United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division
secretary did it." That's how this case got started,
and that assertion figures into a defendant's motion to
stay proceedings in this wrongful arrest case until the
district judge rules on her dismissal motion. Docs. 21 & 23.
The story begins with plaintiff Akeem Washington's
October 10, 2011 speeding conviction in Bryan County,
Georgia. A judge imposed an $895 fine, then leveraged prompt
payment by imposing probation (which itself would cost him
additional fees) to terminate upon payment. Doc. 11 at
Washington paid it that day, id. at 7, and a clerk
noted that fact in the clerk's office database the next
day. Id. at 11, 12. Defendant Tina Ellis, secretary
to probation officer (and co-defendant) Shannon Rivera, was
obliged to, but failed, to notify Rivera. Id. at 11,
12; doc. 21 at 4. And Rivera failed to double-check months
later, before swearing out a probation-violation arrest
warrant. Doc. 11 at 12-14, 19. The resulting arrest
cost plaintiff his job. Id. at 15.
sued both women under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law.
Doc. 11 at 2. Moving for Judgment on the Pleadings (JOP),
Rivera contends that "Washington's claims under 42
U.S.C. §1983 are barred by both quasi-judicial immunity
and qualified immunity. His claims under Georgia law are also
barred twice over -- both by quasi-judicial immunity and by
the Georgia Tort Claims Act. Dismissal of all claims asserted
against Rivera in Washington's Second Amended Complaint
is warranted." Doc. 21 at 3.
contends that her "arrest" decision was a
discretionary function entitling her to qualified immunity
from Washington's § 1983 claim. Doc. 31 at 7-8.
Confident that she'll prevail, she moves to stay this
case until the district judge rules on her JOP
motion. Doc. 23. The undersigned will reach her
stay motion, and thus take a "preliminary peek" at
her JOP motion's strength.
inquiry encompasses different thresholds for state versus
federal claims. Compare Houston v. Owens, 2011 WL
7090811 at * 1 (S.D. Ga. Dec. 6, 2011) (analyzing elements
that establish a cognizable claim for unlawful detention
under § 1983 in "excess-incarceration" case; a
plaintiff must allege (1) intent to confine, (2) acts
resulting in confinement, and (3) consciousness of the victim
of confinement or resulting harm) (citing Orega v.
Christian, 85 F.3d 1521, 1527 n. 2 (11th Cir. 1996)),
with Hicks v. McGee, 289 Ga. 573, 576 (2011)
(superior court clerk and court employee were not entitled to
official immunity from state-law claim over their negligent
failure to inform Department of Corrections of prisoner's
sentence within 30 days of receipt of amended sentencing
order, resulting in 22-month, excess-incarceration claim;
specific actions mandated by state statute were ministerial
and unambiguously triggered by the amended order, and it did
not matter if defendants failed to recognize amended order as
a sentencing order).
§ 1983 claim thus rests on conscious knowledge, if not
reckless disregard of facts establishing that
Washington's probation had terminated upon payment of his
fine (equivalent to criminal recklessness in some contexts,
see Gordon v. Wilcher, 2016 WL 7911910 at * 2 (S.D.
Ga. Dec. 21, 2016) (citingFarmer v. Brennan, 511
U.S. 825, 837 (1994)). The state-law negligence claim
requires far less. Washington accuses Ellis of
conscious knowledge: "Ellis knew prior to February 7,
2012 that Washington had paid the court imposed fine on
October 10, 2011. Nevertheless, [she] prepared the warrant
application for Rivera's warrant against Washington and
even notarized Rivera's signature. She did not inform
Rivera of Washington's payment." Doc. 11 at 20,
triggering a false arrest fetches § 1983 liability for
state actors. Kingsland v. City of Miami, 382 F.3d
1220, 1233 (11th Cir. 2004) (fact questions as to whether
arresting officers had made deliberately false statements on
arrest affidavit supporting arrest and subsequent prosecution
precluded summary judgment for officers on qualified immunity
grounds). Alas, Ellis is not moving for JOP.
Amended Complaint allegations against Rivera speak
more in negligence than intent ~ obviously a key distinction
in supporting a § 1983 versus state-law claim (he raises
both against her). Doc. 11 at 19-20, ¶¶ 91-96. But
in his stay-motion reply brief he insists: "Washington
alleges that Rivera falsely swore out an arrest warrant
claiming that he had failed to pay his traffic fine, [so]
qualified immunity is simply not available." Doc. 29 at
5 (citing Kingsland).
district judge will sort all of that out.
meantime, the parties have already conducted substantial
discovery; Rivera has already been deposed and has responded
to traditional written discovery. Doc. 29 at 4, 5. Hence,
little "litigational efficiency" would be gained by
stopping it now. And even if the federal claim is dismissed,
Washington's state law (Hicks-type) claim
appears viable ~ at least against Ellis. So, the risk is low
that discovery will be wasted, even if this case is
ultimately tried in state court.
Rivera's Motion to Stay these proceedings is therefore
DENIED. Doc. 23.
 For the purpose of this Order, the
Court is accepting facts taken from the cited filings ...