party may or may not be able to prove at trial, however, are not immediately appealable and must await final judgment to be appealed. The district court based its denial of summary judgment for this issue on a genuine dispute of material fact: whether Landrum fabricated evidence to secure a charge against Ducksworth. We lack jurisdiction over Landrum’s appeal of this claim.


The 5th circuit is not going to intervene when the trial court denied summary judgement and noted factual disputes (genuineness of factual dispute) unless there is a legal reason why the factual disputes don’t matter in making a final ruling on summary judgement (materiality of factual dispute).