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Elliott v. Madison County

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

March 9, 2015

ROBERT ELLIOTT, as personal representative of the Estate of Nikki Listau, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
MADISON COUNTY, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

C. LYNWOOD SMITH, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff, Robert Elliott, commenced this action in his representative capacity as personal representative of the Estate of Nikki Listau, deceased, who died while she was incarcerated in the Madison County, Alabama, Jail. Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint asserts claims against eighteen defendants: i.e., (1) Madison County, Alabama; (2) Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc. ("ACH"), an entity that is described as "a private for-profit corporation that is under a contractual obligation to provide medical care for inmates in the Madison County Jail";[1] (3) Norman R. Johnson, M.D., ACH's Chief Executive Officer; (4) Arthur M. Williams, M.D., "a physician who was employed by ACH to provide physician medical services and to be the director of the medical program for inmates at the Madison County Jail";[2] (5) Janice Robinson, "a Licensed Practical Nurse who was employed by ACH as the health services administrator and oversaw medical care at the jail on a day-to-day basis";[3] (6) Blake Dorning, the Sheriff of Madison County; (7) Steve Morrison, the Administrator of the Madison County Jail; (8) Pamela Batie, a correctional officer at the Madison County Jail; (9) Jessica Pothier, a correctional officer at the Madison County Jail; (10) Christine Collier, a correctional officer at the Madison County Jail; (11) Vanessa Fields, a correctional officer at the Madison County Jail; (12) Nick Wallace, a correctional officer at the Madison County Jail; (13) Roslyn Guyton, a correctional officer at the Madison County Jail; (14) Randy Hooper, a correctional officer at the Madison County Jail; (15) Michele Kirk, a Licensed Practical Nurse employed by ACH to provide nursing services to inmates at the Madison County Jail; (16) Deondra Montgomery, a Registered Nurse employed by ACH to provide nursing services to inmates at the Madison County Jail; (17) Tanya Jones, a Licensed Practical Nurse employed by ACH to provide nursing services to inmates at the Madison County Jail; and (18) Tina Adams, a Licensed Practical Nurse employed by ACH to provide nursing medical services for inmates at the Madison County Jail.[4] All of the individual defendants were sued in their individual capacities only.

The Second Amended Complaint asserts two claims. The first claim, for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, appears to be asserted against all individual defendants, [5] as well as against defendant Madison County.[6] The second claim, for negligence and/or wantonness under Alabama law, is asserted against defendant ACH, as well as against all individual defendants who were employed by ACH, including Johnson, Williams, Robinson, Kirk, Montgomery, Jones, and Adams.[7]

The case currently is before the court on the following motions: (1) the motion to dismiss plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint filed by defendant Madison County, Alabama;[8] (2) the motion to dismiss plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint filed by defendant Sheriff Blake Dorning;[9] (3) the motion to dismiss plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint filed by correctional officer defendants Steve Morrison, Pamela Batie, Jessica Pothier, Vanessa Fields, Nick Wallace, Roslyn Guyton, and Randy Hooper;[10] and, (4) the motion to dismiss plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint filed by defendant Arthur M. Williams, M.D.[11] Upon consideration of those motions, the movants' briefs, and plaintiff's responses, the court concludes that all motions are due to be denied.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) permits a party to move to dismiss a complaint for, among other reasons, "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule must be read together with Rule 8(a), which requires that a pleading contain only a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). While that pleading standard does not require "detailed factual allegations, " Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 550 (2007), it does demand "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). As the Supreme Court stated in Iqbal:

A pleading that offers "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." [ Twombly, 550 U.S., at 555]. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders "naked assertion[s]" devoid of "further factual enhancement." Id., at 557.
To survive a motion to dismiss founded upon Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), [for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Id., at 570. 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. Id., at 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement, " but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Ibid. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id., at 557 (brackets omitted).
Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id., at 555 (Although for the purposes of a motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation" (internal quotation marks omitted)). Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id., at 556. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. 490 F.3d, at 157-158. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not "show[n]" - "that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2).
In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (emphasis supplied) (first alteration supplied, other alteration in original).

