Marie Butler v. Bob Gualtieri, No. 21-12136 (11th Cir. 2022)

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Justia Opinion Summary

While Plaintiff was intoxicated and handcuffed, former deputy sheriff (“Deputy”) pushed Plaintiff onto a concrete floor, breaking Plaintiff’s left arm. In response to a complaint from Plaintiff’s husband, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (“PCSO”) investigated the incident and terminated the Deputy’s employment. A few months later, Plaintiff sued PCSO Sheriff (“Sheriff”), among others, in the Middle District of Florida, alleging several state and federal constitutional claims.  The district court denied the Sheriff summary judgment on this claim.
 
The parties now agree that the Deputy behaved inappropriately, but disagree over whether the Deputy’s behavior was so egregious that the Sheriff could not be held liable for it. Put differently, this interlocutory appeal centers entirely on whether the Sheriff is, as a matter of law, entitled to sovereign immunity with respect to Plaintiff’s state law battery claim.
 
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Florida’s sovereign immunity statute protects the Sheriff. The court explained that serious factual disputes have often prevented Florida’s courts from applying sovereign immunity at the summary judgment stage.  Measuring the facts as they have been adduced in this case against Florida’s legal standards, the court agreed there are material factual disputes about the precise actions Plaintiff and the Deputy took, the Deputy’s state of mind, and the inferences that might reasonably be drawn from them. Moreover, reasonable factfinders could disagree over whether the Deputy’s conduct was wanton and willful, malicious, or exhibitive of bad faith.

Primary Holding
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s order denying summary judgment on Count I of Plaintiff’s several state and federal constitutional claims. The court held that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Florida’s sovereign immunity statute protects Defendant.

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