Johnson v. Conner et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: This cause is before the court on a 88 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Barbour County and the Barbour County Commission, and a 90 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Ryan Conner, Sonya Mayo, and George Parham. It is hereby ORDERED as follows: 1. The Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Barbour County and the Barbour County Commission is GRANTED, and judgment is entered in favor of Barbour County and the Barbour County Commission and against the Plaintiff. 2. The Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Ryan Conner, Sonya Mayo, and George Parham is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part as follows: a. Judgment is entered as to Mayo and against the Plaintiff on the claim in Count Two, and in favor of Parham and against the Plaintiff on the negligent hiring and training claim in Count Two. b. Summary Judgment is denied as to all other claims. The case will proceed to trial on the federal deliberate indifference claims in Counts Six and Seven against Mayo, t he state law negligence claim in Count One against Mayo, Parham, and Conner, and the state law claims in Count Two for negligent hiring, training, and supervision against Conner, and for negligent supervision against Parham. Signed by Honorable Judge W. Harold Albritton, III on 2/17/2015. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(dmn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
SHERRIE JOHNSON, as administratrix
of the Estate of ALQUWON JOHNSON,
RYAN CONNER; SONYA MAYO;
BARBOUR COUNTY; GEORGE PARHAM;)
BARBOUR COUNTY COMMISSION, et al., )
Case No. 2:12cv392-WHA
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This cause is before the court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Barbour County
and the Barbour County Commission (Doc. #88), and a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by
Ryan Conner, Sonya Mayo, and George Parham (collectively Athe Defendants@) (Doc. #90).
The Plaintiff filed a Complaint and two amended Complaints in the Circuit Court of
Barbour County, Alabama, Clayton Division. After the Second Amended Complaint was filed,
the Defendants filed a Notice of Removal on April 30, 2012. The court has federal question
jurisdiction over the federal claims, and supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. The
Plaintiff filed a Third Amended Complaint bringing claims for negligence (Count One); negligent
hiring, training, and supervision (Count Two); violation of state statutory law (Count Three and
Seven); violation of state statutory law (Count Four); supervisory liability (Count Five); violation
of the fourteenth amendment (Count Six); violation of the fourteenth amendment (Count Eight);
and fictitious defendants (Count Nine).
After the court ruled on Motions to Dismiss the Third Amended Complaint, the case
proceeded against Barbour County and the Barbour County Commission on federal and state law
claims in Counts Four through Eight, state law claims against Defendants Parham, Conner, and
Mayo in Counts One and Two, and federal claims of deliberate indifference against Mayo in
Counts Six and Seven. Part of the court’s ruling on the Motions to Dismiss included denying state
sovereign immunity, finding that the amended state statute did not apply.
The Defendants appealed the state sovereign immunity denial to the Eleventh Circuit Court
of Appeals. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, finding that the Defendants could not claim immunity
under amended Alabama Code § 14-6-1. (Doc. #72).
The case is now before the court on motions for summary judgment. For reasons to be
discussed, the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Barbour County and the Barbour County
Commission is due to be GRANTED, and the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Ryan
Conner, Sonya Mayo, and George Parham is due to be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Summary judgment is proper "if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and
the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322 (1986).
The party asking for summary judgment "always bears the initial responsibility of
informing the district court of the basis for its motion,@ relying on submissions Awhich it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. Once the moving party
has met its burden, the nonmoving party must Ago beyond the pleadings@ and show that there is a
genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.
Both the party Aasserting that a fact cannot be,@ and a party asserting that a fact is genuinely
disputed, must support their assertions by Aciting to particular parts of materials in the record,@ or
by Ashowing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute,
or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.@ Fed. R. Civ. P.
56 (c)(1)(A),(B). Acceptable materials under Rule 56(c)(1)(A) include Adepositions, documents,
electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for
purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.@
To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must do more than show that there is
some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). On the other hand, the evidence of the nonmovant must be
believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in its favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
After the nonmoving party has responded to the motion for summary judgment, the court
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).
On January 31, 2011, Alquwon Johnson, an eighteen-year-old man, was detained in the
Barbour County Jail pending trial on charges of first degree robbery.
Defendant Sonya Mayo (“Mayo”) is a corrections officer at the jail.
