Bryant v. Greene County, Alabama et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge L Scott Coogler on 7/23/2014. (KAM, )
2014 Jul-23 AM 10:09
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
FRANKIE BRYANT, as
Administratrix of the Estate
of Deitrick Bryant,
GREENE COUNTY, ALA., et al.,
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
This case concerns the unfortunate suicide of Deitrick Bryant (“Bryant”) in the
Greene County, Alabama jail. Bryant’s mother Frankie Bryant (“Plaintiff”) brings
claims for violations of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the
Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act, as well as wrongful death
and negligence claims. Before the Court are motions to dismiss the action, filed by
Defendants Joe Benison (“Benison”), Barbara Collins (“Collins”), Jeremy Rancher
(“Rancher”), Elston Carpenter (“Carpenter”), and Athelyn Jones (“Jones”), and the
Greene County Commission. (Docs. 6, 8, 10, 12, and 14.) For the reasons stated below,
the motions are due to be granted.
I. Facts Pleaded by Plaintiff
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In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court confines itself to the facts presented
in the Complaint, and takes those facts as true. St. George v. Pinellas County, 285 F.3d
1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2002). According to the Complaint, Bryant, a resident of Greene
County, suffered from depression and drug addiction. He had also been the victim of
a “recent” sexual assault, though the Complaint does not reveal when the assault
On April 3, 2012, Bryant visited the Green County Circuit Clerk’s Office to
renew his driver’s license. He was unable to do so because the county had issued a
warrant for his arrest based on his failure to appear for a traffic violation. An officer
attempted to arrest Bryant in the Courthouse, but Bryant resisted and fled the scene.
He was later found hiding in a freezer at his last known address.
When officers found Bryant, they handcuffed him with his hands behind his
back. While handcuffed, he ran from the officers who pursued him for about forty to
fifty yards before Defendant Rancher tased Bryant with an X-26 taser. Bryant was not
treated for any taser wound. Bryant was taken to Greene County Jail and searched.
During the search, officers found marijuana in his pocket. He was charged with
Assault, Possession of Marijuana, and Escape.
No bond was set for these charges, and no hearing was held between Bryant’s
incarceration on the evening of April 3, 2012, and his suicide approximately forty-eight
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hours later on April 5, 2012. At some point during this time, Plaintiff approached a
judge and informed him that Bryant needed medical care for depression. The judge
explained that Plaintiff needed to arrange such care with Sheriff Benison. Plaintiff then
told Benison that Bryant needed to be admitted to a drug treatment program.
Bryant did not receive any sort of medical treatment while incarcerated in the
Greene County Jail. During his incarceration, Bryant was kept in a holding cell
designated B-200. Cell B-200 measures fourteen feet by eight feet four inches, and
contains two metal benches, one of which serves as a bed. The ceiling is eight feet from
the floor, and six feet five inches from the tops of the metal benches.
Bryant was placed in this cell for the safety of himself and other inmates.
According to the Complaint, Defendants had a duty to comply with “Greene County
Jail Policies and Procedures” by monitoring and documenting Bryant’s behavior. No
documentation of Bryant’s behavior exists. Plaintiff alleges that the necessary
monitoring was impossible because cell B-200 did not have proper operating lights that
would have allowed deputies to see into the cell from the control board. The
Complaint does note, however, that light from a window and from the nearby holding
area entered the cell.
The Complaint alleges that a trustee named Evans noticed that Bryant was not
eating meals provided by the Greene County Jail. Jail trustees were instructed not to
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converse with Bryant. At some point during his incarceration, Defendant Jones
provided Bryant with pen and paper. Bryant wrote two notes, which are characterized
by Plaintiff as an apology note and a suicide note. The precise content of these notes
cannot be determined from the complaint. The Complaint also alleges that Bryant
passed a series of notes through the cell door requesting to talk to his family and
On the date of his suicide, a few minutes before 5:00 p.m., Bryant notified
Defendant Jones that he needed to see a doctor because he had been raped with a
broom handle. The Complaint does not specify when or where this assault occurred.
