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Holder v. Shelby County Tennessee

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

November 3, 2017

ANTHONY HOLDER, ET AL.
v.
SHELBY COUNTY TENNESSEE

          Session Date: September 19, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-001752-14 Valerie L. Smith, Judge

         This is the second appeal of this governmental tort liability action. After his son committed suicide while in custody at the Shelby County Jail, Appellee filed suit against the Appellant Shelby County for negligence under a theory of vicarious liability. On remand from this Court, the trial court held a bench trial and determined that Appellant's employee's failure to perform wellness checks was negligent conduct but not intentional. Accordingly, the trial court held that Appellant was not immune from suit under the Governmental Tort Liability Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-205, and entered judgment in favor of Appellee. Shelby County appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed and Remanded

          John Marshall Jones, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Shelby County, Tennessee.

          Bryan Matthew Meredith and Robert L.J. Spence, Jr., Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Anthony Holder.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Brandon O. Gibson, J., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE

         I. Background

         Appellee Anthony Holder is the father of Decardis Holder ("Decedent"). While Decedent was incarcerated in the Shelby County Jail, he committed suicide. Thereafter, Appellee filed suit, under the Governmental Tort Liability Act, Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-20-101, et seq. ("GTLA"), against Appellant Shelby County, alleging negligence in the death of Decedent. This is the second appeal of this case. The precipitating facts, as taken from the Appellee's amended complaint, are set out in our previous opinion, Holder v. Shelby Co., No. 2014-01910-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 1828015 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 21, 2015) ("Holder I"), to-wit:

[Decedent] was involved in an automobile accident on April 20, 2013. The Memphis Police Department ("MPD") responded to the scene and [Decedent] was subsequently arrested. [Decedent] was charged with assault, failure to exercise reasonable care, "violation of financial law, " leaving the scene of an accident involving injury, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and resisting official detention. The MPD transported [Decedent] to the Shelby County Jail, where he received a mental evaluation performed by agents of Shelby County. The evaluation revealed that [Decedent] suffered from a mental condition that caused him to be unstable and that he was a threat to himself and others. This evaluation was consistent with [Decedent's] diagnosis of mental illness, for which he was undergoing treatment at the time of the accident.
Due to the diagnosis, [Decedent] was placed in a special jail housing unit for unstable inmates, designated the "N" housing unit. Inmates placed in the "N" unit are classified as mentally unstable. Shelby County policy dictates that guards perform a mandatory safety check of the inmates of the "N" unit at least every thirty minutes. On April 21, 2013, Deputy Melvin Moore was assigned to [Decedent's] unit between 2:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. At 9:16 p.m., Deputy Moore indicated that he checked the inmates and that they were all resting peacefully. Deputy Moore later admitted, however, that he did not make the safety check as documented in the log book and that he, in fact, could not recall the last time he observed [Decedent] living, breathing, or moving about. Indeed, Deputy Moore admitted that he failed to complete even one entire mandated safety check during his eight hour shift on April 21, 2013. Had proper safety checks been performed, nothing would have obstructed Deputy Moore's view of [Decedent's] cell. When later questioned about his failure to complete the mandatory safety checks, Deputy Moore stated that he could not recall the reason he failed to complete the safety checks; however, Moore publicly stated that "due to my negligence, a guy lost his life."
After a shift change, Deputy Lorna Morris was assigned to [Decedent's] unit. At 10:14 p.m., Deputy Morris discovered [Decedent] hanging from a sheet in his cell. Deputy Morris obtained assistance to remove the sheet from [Decedent's] neck, and perform CPR. [Decedent] was warm and had a pulse, but was not breathing. Another Deputy that was present observed drool from [Decedent's] mouth; the Deputy described the drool as having been there for "a while." [Decedent] was transported to Methodist Hospital-Central, where he eventually died from injuries related to asphyxiation.

Holder I, 2015 WL 1828015, at *1-2. In Holder I, this Court reversed the trial court's grant of Shelby County's Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02 motion to dismiss the case. In its motion, Shelby County argued, inter alia, that its GTLA "immunity was not removed because Deputy Moore was not acting within the scope of his employment." Id. at *2. By order of August 18, 2014, the trial court granted Shelby County's motion to dismiss. Specifically, the trial court found that Appellee's "amended complaint failed to set forth any negligent acts of Shelby County, and that Deputy Moore was not 'on or about Shelby County's business at the time of his acts' because he was not hired to falsify logs." Id. In Holder I, this Court reversed the trial court's grant of Appellant's motion to dismiss. Specifically, we held that:

[Appellee's] amended complaint contains the following relevant allegation: "The negligence of Deputy Moore set forth herein was committed by Deputy Moore within the course and scope of his employment." Because this is a factual allegation, we must take it as true for purposes of Shelby County's motion to dismiss. Thus, Appellant's amended complaint clearly alleges that Deputy Moore's negligence was committed within the scope of his employment. Accordingly, the trial court erred in dismissing Appellant's amended complaint on the basis that Deputy Moore's actions were taken outside the scope of his employment.

Id. at *7.

         Our holding, in Holder I, that Appellee's amended complaint stated a claim for relief under the GTLA was based on the scope of review applicable to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02 motions to dismiss. Because a Rule 12.02 motion tests only the sufficiency of the complaint, the resolution of a 12.02(6) motion to dismiss is determined by an examination of the pleadings alone. Id. at *2 (internal citations omitted). However, our holding that Appellee's pleadings were sufficient to survive Appellant's motion to dismiss did not amount to a substantive determination that Deputy Moore's actions were negligent, as opposed to intentional. Accordingly, on remand from Holder I, the case proceeded to a bench trial before the trial court, with the question of whether Deputy Moore's actions were intentional or negligent being paramount to Shelby County's liability. Following the trial, the trial court found that Deputy Moore's ...


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