Conner (“Conner”) is the jail administrator.
Defendant George Parham (“Parham”) is a captain
at the jail, and reports to Conner.
On May 5, 2011, Johnson threw a television against a window within the Barbour County
He was moved to a private holding cell. While in the cell, Johnson attempted to commit
suicide by hanging himself with a bed sheet. Parham discovered Johnson, who survived the
Parham then placed Johnson on suicide watch. In his deposition, Parham states that
suicide watch means that officers checked on Johnson and logged their observations. (Doc.
#103-3 at p.65 5-8).
Parham also removed sheets, towels, and all of Johnson’s property from
(Doc. #103-3 at p. 64:14-22).
Barbour County Jail policy 11.15 states that if an inmate is a suicide risk, proper mental
health authorities should be notified and asked to do an evaluation.
was notified about Johnson’s suicide attempt.
No mental health authority
(Doc. #92-5 at p.196:15-17).
On May 8, 2011, Johnson was moved out of the holding cell to the Special Needs Unit
within the jail.
This decision was made by Conner at Parham’s recommendation.
testified that Johnson was removed from suicide watch.
Jail officials have testified that
Johnson was placed in Special Needs both because of his suicide attempt and to prevent other jail
detainees from harming him.
Conner stated in his deposition that after Johnson “tried to harm
himself, we put him in special needs to where there’s a closer watch.” (Doc. #92-4 at p.
The Special Needs Unit is a small block of four cells which has greater visibility than the
general population units.
During the time in question, Mayo was working on the second shift at the jail, from 3:00
p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Part of her duties included supervision of the Special Needs Unit.
states in an affidavit that she understands that Johnson was placed in the Special Needs Unit
because of his suicide attempt and for his safety from other inmates. (Doc. #92-2 at ¶6).
Plaintiff contends that Mayo was in charge of dispensing Johnson’s medications.
deposition indicates that she dispensed medications while she was working, but that a
prescription medication was dispensed daily at a time before her shift began.
On June 3, 2011, while he was in the Special Needs Unit, Mayo placed Johnson on
lockdown for less than 24 hours for passing a cigarette under the door, which was a rules
violation. Lockdown meant that he was placed in a cell, his cell mate was removed, and his
door was kept shut.
Mayo did not remove bedding from Johnson’s cell when she placed him on
Mayo left the jail at the end of her shift.
On June 4, 2011, at approximately 2:00 p.m. jail officer Karen McNear spoke with
When Mayo began her shift, at approximately 3:00 p.m., she was told by jail trusties
that Johnson had hanged himself.
Mayo found Johnson in his lockdown cell where he had
committed suicide by hanging himself with his bed sheet.
Some of aspects of the two pending motions for summary judgment have been conceded
by the Plaintiff. As to the Motion for Summary Judgment by Barbour County and the Barbour
County Commission, the Plaintiff states that upon reviewing the evidence and applicable case law,
she agrees that her claims against the County Defendants are due to be dismissed. (Doc. #104).
As to the Motion for Summary judgment filed by Defendants Mayo, Conner, and Parham, the
Plaintiff concedes that the Motion for Summary Judgment is due to be GRANTED as to the claim
in Count Two against Mayo. (Doc. #103 at p.14). The court has reviewed the evidentiary
materials submitted and finds no question of fact as to any material issue as to liability raised by
Barbour County and the Barbour County Commission or by Defendant Mayo regarding Count II
of the Third Amended Complaint as a ground for summary judgment. See U.S. v. One Piece of
Real Property Located at 5800 SW 74th Ave., Miami, Fla., 363 F.3d 1099, 1101 (11th Cir. 2004).
Summary judgment is, therefore, due to be GRANTED as to Barbour County and the Barbour
County Commission, and as to Mayo as to the claim in Count II.
The court now turns to the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Mayo,
Conner, and Parham as to the remainder of the Plaintiff’s claims.
Federal Claims of Deliberate Indifference
The Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the deliberate indifference claims
against Defendant Mayo on the basis of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is a protection
designed to allow government officials to avoid the expense and disruption of trial. Ansley v.
