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Bowen v. Telfair County School District

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

September 17, 2019

JEFFREY BOWEN; LEIGH BOWEN; and TYLER BOWEN, Plaintiffs,
v.
TELFAIR COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT d/b/a TELFAIR COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL; MATTHEW BURLESON; MEADOWS REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER d/b/a MEADOWS HEALTHCARE RESOURCES, INC. and MEADOWS SPORTS MEDICINE; STEPHANIE MOODY; and JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          ORDER

          J. RANDAL HALL, CHIEF JUGDE.

         Presently before the Court are Defendants' Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 15) and Plaintiff's Motion for Hearing on Defendants' motion (Doc. 23) . For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the motion for judgment on the pleadings and DENIES the motion for hearing.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of Plaintiff Tyler Bowen's injuries sustained as a member of Telfair County High School's football team. (Compl., Doc. 1, Ex. 2.) While playing in a football game on September 9, 2016, Tyler suffered a concussion. The football team's coach and Telfair County High School employee, Matthew Burleson, allowed Tyler to continue playing after Tyler exhibited symptoms of a concussion. (Id. ¶¶ 7-13.) Tyler then suffered more blows to the head during the game. A doctor later diagnosed Tyler with a concussion, his symptoms including cognitive impairment, memory alteration, mood swings, diminished academic ability, and reduced ability to complete everyday activities. (Id. ¶¶ 11-12.)

         Plaintiffs sued in state court naming Matthew Burleson and Telfair County School District ("TCSD") as two defendants among others. Plaintiffs assert negligence and intentional tort claims in addition to a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. The case was removed to this Court on October 31, 2018. (Doc. 1.) Now, Defendants Matthew Burleson and TCSD move for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). (Doc. 15.) Plaintiffs also move for a hearing on Defendants' motion. The Court will address each in turn.

         II. MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

         A. Legal Standard

         The legal standards applicable to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) motions for judgment on the pleadings and Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss are the same. Carbone v. Cable News Network, Inc. 910 F.3d 1345, 1350 (11th Cir. 2018). A motion for judgment on the pleadings does not test whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail on the merits of the case. Rather, it tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Scheur v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), abrogated on other grounds by Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183, 191 (1984). Therefore, the court must accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint and construe all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Hoffman-Pugh v. Ramsey, 312 F.3d 1222, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002). The court, however, need not accept the complaint's legal conclusions as true, only its well-pleaded facts. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-79 (2009).

         A complaint must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, *to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Io\ 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. Although there is no probability requirement at the pleading stage, "something beyond [a] mere possibility . . . must be alleged." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557-58 (citing Durma Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005)). When, however, based on a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations of the complaint will support the cause of action, dismissal of the complaint is appropriate. See Executive 100, Inc. v. Martin Cty., 922 F.2d 1536, 1539 (11th Cir. 1991).

         B. Discussion

         Defendants' motion is based on three arguments: 1) Matthew Burleson has qualified immunity for the § 1983 claim against him; 2) TCSD has sovereign immunity under the Georgia Constitution for the state law claims against it; and 3) Burleson has official immunity under the Georgia Constitution for the state law claims against him in his individual capacity.

         1. Qualified Immunity as to the § 1983 Claim

         Qualified immunity offers complete protection to government officials acting in their discretionary capacity when sued in their individual capacities so long as their conduct does not violate clearly established law. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 815-18 (1982). An official acts within his or her discretionary authority when the "objective circumstances . . . compel the conclusion that his actions were undertaken pursuant to the performance of his duties and within the scope of his authority." Courson v. McMillian, 939 F.2d 1479, 1487 (11th Cir. 1991) (quotation omitted). Burleson was acting within his discretionary authority here; there is nothing in the Complaint alleging that Burleson was acting outside his authority, and Plaintiff alleges Burleson was an employee of TCSD acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the alleged injury. (Compl. ¶ 14.)

         To overcome qualified immunity a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) that the official's conduct violated a statutory or constitutional right and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct. Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 715 (11th Cir. 2010); see also Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232-36 (2009) (holding that courts have ...


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