Yeldell v. Cooper Green Hosp., Inc.

Citation956 F.2d 1056
Decision Date30 March 1992
Docket NumberNo. 91-7021,91-7021
Parties66 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 607, 58 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 41,435 Sharon YELDELL, Karan J. Cremer, Plaintiffs-Appellees, Russell Starkey, John Rohde, Ellie Higginbotham, Intervenors-Plaintiffs Appellees, v. COOPER GREEN HOSPITAL, INC., Jefferson County Personnel Board, Defendants, Reuben Davis, individually and in his official capacity as a Jefferson County Commissioner; Jefferson County Commission; Jim Gunter, in his individual capacity and official capacity as Jefferson County Commissioner; John Katopodis, individually and in his official capacity as Jefferson County Commissioner; Chris McNair, individually and in his official capacity as Jefferson County Commissioner; David Orange, individually and in his official capacity as Jefferson County Commissioner, Defendants-Appellants.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)

Page 1056

956 F.2d 1056
66 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 607,
58 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 41,435
Sharon YELDELL, Karan J. Cremer, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
Russell Starkey, John Rohde, Ellie Higginbotham,
Intervenors-Plaintiffs Appellees,
v.
COOPER GREEN HOSPITAL, INC., Jefferson County Personnel
Board, Defendants,
Reuben Davis, individually and in his official capacity as a
Jefferson County Commissioner; Jefferson County Commission;
Jim Gunter, in his individual capacity and official
capacity as Jefferson County Commissioner; John Katopodis,
individually and in his official capacity as Jefferson
County Commissioner; Chris McNair, individually and in his
official capacity as Jefferson County Commissioner; David
Orange, individually and in his official capacity as
Jefferson County Commissioner, Defendants-Appellants.
No. 91-7021.
United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.
March 30, 1992.

Page 1058

Charles S. Wagner, Jeffrey Monroe Sewell, Asst. County Attys., Birmingham, Ala., for petitioners-appellants.

Samuel C. Campisi, Ann C. Robertson, Gordon, Silberman, Wiggins & Childs, Birmingham, Ala., for defendants.

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

Before FAY and HATCHETT, Circuit Judges, and GIBSON *, Senior Circuit Judge.

FAY, Circuit Judge:

County Commissioners Reuben Davis, Jim Gunter, John Katopodis, Chris McNair, and David Orange were sued for civil rights violations in their personal and official capacities. In a motion for summary judgment the commissioners challenged the lawsuit in both capacities. The basis of the commissioners' motion in their personal capacities was legislative immunity or, in the alternative, qualified immunity. The district court granted partial summary judgment, but found no merit in the commissioners' immunity arguments, denying that part of their motion. On appeal, the commissioners challenge only the district court's denial of summary judgment in their personal capacities. For the reasons that follow, we REVERSE the district court and hold that Commissioners Gunter, Katopodis, McNair and Orange are entitled to summary judgment in their personal capacities on the basis of legislative immunity. However, we AFFIRM the district court's denial of Commissioner Davis' personal capacity summary judgment motion.

I.

The defendants-appellants are all members or former members of the Jefferson County Commission, the governing body of Jefferson County, Alabama, a political subdivision of the State of Alabama. In 1985, pursuant to a federal district court consent decree, the Jefferson County Commission was changed from a three-member at-large elected commission to a five-member district form of government to ensure greater minority representation on the Commission. Elections for the five seats were held in November, 1986. The consent decree provided that, immediately following the 1986 elections, the new five member commission would "distribute the powers and duties conferred by law upon the county commission and the members thereof as they deem fit and efficient." Taylor v. Jefferson County Commission, No. CV-84C-1730-S at 2 (N.D.Ala. Aug. 17, 1985) (consent decree). Therefore, as the first order of business, the newly elected commissioners adopted a resolution dividing the responsibility for county government into five functional areas: (1) Department of Finance and General Services, (2) Department of Roads and Transportation, (3) Department of Environmental Services, (4) Department

Page 1059

of Health and Human Resources, and (5) Department of Community and Economic Development. Each Commissioner took control of a different area. Commissioner Reuben Davis, the first black commissioner elected to the Jefferson County Commission, took responsibility for Health and Human Services.

As the commissioner in charge of Health and Human Services, part of Commissioner Davis' task was oversight of the local hospital, Cooper Green. This meant that Commissioner Davis was responsible for reviewing personnel policies and the personnel recommendations of the chief executive officer of the hospital. It is out of this process of personnel policy administration and review that the current dispute arose.