Heinrich, 925 F.2d 1339, 1345 (11th Cir.1991). As a preliminary matter, the court must
determine whether the public official was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority at
the time the allegedly wrongful acts occurred. See Rich v. Dollar, 841 F.2d 1558, 1563 (11th Cir.
1988). Once it is established that a defendant was acting within his discretionary authority, the
court must determine whether "[t]aken in a light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do
the facts alleged show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right?" Saucier v. Katz, 533
U.S. 194, 201 (2001). "[I]f a constitutional right would have been violated under the plaintiff's
version of the facts," the court must then determine "whether the right was clearly established."
Wood v. Kesler, 323 F.3d 872, 878 (11th Cir. 2003).
Requiring that a constitutional right be clearly established means that liability only attaches
if "[t]he contours of the right [violated are] sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would
understand that what he is doing violates that right." United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 270
(1997). In other words, a defendant is entitled to "fair warning" that his conduct deprived his
victim of a constitutional right. Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741 (2002). A right is considered
clearly established “when, at the time of the challenged conduct, ‘[t]he contours of [a] right are
sufficiently clear” that every “reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing
violates that right.’” Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd, 131 S. Ct. 2074, 2083 (2011) (quoting Anderson v.
Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)) (alterations in original). As the Supreme Court has
explained, “[w]e do not require a case directly on point, but existing precedent must have placed
the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.” Id.
Apparently it is conceded in this case that Mayo was acting within her discretionary
authority. Therefore, the court turns to the issue of the violation of a constitutional right.
Because Johnson was a pretrial detainee, the Plaintiff’s claim is based on the due process
clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Belcher v. City of Foley, Ala., 30 F.3d 1390, 1396 (11th
Cir.1994). “[I]n a prisoner suicide case, to prevail under section 1983 for violation of substantive
rights, under ... the ... fourteenth amendment, the plaintiff must show that the jail official displayed
‘deliberate indifference’ to the prisoner's taking of his own life.” Edwards v. Gilbert, 867 F.2d
1271, 1274–75 (11th Cir.1989). The deliberate indifference standard “requires a strong
likelihood rather than a mere possibility that the self-infliction of harm will occur.” Popham v. City
of Talladega, 908 F.2d 1561, 1563 (11th Cir.1990) (emphasis added). “[T]he mere opportunity for
suicide, without more, is clearly insufficient to impose liability on those charged with the care of
prisoners.” Cagle v. Sutherland, 334 F.3d 980, 986 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Tittle v. Jefferson
County Comm'n, 10 F.3d 1535, 1540 (11th Cir.1994)). The Plaintiff has to show that Defendant
Mayo had “(1) subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm; [and] (2) disregard[ed] ... that risk;
(3) by conduct that is more than mere negligence.” Id. at 987. Furthermore, the Plaintiff must
show that the Defendant was subjectively aware that the combination of the prisoner's suicidal
tendencies and the feasibility of suicide in the detention environment would likely lead to
self-harm. Gish v. Thomas, 516 F.3d 952, 955 (11th Cir.2008).
The Plaintiff has pointed to the evidence to establish deliberate indifference which falls
into three categories: administration of Johnson’s medication, Mayo’s knowledge of Johnson’s
suicidal tendencies, and Mayo’s violation of jail policies.
With respect to the administering of Johnson’s medicine, the Plaintiff cites to Mayo’s
deposition during which she was asked whether she ever gave Johnson any of his medications, and
she answered that she did, and that sometimes he refused his medication. (Doc. #103-1 at
p.24:9-21). In her affidavit, however, Mayo states that she dispensed Johnson’s afternoon
medication of ibuprofen, which she states he sometimes refused. (Doc. #92-2). She states that
she did not dispense the prescription Celexa to Johnson because it was distributed to him during
the morning shift. (Doc. #92-2). Mayo also states in her deposition that Celexa was given to
Johnson at 6 a.m. which was before Mayo’s shift. (Doc. #92-1 at p.36: 13-18).
The Plaintiff contends that Mayo’s testimony is inconsistent, and therefore creates a
question of fact. Mayo testified “yes” when asked if she ever gave Johnson “any” of his
medications, and later denied that she ever gave him medications, but also stated that only
ibuprofen was given during her shift. (Doc. #92-1 at p.36:6-19). Mayo also states in her
affidavit, however, that she was never informed of the purpose of Johnson’s medications, (Doc.
