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Pelka v. Ware County

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

September 29, 2017

SUSI EMERITA PELKA, as the Surviving Spouse & Personal Representative of the Estate of JEFFERY DAVID PELKA, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
WARE COUNTY, GEORGIA; RANDY ROYAL, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Sheriff of Ware County, Georgia; Danny Christmas, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Administrator of the Ware County Jail; CITY OF WAYCROSS, GEORGIA; JEFFREY NICHOLS, BELENDA MCELROY, DWAYNE HOWELL, DONNY SPRADLEY, JAMES SOWELL, JAMES ALDRIDGE, NATHANIEL ROBERTS, MICHAL DEAN, JOSHUA RYLEE, GARY SIMMONS, HUBERT RYALS, and JAMES LEE, in their Individual Capacities; PETER WROBEL, M.D., Individually and in his Official Capacity as Medical Director of the Ware County Jail; PETER WROBEL, M.D., P.C.; SOUTHEAST GEORGIA PRIMARY CARE, P.C.; SOUTHERN CORRECTIONAL MEDICINE, LLC; and DONNA BENNET, MICHELLE CHANCEY, JOHNNY LEE JONES, JR., SUSAN MARTIN, SHARON RAY, LYNN STREAT, and KRISTY WHITE, in their Individual Capacities, Defendants.

          ORDER

          J. RANDAL HALL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter is before the Court on the two Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint filed by City of Waycross, Georgia ("City"), and Ware County, Georgia ("County"); Ware County Sheriff, Randy Royal, ("Sheriff Royal") and Jail Administrator, Danny Christmas ("Administrator Christmas"); and Jeffrey Nichols, Belenda McElroy, Dwayne Howell, Donny Spradley, James Sowell, James Aldridge, Nathaniel Roberts, Michael Dean, Joshua Rylee, Gary Simmons, Hubert Ryals, and James Lee (collectively, "Jailers"), (Docs. 42, 47.) Plaintiff filed responses in opposition to the motions and Defendants filed replies in support. (Docs. 59, 65, 69, 71, 83, 84, 87.) The Court heard oral arguments on the motions and Plaintiff and Defendants filed supplemental briefs. (Docs. 82, 83, 84, 87.) Accordingly, Defendants' motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for review. For the reasons stated herein, the Defendants' motions are GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On Friday, December 12, 2014, the Municipal Court of Waycross, Georgia, revoked Jeffrey David Pelka's ("Pelka") probation. (Id. ¶ 4 0.) That court's incarcerated persons are held at Ware County Jail ("WCJ") according to a contract between County and City. (Id. ¶ 118.) WCJ is operated by Sheriff Royal. (Id. ¶ 6.) During intake at WCJ, Pelka was evaluated by a nurse who noted that Pelka had prescriptions for methadone and oxycodone for pain management; drank alcohol five to seven times a day; complained of delirium tremens, which is a condition caused by alcohol withdrawal; and would be placed in a medical segregation unit. (Id. ¶¶ 38, 45.) Additionally, Pelka7s pharmacy faxed his prescription records to WCJ. (Id. ¶ 47.) However, WCJ7s policy prohibited inmates from taking their medication without first being examined by a physician who was scheduled to visit on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (Id. ¶¶ 49, 50.) WCJ7s policy recognized that withdrawal is a potentially fatal condition. (Id. ¶ 112.)

         On December, 13, 2014, Pelka began to exhibit withdrawal symptoms including disorientation, confusion, and hallucinations. (Id. ¶ 53.) Throughout the day, WCJ's medical staff noted Pelka had a temperature of 100.1 degrees, a slight tremor, and wasxx touching the walls and acting as if he was building something while he was in his cell." (Id. ¶ 56.) Defendant Jones, Jr., called Defendant Dr. Wrobel, to inform him about Pelka7 s condition and was told to place Pelka on the "MD list for the next visit.77 (Id. ¶ 57.) When Pelka7 s family came to visit later that day, they brought Pelka7s medications but were told he was too sick for a visit and that the staff would not deliver his medications. (Id. ¶¶ 58-59.)

         By Sunday morning, December 14, 2014, Pelka was found shaking his cell door and speaking incoherently. (Id. ¶ 65.) Defendant McElroy, who had come to retrieve Pelka's meal tray, called Defendants Spradley and Nichols for back-up when Pelka failed to hand over his tray. (Id. ¶ 67, 68.) Nichols claims that when he entered the cell, Pelka charged Nichols and Pelka was pepper-sprayed. (Id. ¶ 68.) Plaintiff counters that Pelka never posed any threat; Nichols never entered Pelka's cell; and that Pelka was pepper-sprayed as punishment for failing to return his tray. (Id. ¶ 71.) Defendants then washed off the pepper-spray and Pelka was assessed by a nurse for any signs of physical injury. (Id. ¶¶ 74, 75.) Nichols described Pelka as "shaky, " "unstable, " and "unsteady on his feet." (Id. ¶ 74.)

