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Taylor v. Hughes

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 3, 2019

BONNY EDWARD TAYLOR, as the Personal Representative and Administrator of the Estate of Almus Reed Taylor, Plaintiff - Appellant,
HENRY P. HUGHES, in his individual capacity, BILL BLUE, in his individual capacity, et al. Defendants - Appellees.

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama No. 2:14-cv-01163-KS-WC

          Before TJOFLAT, NEWSOM, and GILMAN, [*] Circuit Judges.


         Almus Taylor died from internal bleeding after being kept in a jail holding cell overnight. Bonny Edward Taylor, Almus's father and the Administrator of Almus's estate, sued the jail guards under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Alabama state law, alleging that they were deliberately indifferent to Almus's serious medical needs. The district court dismissed Bonny's claims because of qualified immunity, state-agent immunity, and Alabama Code § 14-6-1.

         This appeal raises two questions: (1) whether qualified immunity shields the guards from Bonny's deliberate-indifference claim based on the U.S. Constitution, and (2) whether state-agent immunity and Alabama Code § 14-6-1 shield the guards from Bonny's state-law claims. For the reasons set forth below, we REVERSE the judgment of the district court and REMAND the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Several material facts in this case are subject to genuine disputes, but we will resolve such disputes in Bonny's favor because his claims were dismissed on summary judgment. With this understanding in mind, we will apply the law to the following factual scenario:

         On November 16, 2013, Covington County Deputy Kyle Adams found Almus in a battered pickup truck that was stopped in the middle of the road. The driver-side door of the truck was in the truck's bed. Almus was lying across the seat, had scratches on his arms, and was unable to walk on his own. Deputy Adams called Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the Alabama Highway Patrol.

         An EMS team and Alabama State Trooper Chase Amis came to the scene. The parties dispute whether EMS performed a medical evaluation. Although Almus said that he had been in an accident, Trooper Amis claimed to have seen no evidence that an accident had actually occurred. Almus refused to take an ambulance to the hospital unless he could bring his dogs. The EMS team refused to accommodate Almus's request, so they asked him to sign a release stating that he did not want to go to the hospital. Almus was unable to sign the release, but the EMS team accepted Almus making a mark on the form. Trooper Amis then arrested Almus for driving under the influence and took him to the Covington County Jail.

         Defendants Ben Hunter, Bill Blue, and Roy Parker were the jail guards on duty. Almus arrived at 9:33 p.m., appeared highly intoxicated, and had to be assisted while walking to the holding cell. According to the guards, Trooper Amis said that Almus was "medically cleared" and "just drunk." But the Booking Medical Log reflects Almus's statement that "he [was] all busted up from [a] car wreck."

         Also in dispute is whether Almus cried out for help during the night and whether the guards heard Almus's cries. According to several of Almus's fellow detainees, Almus spent several hours moaning and crying out in pain. They said that Almus told the guards that he had been in an accident and was "dying" and "broke up" inside. The record further contains evidence that Almus begged for medical attention, but was told by the guards to "shut up." None of the guards called for medical help.

         According to jail guard Hunter, however, he checked on Almus at 5:00 a.m. and asked if Almus needed medical attention. Almus purportedly replied that he was in pain but could wait until the nurse arrived a little later. Hunter's deposition testimony, however, is inconsistent with that from one of Almus's fellow detainees and is not corroborated by other evidence.

         The jail's nurse arrived at around 6:00 or 6:30 a.m. that morning. When the nurse tried to assess Almus's condition, he slid onto the ground and spit up blood. An officer called 911 and Almus was taken away in an ambulance. Almus died on his way to the hospital from internal bleeding.

         Bonny sued the jail guards on behalf of Almus's estate, alleging that the guards violated Almus's rights under both the U.S. Constitution and state law. The district court concluded that the guards were protected by qualified immunity, state-agent immunity, Alabama Code § 14-6-1 (a statute that provides conditional immunities to sheriffs and jail guards). As a ...

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