Agnes Scott Coll. v. Hartley

Citation321 Ga.App. 74,741 S.E.2d 199
Decision Date29 March 2013
Docket NumberNo. A12A1989.,A12A1989.
CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)

321 Ga.App. 74
741 S.E.2d 199


No. A12A1989.

Court of Appeals of Georgia.

March 29, 2013.

[741 S.E.2d 200]

Bendin, Sumrall & Ladner, Brian David Trulock, for Appellants.

Bell & Mulholland, Lloyd Noland Bell, Atlanta, for Appellee.

Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn & Dial, Robert P. Marcovitch, Jenna Colvin, amici curiae.

RAY, Judge.

[321 Ga.App. 74]This case arises from an investigation of an alleged assault involving a student of Agnes Scott College (hereinafter, “ASC”), in DeKalb County, which resulted in Amanda Hartley's arrest for aggravated sexual battery, sexual battery, and simple battery. After the district attorney dropped the charges, Hartley filed suit against ASC and three of its campus policemen, Gaetano Antinozzi, Gregory Scott, and Henry Hope (collectively, “ Defendants”). In her complaint, Hartley raised claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages. Defendants moved to dismiss Hartley's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction due to official immunity and failure to state a claim. Following a hearing, the trial court denied Defendants' motion to dismiss. This Court granted Defendants' application for interlocutory appeal. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the trial court's decision.

“On appeal, this Court reviews the denial of a motion to dismiss de novo. However, we construe the pleadings in the light most favorable to the plaintiff with any doubts resolved in the plaintiff's favor.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Ga. Dept. of Community Health v. Data Inquiry, 313 Ga.App. 683, 722 S.E.2d 403 (2012).

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted should not be sustained unless (1) the allegations of the complaint disclose with certainty that the claimant would not be entitled to relief under any state of provable facts asserted in support thereof, and (2) the movant establishes that the claimant could not possibly introduce evidence within the framework of the complaint sufficient to warrant a grant of the relief sought.

(Citation omitted.) Smith v. Germania of America, 249 Ga.App. 587, 588(1), 549 S.E.2d 423 (2001).

So viewed, the abbreviated record on the motion to dismiss shows that an ASC student reported that Hartley sexually assaulted her in her ASC dorm room. The student made the initial report to Scott, who informed Antinozzi.

[741 S.E.2d 201]

Antinozzi conducted a further investigation. However, the complaint alleges that Antinozzi, Scott and Hope failed to make a reasonable effort to corroborate or investigate the student's allegations.

Hartley's complaint alleges that a “reasonable investigation” would have established that Hartley was not at the student's dorm at [321 Ga.App. 75]the time of the alleged assault. Rather, she was in Knoxville, Tennessee, at the time in question. The complaint further alleges that a “reasonable investigation” would have revealed that ASC's dorm logs show that Hartley had never been in the student's dorm and that no independent witness could testify that they had ever seen Hartley there. Two days after the reported assault, Antinozzi sought arrest warrants for Hartley on charges of aggravated sexual battery, battery, and sexual battery.

Upon obtaining arrest warrants against Hartley, Antinozzi contacted the Knoxville Police Department and initiated proceedings resulting in Hartley's arrest in Tennessee, and her extradition to DeKalb County. At a subsequent hearing, Antinozzi reiterated the charges made by the ASC student, but produced no witnesses or physical evidence. The district attorney dropped all of the charges against Hartley after she presented evidence showing that she was not in Georgia at the time of the alleged offenses.

Hartley then filed this action against the Defendants and ASC. Hartley asserted that all three campus policemen were acting within the scope of their employment as members of ASC's Department of Public Safety at all relevant times and that Hope was responsible for ensuring that allegations of criminal conduct at ASC were properly investigated. Hartley further asserted that ASC and the campus policemen breached their legal duty not to falsely arrest or imprison her; that their conduct constituted intentional infliction of emotional distress; and that their conduct entitled her to recover punitive damages.

Defendants filed their answer and denied liability. Defendants then moved to dismiss Hartley's complaint, contending (1) that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, because the campus policemen are law enforcement officers who were acting within the scope of their official duties and, thus, were immune from liability; and (2) that Hartley failed to state a claim against ASC, because a private employer of “special policemen” is not vicariously liable for the policemen's actions in furtherance of their public duties.

In denying their motion to dismiss, the trial court found that the campus policemen were not State officers or State employees under OCGA § 50–21–22(7), and that they were not otherwise entitled to official immunity. The trial court specifically found that, although the campus policemen had law enforcement powers, they were not “law enforcement officers” acting on behalf or in the service of the State as defined by OCGA § 50–21–22(7). The trial court also found that Hartley stated a claim against ASC because the complaint showed [321 Ga.App. 76]that the campus policemen were acting within the scope of their employment for ASC when they committed the allegedly tortious acts.

