11th Circuit upholds decision in wrongful death claim involving Indian River County inmate

By Chandra Lye | Feb 12, 2018

ATLANTA — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has upheld a lower court decision in a wrongful-death lawsuit involving an Indian River County Jail inmate.

Jill Alexander filed charges on the behalf of the estate of Mitchell Brad Martinez against Indian River County Sheriff Deryl Loar, and the Indian River County Deputy Christopher Sharkey.

The case stems from the death of Martinez. According to background information in the opinion, Sharkey was taking Martinez and seven others to the jail. During the eight-minute drive, where Martinez was riding in the front compartment, Sharkey claims he did not hear any signs of distress but upon arrival and opening the front compartment door, “he saw Martinez halfway seated on the floor area, slumped over and making gurgling noises," the appeal court judges stated in the opinion. 

Sharkey and another deputy performed CPR on Martinez until medical help arrived. 

He was taken to Indian River County Medical Center emergency room. He died several days later, according to the opinion.

“The chief medical examiner conducted an autopsy and opined that the cause of death was cardiac dysrhythmia due to adverse drug reaction,” the opinion said.

However, two months later Martinez’s mother hired a doctor to perform an autopsy to investigate injuries to Martinez's body.

“He opined that his injuries most likely resulted from moving around or being thrown around the van because he was not restrained," the opinion said.

Alexander appealed the decision of a district court to grant summary judgment to the defendants on three of her seven actions against them.

Initially, there were claims of intentional battery, negligence, excessive force claims and wrongful death. However, according to the Feb. 6 appeals court decision, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed two counts, and the district court dismissed the negligence, excessive force and wrongful death counts. 

Based on the opinion, Alexander claimed the district court erred in its decision because it did not take her vicarious liability allegations into consideration, the facts were found to implicate operational functions, not discretionary ones, that Deputy Sharkey’s actions should have been found to be willful and wanton disregard of Martinez’s safety and that the court determined there was no support for an excessive force charge.

“Based upon a de novo review, we conclude none of Alexander’s arguments have merit,” the appeals court document stated.

“We conclude that the district court did not err by failing to consider a vicarious liability allegation because Alexander did not plead such a claim," the appeals court ruled.

The court also stated in its decision that because Alexander did not put forth any argument on the negligent supervision claim in her appeal, she could not challenge the district court ruling.

“[T]he district court properly found that based on the undisputed facts, there was no evidence that the Sheriff’s Office negligently implemented its training on the transport of those in its custody,” the opinion said. 

“Deputy Sharkey is immune from suit unless he acted in bad faith, or with malicious purpose, or with willful and wanton disregard of human rights, safety or property.”

The appeals court concluded that the district court did not err in the decision to grant summary judgment to the defendants.  

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