United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division
NILESH S. PATEL, Plaintiff,
LANIER COUNTY, GEORGIA; CHARLES N. “NICK” NORTON, Sheriff, Lanier County Georgia, in his official, supervisory, and individual capacities; and JAMES SMITH, Deputy Sheriff, Lanier County, Georgia, in his official and individual capacities, Defendants.
LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE.
Nilesh “Neil” S. Patel filed this lawsuit against
Defendants Lanier County, Georgia, Charles N.
“Nick” Norton, and James Smith alleging
violations of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, as well as Georgia state law tort claims.
Plaintiff contends that Defendants violated his
constitutional rights by using excessive force and delaying
medical care in response to his serious medical needs.
Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed Defendants Lanier County and
Charles N. “Nick” Norton, Lanier County Sheriff
on August 20, 2018. (Doc. 51). Now before the Court is
Defendant Deputy Smith's Motion for Summary Judgment.
(Doc. 56). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's
Motion is GRANTED.
August 29, 2016, Plaintiff was arrested in Lanier County on
charges of theft by taking and criminal damage to property,
and, following his arrest in August of 2016, Plaintiff was
detained at Cook County jail for the next five weeks. (Doc.
74, ¶¶ 2-4). On October 4, 2016, Plaintiff was
transported from Cook County jail to the Lanier County
courthouse for a bond hearing. (Id. at ¶ 1). At
the hearing, Plaintiff was granted bond, but the bond order
only allowed Plaintiff to be released once a cash or property
bond in the amount of $25, 000 was posted. (Id. at
¶ 6). Plaintiff did not post bond while at the Lanier
County courthouse and had to be transported back to Cook
County jail. (Id. at ¶ 7). After the bond
hearing, Defendant Deputy Smith directed Plaintiff and other
inmates into a Lanier County Sheriff's Office transport
van. (Id. at ¶ 10). Defendant then made two
stops. First, he stopped at Berrien County jail where several
detainees exited. (Id. at ¶ 12). Next,
Defendant went to Cook County jail where Plaintiff returned
to his original cell. (Id. at ¶ 15). Shortly
thereafter, Plaintiff's name was called, and he went to
the front desk where he was told that his friend Mike had
posted a transfer property bond for him using property
located in Clinch County as surety. (Id. at ¶
County Sheriff's Office then contacted Defendant to
inform him that an individual had posted bond for Patel and
that he needed to be transferred back to Lanier County
Sheriff's Office to finish his bond paperwork for
release. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-20). Defendant
informed the caller from Lanier County that he had inmates in
the van that needed to be transferred to the Lowndes County
jail before returning Plaintiff to Lanier County.
(Id. at ¶ 21). The caller from Lanier County
agreed because another inmate needed to be transported from
Lowndes County jail to Lanier County Sheriff's Office.
(Id. at ¶ 22).
changed into his own clothes, was loaded into the back
compartment of the van, and the van departed from Cook County
jail. (Id. at ¶ 23). Defendant parked the van
in the sally port at Lowndes County jail at 2:53 p.m. (Doc.
72, ¶ 18). Defendant turned off the van and proceeded to
unload inmates from the van's middle and rear
compartments. (Id. at ¶ 19). Once the inmates
were unloaded, Defendant escorted the other inmates inside
the jail and left Plaintiff locked inside the van.
(Id. at ¶ 21). The windows were rolled up;
however, there is a dispute of fact as to whether Defendant
left the ventilation fans on inside the van. (Doc. 74, ¶
27). The outside temperature was approximately 85 degrees
Fahrenheit. (Id. at ¶ 26). Defendant returned
to the van fifty-five minutes later with the inmate he was to
transport to Lanier County, Brittney Grant. (Id. at
¶ 28). After Defendant opened the side door of the van
to allow Grant to get into the van, Defendant then walked to
the back of the van to open the two rear doors. (Id.
