Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Everson v. Dekalb County School District

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

January 31, 2018

EVERSON
v.
DEKALB COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT et al.

          DILLARD, C. J., RAY and SELF, JJ.

          Self, Judge.

         Ronald Everson appeals from the trial court's order dismissing his complaint against the DeKalb County School District ("the School District") and its former superintendent, Crawford Lewis. Everson asserts that his claims are not barred by sovereign immunity and that the allegations of his complaint were sufficient to preclude dismissal for failure to state a claim. For the reasons explained below, we affirm the portion of the trial court's order dismissing the School District and the claims against Lewis in his official capacity. We reverse the trial court's dismissal of Everson's claims against Lewis in his personal capacity for wrongful termination, punitive damages, and attorney fees.

         The record shows that Everson named the following five defendants in his complaint: the School District; Crawford Lewis, the superintendent of the School District; Kenneth Bradshaw, the lead law enforcement officer at Columbia High School; Doug Sanders, the principal of Columbia High School; and Jeannette Moss, the assistant principal of Columbia High School. Everson asserted causes of action for false arrest and malicious prosecution, slander and libel, and wrongful termination. He sought back pay and reinstatement, damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorney fees under OCGA § 13-6-11.

         The complaint alleges that Everson was the plant engineer of Columbia High School with custody of all keys and full access to the school. During 2006, the high school was undergoing renovations performed by Anthony Pope's company, Merit Construction. According to Everson, he was "often on the property on the weekend to open the property to the construction workers. [He] saw on several occasions money exchange hands between Anthony Pope and Defendant Lewis." He alleges that he "told Defendant Sanders about these illegal monetary exchanges and Defendant Sanders did nothing about Plaintiff's complaints." The complaint does not explicitly allege when these events transpired.

         On May 23, 2008, Sanders, Bradshaw, and Moss "accused [Everson] of theft by taking of some air conditioning units which were in a trailer located at Columbia High School." Everson claims that Sanders and Moss "falsely stated that [he] did not have permission to be on the property on the weekend the units were stolen, knowing they often called [him] themselves to have him come out on the weekends to open the property for the construction workers." Bradshaw "swor[e] out a warrant for theft by taking based off false information or no information directly linking [Everson] to the theft, " and Everson was subsequently indicted for burglary. On June 23, 2008, Lewis "requested for [Everson] to come to his office and fired him" based upon the charges against him. After the charges were dismissed, Lewis and Sanders refused to reinstate Everson. Approximately two years later, "Lewis was indicted for, among other things, illegally receiving money from Pope for construction contracts. Columbia High School was one of the schools listed in the indictment."

         After service was perfected upon the School District and Lewis, [1] they moved to dismiss the complaint. The School District asserted that Everson's claims against it were barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity and that each of his individual theories of recovery were subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim. Lewis adopted the School District's motion with regard to his official acts and asserted that he was entitled to qualified immunity for the actions asserted against him in his individual capacity. The trial court held a hearing, granted both motions, and dismissed Everson's complaint with prejudice.

         1. Sovereign Immunity.

         "We review de novo a trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss on sovereign immunity grounds, bearing in mind that the party seeking to benefit from the waiver of sovereign immunity has the burden of proof to establish waiver." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Cowart v. Ga. Dept. of Human Svcs., 340 Ga.App. 183 (796 S.E.2d 90) (2017). See also Ga. Dept. of Labor v. RTT Assoc., 299 Ga. 78, 81 (1) (786 S.E.2d 840) (2016).

         In Georgia, sovereign immunity "protect[s] governments at all levels from unconsented-to legal actions." Gilbert v. Richardson, 264 Ga. 744, 746 (1) (452 S.E.2d 476) (1994). In 1991, an amendment to Georgia's Constitution authorized our General Assembly to

waive the state's sovereign immunity from suit by enacting a State Tort Claims Act, in which the General Assembly may provide by law for procedures for the making, handling, and disposition of actions or claims against the state and its departments, agencies, officers, and employees, upon such terms and subject to such conditions and limitations as the General Assembly may provide.

Ga. Const. of 1983, Art I, Sec. II, Par. IX (a). Under this authority, the General Assembly enacted the Georgia Tort Claims Act, OCGA § 50-21-20 et seq. "The Georgia Tort Claims Act provides for a limited waiver of the state's sovereign immunity for the torts of its officers and employees, but it expressly excludes school districts from the waiver. OCGA § 50-21-22 (5)." Wellborn v. DeKalb County School District, 227 Ga.App. 377, 379 (4) (489 S.E.2d 345) (1997). Consequently, Everson's tort claims against the School District and Lewis, in his official capacity, are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. See id.; Price v. Dept. of Transp., 257 Ga. 535, 537 (361 S.E.2d 146) (1987) (suits against public employees in official capacities are in reality suits against the state; employees so sued are entitled to sovereign immunity).

         Everson's claims for wrongful termination and reinstatement against the School District and Lewis, in his official capacity, are also barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. While "the defense of sovereign immunity is . . . waived as to any action ex contractu for the breach of any written contract . . . entered into by the state or its departments and agencies, " Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. I, Sec. II, Par. IX (c), Everson's complaint fails to allege that a written employment contract existed between himself and the School Board, and the personnel policies asserted in the complaint fail to create a contract of employment. See Tacket v. Ga. Dept. of Corrections, 304 Ga.App. 310, 312 (1) (696 S.E.2d 359) (2010), disapproved on the other grounds, Wolfe v. Bd. of Regents, 300 Ga. 223, 232 (2) (d), n. 5 (794 S.E.2d 85) (2016). Accordingly, Everson has failed to meet his burden of demonstrating a waiver of sovereign immunity for these claims. See Tricoli v. Watts, 336 Ga.App. 837, 838-840 (2) (783 S.E.2d 475) (2016); DeKalb County v. Kirkland, 329 Ga.App. 262, 265 (764 S.E.2d 867) (2014).

         2. Qualified ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.