Defendant Jones did not report this request to anyone.
At approximately 6:05 p.m. on April 5, 2012, Bryant tied his bed sheet to an
exposed ceiling beam and hanged himself. The ceiling beams in the cell were normally
covered with ceiling panels. These panels apparently had special screws that attached
them to the beams. Prior to Bryant’s incarceration, Evans found two screws on the
floor. These screws were not put back into the ceiling. Bryant was thus able to remove
one of the panels and gain access to the beam from which he hung himself.
Evans found Bryant in his cell at approximately 6:40 p.m. He and Carpenter cut
down the body and checked for signs of life, but none were found. EMT personnel
arrived at 6:58 p.m. and determined that Bryant had no oxygen reading or heartbeat.
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The autopsy concluded that suicide by hanging was the cause of death.
II. Standard of Review
A. Rule 12(b)(6)
A defendant may move to dismiss a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) if the plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6). “When considering a motion to dismiss, all facts
set forth in the plaintiff’s complaint ‘are to be accepted as true and the court limits its
consideration to the pleadings and exhibits attached thereto.’” Grossman, 225 F.3d at
1231 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting GSW, Inc. v. Long County, 999 F.2d 1508, 1510 (11th
Cir. 1993)). Furthermore, all “reasonable inferences” are to be drawn in favor of the
plaintiff. St. George, 285 F.3d at 1337.
Nonetheless, the plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim that is
plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).1
“Unsupported conclusions of law or of mixed fact and law have long been recognized
not to prevent a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal.” Dalrymple v. Reno, 334 F.3d 991, 996 (11th
In Twombly, the U.S. Supreme Court abrogated the oft-cited standard that “a complaint
should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff
can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief” set forth in
Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957). Twombly, 550 U.S. at 560-63. The Supreme Court stated
that the “no set of facts” standard “is best forgotten as an incomplete, negative gloss on an
accepted pleading standard: once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by
showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Id. at 563.
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Cir. 2003) (quoting Marsh v. Butler County, Ala., 268 F.3d 1014, 1036 n. 16 (11th Cir.
2001)). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require a pleading that states a claim to
include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled
to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2). If the facts in the pleading “do not permit the
court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has
alleged–-but it has not ‘shown’—‘that the pleader is entitled to relief,” and the
complaint must be dismissed. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).
The Eleventh Circuit has adopted “two-pronged approach” to motions to
dismiss suggested by the Supreme Court: “1) eliminate any allegations in the
complaint that are merely legal conclusions; and 2) where there are well-pleaded
factual allegations, ‘assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly
give rise to an entitlement to relief.’” American Dental Ass’n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d
1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 664). In evaluating whether a
claim is plausible, “courts may infer from the factual allegations in the complaint
‘obvious alternative explanation[s],’ which suggest lawful conduct rather than the
unlawful conduct the plaintiff would ask the court to infer.” Id. at 1295 (quoting Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 682).
Using this framework, the Court takes care not to “unlock the doors of
discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
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at 678-79. However, a plaintiff need not prove his case in the complaint; “the
plausibility standard ‘calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that
discovery will reveal evidence’ of the defendant’s liability.” Chaparro v. Carnival Corp.
693 F.3d 1333, 1338 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Further, a
complaint should not be dismissed unless the allegations do not support any plausible
theory of relief. Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1369
(11th Cir. 1997).
B. Qualified Immunity
In addition to moving to dismiss the claims, Defendants also advance the
affirmative defense of qualified immunity. (Doc. 43 at 22.) The Supreme Court has
stressed that qualified immunity represents an immunity from suit rather than a
defense to liability, and that it should therefore be addressed in the earliest possible
stage of a case. Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991). When the Defendant is
acting within his official discretion, qualified immunity serves to dismiss a claim at the
12(b)(6) stage if the Court concludes from the face of the complaint that the law
supporting the claim was not clearly established before the defendant acted. Marsh,
268 F.3d at 1023. In addressing a motion to dismiss, the Court may first determine
whether a constitutional right has been violated, and then whether that right had been
clearly established, or it may skip directly to the “clearly established” prong. Pearson
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v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 235-236 (2009).