#92-2 at p.4), and the court has been pointed to no evidence to the contrary.
Even if there is a question of fact as to whether Mayo gave Johnson prescription medicine,
there is no evidence that Mayo was aware that Johnson had medicine for treatment of any
psychological disorder, or anything else related to a risk for suicide. Therefore, the court cannot
conclude that the evidence of Mayo’s actions regarding administration of medicine to Johnson is
evidence a subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm and disregard of that risk by Mayo.
Knowledge of Suicidal Tendencies
It apparently is undisputed that Mayo knew that Johnson had unsuccessfully attempted to
commit suicide with a bed sheet while housed in a cell in the jail in May, 2011.
While the Defendants argue that it is significant that Johnson’s previous suicide attempt
was a month before his suicide, Mayo’s knowledge of his attempt is evidence of subjective
knowledge of a suicidal tendency under Eleventh Circuit precedent. The Eleventh Circuit has
reversed a grant of summary judgment to a jailer in part because he subjectively knew that a
detainee had attempted suicide “sometime in the last month.” Snow v. City of Citronelle, Al., 420
F.3d 1262, 1270 (11th Cir. 2005).
The Plaintiff also argues that Mayo knew that Johnson was placed in the Special Needs
Unit because he had attempted to commit suicide, citing to Mayo’s deposition. In her deposition
Mayo was asked whether she had heard testified earlier that Johnson was placed in that unit
because of the suicide attempt, and she answered “yes,” and also answered “yes” when asked if
that is her understanding of where he needed to be. (Doc. #103-1 at p.30: 14-16). She was also
asked as follows: “[w]ell, we know he was put in that block because he – he attempted suicide;
right?” To which she responded, “Yes.” (Doc. #92-1 at p.63: 12-15). In her affidavit she states “I
understand that Alquwon Johnson was placed in the Unit because of his suicide attempt on May 6,
2011 and for his safety from other inmates.” (Doc. #92-2). When Conner was asked this
question in his deposition: “someone who has attempted suicide, is that – are they supposed to be
put in a special-needs unit?,” he answered, “[t]hat’s what we usually do.” (Doc. #92-4 at p. 49:
11-16). He stated that after Johnson “tried to harm himself, we put him in special needs to where
there’s a closer watch.” (Doc. #92-4 at p. 48:12-14). Parham testified in his deposition that they
placed Johnson in special needs both because he had attempted suicide and because they were
worried about him being injured by other detainees. (Doc. #92-3 at p.51: 15-21). He stated that
he was placed there so they could “check on him and make sure he was all right.” (Doc. #92-3 at
p.51: 9-12). When asked why they needed to check on Johnson, Parham agreed with the
statement that Johnson could have tried to harm himself. (Doc. #92-3 at p.53: 6-15). When
asked whether the “suicide attempt was still a concern for you,” Parham answered “[i]t always
would be.” (Doc. #92-3 at p. 51:22-52:2).
The Defendants argue that when Mayo informed Johnson that she would put him on lock
down on June 3, 2011, he did not threaten suicide or express fear or anxiety, but asked Mayo not to
take away canteen privileges and visitation with his mother, so there is no evidence to show that
Mayo, at the time she placed Johnson on lock down, thought there was a strong likelihood that
Johnson would take his own life.
Although the Defendants maintain that Johnson was taken off of suicide watch, they do not
explain what Johnson’s status was when he was placed in the Special Needs Unit. The
explanation for his placement in the Special Needs Unit in the evidence before the court is that it
was in reaction to threats from inmates, but also was in reaction to his suicide attempt. As set
forth above, jail officials described his placement in Special Needs as being in reaction to his
suicide attempt so that they could keep a close watch on him, with the recognition that he might
harm himself. Drawing all reasonable inference in favor of the non-movant, a reasonable jury
could conclude that Johnson was housed in the Special Needs Unit as a preventative measure
against suicide, because he was considered to be suicidal. The fact that there is evidence that
Johnson was taken off of official suicide watch does not remove the question of fact as to whether
Johnson was considered a suicide risk. The court concludes, therefore, that there is evidence that
Mayo subjectively knew that Johnson was a suicide risk.
