Beasley v. Ga. Dep't of Corr., A21A0593

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Writing for the CourtDillard, Presiding Judge.
Citation360 Ga.App. 33,861 S.E.2d 106
Parties BEASLEY et al. v. GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS.
Decision Date22 June 2021
Docket NumberA21A0593

360 Ga.App. 33
861 S.E.2d 106

BEASLEY et al.
v.
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS.

A21A0593

Court of Appeals of Georgia.

June 22, 2021


861 S.E.2d 108

Tracey Lynette Pruiett, Joseph James Dinardo, Stephen Michael Reams, Atlanta, for Appellant.

Christopher Michael Carr, Kathleen M. Pacious, Loretta L. Pinkston-Pope, Kathleen Sadler Turnipseed, Atlanta, Angela Ellen Cusimano, for Appellee.

Dillard, Presiding Judge.

360 Ga.App. 33

The underlying facts of this case are tragic. In the summer of 2017, two experienced corrections officers were killed in the line of duty by two of the inmates they were transporting. Phillip Beasley witnessed the aftermath of this harrowing ordeal after stopping his vehicle behind the halted prison bus and soon was confronted by the inmates, who threatened him at gunpoint and stole his car. He escaped with his life, and (along with his wife) eventually filed suit against the Georgia Department of Corrections, seeking

360 Ga.App. 34

damages for the emotional distress he suffered as a result of this incident. Specifically, the Beasleys contend that the officers’ failure to abide by certain departmental policies in transporting inmates—which they argue created a "public nuisance"—permits them to sue the GDOC for Phillip's injuries under the Georgia Tort Claims Act. The GDOC filed a motion to dismiss the Beasleys’ suit on sovereign-immunity grounds, arguing that the assault-and-battery exception to the GTCA's general waiver of the State's immunity bars their claims, and the trial court granted it. For the reasons noted infra , we affirm.

We review de novo the trial court's ruling on this motion to dismiss because the question of sovereign immunity is one of law, but we are required to sustain the court's factual findings if they are supported by any evidence.1 And as the party seeking a waiver

861 S.E.2d 109

of the State's immunity, the Beasleys bore the burden of proof before the trial court.2

So viewed, the record shows that in the early morning hours of June 15, 2017, while transporting 33 prisoners on a bus, two GDOC officers—Sergeants Curtis Billue and Christopher Monica—were tragically killed with their own service weapons after two inmates—Ricky Dubose and Donnie Brown—suddenly breached the security gate and entered the front of the vehicle. The ensuing investigation revealed that the officers violated several GDOC policies prior to and during the transport, including failing to strip search the inmates, use double locks on handcuffs, lock the security gate, remain awake and alert, wear ballistic vests, or conduct the transport after sunrise.

Upon escaping, the inmates who killed the officers sprinted toward a vehicle stopped behind the halted prison bus, which was occupied by Phillip Beasley—who was on his way to work. Then, once they reached Phillip's vehicle, the inmates demanded—with a gun placed firmly against his head—that he exit his vehicle, which he did before running away with the expectation that he would be "shot at any moment." And as a result of this harrowing experience, Phillip

360 Ga.App. 35

now suffers from PTSD, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, nightmares, sleeplessness, anger, sadness, and estrangement from his wife and children.

On June 11, 2018, the Beasleys sent the GDOC notice of their claims and, thereafter, filed suit on June 10, 2019, seeking damages and claiming that the GDOC created a public nuisance, was liable for both negligence and gross negligence, and committed trespass. The GDOC filed a special appearance answer, in which they asserted that the Beasleys’ claims were barred by sovereign immunity, and then proceeded to file a motion to dismiss on the same grounds. And following oral argument, the trial court granted the GDOC's motion to dismiss, concluding that for each of the Beasleys’ claims, "the actual loss incurred by the Plaintiff is a result of an assault or battery." So, notwithstanding the numerous policy violations the GDOC officers committed, the trial court found that the Beasleys would never have incurred damages without the inmates’ actions, and the assault and battery fell within the types of losses prohibited by the GTCA.3

This appeal by the Beasleys follows, in which they argue the trial court erred by (1) failing to recognize that the officers’ conduct constituted a public nuisance, (2) finding that because an assault or battery occurred, the GDOC was immunized from liability for the public nuisance it created prior to the car jacking, and (3) applying the assault-and-battery exception of the GTCA in a way that "ignores established tort principles regarding proximate cause."

Under the Georgia Constitution, the sovereign immunity of our state "may be waived only as provided by the [General Assembly] in a tort claims act or an act of the [General Assembly] which specifically provides that sovereign immunity is waived and the extent of such waiver."4 And under

861 S.E.2d 110

this authority, our General Assembly enacted the

360 Ga.App. 36

GTCA, which provides, in relevant part, that

[t]he state waives its sovereign immunity for the torts of state officers and employees while acting within the scope of their official duties or employment and shall be liable for such torts in the same manner as a private individual or entity would be liable under like circumstances; provided, however, that the state's sovereign immunity is waived subject to all exceptions and limitations set forth in this article.5

One exception to the general GTCA waiver provides that the State is not liable for losses resulting from "[a]ssault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, libel, slander, or interference with contractual rights[.]"6 And the GTCA defines "loss" to mean "personal injury; disease; death; damage to tangible property, including lost wages and economic loss to the person who suffered the injury, disease, or death; pain and suffering; mental anguish; and any other element of actual damages recoverable in actions for negligence."7 So, with these guiding principles in mind, we turn to the Beasleys’ claims of error.

