Boyd v. Robeson County
|15 March 2005
|615 S.E.2d 296
|Daphne BOYD, Plaintiff, v. ROBESON COUNTY; Howard Strawcutter, Medical Director of Jail Health Services at the Robeson County Detention Center, in his official and individual capacities; Ferriss Locklear, in his official and individual capacities; Glenn Maynor, Sheriff of Robeson County, in his official and individual capacities; Raymond Williams, Chief Jailer for the Robeson County Detention Center, in his individual and official capacities; Terry Harris, Chief of Operations for the Robeson County Detention Center, in his individual and official capacities; Sharon Byrd, Wanda Hunt, Joann West, Brenda Sanderson, Susan Green, Anna Smith, and Fondarie Locklear, Detention Officers for the Robeson County Detention Center, in their individual and official capacities; and Western Surety Company, a surety company for the Sheriff of Robeson County, Defendants.
|North Carolina Supreme Court
Beaver, Holt, Sternlicht, Glazier, Britton, & Courie, P.A., by Richard B. Glazier, Rebecca J. Britton, and Joseph W. Osman, Fayetteville, for plaintiff-appellee.
Sumrell, Sugg, Carmichael, Hicks & Hart, P.A., by Scott C. Hart, New Bern, for defendants-appellants.
This appeal arises out of a five-day episode at the Robeson County Detention Center, during which, according to plaintiff Daphne Boyd, she was denied adequate medical treatment for a ruptured appendix despite her constant complaints of pain and pleas for assistance. Defendants Sheriff Glenn Maynor and the individual detention officers appeal from the trial court's order denying their motions for partial summary judgment, contending primarily that (1) they are not "persons" amenable to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2000) and (2) the trial court erred in failing to hold that plaintiff's § 1983 claims are barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity.
We hold that a North Carolina sheriff is a "person" subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and that defendants are not entitled to summary judgment based on their defense of qualified immunity when the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the non-moving party. We decline to reach defendants' remaining arguments because they are not properly the subject of an interlocutory appeal.
The evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, establishes the following facts. On 14 September 1998, plaintiff entered the Robeson County Detention Center to serve a 45-day sentence for felony worthless check convictions. On 24 October 1998, during the early morning hours, plaintiff began to suffer from nausea and "constant" abdominal pain. After notifying the officer on duty of her condition, plaintiff obtained and completed a sick call request slip. Approximately 30 minutes later, a detention officer escorted plaintiff to the Jail Health Service Clinic ("the clinic"), where a nurse gave plaintiff "something to drink" and sent plaintiff back to her cell.
Once in her cell, plaintiff vomited. Her pain became more intense and spread from her stomach, where it had previously concentrated, to the right side of her body. Plaintiff informed the detention officer and requested to visit the clinic once again. At 4:00 a.m., a detention officer took plaintiff back to the clinic where plaintiff vomited again. The nurse examined plaintiff, telephoned Dr. Ferris Locklear, the clinic physician, and administered a "shot for pain."
The next morning, 25 October 1998, plaintiff awoke and again experienced "agonizing pain" and nausea. Plaintiff gave a sick call request form to the detention officers. At some point that day, Dr. Locklear examined plaintiff. Plaintiff asked the doctor if the problem might be with her appendix, but he responded that she was suffering from a virus. When plaintiff asked to go to the hospital or see another doctor, Dr. Locklear told her that inmates only go to the hospital for emergencies. Dr. Locklear treated plaintiff with Tylenol and she was returned to her cell. The doctor told plaintiff that he would see her the next day.
On the following day, 26 October 1998, plaintiff submitted another sick call request slip to a detention officer and reminded her that Dr. Locklear was supposed to re-examine her that day. The officer said she would give the doctor the slip. In 1998, it was the responsibility of the detention officers to deliver the sick call slips to the nurse. During the day, plaintiff's pain advanced to the left side of her abdomen and also began affecting her back. She continued to vomit and have diarrhea, with her nausea getting worse as the day went on. Throughout the day, each time a detention officer passed the window of her cell, plaintiff asked when the doctor would see her, explaining that she was still in tremendous pain. No one gave her any information or took her to the clinic. At one point, plaintiff was transported to the Robeson County Courthouse to attend a hearing. As the officers returned her to her cell, she told them again that she needed medical care.
