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Autry v. Cleveland County Sheriff's Department

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

February 12, 2018

ROBERT ALLEN AUTRY, an Incapacitated Person individually, et al., Plaintiffs,



         Before the Court are Defendant Norman Regional Hospital Authority's Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 69] and Defendant Marshall L. Rea, D.O.'s Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 79], both filed pursuant Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs assert claims against these defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (“EMTALA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1395dd, and state law. Plaintiffs Robert Allen Autry (alleged to be an incapacitated person) and Sandra Valentine (his mother and guardian) have filed responses [Doc. Nos. 94 & 95], and the movants have replied [Doc. Nos. 97 & 100]. The Motions are fully briefed and ripe for decision.

         Defendant Norman Regional Health Authority d/b/a Norman Regional Hospital (“NRH”) seeks a dismissal of all claims against it in the Second Amended Complaint.[1] As to the federal claims, NRH asserts that Plaintiffs' claims are time barred and their pleading otherwise fails to state a claim for relief. NRH contends any state law tort claim is governed by Oklahoma's Governmental Tort Claims Act (“GTCA”), Okla. Stat. tit. 51, §§ 151-72, and is barred by Plaintiffs' failure to satisfy statutory preconditions to suit. Alternatively, if Plaintiffs' federal claims are dismissed, NRH urges the Court to decline supplemental jurisdiction of any state law claim.

         Defendant Marshall L. Rea, D.O. (“Dr. Rea”) also seeks the dismissal of all claims. He denies being a proper defendant under either federal statute because, as to § 1983, Plaintiffs allege no facts to show he was acting under color of state law or acted unconstitutionally while practicing emergency medicine at NRH, and, as to EMTALA, only hospitals can be sued. See 42 U.S.C. § 1395dd(d)(2)(A). Absent any federal claim against him, Dr. Rea asks the Court to decline supplemental jurisdiction of Plaintiffs' negligence claims.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs bring claims against NRH and Dr. Rea under federal and state laws to recover damages allegedly caused by inadequate emergency medical care provided to Mr. Autry on November 29, 2014. At the time, Mr. Autry was a pretrial detainee at the Cleveland County Detention Center (“CCDC”). This case was filed in October 2015, but NRH and Dr. Rea were first added as defendants by the Second Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 49] filed January 4, 2017. The Court authorized Plaintiffs to exceed the 90-day time limit for service of process, and Plaintiffs timely served NRH and Dr. Rea on April 11, 2017, and May 10, 2017, respectively. See 4/27/17 Order [Doc. No. 65].

         Plaintiffs assert claims against other defendants in the Second Amended Complaint related to Mr. Autry's detention at CCDC and the medical care he received there. Some of these defendants - Cleveland County Sheriff's Department, the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, EMSA, Cleveland County, Joseph K. Lester in his official capacity as Sheriff of Cleveland County, the Board of County Commissioners of Cleveland County, and multiple “John Doe” defendants - have previously been dismissed, by either Plaintiffs [Doc. Nos. 24-26, 28, 31 & 54] or the Court [Doc. Nos. 33, 65, 82 & 105]. Some claims against other defendants remain pending. See 2/5/18 Order [Doc. No. 106]. Only the facts relevant to Plaintiffs' claims against NRH and Dr. Rea are stated in this Order.

         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).

         “‘[I]f the allegations [of a complaint] show that relief is barred by the applicable statutes of limitations, the complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim.'” Vasquez Arroyo v. Starks, 589 F.3d 1091, 1096-97 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007)). A party seeking to toll a limitations period bears “the burden of [pleading and] proving justifiable circumstances.” Olson v. Fed. Mine Safety & Health Review Comm'n, 381 F.3d 1007, 1014 (10th Cir. 2004) (citing Aldrich v. McCulloch Prop., Inc., 627 F.2d 1036, 1044 n.4 (10th Cir. 1980)); see Heil v. Wells Fargo Bank, 298 Fed.Appx. 703, 707 (10th Cir. 2008) (unpublished).[2]

         Plaintiffs' Allegations[3]

         Mr. Autry suffered accidental head trauma as a teenager that “left him with injuries to his skull which made sinus infections especially dangerous” because “his injuries allowed for an untreated sinus infection to cause brain infection.” See Second Am. Compl. ¶ 21. While detained at CCDC in November 2014, Mr. Autry developed a sinus infection, and made requests for treatment to CCDC's employees and nurses employed by CCDC's contract medical care provider. In making these requests, both Mr. Autry and Ms. Valentine communicated information regarding his prior injury and the risk of harm from an untreated sinus infection, and Ms. Valentine offered to provide medical records. Mr. Autry received treatment of his symptoms with nonprescription medications to relieve pain and to reduce fever and inflammation (ibuprofen and naproxen), but the sinus infection went undiagnosed and untreated by antibiotics.

