United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division
STAN BAKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Alicia Butler filed this case in the Superior Court of
Tattnall County, seeking damages for injuries she sustained
while working as a nurse at Georgia State
Prison. (Doc. 1-1.) Defendants removed the case to
this Court. (Doc. 1.) Presently before the Court are
Defendants' Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Docs.
4, 7.) The Georgia Department of Corrections, the Board of
Regents of the University System of Georgia, Georgia
Correctional Healthcare, Georgia State Prison, and Georgia
Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental
Disabilities filed the first motion, (doc. 4), and Marty
Allen, individually and as the Warden of Georgia State
Prison, Stanley Williams, and Timothy Ward, filed the second,
(doc. 7). Plaintiff filed responses in opposition, (docs. 8,
11), and Defendants filed replies, (docs. 13, 16). For the
reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS
both Motions, (docs. 4, 7), and DIRECTS the
Clerk of Court to enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal
and to CLOSE this case.
Alicia Butler (at times, “Ms. Butler”) filed this
action in May of 2018 against the Georgia Department of
Corrections, the Board of Regents of the University System of
Georgia, Georgia Correctional Healthcare, Georgia State
Prison, and Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and
Developmental Disabilities (collectively, the “State
Agency Defendants”), Stanley Williams, Timothy Ward,
and Marty Allen,  requesting relief under Georgia law and 42
U.S.C. § 1983 for injuries sustained while she was
working as a nurse at Georgia State Prison. (Doc. 1-1, p. 4.)
On June 5, 2016, an unsupervised and unrestrained inmate
entered the “pill room” where Ms. Butler was
working by herself. (Doc. 11, pp. 1-2.) The inmate attacked
Plaintiff, pulled down her tights, and urinated on her.
(Id.) Ms. Butler was unconscious when she was
eventually discovered by a corrections officer in the pill
room. (Id.) Georgia Department of Corrections policy
requires four nurses and five security officers to be on duty
in the medical area, but on the day of the attack, the area
was staffed by one security officer and two other nurses.
(Doc. 1-1, pp. 9-10.)
Butler seeks damages for the injuries caused by this attack.
In Count I of her Complaint, she argues that Defendants are
liable for negligence because they failed to provide adequate
security, staffing, and supervision of inmates, resulting in
her assault. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 11-12.) In Count II of her
Complaint, Plaintiff claims that Defendants Williams and
Ward, “acting under color of law as officers of the
Georgia Department of Corrections and Georgia State Prison,
created the very danger that led to [her] injuries, by
allowing [the inmate] access to [the] medical area without
any supervision by a single correctional officer and without
constraint of handcuffs, leg cuffs, or physically restrained
in any way.” (Doc. 1-1, pp. 12-13.) She alleges that,
as a result of this conduct by Defendants Williams and Ward,
“Defendants deprived [her] of her rights, privileges
and immunities under the laws and the Constitution of the
United States.” (Id. at pp. 13-14.) Plaintiff
also asserts claims against all Defendants for punitive
damages (Count III) and expenses of litigation pursuant to
O.C.G.A. § 13-6-11 (Count IV).
filed two separate motions for judgment on the pleadings.
(Docs. 4, 7.) In the first motion, the State Agency
Defendants argue Plaintiff's claims against them are
barred by sovereign immunity. (Doc. 4-1, p. 3.) In the other
motion, Defendants Williams, Ward and Allen (collectively,
the “Employee Defendants”) aver the claims
against them in their official capacities are prohibited by
the 11th Amendment and that qualified immunity precludes suit
against them as individuals. (Doc. 7-1, p. 4, 11.) They also
maintain that Plaintiff has not alleged facts that would
amount to a constitutional violation. (Id. at p.
11.) Additionally, Defendant Allen moves for judgment on the
pleadings because there are no specific allegations against
him in the body of the Complaint. (Id. at p. 2.)
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), “[a]fter the
pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a
party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” A
judgment on the pleadings is appropriate only “where
there are no material facts in dispute and the moving party
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Cannon
v. City of West Palm Beach, 250 F.3d 1299, 1300 (11th
Cir. 2001). A fact is “material” if it
“might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing [substantive] law.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “If a
comparison of the averments in the competing pleadings
reveals a material dispute of fact, judgment on the pleadings
must be denied.” Perez, 774 F.3d at 1335
legal standards governing Rule 12(c) are identical to those
governing Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss and require a
court to assess the same question: whether the complaint has
stated a claim for relief. Strategic Income Fund, L.L.C.
v. Spear, Leeds & Kellogg Corp., 305 F.3d 1293, 1295
n.8 (11th Cir. 2002); Roma Outdoor Creations, Inc. v.
City of Cumming, Ga., 558 F.Supp.2d 1283, 1284 (N.D.Ga.
2008). The Court “must accept the facts alleged in the
complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable
to the nonmoving party.” Cannon, 250 F.3d at
1301 (citing Mergens v. Dreyfoos, 166 F.3d 1114,
1116-17 (11th Cir. 1999)). However, “the tenet that a
court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in
a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).
complaint also must “contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, ‘to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Id. at 678
(citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007)). The plaintiff is required to plead
“factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Id. “The
plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability
requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
Id. “The complaint's allegations must
plausibly suggest that the [plaintiff] has a right to relief,
raising that possibility above a ‘speculative
level,' if they do not, the plaintiff's complaint
should be dismissed.” See Boyd v. Peet, 249
Fed.Appx. 155, 157 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555, 569 n.14).
seek judgment on the pleadings on Plaintiff's negligence
claim, arguing they are entitled to sovereign immunity. (Doc.
