United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Panama City Division
BRANDY CARNLEY and VIRGINIA J. LINDSEY, Plaintiffs,
SHERIFF OF BAY COUNTY, FLORIDA, et al., Defendants.
ORDER DENYING THE MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF
LAW OR FOR A NEW TRIAL
L. Hinkle, United States District Judge
case arises from a correctional officer's sexual assault
of the two plaintiffs, who were pretrial detainees in a jail
operated by the Sheriff of Bay County, Florida. The
plaintiffs asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against the correctional officer and against the Sheriff in
his official capacity. After a full and fair trial, the jury
returned a verdict for the plaintiffs. The Sheriff has moved
for judgment as a matter of law or alternatively for a new
trial. This order denies the motion.
motion for judgment as a matter of law, disputes in the
evidence must be resolved, and all reasonable inferences must
be drawn, in favor of the nonmoving party. The motion must be
denied if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party. See, e.g., Commodores
Entm't Corp. v. McClary, 879 F.3d 1114, 1130 (11th
motion for a new trial, in contrast, the court may consider
the weight of the evidence. But new trials are disfavored; a
court should grant a new trial only if “the verdict is
against the clear weight of the evidence or will result in a
miscarriage of justice.” McGinnis v. Am. Home
Mortg. Servicing, Inc., 817 F.3d 1241, 1254 (11th Cir.
defendant correctional officer, Pedro Ryes, supervised the
jail's laundry. The plaintiffs were detainees assigned to
work in the laundry. Overwhelming evidence established that
Mr. Reyes sexually assaulted each plaintiff on multiple
occasions. The Sheriff does not deny it.
correctional officer who sexually assaults a detainee
violates her constitutional rights. But as the plaintiffs
acknowledge, the Sheriff cannot be held vicariously liable
under § 1983 for Mr. Reyes's actions. The plaintiffs
assert the Sheriff is liable not just because Mr. Reyes
sexually assaulted them but because the jail's warden,
Rick Anglin, was deliberately indifferent to the risk that
Mr. Reyes would assault them.
governing legal principles are settled.
a warden, like any other jail official, violates an
inmate's constitutional rights if (1) the official is
deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk that the
inmate will suffer serious harm and (2) the official fails to
take available steps to avoid or reduce the risk. To be
deliberately indifferent, “the official must both be
aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a
substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also
draw the inference.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511
U.S. 825, 837 (1994); see also Marsh v. Butler Cty.,
Ala., 268 F.3d 1014, 1028 (11th Cir. 2001) (en banc).
a sheriff in his official capacity, like a city, is liable
under § 1983 for an official's constitutional
violation only if the violation was based on the
sheriff's policy or custom or if the official was one
whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official
policy. See, e.g., Monell v. Dep't of Soc.
Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) (adopting this standard
for claims against a city); Brown v. Neumann, 188
F.3d 1289, 1290 (11th Cir. 1999) (applying Monell to
claims against a Florida sheriff in his official capacity).
motion for judgment as a matter of law or new trial, the
Sheriff asserts that the plaintiffs satisfied neither of
these two legal principles. That is incorrect.
there was evidence on both sides of the question whether the
warden, Mr. Anglin, was deliberately indifferent to the risk
that Mr. Reyes would sexually assault the plaintiffs. Thus,
for example, the plaintiffs presented another correctional
officer's testimony that he told Mr. Anglin about Mr.
Reyes's apparent sexual misconduct toward inmates in the
laundry where he-and the plaintiffs- worked. Mr. Anglin
testified that he was told no such thing. Resolving this
dispute was the province of the jury. The jury instructions
properly set out the deliberate indifference standard-the
Sheriff did not and still does not take issue with the
instructions on this point-and the jury resolved the dispute
for the plaintiffs.
the plaintiffs abandoned prior to trial any claim that these
sexual assaults were based on a policy or custom. They
asserted instead that in relevant respects, Mr. Anglin was a
person whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent
official policy-in the shorthand of many judicial decisions,
a “final policymaker.” Whether a person meets
this standard is an issue of law for ...