The Plaintiff states that Mayo violated jail policy when she put Johnson on lock down the
night before he committed suicide. The Plaintiff points to policy 10.06 of the Barbour County
Jail, entitled Pre-Hearing Lockdown and Segregation, which says that inmates are entitled to a
disciplinary hearing, and that all pretrial lockdowns must be approved by the Shift Supervisor and
documented. The Plaintiff also states that Mayo did not complete an incident report.
The Defendants also point to jail policy and state that Mayo acted in accordance with
policy by placing Johnson on lock-down. They cite to Administrator Connor’s deposition in
which he states that jail officers “have the right, if they see a rule like that that’s broken within the
jail, they’re allowed to punish them by either lockdown or take visitation or commissary or
whatever.” (Doc. #92-4 at p. 132: 16-21).
The Plaintiff also states that Mayo violated policy 11.15 by failing to remove the
implements of suicide and by not housing him with other inmates. The Defendants argue,
however, that Johnson had been taken off of suicide watch by Mayo’s superiors and during his
time in the Special Needs Unit he had not expressed suicidal ideation or threats.
A provision of jail policy regarding “Admission and Booking of Inmates” is that a member
of the “staff shall closely monitor all persons deemed to be suicide risks.” (Doc. #92-21). The
jail policy for Suicide Prevention states that if a person is “detected to be a suicide risk,” a mental
health evaluation should be done, and until that time, the staff should closely observe the inmate.
(Doc. #92-22). Under the policy regarding Housing under Suicide Prevention, if a person has
been determined to be an “imminent danger” to himself, he should be housed “if possible” in a cell
with other inmates. If a person “displaying suicidal tendencies” is housed in an administrative
segregation cell, he should be closely monitored by a member of the staff, and if a trusty is utilized,
the staff should observe the inmate’s behavior every 15 minutes. (Doc. #92-22).
It appears to the court that the question of fact as to Johnson’s status while placed in the
Special Needs Unit means that the suicide provisions of jail policy arguably applied to Johnson.
Of course, whether or not Mayo was acting in conformity with policy is not the issue. The issue
was whether she acted with deliberate indifference. In other words, Mayo’s actions are judged
against a constitutional standard of deliberate indifference, not whether she complied with jail
policy. See, e.g., Stallworth v. Huffman, No. Civ. A. 07-0439-KD-B, 2008 WL 2858591, at *15
(S.D. Ala. July 22, 2008). The court will, therefore, consider evidence of Mayo’s actions within
Analysis of evidence under Snow
The court will consider the evidence of Mayo’s actions and knowledge within the
analytical framework used by the Eleventh Circuit’s decision Snow v. City of Citronelle, Al., 420
F.3d 1262 (11th Cir. 2005). In Snow, a jail detainee committed suicide by hanging herself in her
cell and a claim of deliberate indifference was brought against jail officials. The court found the
following factors to preclude summary judgment for one jailer on the deliberate indifference
claim: the defendant jailer was told by a jailer in another facility that the detainee had tried to cut
her wrist within the last month, the jailer told the detainee’s family that she was suicidal, the jailer
did not tell anyone at the jail that he thought the detainee was a suicide risk, the jailer did not take
actions he would have taken if he regarded someone as a suicide risk, such as removing items from
the cell, telling someone to check on her every fifteen minutes, placing the detainee in a drunk
tank, or returning her to a medical facility. Snow, 420 F.3d at 1270. Summary judgment was,
however, affirmed as to an officer who knew only that the detainee had attempted to commit
suicide at some unspecified time in the past, but who was not aware that the decedent had
expressed suicidal ideation. Id. at 1269. The court expressly stated that knowledge of a previous
suicide attempt without more was not sufficient to put that officer on notice of a strong likelihood
rather than a mere possibility that the self-infliction of harm will occur. Id.
