United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division
captioned matter, Defendants Johnny Smith and Laurens County
have moved for judgment on the pleadings as to all of
Plaintiff's federal and state law claims arising out an
altercation between Defendant Smith and Plaintiff Ronald
August 3, 2015, Plaintiff, a pre-trial detainee, was escorted
unrestrained through the Laurens County Jail by a Laurens
County Sheriff's Deputy, Defendant Johnny
Smith. The subject incident that occurred between
Plaintiff and Defendant Smith is captured on a videotape.
Plaintiff claims not only that the altercation was
unnecessary, excessive and provoked by Defendant Smith, he
also claims to have severely injured his back during the
incident, an injury to which Defendants were deliberately
indifferent. Thus, Plaintiff has asserted federal claims of
excessive force and deliberate indifference under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and state law claims of failure to provide
medical care, negligence and battery.
removed Plaintiff's case to this Court on October 25,
2017. On November 1, 2017, Defendants filed the present
motion for judgment on the pleadings and an answer to the
complaint. Defendants attached to their answer
Plaintiff's medical records from the Laurens County Jail
as well as the videotape. (Ans., Doc. No. 4, Exs. 3 & 4.)
Defendants also sought and received a stay of this action
pending a ruling on the motion for judgment on the pleadings.
(See Order of Nov. 6, 2017, Doc. No. 8.) Thus, no
discovery has been conducted in the case.
motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(c), like a motion to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6), does not test whether the plaintiff will ultimately
prevail on the merits of the case. Rather, it tests the legal
sufficiency of the complaint. Scheur v. Rhodes, 416
U.S. 232, 236 (1974). "Judgment on the pleadings is
appropriate only when the plaintiff can prove no set of facts
in support of his claim which would entitle him to
relief." Horslev v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125, 1131
(11th Cir. 2002) (quoted source omitted). In
consideration of the motion, the Court must accept as true
all facts alleged in the complaint and construe all
reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. See Hoffman-Puah v. Ramsey, 312 F.3d
1222, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002). Motions for judgment
on the pleadings "have their most utility when 'all
material allegations of fact are admitted in the pleadings
and only questions of law remain."' Mathis v.
Velsicol Chem. Corp., 786 F.Supp. 971, 973 (N.D.Ga.
1991) (quoting 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller,
Federal Practice and Procedure § 1367, at 510 (1990)).
case at bar, Defendants' motion does not attack the
sufficiency of Plaintiff's complaint per se;
rather, Defendants claim that the video and medical records
attached to their answer demonstrate, as a matter of law,
that Plaintiff cannot establish his claims and that they are
entitled to certain immunity defenses. Stated another way,
Defendants ask the Court to review the video and the medical
records and declare from the facts established by these
materials that their conduct was lawful in all respects.
considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court
will consider only "the substance of the pleadings and
any judicially noticed facts." Hawthorne v. Mac
Adjustment, Inc., 140 F.3d 1367, 1370
(11th Cir. 1998). To determine what is part of the
pleadings, the Eleventh Circuit follows an
"incorporation by reference" rule whereby a
document attached to an answer may be considered if it is (1)
central to the plaintiff's claim, and (2) undisputed.
Horsley, 304 F.3d at 1134. With respect to the
video, it is true that Plaintiff alleges in his complaint
that the "relevant interactions between Plaintiff and
Defendant Smith was video recorded." (Compl., Doc. No.
1-1, 112.) However, the video is not central to his claims
because Plaintiff can state a claim for excessive force
regardless of whether the altercation was video recorded or
not. The same can be said of the medical records.
Plaintiff's claim is one of a failure of care. While
medical records eventually may undermine his claim, his claim
is not in any way dependent upon the medical records. Also,
according to Plaintiff, the medical records may not be
complete; thus, the Court may not have the full picture of
Plaintiff's medical care. In short, while Defendants
attach the video and the medical records to their answer,
this Court concludes that they are matters outside of the
pleadings. Without consideration of these items, Defendants
have not shown that Plaintiff cannot state a claim for
whether an officer has used excessive force is determined by
asking "whether the officer's actions are
objectively reasonable in light of the facts and
circumstances confronting him, without regard to his
underlying intent or motivation." Zivojinovich v.
Barner, 525 F.3d 1059, 1072 (11thCir. 2008)
(quoted source omitted). The Court must assess "whether
a reasonable officer would believe that this level of force
is necessary in the situation at hand." Lee v.
Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1197 (11th Cir. 2002)
. Analysis of the reasonableness of an officer's use of
force "requires a careful balancing of 'the nature
and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth
Amendment interests' against the countervailing
governmental interests at stake." Graham v.
Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989) . The Court has viewed
the videotape several times and concludes that the claim of
excessive force boils down to less than ten seconds of
interaction between the parties. At this juncture in the
case, the Court will not make a reasonableness determination
precluding Plaintiff's claim as a matter of law based
upon this ten-second interaction alone. The procedural
mechanism of Rule 12(c) is simply not intended to resolve the
claim as presented herein.
filing of the motion is not for naught because Plaintiff
clarified the exact nature of his claims. In response to
Defendants' arguments in brief, Plaintiff responded as
Defendant Smith, while having custodial control of Plaintiff
pushed Plaintiff to start a fight with him. After seriously
injuring Plaintiff's back and causing him extreme
difficulty to move (he is now in a medical prison),
Defendants failed to provide him adequate medical care.
This amounts to state law claims against both Defendant
Laurens County and against Defendant Smith in his individual
capacity, and federal claims against Defendant Smith, for
violations of Plaintiff's federal constitutional rights.
. . .
To the extent Defendants are arguing that Plaintiff is
pursuing claims against any other entities, Defendants are
(Pl's Br. in Resp. to Defs.' Mot. for J. on the
Pleadings, Doc. No. 12, at 2.) In light of this statement,
the Court DISMISSES Defendants John Does 1-3. The Clerk is
directed to TERMINATE the John Doe Defendants in the case
because Plaintiff's federal claims of excessive force and
deliberate indifference are only against Defendant Smith,
Defendant Smith may only be sued in his individual capacity.
A suit against a sheriff's deputy in his official
capacity is a suit against the sheriff, not the county.
Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304, 1311 (11th
Cir. 2003) (en banc) . Because the Sheriff of Laurens County
is not a party to this lawsuit, Plaintiff has not stated a
federal claim against Defendant Smith in his official
capacity. Consequently, Plaintiff's federal claims of
excessive force and deliberate indifference will proceed only
against Defendant Smith in his individual capacity.
Defendants contend that Plaintiffs' claims are barred by
the applicable statute of limitation. The statute of
limitation for all of Plaintiff's claims, both state and
federal, is two years. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33 (statute of
limitation for personal injury suit is two years); Rozar
v. Mullis, 85 F.3d 556, 561 (11th Cir. 1996)
(holding that Georgia's two-year statute of limitation