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Johnson v. Columbia County

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

January 23, 2018

COLUMBIA COUNTY, GEORGIA; CLAY N. WHITTLE, Columbia County Sheriff in his Official Capacity; JOHN DOES 1-6; JANE DOES 1-6; and XYZ Corporation, Defendants.



         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Columbia County, Georgia ("Columbia County") and Clay N. Whittle, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Columbia County (collectively, "Defendants"). (Doc. 17.) The Clerk of Court gave Plaintiff timely notice of Defendants' summary judgment motion and the summary judgment rules, of the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and the consequences of default. (Doc. 20.) Therefore, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam), have been satisfied. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition and Defendants filed a reply in support. (Docs. 27, 30.) The time for filing materials in opposition has expired, and the motion is ripe for consideration. Upon consideration of the evidence of record, relevant law, and the parties' respective briefs, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On the evening of September 13, 2014, Sergeant Bobby Bradford of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office responded to a complaint in Martinez, Georgia regarding a hit and run accident involving a drunk driver. (Bradford Decl., Doc. 18-3, ¶ 3; Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("PRDSMF"), Doc. 28, [1] ¶ 2.) During the course of his investigation, Sergeant Bradford encountered Plaintiff and requested her identification. (Bradford Decl. ¶¶ 4-6; PRDSMF ¶¶ 3-4.) Sergeant Bradford ran a background check on Plaintiff, which revealed an outstanding bench warrant for Plaintiff's arrest.[2] (Bradford Decl. ¶ 6; PRDSMF ¶ 4.) He arrested Plaintiff based on the bench warrant and transported her to the Columbia County Detention Center (the "Detention Center") . (Bradford Decl. ¶ 7; PRDSMF ¶ 5.)

         Upon her arrival at the Detention Center at approximately 1:12 am on September 14, 2014, Plaintiff was placed in a holding cell in the booking area. (Woods Decl., Doc. 18-4, ¶¶ 3-4; PRDSMF ¶¶ 8-9.) After several hours in this holding cell, Plaintiff - who is diabetic and was prescribed a number of different medications for this and other medical issues - had her blood sugar level tested by a female officer using Plaintiff's blood glucose monitor. (Johnson Dep., Doc. 27-1, at 37-39, 51.) This testing revealed a blood sugar level of 78; Plaintiff was immediately retested and indicated a blood sugar level of 38.[3] (Id.) This female officer left the area and Plaintiff subsequently experienced a diabetic seizure. (Id. at 38-39, 51, 53, 65; see also PRDSMF ¶ 10.) Plaintiff managed to press the call button in the holding cell for help and expressed that she "needed something because [her blood] sugar was low." (Johnson Dep. at 65; PRDSMF ¶ 11.) Nurse Jennifer Sturkey came into the holding cell and attempted to give Plaintiff medication, which Plaintiff refused.[4] (Johnson Dep. at 62, 65-66; see also PRDSMF ¶¶ 15, 17-18.) Nurse Sturkey believed that Plaintiff was not actually in distress and remarked that Plaintiff was "just fine, she's just faking it." (Johnson Dep. at 66, 69; see also PRDSMF ¶¶ 19-23.) Plaintiff testified that, despite her continued diabetic seizure, "everybody left and slammed the door." (Johnson Dep. at 70.) Plaintiff laid in a stupor on the holding cell's floor but was able to muster the strength to call for help again. (Id.) In response, a Detention Center guard came into the area and gave Plaintiff apple juice and two oranges in an attempt to raise her blood sugar level. (Id. at 44-45, 51-52, 70-71; PRDSMF ¶ 24.)

         Plaintiff was subsequently placed on medical segregation so that her medical condition could be more closely supervised. (PRDSMF ¶¶ 25, 28-29.) Deputy Jailer Miriam Dunne was responsible for preparing Plaintiff for confinement in the Detention Center's medical segregation area. (Woods Decl. ¶¶ 9, 11; PRDSMF ¶¶ 29-30.) As part of this preparation, Deputy Dunne took Plaintiff to the booking area's showers, sprayed her with a delousing agent, and then allowed her to wash herself briefly.[5] (Johnson Dep. at 53-65; Dunne Dep., Doc. 21-2, at 55-58; PRDSMF ¶¶ 31-35.) Deputy Dunne sprayed Plaintiff in the face with the delousing agent but did not provide her with sufficient time to wash her face or grant her requests for a Benadryl or other medication, which caused her skin to turn red and blister.[6](Johnson Dep. at 44, 55-57, 59-61, 75, 78, 86, 148.) Plaintiff submitted written grievances while at the Detention Center. (Id. at 88-89.) At approximately 9:00 pm on September 14, 2014, an officer with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office arrived at the Detention Center and took custody of Plaintiff. (Mosley Dep., Doc. 21-4, at 25 & Ex. 3; see also PRDSMF ¶ 37.)

         On August 24, 2016, Plaintiff initiated this action in the Superior Court of Columbia County, Georgia, alleging a claim for deliberate indifference to her medical needs under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as various state law claims. (Doc. 1-5.) In her complaint, Plaintiff named as defendants: (i) Columbia County; (ii) Sheriff Whittle; (iii) John Does 1-6; (iv) Jane Does 1-6; and (v) XYZ corporation. (Id.) Defendants timely removed this action to this Court on September 30, 2016, asserting federal question jurisdiction exists over Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim and supplemental jurisdiction exists over her state law claims. (Doc. 1.) On April 6 and May 19, 2017, Plaintiff filed motions requesting leave to substitute party defendants, which the United States Magistrate Judge denied on July 5, 2017.[7] (Docs. 11, 15, 22.) On June 16, 2011, Defendants filed their present motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 17.)


         Summary judgment is appropriate only if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law/' Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court shall grant summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law." Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., 357 F.3d 1256, 1259, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The "purpose of summary judgment is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal citation omitted).

         "[The] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the to substitute Nurse Sturkey and Deputy Dunne for Jane Does 1 & 2 and Officer Lopez for John Doe 1. (Docs. 11, 15.) In its Order denying these motions, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Plaintiff had not shown good cause sufficient to amend the aforementioned deadline and that - even if good cause were demonstrated - the proposed amendments would be futile because the I [record before the court] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If - and only if - the movant carries its initial burden, the non-movant may avoid summary judgment by demonstrating that there is indeed a genuine issue as to the material facts of its case. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Facts are "material" if they could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of those material facts "is 'genuine' . . . [only] if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id.

         When ruling on the motion, the Court must view all the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all factual disputes in the non-moving party's favor. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. The Court must also avoid weighing conflicting evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; McKenzie v. Davenport-Harris Funeral Home, 834 F.2d 930, 934 (11th Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, the non-moving party's response to the motion for summary judgment must consist of more than conclusory allegations, and a mere "scintilla" of evidence will not suffice. Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990); Pepper v. Coates, 887 F.2d 1493, 1498 (11th Cir. 1989). "The non-moving party cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through speculation, conjecture, or evidence that is 'merely colorable' or 'not significantly probative.'" Bryant v. Dougherty Cty. Sch. Sys., 382 Fed.Appx. 914, 917 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Shiver v. Chertoff, 549 F.3d 1342, 1343 (11th Cir. 2008); and Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50).


         A. Plaintiff's Section 1983 Claim

         In her complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to her medical needs in violation of her constitutional rights and seeks money damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1-5, ¶¶ 16-21, 45-49.) Defendants assert that their alleged liability for Plaintiff's aforementioned claim is premised solely upon theories of respondeat superior or vicarious liability and that they therefore are not liable for the alleged unconstitutional actions ...

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