496 F.3d 1321 (11th Cir. 2007), 06-14479, West v. Tillman

Docket Nº:06-14479.
Citation:496 F.3d 1321
Party Name:Bentley WEST, Jerry Rainey, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Jack TILLMAN, Ms. Stephens, Bridgette S. Goode, Tiffany Davis, Ester L. Mitchell, et al., Defendants-Appellees, Laketa A. Wallace, Defendant.
Case Date:August 27, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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496 F.3d 1321 (11th Cir. 2007)

Bentley WEST, Jerry Rainey, Plaintiffs-Appellants,


Jack TILLMAN, Ms. Stephens, Bridgette S. Goode, Tiffany Davis, Ester L. Mitchell, et al., Defendants-Appellees,

Laketa A. Wallace, Defendant.

No. 06-14479.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

August 27, 2007

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Henry H. Brewster, Jr., Stein & Brewster & Pilcher, LLC, Mobile, AL, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

K. Paul Carbo, Jr., The Atchison Firm, P.C., Mobile, AL, for Defendants.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.

Before EDMONDSON, Chief Judge, HULL, Circuit Judge and FORRESTER, [*] District Judge.


In this civil rights action, Plaintiffs Bentley West and Jerry Rainey (collectively, "Plaintiffs") appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment to Defendants

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Jack Tillman, Sheriff of Mobile County; James E. Owens, Deputy Warden of Mobile County Metro Jail (the "Jail"); Lt. Esther Mitchell, Supervisor of the Jail's Records Division; Bridgette Goode, Corrections Officer at the Jail; and Tiffany Davis, Linda Whitton, and Laketa Wallace, all Records Specialists at the Jail (collectively, "Defendants"). We have discovered no reversible error; we affirm.


This appeal calls into question the adequacy of the Jail's procedures for processing court orders relating to the Jail's inmates. The record shows that the Jail receives anywhere from 5,000 to 12,000 different court orders per month, sometimes with a volume of up to 2,000 to 3,000 documents per week. Sometime in 2000, the records department staff at the Jail was downsized from six people to two or three people.1 As a result, the records department staff worked overtime; and other Jail employees familiar with the records procedure were called in to assist with the workload. When Capt. Ronnie Phillips took over as acting warden in 2001, he immediately began making efforts to increase the staffing levels at the Jail, including in the records room. When a new warden took over in April 2003, the Jail was almost fully staffed at its authorized levels, with six people staffing the records room.2

West was incarcerated at the Jail on a charge of marijuana possession on 2 November 2002. Despite a 4 December court order reducing his bond amount and allowing him to execute a signature bond on his own behalf, West remained in custody until 27 December. According to standard procedures, when the court sent the order to the Jail, the order should have been entered into the Jail's computer system; and the "jail card" should have been delivered to the docket department to accomplish West's release. Instead, Defendant Whitton, who received the 4 December order, only partially entered the order3 and failed to deliver the jail card to docketing.

At different times throughout his detention, West asked Jail officials about his release. For example, West asked Defendant Goode to check on his release on at least two occasions.4 In response to one request on or before 19 December, Goode called the records department to inquire about West's release. Defendant Davis, a records specialist, requested another copy of the order from the court and entered that order into the system; but again, the jail card did not reach the docket room.5

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On 27 December, in response to another inquiry by West, Goode consulted the system and told West he should have been released on 19 December. West was released on 27 December.

Rainey was incarcerated on 31 October 2002, on robbery charges. The grand jury no-billed him on 27 March 2003, and the court order for his release was sent to the Jail that day. A records specialist -- "thought" to be Defendant Wallace -- entered the order into the system but failed to deliver the jail card. Although Rainey allegedly asked Jail officials about his release from time to time, he was not released until 24 May 2003.

