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May v. City of Nahunta

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Maycross Division

March 31, 2015

PHYLLIS J. MAY, Plaintiff,
CITY OF NAHUNTA, GEORGIA; DARREN CREWS, former Chief of Police of the City of Nahunta Police Department, in his individual capacity; and TOMMY L. ALLEN, in his individual capacity, Defendants.


LISA GODBEY WOOD, Chief District Judge.

On August 3, 2011, Ronnie Jacobs called 911 because he could not awaken his sister, Plaintiff Phyllis May. A police officer who arrived on the scene interacted with May and then brought her to the hospital. This case involves what transpired that day. Plaintiff brought this suit against Tommy L. Allen ("Allen"), the police officer who brought her to the hospital, Darren Crews ("Crews"), then-Chief of Nahunta's Police Department, and the City of Nahunta, Georgia ("the City"). Plaintiff's first two claims are for civil rights violations under 28 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and (2) false imprisonment in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff also brings state law causes of action for assault and battery, invasion of privacy, and false imprisonment. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 34. Upon due consideration. Defendants' motion is GRANTED.


a. Plaintiff May's Health Issues

In August of 2011, Plaintiff May, a 51-year-old woman, lived with and was the sole caregiver for her elderly mother, [1] who suffered from Alzheimer's disease and Sundowner's syndrome.[2] Dkt. No. 34-6 ("May Dep."), 5:14-16, 8:3-7, 52:19-20. May herself suffers from Pick's Disease, which is cerebral atrophy or shrinking of the brain. May Dep. 14:9-10. Her Pick's Disease causes headaches and seizures. Id. at 14:23-25. At the time of the events at issue. May was taking numerous medications, some of which were for her Pick's Disease symptoms and some of which were for other medical issues. Dkt. No. 41-3, p. 3. According to May, she was taking phenobarbital for seizures, Seroquel to help her sleep, Clonopin for anxiety, Celexa for depression, and Lorcet for headaches and back pain. May Dep. 29:16-25, 30:1; 31:1-19; 33:8-12; 36:1-7; 36:8-18. May also took medications for blood pressure, stroke prevention, and cholesterol. May Dep. 35:15-19; 35:1-8; 34:10-12. Most of the medications were prescribed by May's primary care physician, but the Seroquel was prescribed by Satilla Mental Health, where May was a weekly patient from roughly 2005 until August of 2011.

b. Arrival of Emergency Medical Services

Because of her illness, May's mother had difficulty sleeping. As her mother's primary caretaker, May was awake for five or six days leading up to August 3, 2011. May was exhausted. May Dep. 5: 23-24. In addition to the aforementioned ailments, May was experiencing caregiver breakdown, which she described as a state brought on by taking care of everyone else and not herself. May Dep. 14:15-22. May called her brother, Ronnie Jacobs, and asked him to come watch their mother. At the time, Jacobs was Mayor of the City of Nahunta. May told Jacobs, "my body is going down, I can't take it no longer." May Dep. 10:10-15. Before Jacobs arrived, May fell asleep in her nightgown. Id. at 10:10-19; Dkt. No. 41-3, ¶ 7.

Jacobs, at the time, was in a trailer next door to the house where May and her mother were living. Jacobs testified that his mother came to get him because she was concerned about May, who had been lying down for a few hours. Dkt. No. 34-7 ("Jacobs Dep."), 32:12-18. When Jacobs arrived at the house, May was lying on a bed with her eyes shut. May was not initially responsive, so Jacobs called 911 to ask for emergency medical services ("EMS") assistance. Dkt. No. 41-3, ¶¶ 9, 10. Jacobs knew that May had been nauseated and thought May's Pick's Disease might be affecting her health. Jacobs Dep. 30:12-17; Dkt. No. 41-3, ¶ 10. At some point, May's sister, Wanda Smith, arrived. While Jacobs was calling 911, Smith entered May's room and called out her name, but May did not answer. It appeared to Smith that May was in a deep sleep. Dkt. No. 41-1 ("Smith Aff."), ¶¶ 5-6. May's mother feared that she was dead. May Dep. 11:10-13.