As noted above, Mayo knew that Johnson had attempted suicide a month before his death
with a bed sheet when he was housed alone in a cell. Also as outlined above, when viewed in a
light most favorable to the non-movant, there is evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could
conclude that Johnson was placed in the Special Needs Unit because he was considered to be a
suicide risk, and that Mayo was aware of the reason for his placement. The court recognizes that
Johnson did not engage in erratic behavior when Mayo placed him on lockdown, but that does not
made the analysis is Snow inapplicable. In Snow, the Eleventh Circuit found sufficient evidence
of subjective knowledge of a strong risk that a detainee would commit suicide based on the
following: a jailer told the defendant that the detainee had tried to cut her wrist while in custody
within the last month and caused trouble, and the defendant jailer told the detainee’s parents that
the detainee was suicidal. Id. at 1270. Under Snow, viewing the evidence in a light most
favorable to the non-movant, there is sufficient evidence for a finder of fact to conclude that Mayo
had subjective knowledge of a strong risk that Johnson would commit suicide.
Also in Snow, the court also found evidence of deliberate indifference, in fact concluding
that the jailer did nothing to prevent suicide because he did not communicate his belief that the
detainee was a suicide risk and did not inform others to check on the detainee every fifteen
minutes, did not remove items from the cell with which she could have harmed herself, or take any
other actions. Id. In this case, Mayo placed Johnson in a cell by himself, did not remove items
with which he could have harmed himself, monitor him closely, or tell anyone to monitor him
closely. In other words, Mayo also did not take any action to prevent Johnson from committing
suicide. Here, as in Snow, when the facts are viewed in a light most favorable to the non-movant,
“a jury could find that [Mayo] subjectively believed that there was a strong risk that [Johnson]
would attempt suicide and deliberately did not take any action to prevent [his] suicide,” which
facts would be a constitutional violation. Id. at 1270. Furthermore, the Eleventh Circuit held in
Snow that it is clearly established that an officer’s deliberate indifference to the risk of serious
harm to a detainee is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore, summary judgment is
due to be DENIED as to the Fourteenth Amendment claim against Mayo.
State Law Claims
The Defendants move for summary judgment on the state law claims in the Third
Amended Complaint on the following grounds: as to Count One, Mayo is entitled to State-agent
immunity; as to Count Two, Mayo and Parham were not in charge of hiring, training, and did not
have supervisory status; and as to Counts One and Two, there is no evidence of proximate cause.
As earlier noted, the Plaintiff concedes that summary judgment is due to be granted as to
Mayo on Count Two. The court, therefore, turns to the grounds for summary judgment as to the
claim against Mayo in Count One, and as to Parham and Conner in Counts One and Two.
A. State Law Claim in Count One against Mayo
As to the claim in Count One, the Defendants argue that Mayo is entitled to State-agent
immunity. In order to claim State-agent immunity, a defendant bears the burden of demonstrating
that the plaintiff’s claims arise from a function that would entitle him or her to immunity. Ex parte
Wood, 852 So.2d 705, 709 (Ala.2002). The burden then shifts to the plaintiff, who, in order to deny
the defendant immunity from suit, must establish that the defendant acted willfully, maliciously,
fraudulently, in bad faith, or beyond authority. Ex parte Wood, 852 So.2d at 709. A State agent
acts beyond authority and is therefore not immune when he or she “fail[s] to discharge duties
pursuant to detailed rules or regulations, such as those stated on a checklist.” Ex parte Butts, 775
So.2d 173, 178 (Ala.2000).
In Howard v. City of Atmore, 887 So.2d 201 (2003), a case relied on by the Defendants, a
jailer was not deprived of State-agent immunity for failing to follow a policy of making checks of
mental health risks and suicidal risks because whether the inmate fell into those categories was a
judgment which had to be made on a case-by-case basis. Howard, 887 So. 2d at 209. In that
case, however, the jailer was said to act beyond his authority where he failed to follow the jail
policy which required jail check of all inmates twice per hour and constant observation of the
monitor camera. Id. That jail policy did not turn on a subjective assessment of individual
inmates or contemplate the exercise of judgment. Id.
The Plaintiff concedes that Mayo met her initial burden of showing that Plaintiff’s claims
arise from a function that would generally entitled her to State-agent immunity, but argues that
Mayo acted beyond her authority when she placed Johnson on lockdown on the night of June 3,
The Barbour County jail policy, as set out above, states that if a person has been
determined to be an imminent danger to himself, he should be housed “if possible” in a cell with
other inmates and closely monitored. (Doc. #92-22 at p.3). Also under the policy, if it is
necessary for a person “displaying suicidal tendencies” to be “housed in an administrative
segregation cell,” the inmate should be closely monitored by a member of the staff, and if a trusty
is utilized, the staff should observe the inmate’s behavior every 15 minutes. (Doc. #92-22 at p.3).
