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Edenfield v. Gateway Behavioral Health Services

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

May 15, 2017

CHERYL EDENFIELD, as Mother and Legal Guardian of QUINCY EDENFIELD, an incapacitated adult, Plaintiff,
v.
GATEWAY BEHAVIORAL HEALTH SERVICES, Defendant.

          ORDER

          LISA GODBEY WOOD JUDGE

         Sovereign immunity bars Plaintiff Cheryl Edenfield's ("Cheryl") (as mother and legal guardian of Quincy Edenfield ("Quincy")) state-law tort claims and makes her motion to amend futile. But her 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") claim survives, as does her contract-breach claim. Thus, Defendant Gateway Behavioral Services' ("Gateway") Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, dkt. no. 14, will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and Cheryl's Motion to Amend the Complaint, dkt. no. 15, will be DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Quincy Receives Gateway Services

         The Court assumes the truth of the facts alleged in the complaint. Quincy has "Severe Autistic Disorder and Unspecified Intellectual Disabilities." Dkt. No. 1-3 ¶ 5. He receives housing, transportation, and behavioral services from Gateway. Id. ¶ 8. Since May 2012, Quincy has lived at a Gateway home. Id. ¶¶ 6, 8a. Quincy goes to a Gateway day center between 8:30 A.M. and 2:30 P.M. Id. ¶ 8b.

         Cheryl is Quincy's mother and has been his guardian and conservator since March 23, 2015. Id. ¶ 7. Quincy spends his weekends with her. Id. ¶ 8a. "Prior to February 29, 2016 and on many occasions, " Cheryl would notice wounds and bruises on Quincy when picking him up from the Gateway center. Id. ¶ 11. "When [she] would return [him] to Gateway and question staff members concerning Quincy's wounds/bruises and/or ask for a investigation, she would never obtain a straightforward answer." Id. ¶ 12. In particular, no one ever told Cheryl that Quincy was being abused. Id. ¶ 12a. Early investigations did not uncover abuse. Id. ¶ 12b.

         Quincy Was Abused by a Gateway Employee

         On February 27, 2016, a Gateway staff member told another employee that she had seen Gateway's Errol Wilkins "hitting Quincy as well as another individual." Id. ¶ 15. Cheryl did not learn of this. Id. ¶ 14. On February 29, 2016, she brought Quincy to a doctor for a medical examination. Id. ¶ 13. When she returned to Gateway, "no one . . . would confess . . . that Quincy was being abused." Id. ¶ 14.

         However, Gateway launched an investigation that day. Id. ¶ 16. It substantiated the accusations, with employees saying they had seen Wilkins "hit Quincy . . . with his fist and/or open hand on several occasions and that this has been going on for several weeks." Id. ¶ 18 (alteration in original). Employees claimed Wilkins would hit clients "[a]t least 2-3 times a week, sometimes 2x per day, " "for about 3 months, " sometimes with a broken-off chair handle-and that they feared him because he was "a former gang member." Id. ¶¶ 21(g)-(i), 22(a), 25(a), 26(j)-(k); see also id. ¶ 25(g)-(h) ("Everyone has seen It and I heard Errol had been spoken to about this . . . . a long time ago." (alteration in original)), ¶ 26(h) ("I and the other staff have warned him that he was going to get caught." (alteration in original)). Wilkins was terminated. Dkt. No. 14-1 at 4; Dkt. No. 17 at 16.

         Cheryl Sues Gateway

         Cheryl filed this lawsuit against Gateway in Glynn County State Court on November 15, 2016. Id. at 2. She alleged three state-law tort claims: failure to train and supervise, negligent retention, and assault and battery. Id. ¶¶ 28-50. She also raised Section 1983. Id. ¶¶ 51-56.

         Gateway removed the case on December 22, 2016. Dkt. No. 1. It moved for judgment on the pleadings on January 26, 2017. Dkt. No. 14. That motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. Dkt. Nos. 17, 21. While briefing was ongoing, Cheryl moved to amend her complaint. Dkt. No. 15. She seeks to add Wilkins as a defendant, and to add a fourth state-law tort claim, against Gateway and Wilkins for fraud. Id. ¶¶ 63, 79-87. Gateway responded in opposition, and that motion is also ripe. Dkt. No. 19.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         Judgment ...


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