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Martin v. Monroe County

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

December 13, 2018

MICKA MARTIN, Plaintiff,
MONROE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.



         The Defendants jointly move to dismiss the Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Monroe County, to dismiss the state law claims against all Defendants in their official capacities, and to substitute Sheriff Shackelford for former Sheriff Bittick on the official-capacity claims against former Sheriff Bittick. For the following reasons, Defendant Monroe County's motion to dismiss (Doc. 18) is GRANTED, and all claims against it are DISMISSED with prejudice. The other Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 18) is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Micka Martin brings this suit following an alleged beating by William Jackson, a Deputy of the Monroe County Sheriff's Department. Doc. 1. According to the Plaintiff, she was arrested and brought to the Monroe County jail by Jackson. Id. ¶ 18. She was highly intoxicated and placed in handcuffs. Id. ¶ 19. Then, following a verbal altercation, Jackson shoved her into a wall and slapped, punched, kicked, and elbowed her, injuring the Plaintiff's face and head. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. Defendants Brown and Lopez, employees of the Sheriff's Department, allegedly helped Jackson put the Plaintiff in a full-body restraint, but did not intervene in Jackson's beating of her. Id. ¶¶ 9, 10, 22. According to the Plaintiff, a jail officer attempted to restrain Defendant Jackson, but Brown prevented him from doing so. Id. ¶ 23. Following the beating, the Plaintiff alleges she was denied medical care by Defendant Prescott, who is a nurse, and by other jail staff, which worsened her injuries. Id. ¶¶ 24-25.

         The Plaintiff brings the following claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: use of excessive force, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, by Defendants Jackson, Brown, and Lopez (Id. ¶¶ 31-35); deprivation of medical treatment by all Defendants (Id. ¶ 41); and failure to train and promulgation of policies, customs, and procedures causing the excessive force and deprivation of medical care, against Defendant Monroe County and Defendant Bittick, the Sheriff of Monroe County (Id. ¶¶ 7, 46). She also brings state law claims against Monroe County and Bittick for negligent retention (Id. ¶ 49); against Jackson for battery (Id. ¶ 51); and against Jackson, Brown, Lopez, and unidentified defendants for negligence (Id. ¶ 55). She requests punitive damages against Jackson, Brown, and Lopez, and she claims entitlement to attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Id. ¶¶ 60, 62. Apparently, all claims against the individual Defendants are brought in both their individual and official capacities.[1] Id. ¶ 17.


         A. Standard

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a pleading contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To avoid dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to “‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “At the motion to dismiss stage, all well-pleaded facts are accepted as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Garfield v. NDC Health Corp., 466 F.3d 1255, 1261 (11th Cir. 2006) (quotation marks and citation omitted). However, “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). “[C]onclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal.” Oxford Asset Mgmt., Ltd. v. Jaharis, 297 F.3d 1182, 1188 (11th Cir. 2002). The complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Where there are dispositive issues of law, a court may dismiss a claim regardless of the alleged facts. Marshall Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993).

         B. Analysis

         1. Claims against Monroe County

         Defendant Monroe County argues it should be dismissed because it is not responsible for the actions of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office. Doc. 18-1 at 3. It argues the sheriff's office and the county are different, independent constitutional entities. Id. at 3-4. Further, Monroe County argues, counties in Georgia do not have control over sheriff's offices. Id. The Court agrees.

         As the Plaintiff notes in her response, counties may be sued under § 1983 for their constitutional violations. Doc. 20 at 2; Knight v. Miami-Dade Cty., 856 F.3d 795, 819 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978)). To establish that a county carried out a constitutional violation, “a plaintiff ‘must identify either (1) an officially promulgated county policy or (2) an unofficial custom or practice of the county shown through the repeated acts of a final policymaker for the county.'” Id. (quoting Grech v. Clayton Cty., 335 F.3d 1326, 1329 (11th Cir. 2003)). Unless an official county policy exists, the plaintiff “must show that the county has authority and responsibility over the governmental function in issue and must also identify those officials who speak with final policymaking authority for that local governmental entity.” Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted). On the other hand, “[counties] can never be liable under § 1983 for the acts of those whom the local government has no authority to control.” Turquitt v. Jefferson Cty., 137 F.3d 1285, 1292 (11th Cir. 1998). Whether an official is acting as a policymaker for the State or for the county depends on the function the official is serving and “on the definition of the official's functions under relevant state law.” McMillian v. Monroe Cty., 520 U.S. 781, 785-86 (1997) (citation omitted).

         A sheriff's office is an independent entity not subject to the control of the county in which it is located. Bd. of Comm'rs of Spalding Cty. v. Stewart, 284 Ga. 573, 574, 668 S.E.2d 644, 645 (2008) (citation omitted) (upholding an injunction preventing county from interfering in the provision of medical care); see Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304, 1322 (11th Cir. 2003) (en banc); Lake v. Skelton, 840 F.3d 1334, 1339 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 138 S.Ct. 1549 (2018). County officials outside the sheriff's office do not, therefore, make policy for the sheriff's office. The Plaintiff has no meaningful response to this argument. See Doc. 20 at 2-3. Accordingly, Defendant Monroe County's motion to dismiss (Doc. 18) is GRANTED.

         2. State law claims against the ...

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