United States District Court, S.D. Florida
PRINCESTON J. S. PADGETT, Plaintiff,
WILLIAM D. SNYDER, Sheriff of Martin County, et al., Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' APPEAL OF
MAGISTRATE'S NON-FINAL ORDER RE SUBSTITUTION OF PARTY ON
SUGGESTION OF DEATH AND MOTION TO RECONSIDER
L. ROSENBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
CAUSE is before the Court on Defendants' Appeal
[DE 30] of a non-dispositive pretrial Order entered by
Magistrate Judge Patrick A. White granting Ophelia Williams
Padgett's Motion for Substitution on Suggestion of Death
[DE 22]. Defendants also seek review of Magistrate Judge
White's Order denying Defendant's Motion for
Reconsideration of that Order [DE 26]. The Court construes
the Appeal as an objection made pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 72(a). Defendants maintain that Magistrate
Judge White erred by not applying Florida state law when
considering Ophelia Padgett's Motion for Substitution.
Defendants further argue that because Ms. Padgett was not
appointed as the personal representative of Plaintiff's
estate, she lacks standing to maintain the claims pleaded by
the deceased Plaintiff. Defendants request that the Order
granting Ophelia Padgett's Motion for Substitution be
vacated. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants'
Appeal is GRANTED.
March 21, 2017, pro se Plaintiff, Princeston J. S.
Padgett, filed a Complaint under the Civil Rights Act, 42
U.S.C. § 1983, against Martin County Sheriff William D.
Snyder, Deputy Sheriff James Bitz, Deputy Sheriff Brian
Tison, and Deputy Sheriff Kevin Fritchie. See DE 1.
The Court referred the case to Magistrate Judge White for a
ruling on all pre-trial, non-dispositive matters and for a
report and recommendation on any dispositive matters.
See DE 3. On May 23, 2018, Magistrate Judge White
issued a Report and Recommendation [DE 8] recommending that
Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment excessive force claim
against Deputies Brian Tison and Kevin Fritchie proceed, and
that all other claims be dismissed. On June 12, 2017 this
Court issued an Order [DE 9] adopting Magistrate Judge
White's Report and Recommendation.
respect to the surviving claims, Plaintiff's Complaint
alleges that on June 21, 2013, Martin County Deputy Sheriffs
Fritchie and Tison acted under color of state law in their
individual capacities to infringe Plaintiff's Fourth
Amendment rights. Plaintiff alleges that Deputy Fritchie
commanded a canine officer to attack Plaintiff after
Plaintiff had surrendered and was in a prone position, and
that Deputy Tison's use of restraints was such that they
caused loss of circulation and permanent damages to his
extremities. Plaintiff died on March 19, 2017,  almost four years
after the alleged abuse, while confined at the Jackson Work
Camp in Malone, Florida. See DE 19. Plaintiff's
mother and next of kin, Ophelia Williams Padgett (“Ms.
Padgett”), was served with a Suggestion of Death on
November 5, 2017. See DE 19-2. On January 23, 2018,
Ms. Padgett filed a Motion for Substitution [DE 21],
requesting that she be substituted as the party plaintiff in
this action. Magistrate Judge White granted that Motion,
see DE 22, and denied Defendants' subsequent
Motion for Reconsideration, see DE 26. This Appeal
Standard of Review
magistrate judge is permitted to hear and determine any
non-dispositive pre-trial matter pending before the court. 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). A district court may set aside or
modify an order on such matters only if the district court
finds it is “clearly erroneous or contrary to
law.” Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); S.D. Fla. Mag.
R. 4(A). An order is “clearly erroneous” when
“the reviewing court, after assessing the evidence in
its entirety, is left with the definite and firm conviction
that a mistake has been committed.” Krys v.
Lufthansa German Airlines, 119 F.3d 1515, 1523 (11th
Cir. 1997) (citing Anderson v. City of Bessemer
City, 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985)). “An order is
contrary to law when it fails to apply or misapplies relevant
statutes, case law or rules of procedure.” Matter
of Application of O'Keeffe, 184 F.Supp.3d 1362, 1366
(S.D. Fla. 2016) (citations omitted).
Court must determine whether Ms. Padgett, in her current
capacity as deceased Plaintiff's mother and next of kin,
has standing to prosecute Plaintiff's § 1983 action.
