Edenfield v. Gateway Behavioral Health Services
ORDER granting in part and denying in part Gateway's 14 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings; denying Cheryl Edenfield's 15 Motion to Amend/Correct. Signed by Judge Lisa G. Wood on 5/15/2017. (ca)
M t|ie ?limteb States: ISisitrict Court
tor t|ie ^onttiem Btotrict ot <(leorsta
Scott L. Poff, Clerk
United States District Court
By casbell at 4:14 pm, May 15, 2017
CHERYL EDENFIELD, as Mother
and Legal Guardian of QUINCY
EDENFIELD, an incapacitated
GATEWAY BEHAVIORAL HEALTH
(^'Cheryl") (as mother and legal guardian of Quincy Edenfield
But her 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (^^Section 1983") claim
survives, as does her contract-breach claim.
Gateway Behavioral Services' (""Gateway") Motion for Judgment
on the Pleadings, dkt. no. 14, will be GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part, and Cheryl's Motion to Amend the Complaint,
dkt. no. 15, will be DENIED.
Quincy Receives Gateway Services
The Court assumes the truth of the facts alleged in the
Unspecified Intellectual Disabilities."
Dkt. No. 1-3 55.
receives housing, transportation, and behavioral services from
Id. 5 8.
Since May 2012, Quincy has lived at a
Id. 55 6, 8a.
Quincy goes to a Gateway day
center between 8:30 A.M. and 2:30 P.M.
Id. 5 8b.
Cheryl is Quincy's mother and has been his guardian and
conservator since March 23, 2015.
weekends with her.
Id. 5 8a.
Id. 5 7.
Quincy spends his
"Prior to February 29, 201$ and
on many occasions," Cheryl would notice wounds and bruises on
Quincy when picking him up from the Gateway center.
Id. 5 11.
"When [she] would return [him] to Gateway and question staff
members concerning Quincy's
Id. 5 12.
wounds/bruises and/or ask for
In particular, no one ever told Cheryl
investigations did not uncover abuse.
Id. 5 12b.
Quincy Was Abused by a Gateway Employee
On February 27, 2016, a Gateway staff member told another
employee that she had seen Gateway's Errol Wilkins "hitting
Quincy as well as another individual."
Id. 5 15.
February 29, 2016, she
brought Quincy to a doctor for a medical examination.
When she returned to Gateway, ^^no one . . . would confess
. . . that Quincy was being abused."
Id. SI 14.
However, Gateway launched an investigation that day.
It substantiated the accusations, with employees saying
they had seen Wilkins ^'hit Quincy . . . with his fist and/or
open hand on several occasions and that this has been going on
Employees claimed Wilkins would hit clients "[a]t least 2-3
week, sometimes 2x
per day," ^^for about 3 months,"
sometimes with a broken-off chair handle—and that they feared
him because he was ''a former gang member."
Id. SISI 21(g)-(i),
22(a), 25(a), 26(j)-(k); ^ also id. SI 25(g)-(h) rsveryone
has seen It and I heard Errol had been spoken to about this .
. . . a long time ago." (alteration in original)), SI 26(h) (^'I
and the other staff have warned him that he was going to get
caught." (alteration in original)).
Wilkins was terminated.
Dkt. No. 14-1 at 4; Dkt. No. 17 at 16.
Cheryl Sues Gateway
Cheryl filed this lawsuit against Gateway in Glynn County
Id. at 2.
three state-law tort claims; failure to train and supervise.
negligent retention, and assault and battery.
She also raised Section 1983.
Id. SISI 28-50.
Id. SISI 51-56.
Gateway removed the case on December 22, 2016.
It moved for judgment on the pleadings on January 26,
Dkt. No. 14.
That motion has been fully briefed and is
ripe for disposition.
Dkt. Nos. 17, 21.
While briefing was
ongoing, Cheryl moved to amend her complaint.
Dkt. No. 15.
She seeks to add Wilkins as a defendant, and to add a fourth
state-law tort claim, against Gateway and Wilkins for fraud.
Gateway responded in opposition, and that
motion is also ripe.
Dkt. No. 19.
Judgment on the Pleadings
A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(c) is governed by the same standards as
Flournoy v. CML-GA WB, LLC, No. CV 114-161, 2015 WL
2345594, at *1 (S.D. Ga. May 15, 2015).
a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be
a context-specific task," guided by ^'judicial experience and
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).
A complaint must be ^^a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."
Fed. R. Civ.
raise a right to relief above the speculative level."
allegations from which [the court] can identify each of the
material elements necessary to sustain a recovery under some
viable legal theory."
v. Aware Woman Ctr.. for Choice,
Inc., 253 F.Sd 678, 684 (11th Cir. 2001).
The court must assume the truth of a fact alleged in the
complaint, but not ''a legal conclusion couched as a factual
265, 286 (1986).