Four to five emergency medical technicians ("EMTs") arrived in two ambulances. Dkt. No. 41-3, ¶ 12. Upon their arrival, May, who "had been reported unconscious, " was unresponsive. Dkt. No. 41-2 ("Farrior Aff."), ¶ 5.[3] The EMTs woke May by placing an ammonia capsule under her nose. Dkt. No. 41-3, ¶¶ 13-15. May awoke suddenly and swung her arm because she thought a bee had stung her nose; she did not hit anyone. May Dep. 13:10-25. After May regained consciousness, she told the EMTs about her Pick's Disease and caregiver breakdown condition. May Dep. 14:3-22; Dkt. No. 41-3, ¶ 16. She also told the EMTs about her prescribed medications. Farrior Aff. ¶ 6. May informed the EMTs that she took medicine to help her sleep because she had been awake for so long. Smith Aff. ¶ 10. According to Farrior, one of the EMTs on the scene, the EMS team "determined that Ms. May was not attempting to harm herself and that she was not a threat to anyone else." Farrior Aff. ¶ 7. Farrior also reported that, during their observation of May, "she was not acting irrationally or uncontrollably and did not do anything that caused us concern that she might harm herself or anyone else."[4] Id . When asked if she wanted to go to the hospital, May responded no because she knew what was wrong with her: she was just very tired. May Dep. 15:9-12. The EMTs determined that May was capable of signing to refuse their continued services, and May signed a form to refuse a hospital transport. Farrior Aff. ¶¶ 8-9. Farrior stated that after May signed the refusal form, EMS left the scene. Id . ¶ 10.

c. Arrival of Officer Tommy Allen

At some point during the August 3rd incident, Tommy Allen, a police officer on patrol, received a call from the Brantley County 911 radio operator. Allen was informed that Brantley County EMS was at a house and requesting police assistance. Dkt. No. 39 ("Allen Dep."), 18:10-25. When Allen arrived, the EMTs were still at the house. Dkt. No. 41-3, ¶¶ 17-18. Allen recounted that he was met outside by the EMTs, and he asked why they had called him. Allen Dep. 21:3-10. One of the male EMTs told him, "Well, we got a lady in here that has been a little combative to herself. She is upset." Id. at 21:11-25. Allen responded, "Okay, Let's go in there and talk to her[, ]" and entered the house. Id . Allen described that he and the four EMTs entered a small, neat room, where May was sitting on the side of the bed. Id. at 24:25-25:1-3. One of the male EMTs said "this is her" to Allen; an EMT also told Allen "that [May] had already clasped up her fists and was doing each side of her head vigorously and scruffing and hitting herself in the head."[5] Id. at 25:3-8.

May recounted that Allen made everyone leave the room before shutting the door and locking it by sliding a latch over. May Dep. 17:7-18. Allen states that he asked everyone to leave because they were talking amongst themselves, and he wanted May's undivided attention. Allen Dep. 25:9-13. Allen alleges that he asked a young male EMT to stay while he asked May a few questions about the medications she was taking. After May denied taking any medications that were not prescribed and denied taking too much of any of her prescribed medications, the last EMT left the room with everyone else. Id. at 25:13-26:10.

Allen told May she was going to the hospital.[6] May Dep. 17:9-12. May asked why, and Allen responded, "Because you are." Id. at 18:7-12. Allen directed May to take her nightgown off, and May started crying. May contends that Allen reached up and "started touching [her] and taking [her] nightgown off." Id. at 18:14-15. When Allen touched May, he touched her shoulder as he was helping her take the nightgown off. Id. at 18:11-19:7. May stated that Allen was "rough", and when asked to explain how, she described that he was "just very hateful acting of [sic] hurry up and take the gown off." Id. at 19:10-17. May's clothes were at the foot of the bed, and Allen handed her the clothes, one at a time, starting with her shorts. Id. at 18:16-19. After May put her shorts on, Allen told her to take them off and put her underwear on. When May refused, Allen said "Yes, you will", and he patted his gun. May did as she was told. Id. at 20:12-16.

During this time, May could hear her sister and others knocking on the door and saying, "Unlock the door. Unlock the door." Id. at 20:17-21. While Jacobs recounted that he was "hollering for him to open the door" and "asking him what are you doing in there locked up with my sister by yourself", Jacobs Dep. 43:5-22, Smith's account is less colorful: "When I couldn't open the door, I called out Phyllis' name but I didn't hear any response from inside the room. The door has a lock on the inside that you have to slide from one side to the other. While the police officer was inside the bedroom with Phyllis behind the locked door, I sat on the couch in the living room with our brother and mother." Smith Aff. ¶¶ 17-18.

Allen proceeded to give May her top, and she put it on. Allen told her to straighten up and dry her tears. Allen unlocked the door, and the two left the room. May Dep. 22:1-6. Jacobs estimated that they were in the room with the door locked for "15 minutes, if not 20." Jacobs Dep. 44:11-14. May was sexually assaulted by her father over a period of several years during her childhood. She described that Allen "opened up a wound" by "[a]sking her to take [her] clothes off... the way [her] daddy used to do []." May Dep. 52:3-11. May attests that these events were "very traumatizing", and though she had been attending mental health counseling before as well, her issues worsened after this day. Id. at 69:22-25, 70:14-25, 71:1-10.

