United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Panama City Division
JENNIFER ANDERSON, as personal representative of the estate of MAGGIE GOURLEY, deceased, for the benefit of her survivors and estate, Plaintiff,
KEVIN CREWS, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Washington County, Florida, et al., Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN PART AND REMANDING
THE REMAINING CLAIMS
L. HINKLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case arises from the decision of four deputy sheriffs not to
enter a home without a warrant to prevent a suicide they were
told had been threatened. The suicide occurred while the
deputies waited outside. The plaintiff is the personal
representative of the person who committed suicide. The
defendants are the deputies in their individual capacities
and the sheriff in his official capacity. The plaintiff
asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. Â§ 1983 and under Florida law.
defendants have moved for summary judgment. All defendants
are clearly entitled to summary judgment on the federal
claims. The deputies are clearly entitled to summary judgment
on the state claims. Whether the sheriff is entitled to
summary judgment on the state claims is less clear; no
Florida decision is squarely controlling. This order grants
summary judgment on the claims whose resolution is clear and
remands the state-law claims against the sheriff to state
court. This order provides only a brief explanation; a
comprehensive explanation would serve no purpose and might
interfere with, rather than assist, the state court on
summary-judgment motion, disputes in the evidence must be
resolved, and all reasonable inferences from the evidence
must be drawn, in favor of the nonmoving party. The moving
party must show that, when the facts are so viewed, the
moving party “is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A summary-judgment
motion cannot be used to resolve in the moving party's
favor a “genuine dispute as to any material
fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
Anderson called 911 at 1:57 p.m. on May 25, 2016. She was in
Bonifay. She said her adult daughter was about to commit
suicide at her home near Chipley, a city about 10 miles from
Bonifay. The 911 operator promptly dispatched deputies to the
address and told Ms. Anderson he had done so. Ms. Anderson
said she too was headed to the home.
deputy arrived at the home at 2:04 p.m. Three more deputies
arrived separately over the next 10 minutes or so. The
deputies knocked on the door but got no response. They looked
into windows. At least one officer heard a thump at about
2:12 p.m., looked in through the unlocked front door, and saw
a German shepherd dog but no person. Believing the dog may
have caused the thump and that there was insufficient
information to enter without a warrant, the officers did not
enter. They did, however, summon an ambulance so that it
would be available if needed.
Anderson arrived at 2:22 p.m. She entered the home
immediately, with the deputies right behind. They found Ms.
Anderson's daughter, who had hung herself. Ms. Anderson
brought this action in her capacity as the personal
representative of her daughter's estate. She asserts the
suicide occurred at 2:12 p.m., at the time of the thump.
enforcement officer's failure to protect an individual
from harm ordinarily does not give rise to a claim under the
United States Constitution and § 1983. See,
e.g., DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dep't of Soc.
Servs., 489 U.S. 189 (1989). There are exceptions, but
none apply here. This without more entitles all the
defendants to summary judgment on the federal claim.
alternative basis for summary judgment for the deputies on
the federal claim is qualified immunity. Qualified immunity
applies to damages claims against public officers and
protects “all but the plainly incompetent or those who
knowingly violate the law.” Malley v. Briggs,
475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). See generally Carroll v.
Carman, 574 U.S. 13 (2014); Hope v. Pelzer, 536
U.S. 730 (2002); Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800
(1982). A public officer may be held individually liable only
if the officer's conduct violated clearly established
law. No. clearly established law indicated at the time-or
indicates now-that officers have a duty to enter a home
without a warrant in circumstances like these.
alternative basis for summary judgment for the sheriff on the
federal claim is this: a sheriff, like a city, is liable
under § 1983 for an employee's constitutional
violation only if the violation was based on the
sheriff's policy or custom or if the employee is 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). The deputies were not
individuals whose edicts or acts could fairly be said to
represent official policy. The sheriff had no policy for
deputies not to prevent suicides or not to enter a home on
facts like these. And the sheriff's department had never
faced a situation quite like this; it cannot be said there
was a custom of not entering homes to prevent suicides.
the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the