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Johnson v. Conway

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

July 6, 2015

VANCE R. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,


RICHARD W. STORY, District Judge.

This case comes before the Court on Defendants Corizon Health, Inc. and Susan Fajardo, LPN's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Medical Defendants' MSJ") [79] and Motion for Summary Judgment on Behalf of Defendants Sheriff R.L. Conway and Deputies Christopher Revels, Robert Bailey and Tochi Davis ("County Defendants' MSJ") [83]. After a review of the record, the Court enters the following Order.


This case arises out of Plaintiff Vance R. Johnson's arrest by the Gwinnett County Police Department and his subsequent detention. On February 18, 2011, Plaintiff was arrested and taken to Gwinnett County Detention Center ("GCDC"). (Statement of Undisputed Facts in Support of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("County Defs.' SOMF"), Dkt. [83-1] ¶ 1.)

A. Plaintiff's Medical Screening

When he arrived at GCDC, Plaintiff was sent to the intake medical unit operated by Corizon and its employees. Defendant Mavis Campbell[2] ("Nurse Campbell") initially attended to Plaintiff's medical intake receiving and screening. (Defs. Corizon Health, Inc. & Susan Fajardo, LPN's Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Issue to be Tried ("Medical Defs.' SOMF"), Dkt. [79-1] ¶ 6.)

During the screening process, Plaintiff was asked if he had any medical problems or required any medical treatment. Plaintiff signed the intake receiving and screening form, which noted a pre-existing foot injury and stated that Plaintiff's vital signs had been taken. (2d Am. Compl., Dkt. [40] ¶ 7.) While Plaintiff signed the intake form and a Refusal of Clinical Services Form, he refused to sign any other forms put in front of him by Nurse Campbell. (Id. ¶ 24.)

After Plaintiff signed the refusal form, detention officers and nurses made multiple attempts to give Plaintiff a pure protein derivative test ("PPD test") to test for the presence of tuberculosis. In a PPD test, a small needle is inserted just under the skin. (County Defs.' SOMF, Dkt. [83-1] ¶ 3.) The PPD test is part of the admission process for the Gwinnett County Jail, in order to control the spread of tuberculosis, which is highly contagious and may be deadly. (Id. ¶ 4.)

Plaintiff refused the PPD test three times. (Medical Defs.' SOMF, Dkt. [79-1] ¶ 7.) Defendant Susan Fajardo ("Nurse Fajardo") made the fourth attempt to administer the PPD test to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff sat in Nurse Fajardo's chair, placed his arm down, and allowed Nurse Fajardo to wipe his arm and administer the PPD test. (Id. ¶ 9.) The Medical Defendants claim that Plaintiff did not verbally inform Nurse Fajardo at the time she administered the test that he intended to refuse the test. (Id. ¶ 10.) Accordingly, Nurse Fajardo interpreted Plaintiff's actions as consent to the test. Plaintiff, however, testifies that he told Nurse Fajardo that he "already had signed the refusal of medical treatment." (Johnson Depo., Dkt. [84-1] at 122.)

After administering the PPD test to Plaintiff, Nurse Fajardo noticed that Plaintiff had previously signed a "Refusal of Clinical Services" form. (County Defs.' SOMF, Dkt. [83-1] ¶ 7.) Because Nurse Fajardo interpreted Plaintiff's behavior in her chair as consent to the PPD test, she asked Plaintiff to sign a "general consent to treatment" form once more, in case "he had changed his mind" about consenting to medical treatment. (Id.) Plaintiff refused again. (Id.) Plaintiff further refused to sign a document stating he had consented to the PPD test only. (Id.)

B. Plaintiff's Transit to the Disciplinary Unit

Defendant Christopher Revels ("Deputy Revels") was also present when Plaintiff refused Nurse Fajardo's request to sign the document acknowledging that he had consented to the PPD test. (Id. ¶ 10.) Deputy Revels informed Plaintiff that if he did not sign the acknowledgment, he would receive a "failure to comply" disciplinary report. (Id.) Plaintiff continued to refuse to sign the document and Deputy Revels called his supervisor, Sergeant Lucas, who advised that Plaintiff would have to receive a failure to comply disciplinary report if he did not sign. (Id. ¶ 12.)

Sergeant Lucas instructed Deputy Revels to contact the internal security unit responsible for inmate movements within the GCDC for assistance in moving Plaintiff to the disciplinary unit. (Id. ¶ 15.) Deputy Defendant Robert Bailey ("Deputy Bailey") and Defendant Tochi Davis ("Deputy Davis") responded to Deputy Revels' radio call. (Id.) Deputy Revels informed Deputies Bailey and Davis that Plaintiff refused to sign some medical paperwork and was thus "being charged with a failure to comply infraction." (Id.) Deputy Revels did not consider Plaintiff to be resistant or a threat and told Deputies Bailey and Davis that Plaintiff was compliant and not resistant. (Id.)

