United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
pending before the Court are a Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 13) and Brief in Support (Doc. 14) filed by Johnny
Hinchey in his official capacity only, and by Searcy County,
Arkansas (collectively, “County Defendants”).
Plaintiff Jerry Don Ragland filed a Response in Opposition
(Doc. 17) and a Brief in Support (Doc. 18), and County
Defendants filed a Reply (Doc. 20). Both sides also submitted
deposition testimony and other evidence in support of their
positions on summary judgment. Now that the Motion for
Summary Judgment is ripe for decision, the Court finds it
should be GRANTED for the reasons explained
to the Complaint and the depositions submitted in this case,
on or about the morning of Thursday, July 24, 2014, Mr.
Ragland was drinking coffee and talking politics at the Harps
grocery store deli in Marshall, Arkansas, along with others,
including Sonny Wood, Charmaine Seaton, Eugene Raybee, and
J.C. Beavers. (Doc. 15-2, p. 10). During that conversation,
Mr. Ragland speculated aloud that Mr. Hinchey, who was Searcy
County Judge at the time, might have taken bribes in exchange
for awarding contracts to complete government work.
Id. (“I said if they wanted to slip him back
some money, there wouldn’t be no way nobody could know;
nobody would know if they got a contract and he slipped him
Hinchey admits that “more than one individual”
told him about Mr. Ragland’s comments in the Harps
deli. (Doc. 15-1, p. 45). Mr. Hinchey testified it was his
understanding that Mr. Ragland had told the group at Harps
“he had proof that I stole some money from the
county.” Id. at p. 44. Two days later, on the
morning of Saturday, July 26, 2014, Mr. Ragland was working
in a field owned by Elton Smith, erecting a fence on Mr.
Smith’s property. (Doc. 15-2, p. 11). The field was
“not very far from Johnny’s house, ” maybe
three or four miles away. Id. at p. 12. As to the
question of whether anyone would have known where Mr. Ragland
was working that particular morning, he testified:
“everyone knows me and if they’re talking, they
know where I’m working at . . . .” Id.
at p. 30.
Hinchey testified that he merely “happened upon”
Mr. Ragland’s truck parked alongside the Smith
property. (Doc. 15-1, p. 44). Mr. Hinchey parked his own
truck near Mr. Ragland’s and walked about 50 feet into
the field where Mr. Ragland was working. Id. at p.
47. The men then began talking, and the talking turned to
arguing. Id. at p. 44. According to Mr. Hinchey, Mr.
Ragland swung his hammer at him, and then in self-defense,
Mr. Hinchey “slapped the piss out of him.”
Id. at p. 47. Mr. Hinchey was under the impression
that Mr. Ragland was not injured by the slap and recalls that
Mr. Ragland “went back to building the fence before I
even left.” Id. at p. 48.
Ragland’s recollection of the incident is vastly
different. According to Mr. Ragland, Mr. Hinchey’s
truck was not visible to him from the spot where he was
working on the fence, so he was surprised to find Mr. Hinchey
suddenly approaching. (Doc. 15-2, pp. 18-19). Mr. Ragland
recalls Mr. Hinchey walking toward him “really
screaming loud” and saying, “have you been
talking about me down at Harps.” Id. at p. 12.
Mr. Ragland denies that he swung a hammer at Mr. Hinchey.
Id. at p. 19. Instead, the last thing Mr. Ragland
remembers is Mr. Hinchey screaming at him, and then losing
consciousness. Id. at p. 12. Mr. Ragland woke up to
find Mr. Hinchey walking away from him, back to his own
truck. Id. at pp. 12-13. Mr. Ragland’s head
was spinning, and he had a sharp pain in his side.
Id. at p. 13. He believes he was tased. Id.
His side hurt for two or three days, and he urinated blood.
Id. at p. 14. He had a bump on the back of his head
from where he assumes he fell or was kicked by Mr. Hinchey.
Id. at p. 17. He also had a bruise on his side.
Id. at p. 26.
men agree that one or two days after this altercation, Mr.
Ragland went to the courthouse to talk with Mr. Hinchey. They
shook hands and apologized to one another. Id. at p.
27; Doc. 15-1, p. 50. Mr. Ragland felt that “part of
this was my fault for opening my mouth.” (Doc. 15-2, p.
27). Mr. Hinchey does not deny striking Mr. Ragland.
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 Court must view the facts in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party, and give the
non-moving party the benefit of any logical inferences that
can be drawn from the facts. Canada v. Union Elec.
Co., 135 F.3d 1211, 1212-13 (8th Cir. 1997). The moving
party bears the burden of proving the absence of any material
factual disputes. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87
(1986); Nat'l Bank of Commerce of El Dorado, Ark. v.
Dow Chem. Co., 165 F.3d 602 (8th Cir. 1999). If the
moving party meets this burden, then the non-moving party
must "come forward with ‘specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial.'"
Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c)). These facts must be "such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."
Allison v. Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66
(8th Cir. 1994) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "The nonmoving
party must do more than rely on allegations or denials in the
pleadings, and the court should grant summary judgment if any
essential element of the prima facie case is not supported by
specific facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for
trial." Register v. Honeywell Fed. Mfg. &
Techs., LLC, 397 F.3d 1130, 1136 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing
Celotex Corp v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)).
Defendants argue they should be granted summary judgment
because Mr. Ragland cannot establish facts sufficient to show
that Mr. Hinchey struck him under color of state law, or that
an unconstitutional County policy or custom was the moving
force behind any alleged violation of his First Amendment
rights. In the lawsuit, Mr. Ragland has sued not only Searcy
County, but also Mr. Hinchey in both his official and
personal capacities. A suit against a public official in his
official capacity is the equivalent of a suit against the
county itself. See Liebe v. Norton, 157 F.3d 574,
578 (8th Cir. 1998) (citing Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S.
21, 25 (1991)). Since the Motion for Summary Judgment does
not seek relief on behalf of Mr. Hinchey in his personal
capacity, this Opinion will focus only on whether summary
judgment is proper as to Searcy County and Mr. Hinchey in his
42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or
the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person
within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
and laws, shall be liable to the ...