The Court first notes that, in her reply brief, Plaintiff affirmatively abandoned
all claims against the Greene County Commission. (Doc. 22 at 1.) Therefore, the
Greene County Commission’s motion to dismiss is due to be granted.
A. Claims Brought Under 42 U.S.C. 1983
Plaintiff’s constitutional claims can be organized into three basic categories.
First, she alleges that Defendant Rancher used excessive force in arresting Bryant.
Secondly, Plaintiff argues that several defendants who were present at the jail during
Bryant’s incarceration were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs. Finally,
Plaintiff claims that Defendants Benison and Collins enacted policies or followed
customs that violated Bryant’s constitutional rights.
1. The Excessive Force Claim
This claim is alleged against Defendant Jeremy Rancher, who is identified in the
Complaint as a Deputy for Greene County. The Complaint alleges that Rancher
“discharged an X-26 Taser hitting Bryant with multiple bursts of electrical current.”
(Doc. 1 at 5.)2 The use of excessive force in carrying out an arrest can constitute a
It is unclear to the Court whether this sentence means Rancher fired more than once or
whether a single discharge caused multiple bursts to hit Bryant. However, Plaintiff does not
appear to base any of her excessive force argument on multiple firings, so the Court will not
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violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and
seizure. Thornton v. City of Macon, 132 F.3d 1395, 1400 (11th Cir. 1998). However, an
officer of the law does have the right to use physical coercion to affect an arrest. See,
e.g., Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 22-24 (1968). To determine whether the particular
amount of force used was reasonable, the court must examine “the facts and
circumstances . . . including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect
poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is
actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Graham v. Connor,
490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989) (citing Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 8-9 (1985)).
In addition, Rancher has raised the defense of qualified immunity. Rancher has
rightfully asserted that he was acting within his discretionary authority. See Crosby v.
Monroe County, 394 F.3d 1328, 1332 (11th Cir. 2004) (noting that the relevant inquiry
is whether the acts are “of a type that fell within the employee’s job responsibilities.”)
Making arrests falls within the job responsibilities of Deputy Rancher. The question
of whether the arrest was effectuated constitutionally does not impact whether it was
within his discretionary authority. See Jordan v. Doe, 38 F.3d 1559, 1561 (11th Cir.
1994). Since it is within that authority, the Court must determine whether the
address that issue.
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complaint alleges a violation of clearly established law. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S.
635, 638-39 (1987).
In this case, Bryant, though handcuffed and unarmed, was in the act of fleeing
or trying to escape from the officers. Deadly force may not be used solely to prevent
escape, unless probable cause exists “to believe that that the suspect poses a significant
threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.” Garner, 471 U.S. at
11. However, a “taser is a non-deadly weapon.” Fils v. City of Aventura, 647 F.3d 1272,
1276 n.2 (11th Cir. 2011)). The reasonableness of force used in effectuating the arrest
must be determined from the point of view of a reasonable officer on the scene,
without the benefit of hindsight. Priester v. City of Riviera Beach, Fla., 208 F.3d 919,
924. Therefore, even assuming arguendo that the excessive tasing contributed to
Bryant’s death, this cannot convert the use of the taser into deadly force because
Rancher could not have known ahead of time that it would lead to death.
The Court must therefore analyze the excessive force claim using the three
factors noted in Graham. 490 U.S. at 396. In this case, the crimes alleged against
Bryant were moderate in severity. Although officers initially tried to arrest him for
failing to pay a traffic ticket, Bryant allegedly committed both escape and assault
before he was tased. Both of these crimes are felonies. Ala. Code §§ 13A-12-06-20,
13A-10-31. The second factor, whether the suspect is a threat to officers or other
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civilians, appears to cut in Plaintiff’s favor, because Bryant was handcuffed and there
was no indication that he was armed. The third factor, however, favors Defendant
Rancher, because Bryant had already escaped from officers once on the date in
question and was attempting to flee at the time he was tased.