at ¶ 29). Defendant found Plaintiff “sitting on
the bench towards the back door, leaned up, ” and
appearing to be asleep. (Doc. 65, 58:1-2). Defendant
testified that Plaintiff “had some sweat on his
forehead, ” but he did not seem to be breathing
heavily. (Id. at 59:23-60:2). When Plaintiff did not
respond to Defendant calling his name, Defendant performed a
sternum rub. (Id. at 58:9-18). Defendant testified
that once revived, Plaintiff told Defendant he had passed out
from the heat. (Id. at 58:19-24). Plaintiff then
asked Defendant for a bottle of water. (Id. at
60:8-10; Doc. 61, 34:3-4). Defendant testified that he did
not have any bottles of water with him and offered to stop at
a store on the way to purchase water for the Plaintiff, but
Plaintiff “threw up his hand and  said, no, let's
just go.” (Doc. 65, 60:12-17). Plaintiff testified that
he does not remember Defendant's response to his request
for water or that he told Defendant to continue on instead of
stopping to get water. (Doc. 61, 34:1-16).
left Lowndes County jail at 3:58 p.m. for Lanier County
Sheriff's Office in Lakeland, Georgia. (Doc. 72, ¶
56). When the parties arrived at Lanier County Sheriff's
Office at 4:20 p.m., Defendant found Plaintiff laying on the
floor of the van. (Doc. 74, ¶ 35; Doc. 65, 61:13-18).
The parties dispute whether Plaintiff was unconscious at the
time Defendant saw Plaintiff laying on the floor of the van.
(Doc. 74, ¶ 36). Plaintiff advised Defendant that he had
passed out again during the drive. (Id.). However,
Plaintiff then got out of the van and was able to walk
without assistance into Lanier County Sheriff's Office.
(Doc. 56, ¶¶ 38-39). Cameras in Lanier County
Sheriff's Office hallway and holding room capture the
events that unfolded next on video. (see Def.'s
Mot. Summ. J. Ex. L).
in the hallway of Lanier County Sheriff's Office,
Plaintiff stopped to get a cup of water from the water cooler
before entering Lanier County Sheriff's Office holding
room at 4:22 p.m. (Ex. L “Hall, ” 00:00:35). As
Plaintiff stopped to get water Defendant followed Grant into
the holding room, leaving Plaintiff in the hallway.
(Id.). Plaintiff then entered the holding room where
he and Grant sat in chairs while waiting for Defendant to
return with their paperwork. (Id. at 00:01:14).
Defendant reentered the room at 4:23 p.m. (Id. at
00:01:37). The video shows that once Defendant came back into
the holding room with Plaintiff's paperwork, Plaintiff
appeared sitting upright in the chair, talked to Defendant,
and signed the paperwork given to him by Defendant. During
the exchange, there are a few instances where Plaintiff
appeared to be breathing heavily. (Id. at 00:01:54).
Defendant then exited the room again, and at this time
Plaintiff visibly declined: he began breathing rapidly,
leaned his head back with his eyes closed, and his mouth
opened and closed in quick succession. (Id. at
00:03:54). Grant used a shirt to dab Plaintiff's face,
neck, and head and splashed his face with water.
(Id. at 00:04:23). Defendant then returned to the
holding room, where, as he testified in his deposition, he
observed Plaintiff shaking and saw his nose was running.
(Doc. 65, 76:22-77:2). Defendant put on gloves, walked over
to Plaintiff, and appeared to check his vital signs. (Ex. L
“A&B, ” 00:06:52). Paramedics arrived at 4:31
p.m. and began immediately assisting Plaintiff. (Id.
at 00:10:28). Plaintiff was then transported to South Georgia
Medical Center in Valdosta. (Doc. 74, ¶ 46). Plaintiff
was diagnosed and treated for heat exhaustion, heat syncope,
dehydration, and panic attack. (Id.).
filed this lawsuit asserting constitutional violations for
use of excessive force and failure to provide medical care
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff also
asserts state law claims of intentional infliction of
emotional distress and negligence. (Id.). Defendant
moves the Court to grant summary judgment in his favor
because Plaintiff's claims both fail on the merits and
are barred by qualified and official immunity.
Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. 73) withdraws his claims against
Defendant in his official capacity. Thus, the only remaining
claims for the Court's consideration against Defendant
Smith in his individual capacity are the following: (1)
§ 1983 claim for excessive force; (2) § 1983 claim
for failure to provide medical care; (3) intentional
infliction of emotional distress; (4) negligence; (5)
attorney fees; and (6) punitive damages.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
shall grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “When the nonmoving party
has the burden of proof at trial, the moving party is not
required to ‘support its motion with affidavits or
other similar material negating the opponent's
claim.'” United States v. Four Parcels of Real
Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (emphasis in
original) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party “simply may
show . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support
the nonmoving party's case.” Id. at 1438
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). If the
movant meets this burden, the burden shifts to the party
opposing summary judgment to go beyond the pleadings and
present specific evidence showing that there is a genuine
issue of material fact, or that the movant is not entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at
323. This evidence must consist of more than conclusory
allegations. See Avirgan v. Hull, 932 F.2d 1572,
1577 (11th Cir. 1991).
determining whether a genuine dispute of material fact
exists, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be
believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in
his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citation omitted). A material fact
is any fact relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit,
and a factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is
such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Id. at 248. Summary judgment
must be entered “against a party who fails to make a
showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element
essential to that party's case, and on which that party
will bear the burden of proof at trial.”
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.
argues he is entitled to qualified immunity as to the
excessive force and deliberate indifference claims, and
official immunity as to the state law claims. The Court
immunity offers complete protection for individual public
officials performing discretionary functions ‘insofar
as their conduct does not violate clearly established
statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable
person would have known.'” Sherrod v.
Johnson, 667 F.3d 1359, 1363 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)).
When properly applied, it protects ‘all but the plainly
incompetent or those who knowingly violate the
law.'” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731,
743 (2011) (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335,
341 (1986)). “Once discretionary authority is
established, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff to show
that qualified immunity does not apply.” Edwards v.
Shanley, 666 F.3d 1289, 1294 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Lewis v. City of W. Palm Beach, 561 F.3d 1288, 1291
(11th Cir. 2009)). To meet this burden, a plaintiff must
establish that “the officer's conduct amounted to a
constitutional violation” and “the right violated
was ‘clearly established' at the time of the
violation.” City of W. Palm Beach, 561 F.3d at
1291. This two-step analysis may be completed in whatever
order is deemed most appropriate for the case. Manners v.
Cannella, 891 F.3d 959, 968 (11th Cir. 2018) (quoting
District of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S.Ct. 577, 589
clearly established law must provide a defendant with
“fair warning” that his conduct deprived the
plaintiff of a constitutional right. Hope v. Pelzer,
536 U.S. 730, 739-41 (2002). A plaintiff “can
demonstrate that the contours of the right were clearly
established in several ways.” Terrell v.
Smith, 668 F.3d 1244, 1255 (11th Cir. 2012). First, a
plaintiff can show that “a materially similar case has
already been decided.” Id. (internal quotation
marks and citations omitted). Second, a plaintiff can point
to a “broader, clearly established principle [that]
should control the novel facts [of the] situation.”
Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
“Finally, the conduct involved in the case may
‘so obviously violate th[e] constitution that prior
case law is unnecessary.'” Id. (citation
omitted). “It is not enough that the rule is suggested
by then-existing precedent.” Wesby, 138 S.Ct.
at 590. “The precedent must be clear enough that every
reasonable official would interpret it to establish the
particular rule the plaintiff seeks to apply.”
Id. “Otherwise, the rule is not one that
‘every reasonable official' would know.”
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
argues Defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity
because: (1) a genuine issue of material fact exists as to
whether Defendant was acting pursuant to his discretionary
authority when the incident occurred; and (2) a genuine issue
of material fact exists as to whether Defendant violated
Plaintiff's clearly established constitutional rights.
Discretionary v. ...