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Hinson v. Judd

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

September 11, 2019

DONALD J. HINSON, Plaintiff,
GRADY JUDD, in his official capacity as Sheriff of the Polk County Sheriff's Office, et al., Defendants.



         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendant Sheriff Grady Judd's Amended Dispositive Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 66), and Plaintiff's response (Dkt. 71). Upon consideration, Defendant's motion (Dkt. 66) is GRANTED.


         Donald J. Hinson brought this action against Grady Judd in his official capacity as Sheriff of Polk County, alleging violations of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 and the Fourteenth Amendment. His allegations arise from an incident in the Polk County Jail, when he was attacked by another detainee. He brings two claims, Policy Liability Other Failures (Count IV), and Negligence (Count V).

         On August 25, 2013, Hinson surrendered to the custody of the Polk County Sheriff's Office (“PCSO”) as a pretrial detainee (Dkt. 59 ¶¶ 12, 15). He was placed in holding cell number four with another detainee, William Edwards (Id. ¶ 21).[2] Both were being preliminarily processed and booked prior to transfer to the South County Jail, where a full assessment and classification would be completed. Hinson had no prior interaction or relationship with Edwards before the event giving rise to this lawsuit (Id. ¶ 23). Notwithstanding, Edwards, unexpectedly and without provocation, struck Hinson on the right side of his face. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13). The attack resulted in injuries to Hinson, including facial bone fractures and closed head trauma. (Id. ¶ 54).

         When Edwards was placed in holding cell number four, the Polk County Jail had no system that would identify a new detainee's propensity to harm others. Rather, the practice was to rely on the charges the detainee was being booked on, the behavior of the detainee while at book-in, and any known, passed-on information about the detainee that would call for a need to separate the detainee from others. (Dkt. 55, Deputy Swenson Dep., at p. 8:12-25, 9:1-11, 22:8-25, 23:1-22); (Dkt. 65, Ex. 2, Department of Detention Directive 2.2, C.1.d.13); (Dkt. 65, Chief Allen Dep., at pp. 44:22-25, 45:1-10, 53:1-6); (Dkt. 54, Sgt. Rodriguez Dep., at p. 45:8-19).

         II. STANDARD

         Defendant moves for summary judgment, contending that “no genuine issue of material fact exists in the record” to support Plaintiff's claims. (Dkt. 66 at p. 2). Summary judgment is appropriate where “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A genuine factual dispute exists only if a reasonable fact-finder ‘could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the [non-movant] is entitled to a verdict.'” Kernel Records Oy v. Mosley, 694 F.3d 1294, 1300 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)). A fact is material if it may affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997). All facts are viewed and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there are no genuine disputes of material fact. Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., Inc., 357 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). Once the moving party demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings through the use of affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file to designate facts showing a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. The Court will not weigh the evidence or make findings of fact. Morrison v. Amway Corp., 323 F.3d 920, 924 (11th Cir. 2003). Rather, the Court's role is limited to deciding whether there is sufficient evidence upon which a reasonable juror could find for the non-moving party. See id.


         Count IV: 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - Policy Liability

         In Count IV, Hinson brings a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sheriff Judd in his official capacity as Sheriff of Polk County. (Dkt. 59 ¶ 9). This claim is functionally against the Polk County Sheriff's Office. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985); Cook ex rel. Estate of Tessier v. Sheriff of Monroe Cnty., Fla., 402 F.3d 1092, 1115 (11th Cir. 2005). Relevant to this claim, governmental entities may be liable for constitutional violations resulting from the execution of a policy or custom of the governmental entity. See Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).

         To impose § 1983 liability on Judd in his official capacity, Hinson must demonstrate that Judd had an official policy or custom that was the “moving force” behind the constitutional violation. Id. The policy or custom must be a decision that is officially adopted by the governmental entity, or “created by an official of such rank that he or she could be said to be acting on behalf of the municipality.” Cooper v. Dillon, 403 F.3d 1208, 1221 (11th Cir. 2005) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The practice must be so permanent and well settled as to constitute a “custom or usage” with the force of law, and proof of a single incident of unconstitutional activity is not sufficient to impose liability, unless that proof shows that it was caused by an existing, unconstitutional policy attributed to the policy maker. Id.; Craig v. Floyd Cty, 643 F.3d 1306, 1310 (11th Cir. 2011). And liability attaches only where a deliberate choice to follow a course of action is made from alternatives by the official responsible for establishing final policy. Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 483-84 (1986).

         Plaintiff's Allegations

         Hinson alleges that Sheriff Judd failed to provide a safe environment, failed to protect him from serious risk of harm, and “refused to take reasonable measures to protect [him] and other inmates from harm despite knowing that [his] assailant and others like him posed a substantial risk of serious harm.” (Dkt. 59 ¶ 9). He faults Judd for not having a “red flag” system in place to segregate certain detainees during the book-in process, and failing to protect pretrial detainees from violent detainees placed in the holding cell together. He alleges that Judd promoted and maintained a policy that commingled violent and non-violent detainees during booking, and that the failure to separate them was the moving force behind the attack on him. (Dkt. 59 ¶¶ 2, 59-60). Hinson's § 1983 claim is based on a failure to train the detention deputies and an unconstitutional policy or custom. See (Dkt. 66 at p. 9; Dkt. 71 at pp. 2, 4).

         i. Failure to Train

         Hinson alleges that Judd “encouraged, tolerated, ratified and has been deliberately indifferent to . . . the need for more or different training . . . in the area of [] Detention deputy and supervisor duties and responsibilities to ensure proper classification at booking to ensure pretrial detainees have a safe environment, including, but not limited to: [] Failure to train detention deputies and supervisors to properly disclose, communicate and act upon receipt of known mentally ill, violent and predatory inmates.” (Dkt. 59 ¶ 61).

         A § 1983 failure to train claim will ordinarily rest on a pattern of constitutional violations which would make the need for more training so obvious, and the inadequacy of training so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policy maker can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to that need. City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 391 (1989). During the Pretrial Conference, counsel for Hinson confirmed that the § 1983 claim relies on a pattern of constitutional violations.

         Sheriff Judd moves for summary judgment, contending that the record includes no facts “that point to a pattern of constitutional violations that have resulted from Sheriff Judd's alleged ‘failure to train.'” (Dkt. 66 at p. 12). Hinson responds that “detainee violence in cell four was an obvious consequence of a training that did not require examination of prior records kept by the sheriff's office itself.” (Dkt. 71 at p. 4). Judd's arguments are persuasive. The record evidence does not demonstrate a pattern of constitutional violations resulting from a failure to train. And without notice of deficient training, Judd could not have been deliberately indifferent. See Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61 (2011).

         As noted, § 1983 liability is limited to circumstances where “official policy” causes a constitutional violation. Gold v. City of Miami, 151 F.3d 1346, 1350 (11th Cir. 1998). Hinson must therefore establish that inadequate training was a policy or custom which caused the claimed constitutional violation. Id. (citing Canton, 489 U.S. at 389-91). And since a governmental entity will “rarely” have an officially adopted policy of permitting a constitutional violation, he must show that Judd had “a custom or practice of permitting [the violation] and that ...

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