Defendant Rancher’s conduct did not constitute excessive force. See Oliver v.
Fiorino, 586 F.3d 898, 906 (11th Cir. 2009) (noting that tasing an unarmed suspect
once may have been justified, even where multiple tasings was excessive force). The
Eleventh Circuit has countenanced the use of a taser on a party that refused to
cooperate with police commands, even where the initial traffic stop was for an
inoperative tag light. Draper, 369 F.3d at 1278. Further, where the suspect continues
to fight or flee, the use of the taser may be reasonable even when he is in handcuffs.
Zivojinovich v. Barner, 525 F.3d 1059, 1073 (11th Cir. 2008). Therefore, Rancher’s use
of force against Bryant was reasonable.
However, even assuming arguendo that a constitutional violation occurred, the
violation was not clearly established at the time of the arrest. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 24445. In order for the right to be clearly established, previous case law of the U.S.
Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit, or the Alabama Supreme Court must make it
obvious to a reasonable government actor that his actions violate federal law. Hope v.
Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741 (2002). Hope abrogated the Eleventh Circuit’s previous
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standard requiring almost identical facts to show clearly established law. However, it
remains true that the clearly established test does not apply at a high level of
generality, but rather in a more particularized sense. Id. at 741-42; see also Anderson v.
Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 639-40 (1987). In other words, Defendant Rancher would have
to know that applying significant but non-deadly force to a handcuffed but not subdued
defendant who was then attempting to escape constituted a constitutional violation.
There is no such relevant case law. If anything, the existing authority clearly supports
Rancher’s conduct as reasonable. Thus, the excessive force claim against him is due
to be dismissed.
2. Deliberate Indifference Claims
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Benison, Carpenter, and Jones were
deliberately indifferent to Bryant’s serious medical needs. Because Bryant was a
pretrial detainee, these claims are based on the due process clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment. Belcher v. City of Foley, Ala., 30 F.3d 1390, 1396 (11th Cir. 1994).
Detainees have a right to receive medical treatment and a right to be protected from
self-inflicted injuries. Cook ex rel. Estate of Tessier v. Sheriff of Monroe Cnty., Fla., 402
F.3d 1092, 1115 (11th Cir. 2005). To make out a deliberate indifference claim, the
plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant 1) had subjective knowledge of a risk of
serious harm, and 2) disregarded that risk; 3) through conduct that was more than
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mere negligence. Cagle v. Sutherland, 334 F. 3d 980, 987 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing
McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1255 (11th Cir. 1999).
When the deliberate indifference is alleged to have led to a prisoner suicide,
“[t]he mere opportunity for suicide, without more, is clearly insufficient to impose
liability on those charged with care of prisoners.” Cagle, 334 F.3d. at 986 (quoting
Tittle v. Jefferson County Comm’n, 10 F.3d 1535, 1540 (11th Cir. 1994). Rather, Eleventh
Circuit precedent requires that the defendant intentionally disregarded “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). 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). Finally, the plaintiff must show that each defendant had personal
knowledge of this likelihood; respondeat superior cannot form the basis of liability for
a § 1983 claim. Cook, 402 F.3d at 1115-16. Therefore, the Court must evaluate these
claims individually with respect to each Defendant.
a. Sheriff Benison
Plaintiff points to several pieces of knowledge that allegedly should have placed
Benison on notice of a strong likelihood that Bryant would harm himself. First,
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Plaintiff alleges that Benison knew of the “excessive tasing” that occurred during
Bryant’s arrest. However, Plaintiff pleads no facts to support this assertion. The
Complaint does not allege that Benison was present for the arrest, nor does it state that
Defendant Rancher or anyone else who was actually present informed him of the use
of the taser. In fact the complaint states that Rancher did not file the requisite report
after tasing Bryant, thus making it less likely that Benison learned of the incident.
