United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
ESTATE OF JEFFREY K. RUSSELL, by and through personal representative Kenley R. Gardner, Plaintiff,
CITY OF ANNISTON, SHANE DENHAM, GREG FEAZELL, WILLIAM WORTHAM, RANDY GARNER, and JAMES CAMPBELL, Defendants.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Introduction and Procedural Background.
case stems from the tragic death of Jeffery K. Russell
(“Mr. Russell”), who committed suicide in a jail
cell at the City of Anniston jail after being arrested on
February 20, 2014.
26, 2015, the Estate of Jeffery K. Russell, by and through
personal representative Kenley R. Gardner
(“Plaintiff”), filed a complaint (the
“Initial Complaint”) against the City of
Anniston, Shane Denham (“Defendant Denham”), Greg
Feazell (“Defendant Feazell”), Nick Bowles
(“Defendant Bowles”), and Fictitious Defendants
A, B, and C. On July 21, 2015, the Named
Defendants filed their answer, and on August 4, 2015,
this action was reassigned to the undersigned. (Docs. 6, 9).
On February 25, 2016, the Named Defendants filed an Amended
Answer in order to assert new affirmative defenses. (Doc.
February 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint (Doc.
14, the “Amended Complaint”). On October 7, 2016,
the Named Defendants filed a Motion for Leave To File Answer
to Amended Complaint Out of Time, (doc. 22), and on October
10, 2016, the Named Defendants filed a Motion for Summary
Judgment. (Doc. 23). After the Court granted leave to file an
answer to the Amended Complaint and termed the Motion for
Summary Judgment as moot, the Named Defendants filed their
Answer on October 25, 2016. (Doc. 28).
November 9, 2016, the Named Defendants re-filed their Motion
for Summary Judgment (doc. 31, the “Motion”) and
brief in support (doc. 32). On November 30, 2016, Plaintiff
filed a response, and on December 5, 2016, the Named
Defendants filed their reply. (Docs. 38, 39).The Motion for
Summary Judgment is ripe for this Court's disposition.
Summary Judgment Standard.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is
proper if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact
and 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91
L.Ed.2d 2265 (1986) (“[S]ummary judgment is proper if
the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact
and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
party requesting summary judgment always bears the initial
responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its
motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or
filings that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323,
106 S.Ct. at 2553. Once the moving party has met its burden,
Rule 56(c) requires the non-moving party to go beyond the
pleadings in answering the movant. Id. at 324, 106
S.Ct. at 2553. By its own affidavits - or by the depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file - it must
designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial. Id.
underlying substantive law identifies which facts are
material and which are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91
L.Ed.2d. 202 (1986). All reasonable doubts about the facts
and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the
non-movant. Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012,
1023 (11th Cir. 2000). Only disputes over facts that might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will
properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. A
dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Id. If the evidence presented by the
non-movant to rebut the moving party's evidence is merely
colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary
judgment may still be granted. Id. at 249, 106 S.Ct.
movant may satisfy its initial evidentiary burden depends on
whether that party bears the burden of proof on the given
legal issues at trial. Fitzpatrick v. City of
Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). If the
movant bears the burden of proof on the given issue or issues
at trial, then it can only meet its burden on summary
judgment by presenting affirmative evidence showing
the absence of a genuine issue of material fact - that is,
facts that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not
controverted at trial. Id. (citing United States
v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1438
(11th Cir. 1991)). Once the moving party makes such an
affirmative showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving
party to produce “significant, probative
evidence demonstrating the existence of a triable
issue of fact.” Id. (emphasis added).
issues on which the movant does not bear the burden of proof
at trial, it can satisfy its initial burden on summary
judgment in either of two ways. Id. at 1115-16.
First, the movant may simply show that there is an absence of
evidence to support the non-movant's case on the
particular issue at hand. Id. at 1116. In such an
instance, the non-movant must rebut by either (1) showing
that the record in fact contains supporting evidence
sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion, or (2)
proffering evidence sufficient to withstand a directed
verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary
deficiency. Id. at 1116-17. When responding, the
non-movant may no longer rest on mere allegations; instead,
it must set forth evidence of specific facts. Lewis v.
Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 358, 116 S.Ct. 2174, 2183, 135
L.Ed.2d 606 (1996).
second method a movant in this position may use to discharge
its burden is to provide affirmative evidence
demonstrating that the non-moving party will be unable to
prove its case at trial. Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at
1116. When this occurs, the non-movant must rebut by offering
evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict
at trial on the material fact sought to be negated.
Statement of Facts.
February 20, 2014, Mr. Russell was arrested and taken to the
City of Anniston jail. AF Nos. 1-4. When he was brought in for
booking, Mr. Russell was wearing black pants, a blue shirt,
and a necktie. AF. No. 5. Anniston Police Department Officer Jay
Skinner (“Officer Skinner”) began the booking
process, and Corrections Officer Randy Garner (“Officer
Garner”) was also present in the booking area. AF No.
undisputed that the City of Anniston was responsible for Mr.
Russell's contact with Russell.” (Doc. 39 at 4).
The Court finds that these facts are irrelevant and are not a
basis for this Court's decision one way or another;
accordingly, the Court has not included them. However,
neither party disputes that Mr. Russell was taken to the City
of Anniston jail after his arrest. welfare and safety when he
was brought to the jail. AAF Nos. 39, 53. Under the
City's written policy, the arresting officer is
responsible for part of the booking process, including (1)
entering information into the system to complete an arrest
report; (2) taking and inventorying an inmate's property;
and (3) completing a medical questionnaire for the inmate. AF
No. 7.1. While the arresting officer would complete
the “medical screening” portion of the
prisoner's medical intake form, jail personnel would
later complete the “medical intake” portion of
the form. AF. No. 8.1. The purpose of the medical intake
questionnaire is to gather information to identify and
protect the medical or mental health needs of the inmates.
AAF No. 41. The answers on the medical intake form are based
both on the involved officers' personal observations and
the inmate's answers to those questions. AF No. 8.2.
they filled out an inmate's medical intake questionnaire,
correctional officers are to assess whether an inmate might
be a “special needs inmate, ” which includes
those individuals who (1) exhibit erratic behavior; (2)
exhibit obvious signs of mental problems; (3) exhibit obvious
physical problems; or (4) verbally threaten suicide. AF No.
26.2, 26.3. However, the City has no specific training to
recognize “special needs inmates.” AAF No. 52.
Russell's case, the front page of the medical screening
questionnaire indicated that he was in touch with reality,
was capable of responding to questions, was not under the
influence of drugs or alcohol, had never threatened or
attempted suicide, and did not threaten or attempt suicide
during the booking process. AF. No. 9.1. The questionnaire
listed Mr. Russell's prior health conditions as
“septic shock, kidney failure and kidney stones”
and noted that he was “a diabetic and require[d]
insulin injections.” AF No. 9.2. The back page of the
form indicated that Mr. Russell had no mental illness and had
never threatened or attempted suicide. AF No. 9.3.
Russell was not considered a special needs inmate, and he did
not indicate to anyone at the Anniston Police Department that
he was suicidal in any way. AF Nos. 27, 30. Officer Campbell
testified that “[a]t no time, during the period of Mr.
Russell's incarceration and prior to his death, did I
notice Mr. Russell acting erratically or in any way which
would have led me to believe that he was under the influence
of alcohol or drugs, mentally unstable, physically disabled,
depressed, and/or suicidal.” AF No. 31.
Skinner completed his portion of Mr. Russell's booking
process, including the front page of the medical intake form,
and took Mr. Russell to a bench outside of the jail's
control room. AF No. 10.1. Officer Skinner did not take Mr.
