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Whatley v. King

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

August 10, 2018




         Plaintiff Apriyl Whatley was sexually abused by Larry Chapman, a man who the State of Alabama selected to provide in-home counseling to her. Ms. Whatley sued Mr. Chapman, his company, and the Alabama Depart of Human Resources, the state agency that authorized Mr. Chapman to provide counseling. The other defendants in this case, Laura Chambliss[1] and Robin King, are current or former state employees who vetted Mr. Chapman to provide in-home counseling services on behalf of the Department of Human Resources. Ms. Whatley asserts claims against Ms. Chambliss and Ms. King under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Alabama tort law. (Doc. 83).

         Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. Ms. Chambliss and Ms. King ask the Court to enter judgment in their favor on Ms. Whatley's claims. (Docs. 101, 103). Ms. Whatley asks for partial summary judgment on Ms. Chambliss's and Ms. King's defenses of qualified and state-agent immunity. (Doc. 107). This opinion resolves these motions.


         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that 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). To demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must cite “to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the evidence in the record and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc., 789 F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir. 2015). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). Because the Court resolves the claims against Ms. Chambliss and Ms. King on their summary judgment motions, the Court presents the facts in the light most favorable to Ms. Whatley.


         In 2005, on behalf of his company, Chapman & White, Larry Chapman submitted an “agency application” to Jefferson County DHR, a local branch of the Alabama DHR. (Doc. 105-2, p. 7). In his application, Mr. Chapman represented that Chapman & White could provide a variety of counseling services on behalf of DHR. (Doc. 105-2, p. 29). In support of the application, Mr. Chapman included his credentials and the credentials of his wife, Nyshetia White, who was the only other counselor associated with the company. (Doc. 105-2, p. 7). As employees of Jefferson County DHR, Ms. Chambliss and Ms. King evaluated Mr. Chapman's application. (Doc. 102-1, pp. 21-20, 31; Doc. 105-2, p. 7). At the time, Ms. King was a “Resource Development Social Worker, ” and Ms. Chambliss was the supervisor of JCDHR's resource development program. (Doc. 102-1, p. 15; Doc. 105-2, p. 4).

         In his application, Mr. Chapman certified that both he and his wife met the Medicaid guidelines for rendering rehabilitative services. (Doc. 105-2, p. 28). Per state policy, JCDHR resource officers Chambliss and King could approve an individual to provide counseling only if the individual met the minimum qualifications set forth in the Alabama Medicaid Provider Manual. (Doc. 102-1, p. 39; Doc. 105-2, p. 9). The Medicaid Provider Manual required individuals seeking approval to submit at least one of the following credentials to meet the minimum qualifications: a psychologist's license, a professional counselor's license, a social worker's license, a physician's license, a nurse's license with a master's degree in psychiatric nursing (MSN, Psychiatric), or documentation showing that the applicant completed a qualifying master's program and had six months of clinical experience. (Doc. 105-4, p. 17; Doc. 108-3, pp. 41-42). All of the qualifying licenses had to be issued by the State of Alabama.

         Ms. White met the minimum qualifications because she was licensed by the State of Alabama as a social worker. (Doc. 105-2, pp. 43-44). Mr. Chapman submitted documentation indicating that he was a “licensed Christian Counselor” and a licensed domestic violence counselor. (Doc. 105-2, pp. 40-41). Mr. Chapman also submitted records that indicated that he had earned a master's degree in “Christian Counseling Psychology” from Carolina University of Theology. (Doc. 105-2, pp. 35-36; Doc. 108-5, p. 9). Although Mr. Chapman had a background in counseling, none of his application materials qualified him as a licensed professional counselor because he was not licensed by the State of Alabama as required by the Medicaid Provider Manual, and he did not have a master's degree from a university with an accredited program in a relevant discipline. (Doc. 105-2, pp. 11 - 12).

         Both Ms. Chambliss and Ms. King saw the service provider application from Chapman & White, but they dispute who was responsible for verifying that both of the counselors associated with Chapman & White met the minimum Medicaid Standards. (Doc. 102-1, p. 27; Doc. 105-2, p. 7). An internal memo sent from Ms. King to other JCDHR employees including Ms. Chambliss indicated Ms. King's understanding that Mr. Chapman qualified as a “licensed professional counselor.” (Doc. 105-2, p. 61). Both Ms. Chambliss and Ms. King now concede that Mr. Chapman did not meet the Medicaid minimum qualifications. (Doc. 102-1, p. 21; Doc. 105-2, p. 11). Nonetheless, DHR entered into a vendor agreement with Chapman & White and listed the company as an authorized provider of counseling services. (Doc. 105-2, pp. 24, 61).

