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Johnson v. Walker County

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

March 17, 2015

WALKER COUNTY, ALABAMA, et al., Defendant.


L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.

Before the Court are partial motions to dismiss filed by Defendant Walker County, Alabama (Doc. 11) and Defendants Trent McCluskey ("McCluskey"), John Mark Tirey ("Tirey"), and Jim Underwood ("Underwood"). (Doc. 13.) Also before the Court is a motion to strike filed by the Plaintiff. (Doc. 19.) For the reasons stated below, the motions to dismiss are due to be granted in part and denied in part, while the motion to strike is due to be granted.

I. Background[1]

Plaintiff Pernell Johnson ("Johnson") brings this suit based on events that occurred while he was a prisoner in the Walker County Jail ("the Jail"). Tirey and Underwood each served as sheriff of Walker County during times relevant to this suit, while McCluskey was the jail administrator for the Jail.

Johnson entered the Jail in or about August 2014, having previously been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and having been prescribed medication for that condition. A bond hearing was held prior to his incarceration, where a nurse from the Jail testified that the Jail could adequately continue Johnson's treatment. Based on this testimony, the judge denied Johnson's request for a lower bond, and Johnson remained in the Jail.

Johnson was not provided with any medical care for his congestive heart failure during his incarceration, nor was he provided prescription medication to treat his other medical conditions. As a result, he suffered a stroke and had to be transported to UAB Hospital for treatment. Johnson remained in the ICU unit at UAB Hospital at the time of his complaint.

Johnson filed his complaint on November 21, 2014, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1983, 1988, the U.S. Constitution, and state law. The only claims brought before the Court by the instant motions are Counts II, III, and IV of his complaint. Count II asserts that the Defendants failed to properly train and supervise correctional officers to administer adequate medical treatment. Count III alleges that a civil conspiracy existed among Defendants to keep costs low, and that this conspiracy resulted in Johnson's inadequate medical treatment. Count IV complains of negligent and wanton retention of incompetent staff. On January 5, 2015, Defendants filed motions to dismiss these counts for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and to dismiss Johnson's requested equitable relief for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

II. Standard of Review

A. Rule 12(b)(6)

Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a pleading to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-679 (2009). Instead, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 678 (internal quotations omitted). This is a notable departure from the "no set of facts" standard; the Supreme Court has stated that standard is "best forgotten as an incomplete, negative gloss on an accepted pleading standard: once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Bell Atl. Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 (2007).

Iqbal establishes a two-step process for evaluating a complaint. First, the Court must "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 679. A complaint is not sufficient "if it tenders naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancement.'" Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (2007)). Second, "[w]hen 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." Id. Factual allegations in a complaint need not be detailed, but they "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

B. Rule 12(b)(1)

A motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) challenges the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction. When the attack is a facial-as opposed to factual-challenge on the Court's jurisdiction, the Court treats the Complaint's allegations as true, as it does under a 12(b)(6) motion. Carmichael v. Kellogg, Brown & Root Svcs., Inc., 572 F.3d 1271, 1279 (11th Cir. 2009).

With regard to Defendants' challenge to Johnson's standing to request equitable relief, standing is an Article III doctrine limiting the jurisdiction of the federal courts to actual "cases" and "controversies." Socialist Workers Party v. Leahy, 145 F.3d 1240, 1244 (11th Cir. 1998). In order to establish standing, a plaintiff "must demonstrate injury in fact, causation, and redressability." I.L. v. Alabama, 739 F.3d 1273, 1278 (11th Cir. 2014). As Johnson is the party invoking this Court's jurisdiction, ...

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