The plaintiffs-appellees, except for Russell Starkey, are or were at one time employees of Cooper Green Hospital and were either demoted, fired, or passed up for a job opportunity as a result of some action taken by Commissioner Davis. Karan J. Cremer, a white woman, was removed as the temporary Nursing Supervisor for Maternal/Infant Care and Elizabeth Clark Bone, a black woman, was hired to fill the position on a permanent basis. Russell Starkey, a white man who was hired as an independent contractor to perform certain administrative services at the hospital, had his contract terminated and was not hired for any one of several positions within the hospital for which he applied. Ellie Higginbotham, a white woman who worked as Senior Hoosekeeping Supervisor at the hospital, was fired. Sharon Yeldell, a black woman, was demoted from Acting Director of Hospital Education to the position of Assistant Director of Nursing Services with a commensurate decrease in salary. John Rohde, a white man and Chief Executive Officer of the hospital was, amongst other things, suspended for five days without pay.

Several complaints were made to Commissioners Gunter, Katopodis, McNair, and Orange regarding the decisions of Commissioner Davis at Cooper Green Hospital. The commissioners, however, chose not to act on these complaints.

Based on the facts set out above, in December of 1989, Sharon Yeldell brought suit against the Jefferson County Commission, the Jefferson County Personnel Board, and Jefferson County Commissioners Reuben Davis, Jim Gunter, John Katopodis, Chris McNair, and David Orange both in their personal and official capacities. Plaintiff Karan J. Cremer joined Yeldell's suit and was soon followed by plaintiffs-intervenors, John Rohde, Ellie Higginbotham, and Russell Starkey. Their complaints allege civil rights abuses, predominantly race discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and state law.

In a motion for summary judgment, the Jefferson County Commission and the county commissioners in their official and personal capacities moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims. The commissioners' request for summary judgment in their personal capacities was based on legislative immunity or, in the alternative, qualified immunity. The district court granted partial summary judgment, dismissing the plaintiffs' § 1981 claims on the basis of the Supreme Court's decision in Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164, 109 S.Ct. 2363, 105 L.Ed.2d 132 (1989), but denied summary judgment as to all other claims. On appeal, the commissioners argue that the district court erred in denying their motion for summary judgment on the basis of either legislative or qualified immunity. 1

II.

We have jurisdiction to hear this appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 2 and the "collateral

Page 1060

order" doctrine of Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 69 S.Ct. 1221, 93 L.Ed. 1528 (1949). See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985); Rich v. Dollar, 841 F.2d 1558 (11th Cir.1988).

Our review here is de novo and we use the same test that the district court would apply. See Akins v. Snow, 922 F.2d 1558, 1560 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 2915, 115 L.Ed.2d 1079 (1991); Tackitt v. Prudential Ins. Co., 758 F.2d 1572, 1574 (11th Cir.1985). This means that we follow the mandate of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), which provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."

The commissioners seek immunity from suit in their personal capacities. Because of the great confusion that so often surrounds claims and defenses involving personal capacity and official capacity liability, see Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 3105, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985), we begin our review of the issues in this appeal with a brief description of the differences between personal capacity and official capacity lawsuits.

"Personal-capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law. Official-capacity suits, in contrast, 'generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.' " Id. at 165-66, 105 S.Ct. at 3105 (citations omitted) (quoting Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690 n. 55, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2035 n. 55-56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978)). In other words, a plaintiff in an action against a government official in his personal capacity can recover only against the official's personal assets. The assets of the governmental entity are not accessible. The reverse is true in an official capacity lawsuit. Furthermore, "to establish personal liability in a § 1983 action, it is enough to show that the official, acting under color of state law, caused the deprivation of a federal right.... [I]n an official-capacity suit the entity's 'policy or custom' must have played a part in the violation of federal law." Id. 473 U.S. at 166, 105 S.Ct. at 3105 (citations omitted).

Yet another distinction between official-capacity and personal-capacity lawsuits is the fact that "officials sued in their personal capacities, unlike those sued in their official capacities, may assert personal immunity defenses such as objectively reasonable reliance on existing law." Hafer v. Melo, --- U.S. ----, 112 S.Ct. 358, 362, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991). Finally, both this court and the Fifth Circuit have held...

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