When the facts in this case are viewed in a light most favorable to the non-movant, Mayo
did not have to exercise discretion to determine whether Johnson was suicidal, because he had
been placed in the Special Needs Unit due to his suicide attempt. While there is evidence that
Johnson had been taken off of suicide watch, the policy as written does not specify requirements
limited to a designation of “suicide watch,” but instead is written as applying to inmates
determined to be an imminent threat of harm to themselves or with suicidal tendencies. It appears
that under the policy, Johnson should have received close monitoring while on lockdown, and
there is no evidence before the court that such monitoring occurred. Therefore, the court finds
that genuine issues of fact preclude summary judgment as to Mayo on the ground of State-agent
B. State Law Claim Against Parham and Conner
The Defendants also argue that judgment is due to be entered as to Parham on Count Two
because there is no evidence that Parham was in charge of hiring or training and that it was a
different employee, Lieutenant Derrick Rodgers (‘Rodgers”), whose job it was to oversee inmates
in general population including the Special Needs Unit.
The Plaintiff responds that Parham testified in his deposition that as part of his duties he
worked under Conner, the Jail Administrator, and he would “check things out, look at things, make
decision on things,” and report his findings to Conner. (Doc. #103-3 at p.29: 17-20). The
Plaintiff also points to testimony that Rodgers reported to Parham. (Doc. #103-4 at p.28: 4-6).
The Plaintiff points to Parham’s deposition testimony that he made the recommendation to transfer
Johnson to the Special Needs Unit after he attempted suicide. (Doc. #103-3 at p.83:5-9).
Parham also testified in his deposition that he normally does a walk-though on a daily basis, either
when he comes on duty or sometime during the day and that he checked on Johnson when he was
in the Special Needs Unit. (Doc. #103-3 at p.91-92). The Plaintiff argues, therefore, that there is
sufficient evidence that Parham had a supervisory role at the jail.
The Defendants did not respond to this evidence and argument in their reply. The court
concludes, given the evidence of supervision of the Special Needs Unit by Parham, that summary
judgment is due to be GRANTED as to negligent hiring and training, but DENIED as to negligent
The Defendants also argue that judgment is due on Counts One and Two because there is
no evidence that an act by the Defendants proximately caused Johnson’s suicide. They contend
that the allegation is that Conner and Parham are liable for failing to contact mental health services,
but there is no evidence that failure to contact mental health services was the cause of Johnson’s
suicide. They also argue that the Plaintiff must present expert testimony establishing a causal
connection, citing Patton v. Thompson, 958 So. 2d 303, 311 (Ala. 2006).
The Plaintiff states that proximate cause is a question for the jury and that the expert’s
evidence, Dr. Lindsay Hayes, is that the actions and inactions of the Defendants, including
ignoring Johnson, leaving him unobserved with possessions later used to commit suicide, and
never referring him to a mental health professional were a proximate cause of his suicide. (Doc.
#103-10 at p.22). In light of the testimony by the Plaintiff’s expert, the court concludes that
summary judgment cannot be granted to the Defendants on the issue of evidence of proximate
For the reasons discussed, it is hereby ORDERED as follows:
The Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Barbour County and the Barbour County
Commission is GRANTED, and judgment is entered in favor of Barbour County and the
Barbour County Commission and against the Plaintiff.
2. The Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Ryan Conner, Sonya Mayo, and George
Parham is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part as follows:
Judgment is entered as to Mayo and against the Plaintiff on the claim in Count Two,
and in favor of Parham and against the Plaintiff on the negligent hiring and training
claim in Count Two.
b. Summary Judgment is denied as to all other claims.
The case will proceed to trial on the federal deliberate indifference claims in Counts Six
and Seven against Mayo, the state law negligence claim in Count One against Mayo,
Parham, and Conner, and the state law claims in Count Two for negligent hiring, training,
and supervision against Conner, and for negligent supervision against Parham.
Done this 17th day of February, 2015.
/s/ W. Harold Albritton
W. HAROLD ALBRITTON
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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