         Apriyl Whatley first came into contact with the JCDHR late in 2009 after she filed a petition in county court seeking protection from the father of her child. (Doc. 105-1, pp. 4-6). The county court instructed JCDHR, “to investigate the safety and welfare of [Ms. Whatley's] child.” (Doc. 105-1, pp. 44, 48). Monique Lewis, a DHR social worker, began to work with Ms. Whatley shortly after Ms. Whatley filed her petition for protection. (Doc. 105-1, pp. 8, 14). Ms. Lewis, in consultation with a doctor who conducted a psychological evaluation of Ms. Whatley, developed an individualized service plan which stated that Ms. Whatley must participate in counseling. (Doc. 105-1, p. 53). DHR remained involved with Ms. Whatley and her child after the Department of Education reported Ms. Whatley for truancy. (Doc. 105-1, pp. 10, 65). The service plan resulting from the truancy report contained a renewed recommendation that Ms. Whatley undergo counseling. (Doc. 105-1, pp. 66, 71).

         In May of 2010, Ms. Whatley began receiving in-home counseling from Mr. Chapman. (Doc. 105-1, p. 24; Doc. 110-4, p. 27). Ms. Whatley told Ms. Lewis that her initial in-home counseling session with Mr. Chapman went well. (Doc. 105-1, p. 16). Not long after, the counseling arrangement deteriorated. Mr. Chapman began questioning Ms. Whatley about her sexual proclivities. (Doc. 105-1, p. 24). Mr. Chapman even asked Ms. Whatley what she thought about having sexual relations with him. (Doc. 83, ¶ 14). By the third counseling session, Mr. Chapman became physically abusive, forcing Ms. Whatley to kiss him and perform oral sex on him. (Doc. 105-1, pp. 26-27). Mr. Chapman threatened Ms. Whatley with the loss of her child if she did not comply with his demands. (Doc. 83, ¶ 15; Doc. 105-1, p. 24).

         Initially, Ms. Whatley did not tell Ms. Lewis about Mr. Chapman's behavior. Ms. Whatley called Ms. Lewis before Mr. Chapman's visits in the hope that Ms. Lewis would attend the “counseling” session “[t]o prevent any further interaction from [Mr. Chapman] negatively.” (Doc. 105-1, p. 17). Ms. Whatley did not discuss the abuse with Ms. Lewis over the phone. (Doc. 105-1, p. 17).

         Ms. Whatley made DHR aware of Mr. Chapman's misconduct on July 13, 2010. (Doc. 105-1, p. 18; Doc. 110-4, p. 32). Ms. Whatley reported Mr. Chapman to local law enforcement. By this time, Anita Scott-Smith had replaced Ms. Chambliss as Ms. King's supervisor within the JCDHR resource department. (Doc. 105-2, p. 4). Ms. King states that her supervisor, Ms. Scott-Smith, made her aware of the allegations and asked her to examine the credentials on file for Mr. Chapman. (Doc. 105-2, p. 12). When Ms. King reviewed Mr. Chapman's qualifications, she determined that he did not qualify under the Medicaid guidelines. (Doc. 105-2, p. 12). After learning of Ms. Whatley's allegations, DHR removed Mr. Chapman from the approved provider list. (Doc. 105-2, p. 12).

         In her first amended complaint, Ms. Whatley named Mr. Chapman, Chapman & White Family Wellness, and DHR as defendants. The Court stayed this case for nearly a year while state criminal charges were pending against Mr. Chapman. (Docs. 16, 19). In the interim, the Court dismissed DHR as a defendant. (Doc. 18).

         When activity in this case resumed, Ms. Whatley filed two amended complaints in which she added as defendants Ms. Chambliss; Ms. King; and social workers Yolanda Mathews, Ingrid Honeycutt, and Monique Lewis. (Docs. 37, 83). Ms. Whatley stipulated to the dismissal of Mr. Chapman, Chapman & White Family Wellness, Ms. Matthews, Ms. Honeycutt, and Ms. Lewis as defendants. (Docs. 47, 99). Only Ms. Whatley's claims against Ms. King and Ms. Chambliss remain pending.


         a. Ms. Whatley's ...

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