221 F.3d 1254 (11th Cir. 2000), 99-6195, Taylor v Adams

Docket Nº:99-6195, 99-6201.
Citation:221 F.3d 1254
Party Name:Viola TAYLOR, as Administratrix of the Estate of Jimmie Lee Mason, Jr., deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Lonnie ADAMS, James Connick, et al., Defendants-Appellants. Viola Taylor, as Administratrix of the Estate of Jimmie Lee Mason, Jr., deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Crystal Threadgill, Jack Tillman, Sheriff Jack Tillman, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:August 11, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 1254

221 F.3d 1254 (11th Cir. 2000)

Viola TAYLOR, as Administratrix of the Estate of Jimmie Lee Mason, Jr., deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Lonnie ADAMS, James Connick, et al., Defendants-Appellants.

Viola Taylor, as Administratrix of the Estate of Jimmie Lee Mason, Jr., deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Crystal Threadgill, Jack Tillman, Sheriff Jack Tillman, Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 99-6195, 99-6201.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

August 11, 2000

Page 1255

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.(No. 97-00778-CV-CB-M), Charles B. Butler, Jr., Judge.

Before COX and HULL, Circuit Judges, and GEORGE[*], District Judge.

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COX, Circuit Judge:

This is an appeal from the denial of summary judgment, sought on various immunity grounds, to three firemen and a jail nurse on claims arising from the death of Jimmie Lee Mason, Jr. We reverse.


On a hot August day in 1995, employees of a Mobile, Alabama drugstore chased Jimmie Lee Mason, a suspected shoplifter, several blocks before finally apprehending him. They held Mason to the ground until police arrived. After the police handcuffed the sweaty and heavy-breathing Mason, a crew of three medically trained Mobile firemen-the defendants Driskell, Connick, and Adams (the "firemedics")-arrived. Each of the firemedics asked Mason if he was okay or required help and received a negative response; the firemedics then left the scene without providing treatment.

A police officer subsequently transported Mason to the Mobile County Jail in the back of a paddy wagon. After a drive of approximately eleven minutes, the paddy wagon arrived at the jail courtyard. When police opened the back door of the wagon, they found Mason unconscious, and they could not rouse him despite shaking his leg, rubbing his chest, and splashing water on his chest. They then summoned the jail's registered nurse.

As Nurse Threadgill walked toward the wagon, the police told her about Mason's unconsciousness and their attempts to wake him. At a distance of about three feet from Mason, Threadgill looked inside the van and promptly instructed the police to take Mason to the University of South Alabama Medical Center. The police did so without lights or sirens, and Mason died en route.1

Viola Taylor, administratrix of Mason's estate, sued a host of public officials involved with the incident. She alleged, in relevant part, violations of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and supplemental negligence claims under Alabama law. Included in the complaint were claims against the "Sheriff of Mobile County, Alabama." (R.1-12 at 4.) Despite some ambiguity that arose at intermediate points during the litigation, counsel for Taylor conceded at oral argument that she sued the sheriff only in his official capacity; there were no personal claims against Jack Tillman, the sheriff at the time of Mason's death. In their official capacity, however, Alabama sheriffs operating jails are state officers protected by Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Marsh v. Butler County, Alabama, 212 F.3d 1318, 1321 (11th Cir.2000). Thus, we affirm summary judgment for the Sheriff of Mobile County on Eleventh Amendment-immunity grounds. The only remaining defendants who are parties to this appeal, the three firemedics and Threadgill, seek review of the district court's denial of summary judgment in their favor on federal- and state-law immunity grounds.


The firemedics contend that the district court erred by denying them qualified immunity with respect to the federal-law claim against them and by denying them both "Good Samaritan" and discretionary-function immunity with respect to the state-law claims, while Threadgill argues that the district court erred by denying

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her qualified immunity. Taylor responds simply that the district court acted correctly in denying summary judgment. The propriety of summary judgment on each of the immunity defenses is a question of law, which we review de novo. See Sanders v. Howze, 177 F.3d 1245, 1248 (11th Cir.1999) (qualified immunity); Sheth v.. Webster, 145 F.3d 1231, 1236-40 (11th Cir.1998); Griesel v. Hamlin, 963 F.2d 338, 341 (11th Cir.1992) (together addressing state-law immunity doctrines).2

Qualified Immunity on the Deliberate-Indifference Claims

We begin our review of a denial of the qualified immunity by discussing " 'whether the plaintiff has alleged the deprivation of an actual constitutional right at all,' " Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 119 S.Ct. 1692, 1697, 143 L.Ed.2d 818 (1999) (quoting Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286, 119 S.Ct. 1292, 1295, 143 L.Ed.2d 399 (1999)), but we may ultimately decide the propriety of the denial on either of two alternative bases: first, on our answer to the question whether there is "an underlying constitutional violation," Campbell v. Sikes, 169 F.3d 1353, 1361 (11th Cir.1999), or second, on our determination whether the law the public official is alleged to have violated was "clearly established" at the time of incidents giving rise to the suit, id. See, e.g., Layne, 119 S.Ct. at 1695 (holding defendants entitled to qualified immunity despite their unconstitutional conduct because of the lack of clearly established, preexisting law governing that conduct). If either question is properly answered in the negative, then qualified immunity must be granted. Campbell. 169 F.3d at 1361-62. Here, we hold that summary judgment should have been granted to both the firemedics and Threadgill because they did not violate the Constitution.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits infliction of "cruel and unusual punishments." U.S. Const. amend. VIII.3 Stating a claim under the clause thus requires satisfying two minima (from which the case law has ultimately derived four requirements): First, there must be, objectively speaking, conduct by public officials "sufficiently serious" to constitute a cruel or unusual deprivation-one "denying 'the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." ' Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 2324, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991) (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 2399, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981)). Second, there must be a subjective intent by the public officials involved to use the sufficiently serious deprivation in order to punish. See id. at 300, 111 S.Ct. at 2325 ("The source of the intent requirement is not the predilections of this Court, but the Eighth Amendment itself, which bans only cruel and unusual punishment. If the pain inflicted is not formally meted out as punishment by the statute or the sentencing judge, some mental element must be attributed to the inflicting officer before it can qualify." (emphasis in original)).

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In the context applicable here, denial of medical care, each of these minima has been more specifically described as encompassing two subsidiary requirements. To show an objectively serious deprivation, it is necessary to demonstrate, first, an objectively "serious medical need[ ]," Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104, 97 S.Ct. at 291, one that, if left unattended, "pos[es] a substantial risk of serious harm," Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114...

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