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Autry v. Cleveland County Sheriff's Department

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

September 15, 2017

ROBERT ALLEN AUTRY, an Incapacitated Person individually, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CLEVELAND COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss of Defendant Joseph Lester, as Sheriff of Cleveland County [Doc. No. 52], filed pursuant Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Sheriff Lester asserts that the Second Amended Complaint fails to state a claim against him under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Plaintiff Robert Allen Autry or his mother, Plaintiff Sandra Valentine. Plaintiffs have responded in opposition to the Motion, and Sheriff Lester has replied. Thus, the Motion is fully briefed and at issue.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs bring § 1983 claims against Sheriff Lester, in his official capacity only, for his alleged failure on behalf of Cleveland County to provide medical care to Mr. Autry while he was a pretrial detainee in the Cleveland County Detention Center or jail. Plaintiffs originally sued the sheriff's department and others who are no longer parties. See Compl. [Doc. No. 1] at 1 & ¶¶ 7-11. A scheduling order was entered on June 23, 2016. On January 4, 2017, more than four months after the original deadline, Plaintiffs added Sheriff Lester and the Board of County Commissioners of Cleveland County, as well as numerous medical care providers, as defendants. In February 2017, Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the sheriff's department and the Board of County Commissioners pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 41. See Stipulation [Doc. No. 54]. The Court dismissed the unidentified “John Doe” defendants for lack of service. See 4/6/17 Order [Doc. No. 33]; 4/25/17 Order [Doc. No. 65]; 6/1/17 Order [Doc. No. 82]. The remaining defendants have also filed motions to dismiss, which will be addressed by separate orders.

         Plaintiffs assert in Count I that they “communicated to the Sheriff” and “[t]he Sheriff and the Jail were on actual notice” of a serious medical need due to Mr. Autry's pre-existing medical condition from a prior head injury, but that “[t]he Sheriff intentionally or deliberately failed to provide required medical treatment” of a sinus infection, “ignored requests for proper medical care, ” and delayed “appropriate medical treatment until it was too late.” See Second Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 49], ¶¶ 46-48. The factual allegations of Plaintiffs' pleading, as well as argument in their brief, confirm that any communications and notice, as well as any failure to provide timely medical treatment, occurred through jail employees and medical staff. See id. ¶¶ 23-28, 30-31; Pls.' Resp. Br. [Doc. No. 62] at 3-4. Plaintiffs do not contend Sheriff Lester personally participated in the events involving Mr. Autry. Plaintiffs allege that the “improper treatment and the delay in receiving proper treatment resulted in Autry suffering unneeded pain, suffering, and ultimately in a serious medical injury resulting in permanent incapacitation where Autry had portions of his brain removed from an un- or misdiagnosed and untreated sinus infection that progressed to his brain with tragic results.” See Second Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 49], ¶ 49. Plaintiffs claim “[t]he failure to properly provide medical care after receiving actual notice of the need as well as the delay in administering proper care, constituted deliberate indifference to the needs and rights of a pretrial detainee.” Id. ¶ 50.

         In Count II, Plaintiffs assert that Sheriff Lester (and the Board of County Commissioners, which has now been dismissed) “deprived Plaintiff [Autry] of his federal constitutional rights by failing to propagate appropriate standards, policies, training, and procedures to ensure that pretrial detainees entitled to appropriate and necessary medical care receive such treatment while in the care and custody of the Sheriff.” Id. ¶ 53. Plaintiffs claim that the denial of medical care to Mr. Autry by jail personnel and medical staff as alleged in Count I was the result of a deficient medical care policy and a lack of proper training “to not ignore a serious medical need” and “to communicate a serious medical need to appropriate medical care provider[s].” Id. ¶¶ 54, 56-57.

         For relief on these claims, Plaintiffs seek to recover “actual damages allowed by law” and punitive damages. Id. ¶¶ 51, 57. Plaintiffs' pleading includes an itemized list of damages that includes, as to both Plaintiffs, lost wages (past and future), medical expenses, and pain and suffering. Id. ¶ 92. Ms. Valentine states that her damages include a “loss of companionship, maintenance, support, advice, counsel, contribution of both a pecuniary and non-pecuniary nature, society affection and comfort she would have had with her son had he not been so grievously and permanenrly [sic] crippled both physically and mentally.” Id. ¶ 95.

         Sheriff Lester's Motion

         Sheriff Lester seeks dismissal of Count I on the ground that an official-capacity claim against him is a claim against Cleveland County and requires proof of an official policy or custom that caused the alleged injury to Mr. Autry.[1] Sheriff Lester asserts that the factual allegations of the Second Amended Complaint show Plaintiffs seek to impose liability on Cleveland County for the alleged acts or omissions of unidentified jail personnel or medical staff and Plaintiffs fail to allege the existence of any policy or custom that would support county liability. Sheriff Lester seeks dismissal of Count II on the ground that the Second Amended Complaint lacks sufficient factual allegations to establish § 1983 liability based on a deficient policy or failure to train jail staff regarding medical needs of detainees. Sheriff Lester also seeks dismissal of any claim brought by Ms. Valentine individually, arguing that she cannot recover under § 1983 for a loss of consortium or any loss from a violation of Mr. Autry's constitutional rights, and that she has not alleged any violation of her own right.[2]

         Standard of Decision

         “To survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Thus, in assessing plausibility, a court should first disregard conclusory allegations and “next consider the factual allegations in [the] complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 681.

         Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” See id. at 679; see also Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1248. “In § 1983 cases, defendants often include the government agency and a number of government actors sued in their individual capacities. Therefore it is particularly important in such circumstances that the complaint make clear exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom, to provide each individual with fair notice as to the basis of the claims against him or her . . . .” See Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1249-50 (emphasis in original); see also Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1104 (10th Cir. 2009). “[I]t is incumbent upon a plaintiff to ‘identify specific actions taken by particular defendants' in order to make out a viable § 1983 . . . claim.” Pahls v. Thomas, 718 F.3d 1210, 1226 (10th Cir. 2013) (quoting Tonkovich v. Kan. Bd. of Regents, 159 F.3d 504, 532 (10th Cir. 1998)) (emphasis added by the court in Pahls).

         Discussion

         A. Sheriff Lester's ยง 1983 Liability ...


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