When ''a dispositive issue of law" shows ^'beyond all reasonable
doubt" . that ""the
prove no set of facts that
defendants judgment on the pleadings.
Executive 100, Inc. v.
Martin County, 922 F.2d 1536, 1539 (11th Cir. 1991).
Motion to Amend Complaint
pleading only with . . . the court's leave.
freely give leave when justice so requires."
The court should
Fed. R. Civ. P.
''[T]he grant or denial of an opportunity to amend
is within the discretion of the District Court . . . ."
178, 182 (1962).
'MDJenial of leave to
amend is justified by futility when the ^complaint as amended
is still subject to dismissal.'"
Burger King Corp. v. Weaver,
169 F.3d 1310, 1320 (11th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted).
Sovereign immunity bars Cheryl's state-law tort claims,
I. SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY BARS CHERYL'S STATE-LAW TORT CLAIMS.
(conceding Gateway to be "clothed
with immunity"); see also
Ga. Dep't of Nat. Res, v. Ctr. for a Sustainable Coast, Inc.,
755 S.E.2d 184, 188 (Ga. 2014) (observing Georgia sovereign
immunity protects "governments at all levels"); Youngblood v.
Gwinnett Rockdale Newton Community Serv. Bd., 545 S.E.2d 875,
Gateway, are "departments or agencies of the State" entitled
Ctr. for a Sustainable Coast, Inc., 755 S.E.2d at 189 (citing
Ga. Const, art. I § 2 ^ IX(e)).
Sherin v. Dep't of Human Res., 494 S.E.2d 518,
522 (Ga. Ct. App. 1997).
O.C.G.A. § 50-21-23(a),
duties or employment."^
O.C.G.A. § 50-21-23(a).
waiver is subject to limits listed in O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24.
particular, the State is immune as to "losses resulting from
. . . .
To recall, those claims are for failure
battery, and fraud.
most of them
assault or battery, they still result from assault or battery.
See Dkt. No. 1-3 SISI 28-41, 44-50; Dkt. No. 15-1 ft 19-81.
Court's "focus is not on which particular state law causes of
action a plaintiff has set forth in her complaint, but rather
Davis v. Standifer, 621 S.E.2d 852, 857
"aris[e] out of conduct that would constitute . . . assault or
battery," so they are all barred.^
Id. (barring claims for
^ Gateway does not raise Georgia's retention of sovereign immunity as to
tort claims brought against it in federal court, perhaps because Cheryl
filed this case in state court.
See O.C.G.A. § 50-21-23(b).
^ Wilkins was allegedly a government employee, dkt. no. 15-1 55 64-65, but
even if he had not been. Gateway would still be immune.
S.E.2d at 878 (holding O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24(7) applies "regardless of who
committed the act."); Cowart v. Ga. Dep't of Human Serv., No. A16A1515,
2017 WL 534877, at *2 (Ga. Ct. App. Feb. 8, 2017) ("[I]f a plaintiff's
^^negligent . . .
assaulted plaintiff during traffic stop); see also Pelham v.
Bd, of Regents of Univ. Sys. of Ga., 743 S.E.2d 469, 471, 474
coach allegedly had player assault another player).
implementation of a policy or negligent act not authorized by
Dkt. No. 17 at 15.
But the authorities Cheryl cites
concern other sovereign immunity exceptions.^
See id. at 13-
O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24(2));
Cf. Sherin, 494 S.E.2d at 522 (avoiding O.C.G.A. § 50-
21-24(2), given dismissal under O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24(7)).
injury was caused by an assault and battery committed by a third party,
the state is immune from suit even if the assault and battery was
facilitated by or resulted from the prior negligent performance of a state
officer or employee." (citing Pelham v. Bd. of Regents of Univ.. Sys. of
Ga., 743 S.E.2d 469, 473 (Ga. Ct. App. 2013)).
^ One O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24(7) case considers another exception.
2017 WL 534877, at *2-3 (discussing O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24(2))
It did so
for reasons absent here.
Id. at *1-2 (noting plaintiff deleted physicalabuse allegations and replaced them with negligence ones, and did not
appeal dismissals based on O.C.G.A. § 50-21-24(7))
^Ms]overeign immunity is a harsh doctrine, not an equitable
just the opposite
of equity—it is the
declaring that it cannot be sued even
otherwise be liable."
386 (Ga. Ct. App. 2012)
pleadings is GRANTED as to failure to train
Pak v. Ga. Dep^t of Behavioral Health &
Disabilities, 731 S.E.2d
Cheryl's desired claim for fraud is also barred, and she only
seeks to add Wilkins as a defendant for this claim, see dkt.
no. 15-1 1 62 et sag. (tacking Wilkins on at end of previous
amend her complaint, dkt. no. 15, is DENIED as futile.