At the GCDC, standard practice for moving an inmate to the disciplinary unit for failure to comply with an officer's instructions involves instructions to the inmate from the escorting officers to "get down on the floor and put his hands behind his back so that he can be handcuffed." (Id. ¶ 16.) The escorting officers then "assist the inmate to his feet and escort him to the assigned destination" at the inmate's pace. (Id.) Deputies Bailey and Davis escorted Plaintiff to the disciplinary unit using this protocol, which is designed as a security measure to control for the unknown mindset and potential for violence of an inmate. (Id.)

The County Defendants report that Plaintiff's movement from GCDC's admissions area to the disciplinary area was "completely uneventful." (Id. ¶ 17.) The GCDC officers did not direct a use of force towards Plaintiff. Plaintiff complied with the instructions to lie down on the floor without resistance. Nor did he resist when the officers placed him in handcuffs. Plaintiff's hands were secured behind his back in a manner that was not "rough[], violent[], or aggressive[]." (Id.) The escorting officers "used only as much effort as was necessary" to assist Plaintiff to standing. (Id.) The escorting officers accompanied Plaintiff, walking backwards and supported by the officers' arms through his, into the elevator and up two floors to the disciplinary unit. (Id.) En route to the disciplinary unit, Plaintiff "did not complain that the handcuffs were too tight" or "that he had injured his shoulder." (Id.) No use of force incident report was prepared following this transit. (Id. ¶ 18.)

C. Policy-making at the GCDC

Defendant R.L. "Butch" Conway ("Sheriff Conway") has held the elected position of Sheriff of Gwinnett County since 1997. (County Defs.' SOMF, Dkt. [83-1] ¶ 23.) In this position, Sheriff Conway "is responsible for the overall administration of the several divisions of the Sheriff's Office, " including the GCDC. (Id. ¶ 24.) Colonel Don Pinkard, who is the Jail Administrator and is not named in this action, is "primarily responsible for the day-to-day operations of the [GCDC] and seeing to it that all [GCDC] policies are followed." (Id. ¶ 26.)

Policy 8M governs use of force and restraints in the GCDC (the "Use of Force Policy"). (Id. ¶ 27.) The Use of Force Policy provides:

It will be the policy of the Gwinnett County Detention Center to use only that force which is necessary in order to maintain the security and safety of all persons, staff, and inmates within the Detention Center.... Any staff member who encounters an uncooperative inmate who refuses to enter their cell, refuses to be searched, refuses to leave their cell, will follow the specific Use of Force Guidelines as currently approved by the agency.... Staff members are expected to utilize proxemics and verbal skills to the fullest extent possible in any confrontation with inmates. It is the policy of this agency to avoid the necessity of resorting to physical confrontations to resolve conflicts with inmates.

(Id.; Ex. D to County Defs.' SOMF, Dkt. [83-3] at 12-14.)

The Use of Force Policy authorizes detention officers to use "certain levels of force" to ensure that inmates comply with "lawful orders or directions." (County Defs.' SOMF, Dkt. [83-1] ¶ 29.) For example, when escorting an inmate within the GCDC, detention officers may handcuff inmates and take them by the wrist or arm. (Id.) Defendants acknowledge that a detention officer would violate the Use of Force policy if he were to "use force to make an inmate sign a document he had a right to refuse to sign." (Id. ¶ 28.)

The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office contracts with medical providers, including Corizon Health, to provide medical care to the GCDC's inmates and to document that care. (Id. ¶ 30.) The County Defendants state that "Sheriff Conway is not responsible for establishing policies regarding the actual provision of medical care or for providing direct supervision to the medical staff." (Id.)

At the time of the incident that forms the basis of this case, the GCDC operated under Policy 20.A, issued by the Gwinnett County Jail Commander under authority delegated from the Sheriff. (Id. ¶ 31, Ex. E to County Defs.' SOMF, Dkt. [83-3] at 15.) Colonel Donald Pinkard is the Jail Administrator for the GCDC, and is "responsible for insuring that the Sheriff's policies regarding jail operations are carried out." (County Defs.' SOMF, Dkt. [83-1] ¶ 35.)

With regards to informed consent to medical treatment, Policy 20.A provides in part: "Community standards of informed consent will be observed in inmate care. Health care will be rendered against an inmate's will only in accordance with legal statute and requirements." (County Defs.' SOMF, Dkt. [83-1] ¶ 31; Ex. E to County Defs.' SOMF, Dkt. [83-3] at 21.)

The County Defendants state that "Sheriff Conway was not involved with the incident complained of, and given the number of inmates processed through the [GCDC], there was no reason that he would have been informed of the Plaintiff's allegations contemporaneously with the alleged incident." (County Defs.' SOMF, Dkt. [83-1] ¶ 32.) The GCDC processes approximately 35, 000 detainees each year. (Id. ¶ 25.)

The Medical Defendants and the County Defendants now move for summary judgment. The Court first lays out the relevant legal standard ...

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