Allen's whole account of what happened in the room is quite different. He described that May started telling him about her caregiver breakdown, and he asked if she wanted some help. Allen Dep. 26:20-24. Allen said that May told him she would not ride in the ambulance, and he asked her if she would be okay with riding in the back of the patrol car and him "carrying [her] to the hospital." Id. at 27:1-4. When May answered, "You won't let them put me in mental health?", Allen described that "that little light [went] off", and he asked her whether she was a mental health patient. Id. at 27:5-8. May answered "Yes." Id. at 27:9. Allen proposed going with May, "carry[ing] her" in his patrol car to Satilla Regional, and having someone "with Crisis" come to talk to her. Id. at 27:23-25. According to Allen, May agreed, and so he told her to "put some clothes on."[7] Id. at 28:1-14.

Allen described that he was leaning back against a chest of drawers. May picked up her shorts and started putting them on before her underwear. Allen asked if she wanted to put "under clothes" on, and May said that she did not need them. Allen responded, "That is your business. Go ahead."[8] Id. at 28:16-29:3.

d. Trip to the Hospital

After the two emerged from the room, Allen said he had a brief exchange with Jacobs. Allen told Jacobs he was taking May to Satilla Regional Hospital to speak with someone "with Crisis." Allen Dep. 24:3-17. Jacobs said there was nothing wrong with May-she had "come across a little money" and had "some kids that [were] trying to suck her dry of it." Id . Allen said he did not know about any of that, but told Jacobs, "Anyhow, I think she will be fine. We will get her over [to Satilla Regional] and get somebody to talk to her." Id . Jacobs denied that this exchange occurred. Jacobs Dep. 46:22-24. Jacobs stated that Allen may have told Smith that he was carrying May to Waycross. Id. at 48:3-24.

May stated that the EMTs stopped her and apologized to her "for what just happened" to her, and May understood that to mean they were sorry about what happened in the bedroom with Allen. May Dep. 23:5-16. Jacobs described that Allen marched May out the front door; Allen "had her by the arm" and was "carrying" her to the police car. Jacobs Dep. 45:16-46:4. Next, Allen "put [May] in the back of the police car" and brought her to the hospital in Waycross, Georgia. May Dep. 24:6-14. On the way to the hospital, Allen asked May what she thought about her brother. May answered, "I ain't talking about Ronnie[, ]" and that was the end of the conversation. Id. at 71:14-22.

Once they arrived at the hospital, May testified that Allen "got [her] out" of the car and then "grabbed [her] by the arm, [and] put [her] upside the car like [she] was a criminal." May Dep. 74:9-16. Allen took May into the emergency room. Id. at 24:15-24. After they were inside, Allen told May to "stand against the wall" and to "straighten up." Id . Allen told the hospital employees that May needed a room and asked them about her previous medical diagnoses. An employee told Allen that May suffered from Pick's disease and caregiver breakdown. Allen made a sign by putting his thumb and first finger together (an "okay" symbol, presumably) and then proceeded to leave the hospital. Id. at 25:10-26:2. Allen did not lock May in a room at the hospital. Id. at 75:16-19. May was treated at the hospital and eventually dismissed. Id. at 26:3-24. After no more than two hours, Jacobs took May home. Jacobs Dep. 52:11-14.

May confirmed that no handcuffs were ever used, and Allen did not threaten to hurt her in any way. May Dep. 75:20-76:2.

e. Chief of Police Darren Crews

Defendant Darren Crews, who was Chief of Police at the time, was out of town during these events. Dkt. No. 38 ("Crews Dep."), 22:14-17. Jacobs believes that he spoke to Crews about the events of August 3, 2011 "the next morning" at Nahunta City Hall. Jacobs Dep. 57:8-15. Jacobs maintains that he told Crews that Allen should not have made Plaintiff take her clothes off while he was alone in a room with her; there should have been a female EMT present. Id. at 57:17-22. Jacobs told Crews that Allen locked the door while in the room with Plaintiff. Id. at 57:23-25. According to Jacobs, after he told Defendant Crews everything that happened, Defendant Crews did not seem concerned and said, "Well, we'll see." Id. at 58:1-15.

A few days after Crews returned to town, Allen went to his home to tell him about what happened. Crews Dep. 24:15-22. Crews did not ever reprimand, discipline, or cite Allen for any violations of law or policy, and no one in the Nahunta Police Department conducted an investigation into the events of August 3, 2011. Id. at 18:20-24, 29:8-11. Crews testified that Jacobs never contacted or spoke with him about the events at issue. Id. at 28:16-25, 29:1-11. During Crews' time as Chief of Police, this was the only incident of its type; there were no other situations Crews recalled in which an officer was called to transport an individual with mental health issues to the hospital. Id. at 38:10-21.

f. Training and Policies

Crews was the Chief of Police for Nahunta from January of 2008 through February of 2012. Crews Dep. 7:13-16. He had both administrative and patrol duties, and he was the final decision-maker for the Police Department. Id. at 8:2-3, 10:1-11. Police officers were required to participate in 20 hours of training per year ...

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