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Alcocer v. Bulloch County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division

May 21, 2019

BULLOCH COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE; RANDALL NORMAN, Individually and in his Official Capacity; SHERIFF LYNN M. ANDERSON, Individually and in his Official Capacity; JAILER ASHLEY LYNN MILLS, in her Individual Capacity; CAPTAIN JOHN STATEN, in his Individual Capacity; CPT. JASON KEARNEY, in his Individual Capacity; and SGT. KENT MUNSEY, Defendants.



         This case returns to the Court after the Eleventh Circuit reversed the denial of qualified immunity to Defendants Jailer Ashley Lynn Mills[1] and Captain John Staten. The parties have submitted supplemental briefs and evidence, and the Court will now analyze Mills and Staten's qualified immunity in light of the Eleventh Circuit's Opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On September 29, 2017, the Court entered an Order granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 109.) In relevant part, the Court denied qualified immunity to Defendants Jailer Ashley Lynn Mills and Captain John Staten, finding they did not have arguable probable cause to justify continuing to detain Plaintiff after she secured a bond. (Id. at 28-31.) Mills and Staten appealed the Court's denial of qualified immunity in the Eleventh Circuit. (Notice of Appeal, Doc. 111.)

         In an Opinion filed on October 9, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the denial of qualified immunity and remanded the case with instructions to conduct an individualized analysis of Mills and Staten's actions or omissions relevant to Plaintiff's second detention. (Appeal Opinion, Doc. 116, at 14; Alcocer v. Mills, 906 F.3d 944, 952 (11th Cir 2018).) The Eleventh Circuit held, however, that the Court's September 29th Order correctly identified the Fourth Amendment as the constitutional right implicated by Plaintiff's second detention. Alcocer, 906 F.3d at 952.

         B. Factual Background

         The Court and the Eleventh Circuit already recounted the relevant facts in this case. Since remand, however, the parties submitted additional briefs, and Defendants supplemented the record with three affidavits.[2] (See Docs. 124, 125, 126, 127.) Accordingly, the Court will review the relevant facts in light of the supplemental evidence.

         On January 30, 2014, Plaintiff Judith Alcocer[3] was arrested on a misdemeanor driving with a suspended license charge. (Incident Report, Doc. 94-2, at 1.) Plaintiff was then transported to the Bulloch County Detention Center (the "Jail"). Defendant Jailer Ashley Lynn Mills was the booking officer tasked with processing Plaintiff into the Jail's custody. (Dep. of Ashley Lynn Mills ("Mills Dep."), Doc. 100, at 8, 10.) Mills asked Plaintiff basic identifying information, such as her address, social security number, driver's license number, and place of employment. (Id. at 9-12.) Although the Inmate Information form contained a space to enter Plaintiff's place of birth, Mills did not enter this information. (See Inmate Information Form, Doc. 57-5, at 1-3.) Plaintiff was, in fact, born in Charleston, South Carolina. (Birth Certificate, Doc. 103.) It was the Jail's policy to fully complete Inmate Information forms by asking an inmate for all the required information, even when the arresting officer completed an arrest booking report. (Dep. of John Staten ("Staten Dep."), Doc. 95, at 22-23.)

         Next, Plaintiff was fingerprinted, [4] and her information was run through the National Crime Information Center ("NCIC"), the Georgia Crime Information Center ("GCIC"), and the Automated Fingerprint Identification System ("AFIS") databases. (Defs.' St. of Material Facts, Doc. 57-1, ¶ 23.) A short time later, the Jail received a fax from Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") that stated: "THIS IS NOT A GOVERNMENT DETAINER! THIS INFORMATION IS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT USE AND IS BEING PROVIDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. THIS RESPONSE IS NOT SUPPORTED BY FINGERPRINTS." (ICE Message, Doc. 57-5, at 5.) A second portion of the ICE message read: "I.C.E. RECORDS INDICATE THAT THIS SUBJECT IS NOT LEGALLY IN THE UNITED STATES AND APPEARS TO BE SUBJECT TO REMOVAL PROCEEDINGS." (Id.)