Plaintiff also alleges that Benison should have been on notice of Bryant’s
potential suicidal tendencies because he exhibited impulsive behaviors during the
arrest, suffered from a sexual assault, and was subject to multiple felonious charges.
Again Plaintiff fails to plead facts that would lead the Court to conclude that Sheriff
Benison should have known that Bryant was suicidal. Even if we assume that Benison
knew the charges against Bryant, which would give him some idea of Bryant’s
irrational actions during the arrest, Plaintiff pleads nothing but a bare conclusion that
Benison knew of the sexual assault, without any facts showing he would have had such
knowledge. The Complaint contains no facts as to when the sexual assault actually
occurred, and the only Defendant alleged to have received specific information about
the assault is Defendant Jones. In addition, although Bryant failed to eat certain meals
during his incarceration, the Complaint alleges only that Defendant Carpenter failed
to observe or report this fact. It does not provide any reason to believe that Benison
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knew about Bryant’s refusal to eat.
The Complaint does allege that Plaintiff spoke to Sheriff Benison about Bryant’s
condition, asserting that he needed treatment for depression and drug rehabilitation.
Plaintiff also expressed concern that Benison might have been questioning Bryant
about a shooting in another county. She also told Benison that Bryant had expressed
that he felt “someone was out to get him,” which caused Plaintiff to believe that
Bryant was suffering from a severe mental illness. Additionally, the Complaint asserts
that Sheriff Benison ordered that Bryant be placed in a specific holding cell “[d]ue to
irrational and volatile actions . . . for the safety of himself and other inmates.” (Doc.
1 at 7). This statement is in quotes in the Complaint, but the source of the quotation
is never revealed. Finally, the Complaint mentions that Bryant wrote two notes, one
of which it characterizes as “a type of suicide note,” but no facts are alleged
concerning the contents of either note. (Doc. 1 at 10).
Examining these facts as a whole, Benison may have had some idea that Bryant
resisted during his arrest, and may have known that he was arrested for multiple
felonies and was a drug user. In addition, Benison certainly had been informed by the
Plaintiff that Bryant was depressed. Applying Eleventh Circuit precedent to these
facts, the question is not whether Benison might have known that some form of
medical treatment was needed, but whether he knew there was a “strong likelihood ...
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that the self infliction of harm [would] occur.” Popham, 908 F.2d at 1563. Such
knowledge has been found to exist where the officer was both told that the prisoner
was suicidal and had knowledge of a previous suicide attempt. Snow ex rel. Snow v. City
of Citronelle, Ala., 420 F.3d 1262, 1265 (11th Cir. 2005).
Knowledge that the detainee is or may be mentally ill does not, by itself, provide
subjective knowledge of a strong likelihood of suicide. Williams v. Lee County, Ala., 78
F.3d 491, 492-93 (11th Cir. 1996) (finding no deliberate indifference where jail officials
knew that prisoner had left one mental health facility and was awaiting transfer to
another). The fact that a detainee writes notes requesting psychiatric attention was
likewise insufficient to support a finding of deliberate indifference. Cook, 402 F.3d at
1101. Similarly, information from family members that a detainee may be suicidal does
not mean an officer knew of a strong likelihood of self-harm. Fowler v. Chattooga
County, Ga., 307 Fed. Appx 363, 365-66 (11th Cir. 2009). If no knowledge of such a
strong likelihood exists, jail conditions that render suicide feasible cannot support a
deliberate indifference claim on their own. Gish, 516 F.3d at 955.
In this case, Plaintiff alleges nothing from which one could plausibly conclude
that Benison believed Bryant to be suicidal or that Bryant had ever attempted suicide
in the past. The Complaint contains numerous factual and legal conclusions about
what Benison knew and whether he exhibited deliberate indifference, but lacks
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sufficient facts to make these conclusions plausible. See Twombly, 554 U.S. at 570.