4.) Plaintiff urges that Defendants' immunity has been
waived by the Georgia Tort Claims Act (“GTCA”).
(Doc. 8.) While it is not entirely clear whether Plaintiff
intended to assert her claim for negligence against all
Defendants or only the State Agency Defendants, the Court
construes the Complaint in the light most favorable to
Plaintiff and thus addresses the claim as if it was asserted
against all Defendants. Accordingly, the Court must address
the effect of immunity principles and the GTCA on each
category of Defendants.
The State Agency Defendants
the Eleventh Amendment, states and arms of the state are
immune from suit without their consent. Ga. Ports Auth.
v. Lawyer, No. S17G1951, --- S.E.2d ---, 2018 WL
5668518, at *5 (Ga. 2018). “[A]bsent a waiver of
Eleventh Amendment immunity by the state or a valid
abrogation by Congress, the Court lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction to entertain the claim . . . .” McCall
v. Dep't of Human Res., 176 F.Supp.2d 1355, 1361
(M.D. Ga. 2001). The Georgia Constitution likewise extends
sovereign immunity to the state's departments and
agencies and explicitly provides that this immunity can only
be waived by an act of legislation. Ga. Const. art. I, §
II, para. IX(e). The Georgia Constitution allows the Georgia
General Assembly to waive the state's sovereign immunity
by enacting a State Tort Claims Act. Ga. Const. art. I,
§ II, para. IX(a).
to that power, the General Assembly enacted the Georgia Tort
Claims Act (“GTCA”), O.C.G.A. §§
50-21-20 to -37, which waives “sovereign immunity for
the torts of state officers and employees while acting within
the scope of their official duties or employment.”
Notably, however, the GTCA includes statutorily-enumerated
exceptions to this waiver. O.C.G.A. § 50-21-23(a).
See also O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24 (providing 13
categories of exceptions). One such exception is the
“assault and battery” exception, which retains
immunity “for losses resulting from” assault or
battery. O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24(7). The parties disagree
over whether this exception applies to the case at hand.
(Doc. 8 at pp. 5-8.)
assault and battery exception “is not limited in
application to acts taken by a State officer or employee but
covers all losses resulting from the torts enumerated
therein.” Youngblood v. Gwinnett Rockdale Newton
Cmty. Serv. Bd.. 545 S.E.2d 875, 878 (Ga. 2001).
Therefore, in determining whether the assault and battery
exception applies, “the focus is not on the government
action taken or the duty allegedly breached by the
government, but on the act causing the underlying loss,
” regardless of who committed the act. Chin Pak v.
Ga. Dep't of Behavioral Health & Developmental
Disabilities, 731 S.E.2d 384, 385 (Ga.Ct.App. 2012)
(citation omitted) (finding the assault and battery exception
applied to a state agency that was allegedly negligent in
discharging a woman from its psychiatric facility who then
lit her mother on fire).
Youngblood, the plaintiff sued a state entity for
negligence after her mentally disabled daughter was assaulted
while living in a residential home sponsored by the state
entity. 545 S.E.2d at 876. The Supreme Court of Georgia found
that because the act causing Plaintiff's loss-the beating
of her daughter-constituted battery, “the exception in
O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24(7) to the waiver of sovereign
immunity applie[d], ” and the state entity was immune
from suit for any alleged negligence that may have occurred
prior to the loss. Id. at 878.
Butler argues that the State Agency Defendants' negligent
staffing was the “direct and proximate cause” of
her injuries, (doc. 8, pp. 6-8), but this assertion misses
the mark. Here, just as in Youngblood, the acts
causing the underlying loss-the attack and attempted rape of
Ms. Butler-constitute assault and battery, and the exception
in O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24(7) necessarily
applies.See, e.g., Southerland v. Ga.
Dep't of Corr., 666 S.E.2d 383, 385 (Ga.Ct.App.
2008) (finding a state agency was entitled to sovereign
immunity where a prison failed to follow housing procedures
and an inmate was murdered by his cell-mate). The
Defendants' purported failure to properly staff the
medical area “produced no loss to [Ms. Butler]; it was
the [prisoner's] independent tort, one specific in
O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24(7), that resulted in [Ms.
Butler's] injury and damages.” Dept. of Human
Resources v. Hutchinson, 456 S.E.2d 642, 72 (Ga.Ct.App.
1995); Strozier v. Butts, No. 6:15-CV-34, 2015 WL
9948813, at *5 (S.D. Ga. Dec. 16, 2015), report and
recommendation adopted, No. 6:15-CV-34, 2016 WL 410034 (S.D.
Ga. Feb. 2, 2016) (dismissing inmate's state law claims
against prison officials base on attack by fellow inmate,
“even though the assault and battery was inflicted by
someone other than the state officer or employee, because the
act causing the underlying loss constituted a battery (i.e.,
the beating of the decedent by a fellow inmate), O.C.G.A.
§ 50-21-24(7)'s ...