Plaintiffs filed this joint suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sheriff Tillman in his official and individual capacities and against the remaining Defendants in their individual capacities, alleging--among other things 6--that (1) Goode, Davis, Whitton, and Wallace (the "Nonsupervisory Defendants") were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment due process rights when they failed to bring about Plaintiffs' release from custody; (2) Lt. Mitchell, Sheriff Tillman, and Deputy Warden Owens (the "Supervisory Defendants") were liable for the violation because they failed to staff adequately, supervise, and train the records staff at the Jail; and (3) Sheriff Tillman's release policies (or lack thereof) were unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause.

Defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The district court granted the motion, concluding that Plaintiffs failed to present sufficient evidence that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiffs' rights.7 In the order, the district court noted that a page in one of Plaintiffs' affidavits was missing from the record. Plaintiffs moved to alter or to amend the court's order and requested permission to supplement the record with the complete affidavit. The district court denied the motion. Plaintiffs now appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment and the court's denial of Plaintiffs' motion to alter or amend the judgment.


We review de novo the district court's disposition of a summary judgment motion based on qualified immunity, resolving all issues of material fact in favor of Plaintiffs and then answering the legal question of whether Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity under that version of the facts. Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1190 (11th Cir. 2002). We review the denial of a motion to amend the judgment for abuse of discretion. Armstead v. Coler, 914 F.2d 1464, 1466 (11th Cir. 1990).


Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, government officials performing discretionary functions may not be held individually liable for civil damages so long as their conduct does not violate " 'clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.' " Lassiter v. Alabama A&M Univ., 28 F.3d 1146, 1149 (11th Cir.1994)

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(en banc) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). In determining whether Defendants have satisfied this standard, we first address whether, in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the record shows that Defendants violated Plaintiffs' federal rights. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 2156, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). If we conclude that such a violation occurred, we must then determine "whether the right was clearly established" at the pertinent time by the pre-existing law. Id.

Plaintiffs assert that their over-detention resulted in a violation of their Fourteenth Amendment due process right to be free from continued detention after the state should have known that they were entitled to release. See Cannon v. Macon County, 1 F.3d 1558, 1562-63 (11th Cir.1993). To establish such a violation, Plaintiffs must show that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiffs' due process rights. Id. at 1563. Human error does not equal deliberate indifference. Plaintiffs must show that Defendants 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." Cagle v. Sutherland, 334 F.3d 980, 987 (11th Cir.2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (alteration in original). The deliberate indifference standard is "a difficult burden for a plaintiff to meet," Popham v. City of Talladega, 908 F.2d 1561, 1563 (11th Cir.1990); and we are competent to decide as a matter of law whether Plaintiffs have carried their burden. See, e.g., Gobert v. Caldwell, 463 F.3d 339, 352 (5th Cir.2006) (concluding "as a matter of law" that, while "trier of fact might find negligence" based on the evidence, a finding of "deliberate indifference ... could not be sustained"); Pietrafeso v. Lawrence County, 452 F.3d 978, 983-84 (8th Cir.2006) (reviewing district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law for defendants and concluding that, at most, plaintiff had presented evidence of negligence, not deliberate indifference); cf. Campbell v. Sikes, 169 F.3d 1353, 1368-69 (11th Cir.1999) (rejecting expert testimony as valid evidence of defendant's subjective knowledge where record did not otherwise create genuine issue of fact on that element and distinguishing other cases where "the egregious facts and circumstances ... created the requisite factual issue of deliberate indifference or wanton conduct" (emphasis added)).

A. Nonsupervisory Defendants

Here, nothing evidences that the Nonsupervisory Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiffs' right to timely release. For West, the evidence shows--at most--that Defendants Whitton, Davis, and Goode were negligent in failing to carry out their responsibilities. At the time of West's over-detention, Defendant Whitton had been employed at the Jail for only a few weeks. She entered some of the relevant information into the computer system but failed to deliver the jail card to the docketing room. West has pointed to no evidence showing that Whitton subjectively knew that her acts would lead to West's over-detention or that she disregarded any such risk.

And, although Defendant Davis was an experienced records specialist and testified that she understood the risks associated with her duties, nothing evidences that her failure to ensure that West's jail card reached the docket room resulted from anything more than negligence. Davis testified that the West release...

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