Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Poteet v. Polk County

April 16, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier


Before the Court is Defendants Polk County, Tennessee and Polk County Sheriff's Department as well as Defendants Sheriff Bill Davis, Bobby Copeland, Joshua Jenkins, Michael Griffith, Sarah Boring and James Burris' (collectively "Defendants"), in their official capacities, motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and supporting exhibits (Court File No. 133) as well as Defendants' brief in support (Court File No. 134). Plaintiff Bennie Poteet, II, both individually and by and through Evelyn Poteet, his conservator ("Plaintiff ") filed a response brief in opposition with several exhibits attached (Court File No. 174) as well as numerous other exhibits (Court File Nos. 175-185).*fn1

Also before the Court is Defendants Bill Davis, Joshua Jenkins, Sarah Boring, Michael Griffith, and James Burris' (collectively "Individual Defendants"), in their individual capacities, motion for summary judgment (Court File No. 135).*fn2 Plaintiff filed a response brief (Court File No. 172).

After carefully considering the parties' arguments and the applicable law, the Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendants Polk County, Tennessee and Polk County Sheriff's Department as well as the Individual Defendants', in their official capacities, motion for summary judgment (Court File No. 133) and will GRANT the Individual Defendants', in their individual capacities, motion (Court File No. 135).*fn3 The Court will consider both of Defendants' motions for summary judgment together (Court File Nos. 133 & 135).


Summary judgment is proper where "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 judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts contained in the record and all inferences which can be drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Nat'l Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis Inc., 253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001). The Court cannot weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of any matter in dispute. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To refute such a showing, the nonmoving party must present some significant, probative evidence indicating the necessity of a trial for resolving a material factual dispute. Id. at 322. A mere scintilla of evidence is not enough. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; McLean v. 988011Ontario, Ltd., 224 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000). The Court's role is limited to determining whether the case contains sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49; Nat'l Satellite Sports, 253 F.3d at 907. If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the Court concludes a fair-minded jury could not return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party based on the evidence presented, it may enter a summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52; Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994).


In deciding a motion for summary judgment the Court is required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, in this case Plaintiff. Based upon the deposition excerpts and records Plaintiff submitted as well as the deposition excerpts Defendants submitted, the Court determines the following facts are pertinent to the consideration of these motions.*fn4

Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Polk County, Tennessee, Polk County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Bill Davis, Bobby Copeland, Joshua Jenkins, Michael Griffith, Sarah Boring and James Burris arise out of events which occurred on November 10, 2004 and November 11, 2004, during and following Plaintiff's incarceration in the Polk County Jail ("County Jail") (Court File No. 174).*fn5 Plaintiff was arrested by the Polk County Sheriff's Department ("Sheriff's Department") on November 2, 2004 for driving under the influence. Plaintiff contacted Ocoee Bonding Company and posted bond with a check which was returned for insufficient funds.

There is evidence that some time between November 2, 2004 and November 10, 2004, Plaintiff was arrested for an alcohol-related event by McMinn County, Tennessee authorities (Court File No. 134). During the course of this arrest, Plaintiff gave chase and was "tasered" by McMinn County officers (Id.). Plaintiff was subsequently hospitalized and incarcerated (Id.). During this event, there is evidence Plaintiff suffered injury to his legs (Id.).

Plaintiff did not appear in Polk County General Sessions Court ("Court") for a hearing scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on November 10, 2004 concerning the Polk County charges (Court File No. 133, Attachment 7, Deposition of C.R. Graham, at p. 6-7).*fn6 As ordered by the presiding Judge, the bail bondsman picked Plaintiff up on the morning of November 10, 2004 and transported him to the Polk County Court. It is undisputed that Plaintiff drank beer on the evening of November 9, 2004; however, the amount of alcohol, if any, Plaintiff consumed the morning he was taken into custody is unknown. The bondsman, C.R. Graham, testified Plaintiff appeared to be intoxicated and had a 12-pack of beer with one can opened when he arrived to take Plaintiff to the courthouse (Court File No. 133, Attachment 7, Deposition of C.R. Graham, at p.10). However, the bondsman did not allow Plaintiff to take the open beer with him, as Plaintiff requested (Id. at 10-11).

Judge Baliles was presiding over Court. Defendant Bobby Copeland ("Copeland"), a deputy and Chief Correctional Officer of the Sheriff's Department, was acting as a bailiff. Sheriff Bill Davis ("Sheriff Davis") was unable to recall whether he was present at the courthouse or the County Jail during the relevant time period.*fn7 Judge Baliles ordered that a breathalyzer test be performed on Plaintiff and that a deputy deliver Plaintiff to the County Jail.