1. For starters, the Beasleys argue the trial court erred by concluding that their losses were the result of an assault and battery and failing to recognize the corrections officers’ conduct constituted a public nuisance.8 More specifically, they contend that the GDOC is liable for the now-deceased officers’ "improper transportation of violent criminals [which] interferes with the use of the public highways" because when the prisoner transport bus stopped, it obstructed the roadway; and "[t]he prisoners created a second obstruction of the highway when they emerged from the bus, unsupervised, and making their escape." Thus, the Beasleys maintain that the trial court erred

360 Ga.App. 37

by determining, as a matter of law, that these facts did not constitute a public nuisance. At a minimum, they claim that the question of whether the relevant facts constitute such a nuisance is a question for a jury. Finally, the Beasleys assert that affirming the trial court's decision will "violate the separation of powers" because a public nuisance is a tort, and the GTCA explicitly waives the State's immunity for the torts of officers and employees. But all of these arguments are unavailing.

It is well established that the "nuisance doctrine"9 for purposes of sovereign immunity allows the State to be held liable for "creating or maintaining a nuisance which constitutes either a danger to life and health or a taking of property."10 But this sovereign-immunity doctrine is firmly rooted in the concept that "the government may not take or damage private property for public

861 S.E.2d 111

purposes without just and adequate compensation."11 Importantly, personal injury for purposes of inverse condemnation based on a public nuisance does not "constitute personal property that can be taken,"12 and so "[s]overeign immunity bars any action for personal injury or wrongful death ... arising from nuisance or inverse condemnation."13 And here, we are dealing with personal injuries, not a taking of personal property via a public

360 Ga.App. 38

nuisance.14 As a result, the trial court properly dismissed the Beasleys’ claims because it correctly determined that the actual losses—or damages —they suffered were solely due to the assault and battery perpetrated by the two inmates.15 Indeed, the reason for the roadway's obstruction was unknown until the inmates emerged from the vehicle and approached Phillip; and it was only then that he sustained any damages.16 It strains credulity,

861 S.E.2d 112

then, to suggest that merely stopping behind a prison transport bus caused...

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8 practice notes
  • In re A. A., A21A1724
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • January 31, 2022
    ...evidence to adjudicate A. A. as delinquent on a count of distributing obscene material.2 See Beasley v. Ga. Dep't of Corr. , 360 Ga. App. 33, 41 (3) (a), 861 S.E.2d 106 (2021) ("Appellate courts must discern the ‘intent’ of the legislature through the words contained in enacted statutes, an......
  • Alred v. Council, A21A1189
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • February 3, 2022
    ...(2014) (noting that the issue of sovereign immunity is a question of law which is reviewed de novo ); Beasley v. Ga. Dep't of Corr. , 360 Ga. App. 33, 34, 861 S.E.2d 106, 108 (2021) ("We review de novo the trial court's ruling on this motion to dismiss because the question of sovereign immu......
  • In re A. A., A21A1724
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • January 31, 2022
    ...evidence to adjudicate A. A. as delinquent on a count of distributing obscene material. [2] See Beasley v. Ga. Dep't of Corr., 360 Ga.App. 33, 41 (3) (a) (861 S.E.2d 106) (2021) ("Appellate courts must discern the 'intent' of the legislature through the words contained in enacted statutes, ......
  • Dekalb Cnty. v. Stanley, A21A0820, A21A0821
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • September 24, 2021
    ...these rulings. We review de novo the trial court's rulings granting the motions to dismiss. See Beasley v. Ga. Dept. of Corrections, 360 Ga.App. 33, 861 S.E.2d 106 (2021). 1. Stanley contends that the trial court erred in dismissing her negligence claims because the County and Pelton violat......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • In re A. A., A21A1724
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • January 31, 2022
    ...evidence to adjudicate A. A. as delinquent on a count of distributing obscene material.2 See Beasley v. Ga. Dep't of Corr. , 360 Ga. App. 33, 41 (3) (a), 861 S.E.2d 106 (2021) ("Appellate courts must discern the ‘intent’ of the legislature through the words contained in enacted statutes, an......
  • Alred v. Council, A21A1189
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • February 3, 2022
    ...(2014) (noting that the issue of sovereign immunity is a question of law which is reviewed de novo ); Beasley v. Ga. Dep't of Corr. , 360 Ga. App. 33, 34, 861 S.E.2d 106, 108 (2021) ("We review de novo the trial court's ruling on this motion to dismiss because the question of sovereign immu......
  • In re A. A., A21A1724
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • January 31, 2022
    ...evidence to adjudicate A. A. as delinquent on a count of distributing obscene material. [2] See Beasley v. Ga. Dep't of Corr., 360 Ga.App. 33, 41 (3) (a) (861 S.E.2d 106) (2021) ("Appellate courts must discern the 'intent' of the legislature through the words contained in enacted statutes, ......
  • Dekalb Cnty. v. Stanley, A21A0820, A21A0821
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • September 24, 2021
    ...these rulings. We review de novo the trial court's rulings granting the motions to dismiss. See Beasley v. Ga. Dept. of Corrections, 360 Ga.App. 33, 861 S.E.2d 106 (2021). 1. Stanley contends that the trial court erred in dismissing her negligence claims because the County and Pelton violat......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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