Claims Against a Jail’s Care Contractor Dismissed Even after a Failure to Complete Required Forms

March 7, 2017

           The Superior Court of Fulton County dismissed claims against Corizon, Fulton County Jail’s care contractor, for failing to adequately demonstrate that Corizon’s actions/omissions were the proximate cause of the 2014 murder of Demontae Ware.  Ware v. Jackson, et al., 2016WL4239498 (Ga. Super. 2016).  Additionally, the Court held that the claims against Corizon must be dismissed because they sounded in medical malpractice and were not accompanied by an expert’s affidavit, as required by law.  The dismissal leaves all claims against Sheriff Ted Jackson and several jail employees in place. 

 

            In September 2014, Ware was being held in the Fulton County Jail.  Another inmate, Bobby Wynn, was being moved to Ware’s cell due to a confrontation with his former cellmate.  Throughout the process, Wynn was continually combative and aggressive, to the point that an officer had to draw her taser.  On seeing Ware’s cell, Wynn became “extremely angry” because he believed that it was “nasty.”  The officers allowed Wynn to mop the cell in an attempt to calm him down.  Later that evening, Wynn strangled and killed Ware with a rope made out of old shirts.   

 

            This was not the first instance during which Wynn displayed aggressive behavior.  Wynn was known to suffer from bipolar schizophrenia, was known to be a violent person, and was generally known to be very troubled with a history of violence.  Wynn had previously threatened to kill a duty sergeant and his former cellmates. Plaintiff claims that Wynn’s history is relevant because Corizon should have completed a “Medical/Mental Health Request to Change Cell” form after each incident.  Plaintiff argues that Ware would not have been murdered but for Corizon’s non-performance of a ministerial duty.  Clark v. Prison Health Servs., Inc., 257 Ga. App. 787 (2002) (holding the jail’s health care provider acted negligently in failing to deliver paperwork indicating an inmate was suicidal).  However, the Court held that Plaintiff’s arguments differed from Clark in two material aspects. 

 

            First, Plaintiff not only claims that Corizon failed to complete the necessary forms, but also that Corizon erred in deciding to discharge Wynn from mental care.  Therefore, Plaintiff challenges a discretionary decision by Corizon.  When a claim of negligence relates to a professional decision, rather than efficacy of conduct in carrying out a previous decision, the claim must be in professional malpractice.  Pattman v. Mann, 307 Ga. App. 413, 416 (2010).  Without an expert’s affidavit accompanying the complaint, this claim must fail as a matter of law. 

           

            Second, proximate cause of Ware’s murder cannot be tied to Corizon.  In Clark, the jail staff was not aware of the inmate’s suicidal tendencies.  Here, however, the Sheriff’s Office had specific knowledge of Wynn’s violent history, including Wynn’s threats to kill his former cellmate.  Therefore, the Court found that Corizon’s failure to complete necessary forms that would have contained less information than what the Sheriff’s Office already knew cannot reasonably be determined to be the proximate cause of Ware’s tragic death.  For those reasons, Defendant Corizon’s motion to dismiss was granted. 

 

The attorneys at Buckley Christopher, P.C. are available to assist you and your company in ensuring that your employment practices are within the bounds of the law and to represent you if litigation arises.  Please contact one of our attorneys for more information.

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