DILLARD, C. J., RAY and SELF, JJ.
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.
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.
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
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."
service was perfected upon the School District and Lewis,
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.
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).
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).
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).