1. On appeal, Defendants contend that the trial court erred in finding that law enforcement officers employed by private colleges and universities are not immune from suit under the Georgia Tort Claims Act (“GTCA”), OCGA § 50–21–20, et seq. We agree that, under the facts of this case, the police officers were entitled to immunity.

The Georgia Constitution provides that sovereign immunity extends to the State and all of its departments and agencies, and that the State's sovereign immunity can only be waived by a constitutional provision or an Act of the General Assembly that specifically provides for such waiver and the extent thereof. Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. I, Sec. II, Par. IX(e).

(Citations, punctuation, and footnote omitted.) Data Inquiry, supra at 685(1), 722 S.E.2d 403. The GTCA provides that State officers or employees who commit torts while acting within the scope of their official duties or employment are not subject to lawsuit or liability for those acts. See OCGA § 50–21–25(a). Defendants argue that the campus policemen are entitled to immunity because they are law enforcement officers within the meaning of OCGA § 50–21–22(7). The issue

[741 S.E.2d 202]

of whether the campus policemen were entitled to immunity under the GTCA is a question of law which requires this Court to determine whether they are State employees. See Hardin v. Phillips, 249 Ga.App. 541, 543(1), 547 S.E.2d 565 (2001).

The GTCA definition of “State officer or employee” includes, in pertinent part,

an officer or employee of the [S]tate, elected or appointed officials, law enforcement officers, and persons acting on behalf or in service of the [S]tate in any official capacity, whether with or without compensation, but the term does not include an independent contractor doing business with the [S]tate.... Except as otherwise provided for in this paragraph, the term shall not include a corporation whether for profit or not for profit, or any private firm, business proprietorship, company, trust, partnership, association, or other such private entity.

OCGA § 50–21–22(7).

[321 Ga.App. 77]In the Campus Policemen Act, OCGA § 20–8–1 et seq., the legislature defines campus policemen as employees of educational facilities and vests campus policemen who have been certified as peace officers with “the same law enforcement powers, including the power of arrest, as a law enforcement officer of the local government with police jurisdiction over such campus.” OCGA § 20–8–2. That Act defines a “campus policeman” not as an employee who owes a duty solely to the private institution that employs him, but rather as an officer “whose duties include the enforcement of the laws of this [S]tate; the preservation of public order; the protection of life and property; the prevention, detection, or investigation of crime; or any combination thereof.” OCGA § 20–8–1(2).

Construing OCGA § 50–21–22(7) with the Campus Policemen Act, OCGA § 20–8–1 et seq.,1 demonstrates the General Assembly's intent to include law enforcement officers employed by private colleges and universities within the definition of “State officer[s] and employee[s]” who are granted immunity under the GTCA because it imbues them with the power to do what is necessary to enforce the laws of this State and imposes upon them a duty to enforce State law and to investigate any violation thereof. When a campus policeman exercises his statutorily authorized “law enforcement powers” within his defined jurisdiction “[o]n the campus of an educational facility,” OCGA § 20–8–2, then necessarily, he is “acting on behalf of or in service of the [S]tate in [an] official capacity,” and hence, he is a State officer under OCGA § 50–21–22(7).

In the present case, although the Defendant campus policemen were employed by ASC, the facts in the complaint do not state that they were acting in furtherance of ASC's interests at the time of the investigation of the reported assault and the subsequent arrest of Hartley.2 The allegations in the complaint, taken as true, merely allege that the Defendants involved in this case were engaged in police functions involved in upholding the laws of the State and [321 Ga.App. 78]investigating an alleged crime. It follows, therefore, that in fulfilling their “law enforcement powers” granted by OCGA § 20–8–2, they were “acting on behalf or in...

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4 cases
  • Agnes Scott Coll., Inc. v. Hartley
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • May 24, 2018
    ...trial court denied the motion to dismiss, but on interlocutory review we reversed that decision in Agnes Scott College v. Hartley , 321 Ga. App. 74, 741 S.E.2d 199 (2013) (" Hartley I "), holding in Division 1 that Agnes Scott was entitled to immunity under the Georgia Tort Claims Act and i......
  • Hartley v. Agnes Scott Coll.
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • June 16, 2014
    ...immunity from tort suits under the Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA), OCGA §§ 50–21–20 to 50–21–37. In Division 1 of Agnes Scott College v. Hartley, 321 Ga.App. 74, 741 S.E.2d 199 (2013), a three-judge plurality of the Court of Appeals, joined in judgment only by another judge, examined the de......
  • Padgett v. Baxley and Appling County Hospital Authority, A12A1902.
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • March 29, 2013
  • Agnes Scott Coll., Inc. v. Hartley
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • February 2, 2015
    ...Robert P. Marcovitch, amici curiae.OpinionRAY, Judge.In Division 1 of this Court's opinion in Agnes Scott College v. Hartley, 321 Ga.App. 74, 76–80(1), 741 S.E.2d 199 (2013) (“Hartley I ”), we reversed the trial court's denial of a motion to dismiss Hartley's complaint on the grounds that A......

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