         Sergeant Sandra Kirkland was the supervisor at the Jail on January 30th; she recalls the ICE message being sent in two parts. (Aff. of Sandra Kirkland ("Kirkland Aff."), Doc. 125-2, ¶¶ 3, 5.) The first part of the message was received after Plaintiff's personal information was entered into the Jail's system. (Id. ¶ 5.) The second portion of the message regarding Plaintiff being subject to removal proceedings was received a short time later after Plaintiff's fingerprints were run through the databases. (Id.; see also Aff. of John Staten ("Staten Aff."), Doc. 125-1, ¶ 11.) Although the fax confirmation sheet appears to contain a time stamp for when ICE received Plaintiff's information and a time stamp for when the fax was sent, the confirmation sheet's formatting makes it difficult to discern whether it corroborates Kirkland's affidavit.

         Mills reviewed the ICE message[5] and informed Kirkland, who instructed Mills to place a hold on Plaintiff and make a note in her file that read; "CONTACT ICE IN ATLANTA GA FOR PICK UP BEFORE RELEASING." (Inmate Information Form; Kirkland Aff., ¶ 9; Mills Dep., at 40-41.) At the time the hold was placed, Plaintiff had already secured a bond for the suspended license charge. (Dep. of Susana Hinojosa ("Hinojosa Dep."), Doc. 96, at 12.)

         Plaintiff's arrest and processing into the Jail occurred between 2:00 PM and 6:00 PM on January 30th. Mills's shift ended at 7:00 PM that day and she did not return to the Jail until after Plaintiff was released on January 31st. (Mills Dep., at 42.) The decision to place a hold on Plaintiff based on the ICE message is what the Eleventh Circuit identified as the "second detention" that implicated Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. Alcocer, 906 F.3d at 952.

         While all those events were occurring, Plaintiff sister, Susana Hinojosa, was attempting to secure Plaintiff's release. Hinojosa, on the advice of unidentified Jail staff, [6] secured a $2, 000.00 bond from a nearby bonding company. (Hinojosa Dep., at 10-12; Bond, Doc. 57-5, at 21-22.) While awaiting her sister's release at the Jail, Hinojosa was informed by the bonding company that Plaintiff was subject to an ICE hold preventing her release. (Hinojosa Dep., at 12.) Hinojosa asked the Jail staff about the ICE hold and they confirmed the hold prevented Plaintiff's release. (Id.) Hinojosa pleaded with the staff that her sister was a United States citizen who was born in South Carolina, but her efforts were largely ignored. (Id. at 12-13.) Hinojosa sought the staff's advice on how to prove her sister's citizenship, but again the staff was unhelpful. (Id. at 13-14.) Eventually, Hinojosa gave up and left the Jail for the evening. (Id. at 14.)

         The next morning, January 31st, Hinojosa repeatedly called the Jail until she was finally able to get a phone number for the ICE office in Savannah.[7] (Id. at 16.) Hinojosa called the number and eventually spoke with Agent Franks, who instructed her to take any documents proving Plaintiff's citizenship to the jail while he investigated the matter. (Id. at 20.) Hinojosa returned to the Jail around noon with Plaintiff's birth certificate, social security card, medical records, and school records. (Id. at 15, 23.) Hinojosa attempted to show the staff these documents, but, in what had become a predictable pattern, the staff refused to look at them because the ICE hold was still in effect. (Id. at 23-24.)

         At the same time, Agent Franks was attempting to resolve the issue with the Jail staff. Later in the afternoon, he called Hinojosa and informed her the Jail could not locate the ICE paperwork they used to place a hold on Plaintiff. (Hinojosa Dep., at 20-21.) Agent Franks further stated he sent a fax to the Jail instructing them to release Plaintiff. (Id. at 21.)