         On November 29, 2014, Mr. Autry was transported to the emergency room of NRH for evaluation and treatment. He was examined by Dr. Rea, but “despite signs of infection, notice of his prior TBI [traumatic brain injury], and headache, Autry was discharged from the hospital with no further recommendation regarding the infection.” Id. ¶ 68. Mr. Autry was “released, not to another medical facility, but back to the care and custody of the Jail without receiving any antibiotics or receiving any other stabilizing care.” Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiffs allege as follows concerning Dr. Rea's treatment of Mr. Autry:

Rea failed to obtain a thorough medical and surgical history of Autry, failed to perform a proper physical examination, failed to order appropriate laboratory tests, failed to order x-rays of sinuses, failed to assess Autry's condition in light of the signs and symptoms and history of TBI, and had no plan of action for Autry. Rea failed to prescribe appropriate medication and/or admit Autry in the hospital for further diagnostic procedures and treatment. Further, Rea failed to stabilize Autry and failed to refer him to another medical facility, [and] instead discharged Autry back to the Jail.

Id. ¶ 76. Plaintiffs allege that because Mr. Autry was a pretrial detainee at the time of his examination, he “had the Constitutional right to adequate medical care and NRH and Rea had the duty to provide adequate medical care.” Id. ¶ 77. Plaintiffs also allege that NRH, “a Public Trust, ” and Dr. Rea, “the physician who treated Autry at NRH” were both “acting under color of state law.” Id. ¶ 75.

         On December 1, 2014, Mr. Autry was transported back to NRH and, later the same day, underwent emergency brain surgery. Id. ¶¶ 30-31, 69. He was diagnosed with “a serious bacterial infection in his brain as a result of an untreated sinus infection.” Id. ¶ 33. After additional surgeries and procedures during December 2014, which included placements of a feeding tube, a tracheal tube, and a cranial monitoring probe, the treating physician determined on January 14, 2015, that Mr. Autry “was totally incapacitated from a brain injury resulting from a brain abscess and subdural empyema” and “would likely never return to an independent state.” Id. ¶ 40.

         Plaintiffs assert in Count 4 of the Second Amended Complaint that NRH and Dr. Rea provided constitutionally inadequate medical care to Mr. Autry because “the failure and delay of appropriate care . . . is a result of deliberate indifference to his health and well-being because of his incarceration.” See id. ¶ 85. Deliberate indifference is allegedly shown by a lack of proper treatment, “combined with the knowledge that the doctor had all of the information at his disposal when Autry first presented himself to the hospital.” Id. Plaintiffs allege that “[t]he end result of the deliberate indifference was an unnecessary . . . life-changing injury that resulted in permanent harm to Autry.” Id. According to Plaintiffs: “While Autry received care at NRH, his care departed from the ordinary standard of care, and his diagnosis presents the appearance of deliberate indifference where the doctor had access to his history, ignored or neglected his symptoms, and failed to properly treat Autry with catastrophic effect.” Id. ¶ 83.

         Plaintiffs also assert in Count 4 that NRH and Dr. Rea violated EMTALA. Plaintiffs allege Mr. Aurty was entitled under EMTALA to receive “an appropriate medical screening examination to determine whether he was suffering from an emergency medical condition” and, if so, to be “stabilized [and] transferred to another medical facility” rather than released. Id. ¶¶ 79, 81. Plaintiffs claim Mr. Autry “was inappropriately screened by the emergency medical department of NRH . . . [and] inappropriately treated while at NRH” in that he “was given a substandard care that departed from what a ‘normal [and] non-detained' paying patient would have received which caused catastrophic effects.” Id. ¶ 83. Plaintiffs state an EMTALA violation can be inferred from the fact that “Autry was returned to the hospital in a coma . . . less than two days after his discharge.” Id. ¶ 82.

         Plaintiffs assert in Count 5 that Dr. Rea's conduct constituted medical negligence and they seek damages from “the defendants” collectively for past and future medical expenses and, apparently, for injuries and losses stated in a separate ...

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