Perhaps the Complaint plausibly alleges that Defendant Benison knew that Bryant
needed some sort of medical attention, but it does not plausibly allege that he knew of
a strong likelihood of suicide, as required to demonstrate deliberate indifference.
Popham, 908 F.2d at 1563. Furthermore, even if the Court were to assume Benison’s
actions rise to the level of a constitutional violation, the case law cited above makes it
clear that this violation was not clearly established in existing law at the time of
Bryant’s death. Therefore, Benison is entitled to qualified immunity on the deliberate
indifference claim against him, which is thus due to be dismissed.
b. Defendant Carpenter
Elston Carpenter is a correctional officer who works in the Greene County Jail.
The Complaint alleges that he “was responsible for continually observing [Bryant’s]
demeanor to monitor him for suicidal tendencies . . . .” (Doc. 1 at 4). No facts indicate
why this duty fell particularly on Carpenter. The Complaint also states that, while
Carpenter was supervising trustees on trash duty, he passed by Bryant’s cell and saw
him standing up at the front door looking at Carpenter and the trustees. The
Complaint assumes that Bryant may have requested to talk to his mother or see a
doctor at this time, which was after he had allegedly told Defendant Jones about the
sexual assault. However, it does not allege, even conclusorily, that he said anything
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specific to Defendant Carpenter. Finally, the complaint states that Carpenter was
called to assist the trustee who found Bryant’s body; Carpenter procured scissors,
helped cut Bryant’s body down, checked for signs of life, and called the Sheriff.
The Complaint relates no facts that would allow a plausible conclusion that
Defendant Carpenter had subjective knowledge of a strong likelihood of suicide. See
Popham, 908 F.2d at 1563. Therefore, the deliberate indifference claim against him
must fail. This claim is due to be dismissed.
c. Defendant Jones
Athelyn Jones is a corporal for Greene County, and the Complaint alleges that
she was responsible for operating the control board at the jail. Plaintiff asserts that this
should have allowed her to observe Bryant’s demeanor and “monitor him for suicidal
tendencies.” (Doc. 1 at 3). In addition to this duty, Jones occasionally made rounds in
the jail to observe the prisoners. On one of these rounds, Jones allegedly provided
Bryant with pen and paper, which he used to write the two notes. Approximately an
hour and fifteen minutes before Bryant hanged himself, Jones visited his cell on her
rounds and was told that Bryant needed to see a doctor because he had been raped with
a broom handle. Jones did not report the alleged rape before Bryant’s suicide.
The fact that Jones was assigned to monitor the control room is only relevant
if Plaintiff plausibly alleges that she should have seen something that made her believe
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that there was a strong likelihood that Plaintiff would harm himself. Plaintiff does not
allege anything that Jones would or should have seen that would have indicated to her
that Plaintiff was suicidal. As noted above, the conditions of confinement, including
the lighting in the cell, must combine with subjective knowledge of the likelihood of
suicide in order for a constitutional violation to exist. Gish, 516 F.3d at 955. According
to the Complaint, Bryant’s note revealing the rape, which had to have occurred before
he was incarcerated, said only that he needed medical attention and did not indicate
that he was suicidal. The fact that he hanged himself shortly thereafter does not
retrospectively give Jones knowledge that suicide was likely. Therefore, Plaintiff’s
deliberate indifference claim against Jones is due to be dismissed.
3. Unconstitutional Policy Claims
Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants Benison and Collins created policies or
allowed customs to fluorish that led to Bryant’s death. Because respondeat superior
does not exist in § 1983 claims, a plaintiff seeking to impose liability on a supervisor
or government must demonstrate a policy or custom that caused her injuries. Monell
v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). To survive a motion to
dismiss, a plaintiff must allege either an existing official policy or a custom. Grech v.
