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Cole v. Walker County

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

April 16, 2015

BETTY SUE COLE, as the personal representative of the Estate of Nelson Tidwell, Plaintiff,
v.
WALKER COUNTY, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN E. OTT, Chief Magistrate Judge.

This case is before the court on Defendant Walker County's motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's first amended complaint. (Doc. 48).[1] The motion has been fully briefed. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 64). For the reasons stated below, the court finds that the motion is due to be denied.

BACKGROUND

This case arises out of the death of Nelson Tidwell, an inmate in the Walker County Jail, who had been incarcerated for five days at the time of his death. Plaintiff Betty Sue Cole, as the personal representative of the Estate of Nelson Edward Tidwell, alleges that Defendant Walker County denied Nelson Tidwell certain constitutional rights while he was incarcerated in the Walker County Jail. Specifically, Cole alleges in her first amended complaint that Walker County was indifferent to Tidwell's serious medical needs in violation of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Doc. 42). Walker County has moved to dismiss the first amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that Cole's claims fail as a matter of law. (Doc. 48).

FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

On August 22, 2012, Nelson Tidwell was arrested at traffic court and transported to the Walker County Jail. (Doc. 42 at ¶ 21). Prior to his arrest, Tidwell was being treated for substance abuse at a methadone clinic and was on a methadone treatment regimen. ( Id. at ¶ 22). After Tidwell was arrested, his mother, Betty Sue Cole, met with Defendant Trent McCluskey, the jail administrator, and Defendant Roger Childers, who was allegedly identified as the jail physician. ( Id. at ¶ 23). Cole advised McCluskey and Childers that her son had been undergoing a methadone treatment regimen and would need to be detoxed. ( Id. ) They assured her that they had experience with inmates who were being treated for substance abuse and would get her son the help he needed. ( Id. )

Over the course of his week in the Walker County Jail, Tidwell was denied adequate medical care required to treat a recovering addict. ( Id. at ¶ 45). He took in only limited amounts of food and water while incarcerated at the jail. ( Id. at ¶ 57). As a result, Tidwell became extremely dehydrated and his electrolytes got severely out of balance. ( Id. ) Due to the electrolyte imbalances, Tidwell was in terrible condition. ( Id. at ¶ 58).

In the early hours of August 29, 2012, Tidwell was disoriented, weak, and experiencing severe pain all over his body. ( Id. ) Tidwell sought medical attention but never received the help he needed. ( Id. ) He was examined by Childers, who conducted only a cursory examination. ( Id. at ¶ 69). Childers dismissed Tidwell's symptoms and refused to help him further until he showered and cleaned himself up. ( Id. ) Tidwell's condition worsened and he became non-responsive at some point after 10:00 a.m. ( Id. at ¶ 76). He was transported to Walker Baptist Hospital and died on August 30, 2012. ( Id. at ¶ 77).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Walker County has filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) arguing that Cole's allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) test the sufficiency of the pleadings. A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). When reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court must accept all factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true, and view them in light most favorable to the plaintiff. Saunders v. Duke, 766 F.3d 1262, 1266 (11th Cir. 2014). To survive such a motion, the plaintiff must plead "only enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Saunders, 766 F.3d at 1266 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

DISCUSSION

In Count I of her complaint (the only count asserted against Walker County), Cole seeks to hold Walker County liable pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Tidwell's rights as a pretrial detainee. Specifically, Cole alleges that Walker County is responsible for funding the Walker County Jail, including medical care at the jail. Cole alleges that Walker County contracted with Defendant Preemptive Forensic Health Solutions, L.L.C. ("PFHS") to provide medical services at the Walker County jail because they were substantially cheaper than other medical contractors. (Doc. 42 at ¶ 98). She further alleges that Walker County continued to retain PFHS's medical services with knowledge of their insufficient policies and practices. ( Id. at ¶ 100). Cole contends that Walker County was deliberately indifferent to Tidwell's serious medical needs and despite knowledge of these needs, took no action or took inadequate inaction and thereby deprived Tidwell of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.[2]

Walker County argues that Cole's claims fail as a matter of law because (1) local governments cannot be held liable under Section 1983 for acts that the local government has no authority to control and (2) Cole has failed to allege any claims that plausibly fall within the County's sole duty to build, maintain, and fund a jail. (Docs. 48 & 49). As detailed below, the court ...


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