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Georgia Sheriffs Entitled to Eleventh Amendment Immunity When Setting Jail Policies That Lead to Prisoners Being Sexually Abused

by David M. Reutter

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a civil rights complaint against a Georgia Sheriff. The Court held the Sheriff was entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.

The Court's May 7, 2021, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by Oqueshia Andrews. Her civil rights complaint alleged that “Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Carmel Biggers fondled her, kissed her, and watched her in the shower, all without her consent,” while housed at the county jail. According to Andrews, Biggers, who is male, was able to do this because Sheriff Tim Pounds operates the jail with a policy that allows “cross-gender supervision of inmates without reasonable safeguards in place.”

Andrews sued Pounds in his official capacity. The district court granted Pounds dismissal, finding he was entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity because he acts as an arm of the State “when promulgating policies and procedures governing conditions of confinement” at the county jail.

On appeal, Andrews conceded that Purcell ex. rel Estate of Morgan v. Toombs County, 400 F.3d 1313 (11th Cir. 2005) “control[s] the outcome of this case because both cases relate to the function of jail operations” and that the district court was “bound by precedent” to follow it. Purcell relates to the sheriff’s duties and control has not meaningfully changed since the Court issued it.

Andrews requested the Court to overrule Purcell and for the court “to revisit the factors discussed” in Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304 (11th Cir. 2003)(en banc), “the very decision on which Purcell relies” and which she recognizes “runs contrary to her position.” She believes Manders “misapplies” to Georgia sheriffs the decision in McMillian v. Monroe County, 520 U.S. 781 (1997).

The panel said it had no authority to overrule Manders or Purcell. “Under our prior precedent rule, a panel cannot overrule a prior one’s holding even [if] convinced it is wrong,” the Court wrote. Precedent “categorically reject[ed] any exception” to that rule “based upon a perceived defect in the prior panel’s reasoning or analysis as it relates to the law in existence at that time.” As such, the district court’s order was affirmed. This appears to be a case brought by a not very skilled lawyer. See: Andrews v. Biggers, 996 F.3d. 1235 (11th Cir. 2021).

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Related legal case

Andrews v. Biggers