         Behind the scenes on January 31st, Jailer Deshaundra Toney was reviewing Plaintiff's file. (Aff. of Deshaundra Toney ("Toney Aff."), Doc. 125-3, ¶ 4.) At the direction of her supervisor, Toney called Defendant Captain John Staten, the Jail's Administrator, to discuss the Jail's policy regarding ICE detainers. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.) Staten was on vacation in Jacksonville, Florida at the time, but nevertheless took the phone call. (Staten Aff., ¶¶ 3-4.) Staten confirmed that the policy regarding detainers was "to honor an ICE detainer for a period of up to forty-eight (48) hours while awaiting ICE to take custody of the individual . . . . [I]f ICE had not taken custody within 48 hours of the receipt of the detainer, the individual must be released, if they had a bond on any other charges." (Id. ¶ 6.) At no point during the conversation did Toney relay the contents of the ICE message to Staten; the only information she provided was an ICE detainer had been issued for an individual arrested on a suspended license charge. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 7, 9; Toney Aff., ¶ 9.) Staten and Toney discussed the Jail's policy solely in the abstract.

         After the phone call, Toney made the note in Plaintiff's file stating, "PER CAPTAIN STATEN, IF I.C.E. DOES NOT SEND A HOLD ON SUBJECT BY 02/03/2014, SUBJECT CAN POST BOND. BOND IS IN FILE." (Toney Aff., ¶ 7.) Toney assumed that because the forty-eight hours would expire on the weekend, Plaintiff's release should be scheduled for the following Monday. (Id. ¶ 8.) Later that day, however, the Jail received a form from Agent Franks titled Immigration Detainer-Notice of Action, which requested the Jail "[c]ancel the detainer previously placed by this Office on 1-31-2014 [sic]." (Immigration Detainer-Notice of Action, Doc. 57-5, at 6.) Based on this form, the Jail released Plaintiff around 5:42 PM - about twenty-five hours after she arrived at the Jail. (Inmate Information Form.) These events form the basis for Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against Mills and Staten.


         The Eleventh Circuit's Opinion remanded this case for the Court to "conduct an individualized analysis of whether each defendant is entitled to qualified immunity." Alcocer, 906 F.3d at 952. That appeal was taken from the Court's September 29th Order addressing Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if "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). Facts are "material" if they could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law, and a dispute is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court must view factual disputes in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986), and must draw "all justifiable inferences in [the non-moving party's] favor." United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (internal punctuation and citations omitted).

         If the non-moving party has the burden of proof at trial, the movant may prevail at the summary judgment stage either by negating an essential element of the non-moving party's claim or by pointing to specific portions of the record that demonstrate the non-moving party's inability to meet its burden of proof at trial. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 606-08 (11th Cir. 1991). If the moving party carries the initial burden, then the burden shifts to the non-moving party "to demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment." Id. at 608. The non-moving party cannot carry its burden by relying on the pleadings or by repeating conclusory allegations contained in the complaint. Morris v. Ross, 663 F.2d 1032, 1033-34 (11th Cir. 1981). Rather, the non-moving party must respond either by affidavits or as otherwise provided by Rule 56. Finally, a genuine dispute as to a material fact is said to exist "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 4 77 U.S. at 24 8.


         Under the qualified immunity doctrine, "government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Qualified immunity allows "government officials to carry out their discretionary duties without the fear of personal liability or harassing litigation." Durruthy v. Pastor, 351 F.3d 1080, 1087 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). However, qualified immunity "does not offer protection 'if an official knew or reasonably should have known that the action he took within his sphere of official responsibility would violate the constitutional rights of the [plaintiff].'" Holmes v. Kucynda, 321 F.3d 1069, 1077 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Harlow, 457 U.S. at 815).

         Government officials bear the initial burden to show the alleged constitutional violation occurred while they were performing a discretionary function. Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002) . Here, it is undisputed that Defendants were ...

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