Russell's tie from him during the initial booking
process. AF No. 10.2. At the time of Mr. Russell's
arrest, a tie was a very unusual item of apparel for an
arrestee to be wearing when booked into the City of Anniston
an arresting officer completes his part of the booking
process, an inmate is typically turned over to a member of
the jail staff, a corrections officer, or a corrections
sergeant. AF No. 11.1. It is the policy of the City of
Anniston to escort inmates to their cells and lock the
inmates into their cells. AAF No. 32. It is also the policy
of the City of Anniston that inmates be divested of any
items, including belts and shoestrings, that an inmate could
use to harm him or herself. AAF Nos. 33, 42. The City of
Anniston jail does not have a designated changing area for
inmates; therefore, arrestees might change into inmate
clothing in their individual cells, the padded cell, or the
print photograph room. AF No. 16. The City of Anniston does
not have a written policy that inmates are to change into
clothing inside their jail cells, nor does it have a written
policy mandating that corrections officers be present when
inmates change clothes. AAF Nos. 34, 35, 49, 50.
Russell was fingerprinted and photographed by James Campbell
(“Officer Campbell”). AF No. 13. Officer Campbell
then took Mr. Russell, who was still wearing his black pants,
blue shirt, and necktie, to cell A-2, where he changed into
his inmate attire. AF Nos. 14, 15.1. Officer Campbell was not
present when he changed. AF No. 15.2. After Mr. Russell
changed, Officer Campbell retrieved his personal clothing but
failed to ensure that the tie was in his personal property.
AF No. 18.1; AAF No. 47. Though Officer Campbell had been
trained to secure all personal belongings after an arrestee
changed into jail-issued clothes, Officer Campbell did not
notice that Mr. Russell had kept the tie after changing. AF
No. 18.2-18.3. There were multiple opportunities for Mr.
Russell to have been searched before he committed suicide.
AAF No. 45.
morning of February 21, 2014, at 9:01 a.m., Mr. Russell was
found dead in his cell by a fellow inmate. AF No. 19.1. He
had hanged himself with the necktie that Officer Campbell had
overlooked when retrieving Mr. Russell's personal
clothing. AF No. 19.2; AAF No. 44. Approximately an hour
prior to Mr. Russell's suicide, Corrections Officer
William Wortham (“Officer Wortham”) had performed
an inmate check on Mr. Russell. AF No. 20.1; AAF No. 56. When
he did so, Mr. Russell asked Officer Wortham to come back and
talk to him, which he agreed to do after completing his
rounds. AF No. 20.2.; AAF No. 57. After Officer Wortham
finished his rounds and was back in the control room, Mr.
Russell “buzzed in” and asked to speak to
Defendant Feazell. AF No. 20.3; AAF No. 58. Mr. Russell was
told that Defendant Feazell was out of the building but would
speak to Mr. Russell when he returned. AF Nos. 20.4, 23.1;
AAF No. 59.
correctional officer went to check on Mr. Russell after he
asked to speak with Officer Wortham and Defendant Feazell.
AAF Nos. 60, 61. Mr. Russell was last seen alive at
approximately 8:48 a.m., thirteen minutes before he was
discovered by the fellow inmate. AF No. 21. When Defendant
Feazell returned to the jail between 8:45 a.m and 9:00 a.m,
he heard a commotion, walked over to the A-section of the
jail, and met Officer Wortham, who informed him that Mr.
Russell had hanged himself. AF No. 23.2.
February 2014, the City of Anniston Police Department had a
written Standard Operating Procedures Manual (the
“S.O.P. Manual”), which included written policies
regarding the arrest, intake, booking, processing, and
incarceration of individuals. AF No. 32. Pursuant to the City
of Anniston's policies and standard operating procedures,
correctional officers were asked to do inmate checks
“as often as possible.” AF No. 25.1. Although
there was no written policy requiring inmate checks at
certain frequencies, it was highly recommended that checks be
done at least on an hourly basis. AF No. 25.2; AAF No. 43.
the date of his deposition on August 18, 2016, Officer
Bowles testified that, to his knowledge, there
had not been another suicide at the City of Anniston jail
since he began working for the City in 2000. AF No. 29. An
investigation into Mr. Russell's suicide revealed two
violations of policy. AAF No. 54. Officer Garner received a
reprimand because he entered Mr. Russell's personal
property list into the computer and should have “double
checked” that all of Mr. Russell's property was
present. AF No. 6.2.