II. CHERYL'S SECTION 1983 CLAIM SURVIVES.
However, Cheryl's Section 1983 claim will proceed.
relies only on the Fourteenth Amendment.
Dkt. No. 17 at 22.
^"person" subject to suit under Section 1983, its motion should
against "[e]very person who . . . subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
U.S.C. § 1983
Gateway claims to be a state agency.
Will v. Mich. Dep^t of
State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64 (1989); Taylor v. Dep^t of Pub.
curiam); Dkt. No. 14-1 at 11-14.
This argument is unpersuasive in light of the Eleventh
Health Systems, No. 15-15496, 2017 WL 370850 (11th Cir. Jan.
boards like Gateway.
Id. at *1; see also Dkt. No. 14-1 at 2
(describing Gateway as such a board), 13 n.l (noting Miller
against the three factors of local control over them, their
apparent ^'unfettered discretion to design [their] own funding
Id. at *3-7.
of the State."
It held that the boards are not "arm[s]
Id. at *8.
^ Gateway notes that the Section 1983 claim in Cheryl's complaint calls
Gateway an "agency of the State of Georgia."
No. 21 at
Dkt. No. 1-3 f 53; Dkt. No.
Court deems this
imprecision, and not a concession, given the intervening Miller decision.
of § 1983,
consideration, and [the Court] decline[s] to adopt a reading
of § 1983 that disregards it."
Will, .491 U.S. at 66-67; see
Gateway is a person and not an arm of the State under Section
1983, and so DENIES Gateway's motion as to Cheryl's Section
III. CHERYL'S CONTRACT-BREACH CLAIM SURVIVES.
It does the same as to Cheryl's contract-breach claim.
Georgia waives sovereign immunity for breaches of its written
Ga. Const, art. 1 § 2 ^ IX(c).
The parties here
only dispute whether there was a written contract for Quincy's
Dkt. No. 14-1 at 18-22; Dkt. No. 17 at
16-24; Dkt. No. 21 at 10-13.
A written contract has to be one
containing the essential elements of a contract: (1) parties
O.C.G.A. § 13-3-1; Bd. of Regents of Univ.
Sys. of Ga. v. Tyson, 404 S.E.2d 557 (Ga. 1991).
Cheryl presented evidence of a contract in the form of a
Orientation Checklist,^'' signed by Cheryl and a staff member,
with tick marks next to ^^Review of program services," ''Intake
Assessment Form," "Consent to Use and Disclose Information,"
Services," "Financial Contract," "Consumer handbook," "Client
Dkt. No. 17-1.^
The existence of these other
plausibly represent a
between Quincy and Gateway, and between Gateway and Cheryl for
Cf. Younqblood v. Gwinnett Rockdale Newton
Cmty. Serv. Bd., 545 S.E.2d 875, 878 (Ga. 2001).®
^ This document can be considered.
It is referenced in the complaint and
central to Cheryl's claim.
Dkt. No. 1-3 II 3-3d (describing Gateway's
contractual obligations "[a]t all times pertinent to this lawsuit"), 8
("The parties entered into a contract for Gateway to provide Quincy with
. . . behavioral services.").
The Court can consider it even though it
was attached to Cheryl's response and not to the complaint itself.
Pension Tr. Fund for Operating Eng'rs v. Assisted Living Concepts, Inc.,
No. 12-CV-884, 2013 WL 3154116, at *2 n.2 (E.D. Wise. June 21, 2013);
Stewart v. Morgan State Univ., Civ. A. No. 11-3605, 2013 WL 425081, at *1
n.l (D. Md. Feb. 1, 2013); Slaughter v. Fred Weber, Inc., 570 F. Supp. 2d
1054, 1058 n.l (S.D. 111. 2008); cf_^ Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1276
(11th Cir. 2005) ("[T]he court may consider a document attached to a
motion to dismiss . . . if [it] is (1) central to the plaintiff's claim
and (2) undisputed. . . . [It] need not be physically attached . . . .").
® Unlike the documents in Youngblood that did not cover the date of the
alleged injury, see id., Gateway does not contest that Quincy was in its
care at the time he was injured.
Dkt. No. 14-1 at 2-4.
The Court also
Department of Human Resources Child Support Enforcement, 648 S.E.2d 727
Gateway's motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Cheryl's
contract-breach claim is DENIED.
For the reasons above. Gateway's Motion for Judgment on
the Pleadings, dkt. no. 14, is GRANTED in part, as to Cheryl
negligent retention, and assault and battery.
It is DENIED in
claim for negligent breach of contract.
Motion to Amend the Complaint, dkt. no. 15, DENIED.
SO ORDERED, this 15th day of May, 2017.
LlfiA GODBEr WqOD, JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
(Ga. Ct. App. 2007).
That case was decided on summary judgment, and the
only alleged contract there did not even have a signature line for the
Id. at 728.
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