United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Waycross Division
SUSI EMERITA PELKA, as the Surviving Spouse & Personal Representative of the Estate of JEFFERY DAVID PELKA, Deceased, Plaintiff,
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.
RANDAL HALL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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,
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).
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.
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).
alleges in her complaint that Defendants are liable under
state and federal law. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages
and attorneys' fees.
LIABILITY OF CITY AND COUNTY
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.
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).
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;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).
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 ...