On 27 October 1998, plaintiff requested another sick call request slip from the detention officers. She completed it and put it in the window of her cell. When the officers asked how she was feeling, she told them that she felt as if she "was going to die." Plaintiff testified: "And I just kept complaining to anybody and everybody that I thought might listen." Once plaintiff learned that the pain medication prescribed by the doctor had been halted, she repeatedly asked to get her medication back. Her pain continued to worsen over the course of the day until she could barely move. Still, the officers did not take her to the clinic.
On 28 October 1998, after plaintiff filled out another sick call request slip, a detention officer finally took her to see Dr. Locklear. Dr. Locklear examined her and ordered additional tests. He told plaintiff that he would give her something else for her pain and sent her back to her cell. Later that day, plaintiff traveled to Lumberton Radiological Associates where an ultrasound procedure revealed acute gangrenous appendicitis with peritonitis.
Due to the advanced nature of the appendicitis, plaintiff was admitted to Southeastern Regional Medical Center where Dr. Samuel Britt performed an emergency appendectomy. Her condition was consistent with an appendicitis left untreated for five days. Following the surgery, plaintiff twice suffered a bowel obstruction requiring two additional surgeries. According to Dr. Britt, a "direct connection" existed between the surgical complications plaintiff suffered and the delay in removing plaintiff's appendix.
Boyd brought suit against defendants for violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the federal constitution, negligence, and spoliation of evidence. Prior to the hearing on defendants' motion for partial summary judgment, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the following claims without prejudice: (1) all 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against Dr. Locklear in his official and individual capacities; (2) all 42 U.S.C. § 1983 supervisory liability claims against defendants Chief Jailer Williams, Chief of Operations Harris, and Dr. Strawcutter, Medical Director of Jail Health Services, in their individual capacities; (3) all 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against defendants Maynor, Williams, Harris, and Strawcutter in their individual capacities; (4) all common law negligence claims against defendants Maynor, Williams, Harris, and the seven named detention officers in their individual capacities; (5) all common law negligence claims against defendants Williams and Harris in their official capacities; and (6) the spoliation of evidence claims against all defendants. As to the remaining claims, Superior Court Judge Jack A. Thompson denied defendants' motion for partial summary judgment.
Defendants argue primarily on appeal that the trial court erred in denying their motion for partial summary judgment because (1) the Sheriff of Robeson County and the employees of the Sheriff's Department sued in their official capacity are not "persons" who may be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and (2) the detention officers sued in their individual capacity are entitled to qualified immunity. Because this appeal comes to this Court from the trial court's denial of a motion for partial summary judgment, this appeal is interlocutory. Embler v. Embler, 143 N.C.App. 162, 164-65, 545 S.E.2d 259, 261 (2001). An interlocutory appeal is ordinarily permissible only if (1) the trial court certified the order under Rule 54(b) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, or (2) the order affects a substantial right that would be lost without immediate review. Id.
Since this Court has consistently held that a denial of summary judgment grounded on claims of governmental immunity affects a substantial right, Schmidt v. Breeden, 134 N.C.App. 248, 251, 517 S.E.2d 171, 174 (1999), the detention officers' appeal from the trial court's denial of summary judgment on their defense of qualified immunity is properly before the Court. This Court has not previously addressed whether denial of a summary judgment motion addressing whether a governmental entity is a "person" for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 affects a substantial right. In other contexts, however, this Court has held that defenses, such as the public duty doctrine, involving the same considerations as governmental immunity do involve a substantial right. See Hedrick v. Rains, 121 N.C.App. 466, 468, 466 S.E.2d 281, 283, aff'd per curiam, 344 N.C. 729, 477 S.E.2d 171 (1996). We believe that the question whether a governmental entity is a "person" under § 1983 is analogous to the public duty doctrine and claims of immunity and, therefore, hold that it involves a substantial right...
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