II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS OF PLAINTIFF'S SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT

Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint contains 140 paragraphs of factual allegations, spanning approximately 24 pages.[12] There is no need to reiterate all of those factual allegations here. Instead, this section will contain a summary of the underlying facts that form the basis for plaintiff's claims, and other facts will be addressed, as necessary, in the context of discussing the various defendants' motions to dismiss.

Plaintiff's decedent, Nikki Listau, was arrested from her home on the morning of March 10, 2013, and was booked into the Madison County Jail that same day.[13] At the time of booking, she "was not ambulatory without assistance, required a wheelchair to get to her cell, exhibited strange behavior, was not even able to dress herself, had poor hygiene, was identified as suffering from advanced delirium tremens (DT's) due to alcohol withdrawal, and was placed in a medical watch cell."[14] From past jail admissions, Listau was known to be an alcoholic with a history of DT's and seizures during alcohol withdrawal.[15] At booking, Listau reported that she normally consumed vodka daily, but her last use had been four days earlier, on March 6th.[16]

All of the individual defendants, other than Sheriff Dorning, eventually became aware of Listau's medical condition. They also were aware of the symptoms and seriousness of DT's due to their prior training and experience.[17]

At approximately 9:40 a.m. on March 10, defendant Kirk identified Listau as suffering from severe DT's and placed her under medical watch.[18] Correctional officers checked Listau every fifteen minutes thereafter.[19] Defendants Robinson, Montgomery, Jones, Adams, and Williams also became aware of Listau's condition on March 10.[20] There are no other allegations about anything that occurred or did not occur on March 10: the date of her entry to the jail.

Listau was seen by ACH nurses "multiple times" between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. on March 11.[21] At approximately 8:15 a.m., Listau also was seen by an unnamed mental health clinician, who observed her on the floor of her cell, rambling incoherently and unable to stand.[22] Some unidentified nurses and correctional officers picked up Listau and laid her on her bunk, but no one took her vital signs.[23]

At approximately 8:42 a.m., defendant Collier entered Listau's cell and again found Listau on the floor, rambling incoherently and unable to stand.[24] Collier informed defendants Fields, Wallace, Batie, Williams, Robinson, Montgomery, Adams, and Jones of Listau's condition.[25] Batie, in turn, informed defendant Morrison.[26] Despite the obviousness of Listau's medical condition, no correctional officer or health professional took her vital signs, took her to the hospital, or did anything else to treat her.[27] Instead, Listau was written up as refusing to cooperate with officers to prepare for a court appearance.[28]

At 9:00 a.m., defendants Montgomery and Guyton entered Listau's cell to verify her reported condition.[29] Montgomery's notes from that encounter falsely state that Listau refused to allow the medical staff to check her vital signs.[30] By that point, Listau was physically unable to communicate her medical needs, and she obviously needed to go to the hospital.[31] All of the individual defendants, other than Sheriff Dorning, were aware of Listau's condition by this time.[32]

At 9:40 a.m., Wallace, Hooper, and Guyton again found Listau on the floor of her cell. Listau was barely responsive, although she was still breathing. Wallace, Hooper, and Guyton again picked up Listau, placed her on her bunk, and reported Listau's condition to Batie. Batie, in turn, reported it to Morrison and unidentified ACH personnel.[33] Listau did not receive any further treatment, including having her vital signs checked.[34]

At 11:19 a.m., Listau was found in her cell, completely unresponsive. Emergency personnel were contacted, and Listau was transported to the hospital, where she died the following day, March 12.[35] An autopsy revealed that Listau died from severe blunt force injuries, including a broken left femur and multiple rib fractures.[36] According to the Second Amended Complaint, "Listau most likely suffered these injuries as a result of one or more falls, presumably from her bunk, while in her medical watch cell at the jail."[37] Her falls were the result of seizures related to DT's.[38]

Plaintiff alleges that five other inmates have died in the Madison County Jail since 2010. In August of 2010, Julie Jean died as a result of lithium toxicity.[39] In December of 2011, Emanuel Patterson also died of lithium toxicity.[40] In May of 2012, Frederick Foster died of unspecified causes.[41] In August of 2013, Deundrez Woods died from a blood clot that was a complication of untreated gangrene in his foot.[42] In October of 2013, Tanisha Jefferson died from a ruptured intestine.[43]

