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Ajibade v. Harris

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

January 25, 2018

SOLOMAN OLUDAMISI AJIBADE, as natural parent of Mathew Ajibade; and ADENIKE HANNAH AJIBADE, as natural parent of Mathew Ajibade; THE ESTATE OF MATHEW AJIBADE; and CHRIS OLADAPO, executor; Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN WILCHER, in his official capacity as Chatham County Sheriff; CORIZON HEALTH, INC.; CORIZON LLC; GREGORY BROWN; FREDERICK BURKE; ABRAM BURNS; MARK CAPERS; MAXINE EVANS; ANDREW EVANS-MARTINEZ; PAUL FOLSONE; DEBRA JOHNSON; JASON KENNY; and ERIC VINSON; Defendants.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR. JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant John Wilcher's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Doc. 113.) In his motion, Defendant Wilcher contends that he is entitled to partial summary judgment on three counts of Plaintiffs' amended complaint. For the following reasons, his motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Defendant Wilcher's motion with respect to Plaintiffs' assault and battery claim, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 excessive force claim is GRANTED and these claims are DISMISSED. However, Defendant Wilcher's request for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' wrongful death claim is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         After experiencing a mental health crisis, Mathew Ajibade was detained and transported to the Chatham County Detention Center ("CCDC") on January 1, 2015.[1] (Doc. 115 at 2.) While waiting to be processed, Ajibade failed to comply with a sheriff deputy's instruction to sit down. (Id. at 3.) His non-compliance led to a physical altercation between Ajibade and multiple officers. (Id.) As a result, Ajibade was allegedly placed in a restraint chair and repeatedly tasered in his groin area. (Id. at 4.) He was then placed in a separate cell where Plaintiffs allege that jail staff failed to provide him with adequate medical care as required by law. (Id. at 4-6.) Ajibade was found dead in his cell nearly two hours later. (Id. at 5.)

         Subsequently, Ajibade's parents, Soloman Oledamisi and Adenike Hannah Ajibade, and his estate brought suit citing various constitutional and state law violations. (Doc. 21.) Against Defendant John Wilcher in his official capacity as sheriff, Plaintiffs brought suit seeking relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging in Count Three that Defendant Wilcher maintained "a pattern and practice of inadequate and deplorable medical conditions for detainees at the CCDC, " and in Count Four the existence of "a pattern and practice of the excessive use of force against detainees at the CCDC." (Id. at 14, 18.) In addition, Plaintiffs also sought relief in Count Five for "wrongful death premised on the criminal, intentional, and negligent acts of each of the Defendants." (Id. at 23.) Plaintiffs allege in Count Six a claim against Defendant Wilcher based on assault and battery. (Id. at 24.)

         Defendant Wilcher now seeks dismissal of Counts Four, Five, and Six. In regards to the claim that Defendant Wilcher maintained a pattern and practice of the excessive use of force, Defendant Wilcher alleges that this suit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. He contends that as sheriff, he functions as an arm of the state and is entitled to the state's immunity from being sued in federal court. With respect to the assault and battery claim, Defendant Wilcher alleges that this claim fails as a matter of law because sovereign immunity bars suits against sheriffs for state law tort claims. Finally, Defendant Wilcher contends that the wrongful death claim fails to the extent it is based on the assault and battery claim or the excessive use-of-force policy claim. The Court will assess each of these arguments in turn.

         ANALYSIS

         I. COUNT FOUR: PATTERN OF EXCESSIVE FORCE

         In Count Four of the amended complaint, Plaintiffs contend that Defendant Wilcher is liable pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for "maintain[ing] a pattern and practice of the excessive use of force against detainees at CCDC." (Doc. 21 at 18.) In his motion for partial summary judgment, Defendant Wilcher contends that he is entitled to summary judgment on this claim because the Eleventh Amendment bars suits in federal court against the state or arms of the state. (Doc. 113.) He contends that as the sheriff of Chatham County, Georgia, he functions as an arm of the state and can, therefore, claim immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. (Id.)