Joshua Jenkins ("Jenkins") was the deputy on duty at the County Jail on November 10, 2004. Through radio dispatch, Copeland reported a disturbance at the courthouse in Judge Baliles' courtroom (Court File No. 174, Attachment 7, Deposition of Joshua Jenkins, at p. 159-60). Copeland asked Jenkins to come to the courthouse and take Plaintiff to the County Jail for contempt of court (Id. at 162). Jenkins alone transported Plaintiff from Court to the County Jail. Jenkins testified Plaintiff was "extremely drunk" and needed assistance standing and walking during the booking process. Jenkins was unable to complete the entire booking process due to Plaintiff's intoxication. Jenkins did not notice any visible wounds on Plaintiff's body when he assisted Plaintiff in changing into prison attire. Jenkins then placed Plaintiff in a very small cell referred to as the "drunk tank." There is no way to see into this cell when the steel door is closed. Despite Judge Baliles' order, Jenkins did not perform a breathalyzer test on Plaintiff. There is conflicting testimony as to whether the Sheriff's Department had a policy of taking the blood alcohol level of an inmate who is visibly intoxicated.

Plaintiff alleges Copeland later returned to the County Jail and physically abused him while he was isolated in the drunk tank and completely out of view.*fn8 This abuse allegedly bloodied both of Plaintiff's knees. Jenkins was on duty until 6:00 p.m. that day (Court File No. 134). He testified no one entered Plaintiff's cell during his shift (Id.). Plaintiff claims he reported the abuse to another Polk County employee (Deposition of Bennie Joe Poteet, II at p. 26-27). Copeland, Sarah Boring, Michael Griffith, Jenkins and were on duty following the attack but it is unknown who received the report.

On the evening of November 10, 2004, Jenkins transferred Plaintiff from the drunk tank to the ten-man cell with other inmates. Jenkins asked Plaintiff how he was feeling and Plaintiff responded "hung over" (Court File No. 134). Plaintiff was offered a cup of coffee, but otherwise did not receive any food or water on that day. Michael Griffith ("Griffith") relieved Jenkins and worked as a deputy and/or correctional officer of the Sheriff's Department during the night shift on November 10, 2004. Griffith worked alone that night and does not recall anything out of the ordinary occurring (Court File No. 134). Plaintiff made at least two phone calls that night from the County Jail (Id.).

Jenkins came back on duty in the early morning hours of November 11, 2004. He recalls seeing Plaintiff asleep during the head count he conducted of the inmates at approximately 6:00 a.m. that morning (Court File No. 133, Attachment 4, Deposition of Joshua Jenkins, at p. 194-95). Jenkins saw Plaintiff again sometime after that when the inmates were served breakfast (Id.). At that time, Plaintiff got up from his bunk and retrieved a tray of food (Id.). There is no evidence that Plaintiff ever requested medical care.

Later that morning, Jenkins heard the inmates in the ten-man cell hollering "man down" (Id.). Within a minute Jenkins arrived in the cell to find Plaintiff lying on the floor having what appeared to be seizures (Id.). Jenkins immediately radioed for an ambulance and placed Plaintiff on a mattress and carried it into the hallway with the assistance of some other inmates (Id.). The ambulance arrived at the County Jail within four minutes of the call at 9:44 a.m. (Id.). Jenkins does not know exactly when Plaintiff's seizures began.

When the emergency personnel ("EMTs") arrived, they assessed Plaintiff and determined transport to a hospital was appropriate. Copeland protested and inquired as to whether Plaintiff was faking a seizure in order to get out of jail (Court File No. 134). Both Jenkins and the EMTs insisted Plaintiff be transported to a hospital (Id.). The ambulance left the County Jail at 10:06 a.m., which is approximately twenty-two (22) minutes after it arrived (Court File No. 133, Attachment 11, Deposition of Dennis Hughes, at p. 13).

Plaintiff was transported to Defendant Cleveland Community Hospital ("Defendant Hospital"). Jenkins followed the ambulance to Defendant Hospital. No one from the Sheriff's Department contacted Plaintiff's family members, even though Plaintiff had provided his father's name as an emergency contact. Once he arrived at Defendant Hospital, even though Plaintiff was unconscious and unresponsive, Jenkins placed Plaintiff in leg shackles and "guarded" him (Court File No. 317). The substance of the information provided or not provided to the medical practitioners caring for Plaintiff is disputed. Jenkins informed them of Plaintiff's previous intoxicated condition as well as his observation of Plaintiff having what appeared to be seizures (Court File No. 134). Additionally, Sarah Boring ("Boring") received communication at the County Jail from Deborah Vanderveer, Plaintiff's girlfriend, concerning Plaintiff's Xanax consumption, which Boring in turn conveyed to Defendant Hospital (Id.). Ultimately, an own recognizance bond ("OR bond") was issued for Plaintiff while at Defendant Hospital (Id.).

Plaintiff contends his current condition, locked-in syndrome, resulted from a brain stem stroke which began on November 11, 2004. He alleges the stroke was caused by a clot that formed after the dissection of an artery in his neck, which likely happened during the physical abuse he sustained in the County Jail by Copeland. Plaintiff also contends the actions and/or inactions of Defendant Hospital and its employee, Defendant Dr. Adam Fall, constituted medical malpractice.