         That afternoon, Pelka "was playing with the walls in the segregation cell"; would sporadically lie down and get up to wander around; complained of hallucinations; and eventually stripped naked and began to rub the walls of his cell. (Id. ¶¶ 79, 80.) This led to Pelka being placed in a "rubber room, " which was under video surveillance. (Id. ¶ 80.)

         During the night and into the morning of December 15, 2014, Pelka collapsed at least eight times. (Id. ¶ 85.) Jailers on duty that night observed Pelka's behavior. (Id. ¶¶ 90-96.) When Defendant Sowell checked on Pelka at 6:30 a.m., his legs were blue and a nurse suggested he was suffering from withdrawal. (Id. ¶¶ 97, 98.) At 9:30 a.m., a nurse recommended that Pelka's vitals be checked, but Defendant Simmons ordered Defendant Sowell to wait until after the inmate count. (Id. ¶¶ 101-03.) When Simmons and Sowell went to retrieve Pelka approximately forty minutes later, he was shaking, vomiting, had mucus coming from his nose, and his legs had turned purple. (Id. ¶¶ 106, 108.) While being transferred to medical, Pelka became limp and lifeless and was taken to the emergency room but pronounced dead at 11:20 a.m. (Id. ¶¶ 108, 110-11.)

         On December 11, 2016, Plaintiff filed this suit. (Doc. 1.) Defendants filed separate motions to dismiss on January 3, 2017, and January 17, 2017. The Court heard oral arguments on the motions on August 4, 2017. (Doc. 81).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a complaint to contain "a short plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " which gives a defendant notice of the claim and its grounds. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) . To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must include enough facts that demonstrate the plaintiff's right to relief is more than speculative, and those facts must state a plausible claim to relief. Id. at 570. While a complaint does not need to be bursting with factual allegations, there must be something more than a bare bone recital of the elements of a cause of action. Id. at 555.

         However, a complaint should not be denied "unless it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of circumstances that would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957) . The Court must accept all factual allegations as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Belanger v. Salvation Army, 556 F.3d 1153, 1155 (11th Cir. 2009).

         Ill, DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff alleges in her complaint that Defendants are liable under state and federal law. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages and attorneys' fees.

         A. LIABILITY OF CITY AND COUNTY

         Plaintiff's substantive state-law claim against City and County under O.C.G.A. § 42-5-2 fails due to sovereign immunity. Under Georgia law, cities and counties are protected by sovereign immunity. Godfrey v. Ga. Interlocal Risk Mgmt. Agency, 719 S.E.2d 412, 414 (Ga. 2011) (cities); Gilbert v. I Richardson, 452 S.E.2d 476, 478-79 (Ga. 1994) (counties). Sovereign immunity may only be overcome by express waiver. Godfrey, 719 S.E.2d at 414; Gilbert, 452 S.E.2d at 478. Plaintiff asserts that O.C.G.A. § 42-5-2 includes such a waiver with respect to providing medical services to inmates. While that statute imposes a duty to provide medical care to inmates, it does not waive sovereign immunity. Gish v. Thomas, 691 S.E.2d 900, 907-08 (Ga.Ct.App. 2010); Howard v. City of Columbus, 521 S.E.2d 51, 65 (Ga.Ct.App. 1999) . Because sovereign immunity has not been waived, Plaintiff's state-law claim against City and County for breach of a duty to provide medical care fails.

         City and County also claim they cannot be held liable under § 1983 for Sheriff Royal's deliberate indifference because they had no control over Sheriff Royal's policies. Both cities and counties are "persons" for the purposes of § 1983 and can be held liable for constitutional deprivations. Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Sec. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978) . To hold a local government liable, a plaintiff must show "that, through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was thexmoving force' behind the injury alleged." Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997) (emphasis in original) . A local government can be liable in two ways: (1) an official policy promulgated by the entity; or (2) an unofficial policy shown by the repeated actions of the entity's final policymaker. Qrech v. Clayton Cnty., Ga., 335 F.3d 1326, 1329-30 (11th Cir. 2003) . Importantly, an entity cannot circumvent constitutional protections and allow others to do what it could not. See Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 480-81 (1986) (holding a municipality may be liable for the decisions of an official if it has delegated final authority).

         According to Plaintiff, City only lacked control because it delegated authority over housing and providing medical care to inmates through an inter-governmental agreement with County. However, City's duty to provide medical care cannot be delegated. Ancata v. Prison Health Servs., Inc., 769 F.2d 700, 705-06 (11th Cir. 1985). While City is a separate entity from -and therefore has no direct control over the policies of -Sheriff Royal, City became responsible for Sheriff Royal's policies when it entrusted him with its inmates. Id. at n.ll;[1]see also Trezevant v. City of Tampa, 741 F.2d 336, 339-40 (11th Cir. 1984) (holding a city partly liable for constitutional violations that occurred after the county took custody).

         Next, City argues that it did not know its policy of entrusting inmates to Sheriff Royal would lead to a constitutional violation. However, "municipal liability may be imposed for a single decision by municipal policymakers under appropriate circumstances." Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 480. This happens when the policy itself is facially unconstitutional. Marsh v. Butler Cnty., 268 F.3d 1014, 1036 (11th Cir. 2001). Since Plaintiff alleges ...


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