Magistrate Judge White concluded that federal common law,
rather than Florida state law, should be applied to determine
whether a decedent's next of kin may be substituted as a
party in a § 1983 action and that, under federal common
law, Ms. Padgett could be substituted as a party plaintiff.
Defendants maintain that Magistrate Judge White erred by not
applying Florida state law when considering Ms. Padgett's
Motion for Substitution. Defendants further argue that
because Ms. Padgett has not been appointed as the personal
representative of Plaintiff's estate, she does not have
standing to maintain the action commenced by the deceased
U.S.C. § 1983 does not expressly provide for the
survival of a civil rights action in favor of another upon
the death of the injured party. See Estate of Gilliam ex
rel. Waldroup v. City of Prattville, 639 F.3d 1041, 1043
(11th Cir. 2011). In such cases, “42 U.S.C. §
1988(a) requires application of state survivorship
law, provided that law is not inconsistent with the
Constitution and laws of the United States.”
Id. (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks
omitted); 42 U.S.C. § 1988. “To determine whether
state law is inconsistent with federal law within the meaning
of § 1988(a), the Supreme Court teaches that courts must
look to the text of the federal statutes and Constitutional
provisions at issue as well as the policies expressed in
them.” Estate of Gilliam, 639 F.3d at 1046
(citing Robertson v. Wegmann, 436 U.S. 584, 590
(1978)). “The policies underlying § 1983 include
compensation of persons injured by deprivation of federal
rights and prevention of abuses of power by those acting
under color of state law.” Robertson, 436 U.S.
at 590 (citing Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 254
these principles in mind, the Court must determine which
provision of Florida survivorship law-encompassing both
Florida's survival statute, Fla. Stat. § 46.02
(2014), and the Florida Wrongful Death Act, Fla. Stat. §
768.16-768.26 (2014)-is applicable to this action; whether
the applicable provision is inconsistent with any of the
laws, Constitutional provisions, or underlying policies at
issue in this action; and, if not, whether Ms. Padgett may be
substituted as the party plaintiff in this action under
applicable Florida law.
Florida Wrongful Death Act
Judge White determined that the Florida Wrongful Death Act
was the applicable state law in this case, that the Act is
inconsistent with § 1983, and that federal common law,
rather than Florida state law, should therefore be applied.
This Court disagrees that the Florida Wrongful Death Act is
the state law to which it should look. The Act provides that
an “action shall be brought by the decedent's
personal representative, who shall recover for the benefit of
the decedent's survivors and estate all damages, as
specified in this act, caused by the injury resulting in
death.” Fla. Stat. § 768.20 (emphasis added).
Plaintiff's Complaint alleges unlawful and excessive
force but fails to include allegations of wrongful death,
which is unsurprising in light of the fact that Plaintiff had
not yet died at the time he prepared his Complaint.
See DE 1; DE 9. Plaintiff died nearly four years
after the incident on which his Complaint is based.
See DE 1; DE 19-1. In his Complaint, Plaintiff
alleges that Deputy Fritchie commanded a canine officer to
attack him after Plaintiff had surrendered and was in a prone
position, and that Deputy Tison's use of restraints was
such that they caused loss of circulation and permanent
damages to his extremities. See DE 1. Neither of
these injuries is alleged to, nor likely to, have caused
Plaintiff's death nearly four years later.
Court acknowledges that the majority of Florida's federal
district courts that have addressed a survivor's standing
in § 1983 cases have applied the Florida Wrongful Death
Act; however, the courts have done so in cases where the
civil rights violation resulted in the death of the decedent.
See, e.g., Sharbaugh v. Beaudry, 267
F.Supp.3d 1326, 1335 (N.D. Fla. 2017); Estate of
Breedlove v. Orange Cty. Sheriff's Office, No.
6:11-cv-2027-Orl-31KRS, 2012 WL 2389765, at *2-4 (M.D. Fla.
June 25, 2012); Christie v. Lee Cty. Sheriff's
Office, No. 2:10-CV-420-FtM-36DNF, 2011 WL 4501953, at
*5-6 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 28, 2011); Torres v. Orange
Cty., No. CIVA6991662CIVORL-19B, 2000 WL 35527256, at *1
(M.D. Fla. May 16, 2000). In ...