         In response, Plaintiffs contend that sheriffs in Chatham County are not entitled to the same protections as other Georgia sheriffs. (Doc. 114.) Rather, Plaintiffs contend that an 1881 amendment to the Savannah City Charter ("Charter Amendment") changed the relationship between Chatham County, the local sheriff's office, and Georgia. (Id.) As a result, Plaintiffs argue that the sheriff in Chatham County functions more as a county actor when running the jail than a state actor. (Id.) If found to be a county actor, then Defendant Wilcher would not be to entitled to the immunity afforded to other sheriffs in Georgia.

         Plaintiffs' argument is a matter of first impression. Accordingly, the Court will begin its analysis by reviewing the Charter Amendment and assessing its validity. After determining whether the Charter Amendment is effective, this Court will then consider what effect it has on whether Defendant Wilcher is entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.

         A. 1881 Charter Amendment

         To support its position, Plaintiffs rely on an 1881 amendment to Savannah's City Charter. Ga. L. 1881, p. 393. The Charter Amendment was enacted by the Georgia General Assembly in order to repeal the city's control of the local jail and return it to the control of Chatham County. Id. Within the Charter Amendment, the General Assembly also provided details as to how the jail would be run once under county control. Id.

         More specifically, the Charter Amendment provides that the sheriff in Chatham County will function as the jailer and have the ability to hire a deputy jailer and guards subject to the approval of the local county commissioners. Id. Additionally, the provision sets the sheriff's income at one thousand dollars, and mandates that the sheriff must report the number of prisoners incarcerated at the jail and all financial expenditures to the county commissioners. Id. For the county, the Charter Amendment requires that the county provide the jail with supplies. Id. In addition, and most importantly for this legal analysis, the Charter Amendment provides that the county "shall have power to make proper rules and regulations for the government and control of said jail of Chatham [C]ounty, and the prisoners and inmates therein, and, except as herein before provided, are hereby invested with the management and care of said jail." Id.

         Plaintiffs contend that the Court should read the Charter Amendment as an express grant of authority to Chatham County over Defendant Wilcher in his operation of the jail. Plaintiffs argue that the Charter Amendment is the key distinguishing factor that makes Defendant Wilcher unlike any other sheriff running a jail in Georgia when considering immunity. In contrast, Defendant Wilcher argues that the Court should ignore the Charter Amendment because it is invalid. He contends that the law is ineffective or, alternatively, the law has been repealed by implication. The Court, however, cannot agree with either of Defendant Wilcher's arguments.

         Defendant Wilcher first contends that the Charter Amendment should be ignored by the Court because he argues that it is ineffective. (Doc. 124 at 5.) To make this argument, Defendant first argues that the law is no longer included in Savannah's City Charter and is, therefore, no longer in effect. (Id.) To support his argument, Defendant has included in his briefing a certified copy of the current city charter. (Id. at Ex. 1.) This argument, however, logically fails. The Charter Amendment initially repealed the City of Savannah's control over the local jail and returned control of the jail to Chatham County. Ga. L. 1881, p. 393. It would be contrary to common sense to expect a law repealing the city's control over the jail to continue to appear in updated forms of the city charter.

         Next, Defendant Wilcher argues that the law is invalid because it is listed in an index for the 2009 Edition, Volume 42A of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated as "repealed" and "noncurrent." However, this argument must also fail. Defendant Wilcher misreads the index, which states that the Charter Amendment actually repealed the earlier law vesting power of the jail in the City of Savannah. There is no evidence in the index that the Charter Amendment has been repealed. Moreover, Georgia law expressly provides that indexes lack the force of law. Code Revision Comm'n v. Public.resource.org, Inc., 244 F.Supp.3d 1350, 1357 (N.D.Ga. 2017). Accordingly, this Court cannot find that the index is evidence that the Charter Amendment has been repealed.

         In the alternative, Defendant Wilcher argues that the Charter Amendment is invalid because it was repealed by implication in two different provisions of the Georgia Constitution. First, Defendant Wilcher cites Article IX, § 2, ¶ 1(c)(1) of the 1983 Georgia Constitution. This provision provides:

(c) The power granted to counties in subparagraphs (a) and (b) above shall not be construed to extend to the following matters or any other matters which the General Assembly by general law has preempted or may hereafter preempt, but such matters shall be the subject of general law or the subject of local acts of the General Assembly to the extent that ...

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