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Johnson v. Conner

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 13, 2014

SHERRIE JOHNSON, as administratrix of the Estate of Alquwon Johnson deceased, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
RYAN CONNER, SONYA MAYO, GEORGE PARHAM, Captain, Defendants - Appellants, BARBOUR COUNTY, et al., Defendants

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. D.C. Docket No. 2:12-cv-00392-WHA-SRW.

For SHERRIE JOHNSON, as administratrix of the Estate of Alquwon Johnson deceased, Plaintiff - Appellee: Joseph A. Morris, Stephen Mark Andrews, Tracy W. Cary, Joseph Daniel Talmadge Jr., Morris Cary Andrews Talmadge & Driggers, LLC, Dothan, AL.

For Ryan Conner, Sonya Mayo, Captain GEORGE PARHAM, Defendants - Appellants: Fred Lee Clements Jr., James Randall McNeill, Kendrick Emerson Webb, Webb & Eley, PC, Montgomery, AL.

Before CARNES, Chief Judge, WILSON, Circuit Judge, and HUCK,[*] District Judge.

OPINION

Page 919

HUCK, District Judge.

We are called upon to determine whether a recently amended Alabama statute granting sovereign immunity to jailers, which is silent on retroactivity, applies retroactively or only prospectively. Ala. Code § 14-6-1.[1] For the reasons discussed below, we find that the traditional presumption against retroactivity applies here. Therefore, the new grant of immunity does not shield the jailers, Appellants in this case, from liability for their alleged pre-amendment acts. Because we do not apply the statute retroactively, we do not reach the issue of whether the jailers would have been within the statute's grant of immunity.

I. FACTS

This case arises from an inmate's suicide. Appellee, Sherrie Johnson, alleges that her son, Alquwon Johnson, an inmate at Barbour County Jail, suffered from a documented history of mental illness, and had been prescribed psychoactive medication to treat depression. She alleges that Appellants, Ryan Conner, Sonya Mayo, and George Parham, who were corrections personnel at the jail, were responsible for administering Mr. Johnson's medication daily, and failed to do so. She also alleges that Mr. Johnson previously attempted to commit suicide with a bed sheet while incarcerated, and Appellants failed to take appropriate precautions with Mr. Johnson following that suicide attempt. Mr. Johnson committed suicide by hanging himself with a bed sheet on June 4, 2011. Ms. Johnson, as her son's personal representative, brought suit on August 8, 2011 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. Appellants filed a motion to dismiss, claiming, inter alia, state law immunity under the recently amended Alabama Code § 14-6-1, which came into effect on June 14, 2011--ten days after Mr. Johnson's suicide, but before Ms. Johnson filed suit.

The district court denied Appellants' Motion to Dismiss, finding amended § 14-6-1 inapplicable. The case reaches us on interlocutory appeal. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM.

II. ANALYSIS

The State of Alabama is immune from suit, and that sovereign immunity extends to Alabama sheriffs and their deputies " when [they are] executing their law enforcement duties." McMillan v. Monroe Cnty., Ala., 520 U.S. 781, 793, 117 S.Ct. 1734, 138 L.Ed.2d 1 (1997);

Page 920

Ala. Const. Art. I, § 14; Ex parte Haralson, 853 So.2d 928, 932 (Ala. 2003). Until recently, however, immunity did not extend to jailers, such as the Appellants here. Addressing jailer immunity for the first time, the Alabama Supreme Court held that sovereign immunity did not extend to jailers. Ex parte Shelley, 53 So.3d 887, 896 (Ala. 2009). In response, the Legislature ...


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