Plaintiff is now confined to a nursing home. The stroke damaged only the portion of Plaintiff's brain that controls voluntary motor function. Therefore, even though he can no longer voluntarily move any part of his body, except his eyes, his cognitive awareness and ability remain intact and relatively unchanged. Even though there is evidence that Plaintiff is capable of participating in his health care decisions to some extent, he is unable to feed, clothe, or bathe himself and requires full time care and assistance (Court File Nos. 134 & 174). Plaintiff's locked-in syndrome is believed to be permanent (Court File No. 109).

Plaintiff also alleges Polk County, Tennessee ("Polk County") is responsible for his current situation because its policies and procedures regarding its County Jail do not comply with standards established by state law nor do the conditions at the County Jail meet minimal constitutional standards regarding the health and safety of its inmates.*fn9 Specifically, Plaintiff alleges it was the customary practice of the County Jail to have only one correctional officer ("officer") on duty to supervise the entire inmate population and none of the officers had adequate medical training.

The Tennessee Corrections Institute ("TCI") conducted annual inspections of the County Jail to determine if it could be certified and whether minimum constitutional standards were being met. Plaintiff submitted several TCI reports, dating back to 1995, concerning the County Jail which indicate it was understaffed, did not employ staff with any formalized medical training, did not have a contract with a medical provider, did not maintain proper surveillance of inmates, did not remove asbestos from cells, and did not perform medical examinations on inmates. TCI records also indicate the County Jail has not been certified since 1997. According to Sheriff Davis, Polk County Commissioners refused to provide additional funding which was requested to correct problems in the County Jail.


Plaintiff brings claims against two governmental entities (1) Polk County, Tennessee, and (2) Polk County Sheriff's Department, as well as six individuals in both in their official and individual capacities including (3) Sheriff Bill Davis, (4) Bobby Copeland,*fn10 (5) Joshua Jenkins, (6) Sarah Boring, (7) Mike Griffith, and (8) James Burris (Court File No. 159). Plaintiff's claims include (1) a federal claim against all Defendants, jointly and severally, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging (a) violation of the Eighth Amendment's protection of inmates from abuse by correctional officers and other inmates, (b) violation of the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and (c) excessive use of force in taking Plaintiff into custody and detaining him, (2) a state-law claim against Defendants Copeland, Jenkins, Sarah Boring, Griffith, and James Burris, in their individual capacities, for battery, (3) a state-law claim against Defendants Copeland, Jenkins, Sarah Boring, Griffith, and James Burris, in their individual capacities, for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and (4) a state-law claim against Defendants Copeland, Jenkins, Sarah Boring, Griffith, and James Burris, in their individual capacities, alleging negligence (Id.).

Defendants move for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims against them in both their official and individual capacities. Specifically, Defendants move for dismissal of (1) Plaintiff's claims against Sheriff Davis, Jenkins, Sarah Boring, Griffith, James Burris, in their individual capacities alleging that there is simply no factual allegations to support these claims; (2) Plaintiff's claims against Sheriff Davis (in his individual capacity) and Sarah Boring, James Burris, and Griffith (in their individual and official capacities) alleging they are barred by the statute of limitations as Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-106 ("Tennessee Disability Statute") did not toll the applicable limitations period; (3) Plaintiff's claims against Polk County Sheriff's Department and Sheriff Davis, Copeland, Jenkins, Sarah Boring, Griffith, James Burris, in their official capacities, alleging they are not available and/or redundant; (4) Plaintiff's claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all the Defendants alleging (a) the doctrine of qualified immunity shields Defendants Sheriff Davis, Copeland, Jenkins, Sarah Boring, Griffith, and James Burris from liability, (b) Plaintiff has not established a claim against the municipality, Polk County, Tennessee, and (c) Plaintiff has not established a claim under the Eighth Amendment; (5) Plaintiff's state-law claims of battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (6) all Plaintiff's claims alleging all Defendants are entitled to immunity under Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-20-201 et seq. ("Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act") (Court File No. 134). Defendants submitted several deposition excerpts in support of their motion (Court File No. 133, Attachments 1-12).

Plaintiff argues Defendants' motions misstate his claims and there is disputed evidence concerning each of his claims which renders summary judgment improper. In support of his opposition to Defendants' motions, Plaintiff submitted several exhibits which the Court considered including Plaintiff's video-recorded deposition and transcript, other deposition excerpts, witness statements, and documents concerning the Polk County Jail (Court File Nos. 174-185).

A. Plaintiff's claims against the Individual Defendants

Defendants Sheriff Davis, Jenkins, Sarah Boring, Griffith and James Burris ("Individual Defendants") move for summary judgment in their individual ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.