Clayton Cnty., Ga., 335 F.3d 1326, 1329 (11th Cir. 2003). A custom can be created
“through the repeated acts of a final policymaker.” Id. at 1329. The plaintiff must
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identify a specific policy or custom that caused her injury. Gold v. City of Miami, 151
F.3d 1346, 1350 (11th Cir. 1998) (citing Board of County Com’rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397,
Plaintiff does not allege any specific policies promulgated by Benison. Instead,
the Complaint makes allegations in terms of what the policies did or did not do. For
example, the Complaint alleges that the implemented policies did not provide
adequate health care for Bryant, but it does not state that Benison promulgated an
official policy of denying health care to pre-trial detainees. Nor does the Complaint
allege a custom by showing that Benison, assuming arguendo that he is a final
policymaker, had denied such health care to others in Bryant’s position. Likewise, the
Complaint states that a policy or custom led to Bryant being placed in a dark holding
cell with access to the metal bars in the ceiling. However, it provides no clue as to what
such a policy might provide. Nor does the Complaint mention any instances from
which a custom might be established.
The Complaint also alleges that Benison should be liable for failing to
implement the recommendations of the American Correctional Association. A failure
to follow the guidelines of the ACA does not automatically trigger a constitutional
violation. Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 366. Plaintiff accepts that not every violation of the ACA
guidelines or the Greene County Jail Handbook (which stipulates that the jail must be
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run under those guidelines) rises to the level of a constitutional violation. (Doc. 19 at
10). She is correct that some violations of a handbook or the ACA guidelines can rise
to that level, but in order to demonstrate such violations, the plaintiff must show the
existence of a policy or custom that contravenes the guidelines in a way that causes
constitutional injury. Here, Plaintiff fails to allege any official policy of breaking the
ACA guidelines. Furthermore, she does not allege a custom because the Complaint
provides no facts about any instance other than Bryant’s occurrence. Thus, it cannot
allege repeated actions by a final decisionmaker.
Plaintiff fails to allege any policy or custom promulgated or followed by
Defendants Benison or Collins. Therefore, her allegations of constitutional violation
caused by a custom or policy necessarily fail. Thus these claims are due to be
B. Claims Brought Under the Rehabilitation Act and Americans With
The Complaint alleges these claims solely against Greene County and the
Greene County Commission. (Doc. 1 at 18-22). Plaintiff has since abandoned all claims
against these defendants. (Doc. 22 at 1). Therefore, these claims are due to be
C. State Law Claims
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Plaintiff brings state law claims for wrongful death and negligence. The Court
has jurisdiction over these claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367. In this statute, Congress
authorized federal courts to exercise supplemental jurisdiction when the state law
claims “form part of the same case or controversy” as claims over which the Court has
federal jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). A state law claim forms part of the same case
or controversy as a federal claim when the two claims “derive from a common nucleus
of operative fact.” Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Fund, Inc. v. City of Atlanta, 701
F.3d 669, 679 (11th Cir. 2012). Here all of Plaintiff’s claims derive from the same
facts surrounding Bryant’s arrest and incarceration. Thus, the Court is within its
power to exercise supplemental jurisdiction.
The Court is also within its discretion to decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction, based on 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c). This subsection allows the district court to
decline supplemental jurisdiction if it has dismissed all claims within original federal
jurisdiction, which is the case here. District courts consider four factors in determining
whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction: judicial economy, convenience, fairness
to litigants, and comity. Parker v. Scrap Metal Processors, Inc., 468 F.3d 733, 745 (11th
Cir. 2006). Where state law is clear and this Court can dismiss without the need for
further litigation, these factors favor the exercise of jurisdiction. Where further
determination of state law is necessary, the litigation is best left to the state courts, and
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jurisdiction may be declined. See Baggett v. First Nat’l Bank of Gainesville, 117 F.3d
1342, 1353 (11th Cir. 1997) (noting that state, rather than federal courts, should be the
arbiter of state law).
1. Defendants Benison and Rancher
Benison and Rancher enjoy absolute immunity under the Alabama Constitution.