To support his Fourteenth Amendment claim, plaintiff asserts that the individual defendants, other than Dorning and Johnson, were deliberately indifferent to Listau's serious medical needs because, despite being aware of those needs, they took no action, or insufficient action, to secure her treatment.[44] Plaintiff also asserts that Dorning, Morrison, Johnson, Williams, and Robinson, as supervisory officials at the Madison County Jail, "were responsible for development and implementation of policies and procedures for medical care at the jail and by action and inaction established the unconstitutional customs and policies" that resulted in Listau's death.[45] Sheriff Dorning also is alleged to be liable for the acts of ACH and its agents, because he delegated his final policymaking authority to those individuals.[46] Finally, plaintiff alleges that defendant Madison County should be held liable for the other defendants' deliberate indifference to Listau's serious medical needs because it had a policy of inadequately funding inmate medical care.[47]

To support his claim for negligence and/or wantonness, plaintiff asserts that all the ACH employees who were named as defendants failed to meet the standard of care applicable to inmates, thereby resulting in Listau's death.[48] He also asserts that ACH is liable for its employees' failure to satisfy the applicable standard of care, because those employees were acting within the scope of their employment at all relevant times.[49]

III. DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Dismiss of Defendant Arthur M. Williams, M.D.

Defendant Arthur M. Williams, M.D., asks this court to dismiss the claim for negligence and/or wantonness asserted against him in Count Two of plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. That claim essentially is one for medical malpractice. Accordingly, it is governed by the Alabama Medical Liability Act. See Ala. Code ยง 6-5-551 ("In any action for injury, damages, or wrongful death, whether in contract or in tort, against a health care provider for breach of the standard of care, whether resulting from acts or omissions in providing health care, or the hiring, training, supervision, retention, or termination of care givers, the Alabama Medical Liability Act shall govern the parameters of discovery and all aspects of the action."). The Alabama Act requires a complaint to include "a detailed specification and factual description of each act and omission alleged by plaintiff to render the health care provider liable to plaintiff and shall include when feasible and ascertainable the date, time, and place of the act or acts." Id. Courts have interpreted that statutory provision as requiring a plaintiff to give his defendant "fair notice of the allegedly negligent act.'" Betts v. Eli Lilly and Co., 435 F.Supp.2d 1180, 1188 (S.D. Ala. 2006) (quoting Mikkelsen v. Salama, 619 So.2d 1382, 1384 (Ala. 1993)). "Any complaint which fails to include such detailed specification and factual description of each act and omission shall be subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Id.

According to Dr. Williams, plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint does not contain a sufficiently detailed specification and factual description of his alleged acts and/or omissions, including the relevant dates, times, and places. This court disagrees. All of Dr. Wiliams's alleged acts and/or omissions occurred at the Madison County Jail between the morning of March 10, 2013, when Listau was booked, and approximately 11:19 a.m. on March 11, 2013, when the decision was made to transport her to the hospital. During that well-defined time period, plaintiff alleges that Williams was aware of Listau's obviously severe medical condition, but that he did not take any action to provide her with treatment.[50] He also alleges that Williams' treatment of Listau (as well as that of all the other health care providers who were named as defendants) fell below the applicable standard of correctional health care.[51] Finally, plaintiff alleges that Listau suffered and died as a result of Williams' failure to provide adequate care.[52] These allegations are more than sufficient to place Williams on fair notice of plaintiff's claim against him. Accordingly, Williams' motion to dismiss is due to be denied.

B. Motion to Dismiss of the Correctional Officer Defendants Steve Morrison, Pamela Batie, Jessica Pothier, Vanessa Fields, Nick Wallace, Roslyn Guyton, and Randy Hooper

The motion to dismiss addressed in this section was filed by the correctional officers who were on duty during Listau's incarceration (hereinafter collectively referred to as the "correctional defendants"), as well as by Steve Morrison, the Jail Administrator.[53] All of these defendants assert that plaintiff's claim against them for their actual participation in deliberate indifference to serious medical needs should be dismissed because they are entitled to qualified immunity. Morrison additionally asserts that he cannot be held liable as a ...


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