United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
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,
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.
WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR. JUDGE
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
experiencing a mental health crisis, Mathew Ajibade was
detained and transported to the Chatham County Detention
Center ("CCDC") on January 1, 2015. (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.
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.)
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.
COUNT FOUR: PATTERN OF EXCESSIVE FORCE
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.
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
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.
1881 Charter Amendment
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
(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 ...