See Ex parte Sumter County, 953 So. 2d 1235, 1239 (Ala. 2006). “The law is clear in
Alabama that sheriffs are constitutionally established executive officers of the State of
Alabama.” Id. Sheriff Benison’s position as an executive officer of the state entitles
him to absolute immunity from against suits for money damages under Article I, § 14
of the Alabama Constitution. Parker v. Amerson, 519 So. 2d 442, 442-43 (Ala. 1987).
This immunity cannot be affected by the question of whether state-agent immunity,
a completely separate concept, would be appropriate. Ex parte Tirey, 977 So. 2d 469,
470 (Ala. 2007). Therefore, the state law claims against Defendant Benison are due to
The state immunity afforded to sheriffs extends to deputy sheriffs acting within
the scope of their employment. Ex parte Donaldson, 80 So. 3d 895, 898 (Ala. 2011).
Deputy sheriffs enjoy such immunity because the deputy “is legally an extension of the
sheriff.” Id. (quoting Alexander v. Hatfield, 652 So. 2d 1142, 1144 (Ala. 1994). Like
Sheriff Benison, Deputy Rancher is entitled to absolute state immunity whether he
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would be entitled to state-agent immunity or not. See Sumter Cnty., 953 So. 2d at 123940. Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant Rancher engaged in any activities outside
the scope of his employment. Therefore, the state law claims against Defendant
Rancher are due to be dismissed.
2. Defendants Collins, Carpenter, and Jones
Defendants Collins, Carpenter, and Jones work in the Greene County Jail.
According to Defendants, Ala. Code § 14-6-1 provides them with the same immunity
granted to the sheriff. Plaintiff, on the other hand, notes that Ex parte Shelley held that
a jailer, unlike a deputy sheriff, cannot be viewed as a legal alter ego of the sheriff and
was not entitled to state immunity. 53 So. 3d 887, 896-97 (Ala. 2009). Shelley
mentioned Ala. Code § 14-6-1 in a footnote, solely to note that a previous case had
found unconstitutional an earlier version of the statute holding Sheriffs liable for the
acts of jailers. Id. at n. 8 (citing Parker, 519 So. 2d at 446).
Subsequent cases have not fully clarified the relationship between Shelley and
Ala. Code § 14-6-1. This precedent does reveal, however, that a fact-intensive
determination of whether a particular jail official qualifies as a deputy sheriff or
whether he has powers to act as a peace officer is important to the Court’s decision to
grant either state or state-agent immunity. See Ex parte Burnell, 90 So. 3d 708, 711-15
(Ala. 2012); Walker v. City of Huntsville, 62 So. 3d 474, 501 (Ala. 2010). This factual
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inquiry, along with the legal reasoning required to reconcile Shelley with Ala. Code §
14-6-1, is best undertaken by an Alabama state court. Since all of Plaintiff’s federal
claims have been dismissed, this Court is within its discretion to decline to exercise
jurisdiction over the state law claims against Collins, Carpenter, and Jones. 28 U.S.C.
1367(c)(3). Thus, Plaintiff’s claims against these defendants are dismissed without
prejudice to being refiled in state court, should Plaintiff determine such to be
appropriate and supported by law.
Plaintiff’s excessive force claim fails because clearly established law could not
make a responsible officer aware that a single use of a taser on a handcuffed but
resisting suspect violated that suspect’s constitutional rights. Plaintiff’s deliberate
indifference claims fail because Plaintiff does not allege facts that plausibly show that
any of the defendants possessed knowledge of a strong likelihood of suicide. Plaintiff’s
claims concerning unconstitutional policies or customs fail because Plaintiff has failed
to plausibly allege the existence of such a policy or custom. Plaintiff has abandoned all
claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiff’s state law claims against
Benison and Rancher fail because those Defendants are entitled to absolute state
immunity. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s
state law claims against Collins, Carpenter, and Jones. Therefore, all of Plaintiff’s
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claims are due to be dismissed. A separate order will be entered.
Done this 23rd day of July 2014.
L. SCOTT COOGLER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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