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Doe v. Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice

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

March 25, 2019

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff claims that a correctional officer at the Muscogee County Youth Detention Center (“MYDC”) sexually assaulted him while he was in custody. He brings this action against the correctional officer in the officer's individual and official capacities. He also asserts claims against the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (the “Department”) and its commissioner, Avery D. Niles, and the MYDC and its Director, Marvin Menefee. The claims against Niles and Menefee are brought against them only in their official capacities. Plaintiff alleges violations of his federal and state constitutional rights. He brings his federal claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Department, the MYDC, Niles, and Menefee filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against them based on Eleventh Amendment immunity. For the following reasons, the Court grants their motion (ECF No. 5).


         “To survive a motion to dismiss” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, 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)). The complaint must include sufficient factual allegations “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In other words, the factual allegations must “raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of” the plaintiff's claims. Id. at 556. But “Rule 12(b)(6) does not permit dismissal of a well-pleaded complaint simply because ‘it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable.'” Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).


         Plaintiff alleges the following facts. The Court must accept these allegations as true for purposes of the pending motion.

         In September 2016, Plaintiff was housed in the MYDC, a juvenile detention center that detains juveniles charged with committing delinquent acts. Compl. ¶¶ 10-12, ECF No. 1. The Department operates Georgia's juvenile detention centers like the MYDC. Id. ¶ 2. Niles is the Commissioner of the Department, and Menefee is the Director of the MYDC. Id. ¶¶ 3, 5. “There have been high levels of sexual and other assaults at [the Department] and [the MYDC].” Id. ¶ 17.

         While Plaintiff was housed in the MYDC, an MYDC correctional officer, Phoenicia Hill, sexually assaulted Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 11. “[The Department] and [the MYDC] had actual knowledge of [the officer's] improper behavior on its premises against [Plaintiff] and other juveniles.” Id. ¶ 18.


         It is undisputed for purposes of the present motion that the Department and the MYDC are agencies of the state of Georgia. It is also well established that Plaintiff's claim against Niles in his official capacity is considered a claim against the Department and that Plaintiff's claim against Menefee in his official capacity is considered a claim against MYDC. See Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 776 (11th Cir. 1991)(per curiam)(noting that a § 1983 suit against an officer in his or her official capacity is “another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent” (quoting Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985))). The issue to be decided is whether the Department and the MYDC are “arms of the state” for Eleventh Amendment purposes.

         The Eleventh Amendment “bars suits brought in federal court when the State itself is sued [or] when an ‘arm of the State' is sued” unless the state voluntarily waives its Eleventh Amendment immunity or Congress clearly abrogates it. Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2003)(en banc); Cross v. Alabama, 49 F.3d 1490, 1502 (11th Cir. 1995). Congress did not abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity in § 1983 cases, Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 345 (1979), and Georgia has not voluntarily waived its immunity. See Ga. Const. art. 1, § II, ¶ IX(f)(“No waiver of sovereign immunity under this Paragraph shall be construed as a waiver of any immunity provided to the state or its Departments, agencies, officers, or employees by the United States Constitution.”).[1] Therefore, if the Department and the MYDC are considered the state or “arms of the state, ” they are immune from Plaintiff's § 1983 claims.[2]

         The Court finds that, under Georgia law, the Department is an arm of the state with regard to the detention of youth offenders. See Willis v. Ga. Dept. of Juvenile Justice, No. 7:05-CV-59 (HL), 2007 WL 2782509, at *4-*5 (M.D. Ga. Sept. 21, 2007)(reaching this conclusion by thoroughly analyzing Georgia law). The MYDC is a juvenile detention facility that is under the jurisdiction of the Department so it, too, is an arm of the state. O.C.G.A. § 49-4A-5(a)(“[J]urisdiction over . . . juvenile detention facilities is vested in the [D]epartment.”); see Lovelace v. Dekalb Cent. Prob., 144 Fed.Appx. 793, 794 n.1 (11th Cir. 2005)(per curiam)(finding that claims against the Dekalb County Central Probation were barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity because it was “part of the Department of Corrections” which was a state entity). Therefore, the Department, the MYDC, and Niles and Menefee in their official capacities are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Accordingly, these Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.[3]


         Defendant Hill seeks to stay these proceedings while she remains under threat of criminal prosecution for the actions giving rise to this civil action. The Court finds that a temporary stay is appropriate but that the stay shall not be indefinite and shall not apply to all pretrial proceedings. Counsel for the parties shall present a proposed joint scheduling order by April 19, 2019 that provides deadlines for pretrial matters that will not prejudice Defendant Hill's rights in a criminal proceeding.[4] The proposed scheduling order should also include a termination date for any ...

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