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Hammonds v. Dekalb County

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

January 25, 2017

STEPHEN HAMMONDS, Plaintiff
v.
DEKALB COUNTY, AL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This § 1983 case alleges violations of various constitutional rights as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when the Plaintiff suffered a serious medical crisis as a pretrial detainee in the DeKalb County jail. It comes before the court on “Defendant DeKalb County's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint” (doc. 9) and “Defendants Sheriff Jimmy Harris, Administrator Matthew Martin, and Doctor Robert Theakston's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint” (doc. 11). The Plaintiff has filed responses to these motions (docs. 18-County & 19-other Defs.), and the Defendants have filed replies (docs. 20-County & 21-other Defs.).

         In response to the portions of the motions asserting that venue is improper, and the Plaintiff's acknowledgment of improper venue, the court has already transferred the case from the Southern Division to the Middle Division of the Northern District of Alabama. (Doc. 25). However, the Defendants also request dismissal on other grounds. For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, the court FINDS that the remaining parts of the motions are due to be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The court WILL GRANT both motions as to the claims asserted in Counts I-III and WILL DISMISS those claims WITH PREJUDICE. The court will DENY both motions as to the claims asserted in Count IV for deliberate indifference in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; however, the court WILL GRANT the individual Defendants' motion for more definite statement as to the claims asserted in Count IV and WILL ORDER a more definite statement of those claims asserted against all Defendants, including the County.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Generally, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide “‘a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). A plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement, but Rule 8 generally does not require “detailed factual allegations.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47). It does, however, “demand[ ] more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Pleadings that contain nothing more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” do not meet Rule 8 standards nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely upon “labels or conclusions” or “naked assertions” without supporting factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557.

         The Supreme Court explained that “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting and explaining its decision in Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To be plausible on its face, the claim must contain enough facts that “allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, '” the complaint must demonstrate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. “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. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         The Supreme Court has identified “two working principles” for the district court to use in applying the facial plausibility standard. The first principle is that, in evaluating motions to dismiss, the court must assume the veracity of well-pleaded factual allegations; however, the court does not have to accept as true legal conclusions even when “couched as [] factual allegation[s]” or “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The second principle is that “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 679. Thus, under prong one, the court determines the factual allegations that are well-pleaded and assumes their veracity, and then proceeds, under prong two, to determine the claim's plausibility given the well-pleaded facts. That task is “context-specific” and, to survive the motion, the allegations must permit the court based on its “judicial experience and common sense. . . to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. If the court determines that well-pleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim that is plausible, the claim must be dismissed. Id.

         II. FACTS

         A. ODO Report

         In determining what facts are part of the Complaint, the court FINDS that it may properly include the contents of the following report: Office of Detention Oversight Compliance Inspection Enforcement and Removal Operations Report New Orleans Field Office DeKalb County Detention Center, Fort Payne, Alabama, July 15-17, 2014 (OPR 201408728), U.S. Dept of Homeland Security Enforcement & Removal Operations, New Orleans, La. Field Office (2014). The Complaint refers to that report in paragraphs 74-78 & 80 and provides a citation to it in footnote 1 to the Complaint; Mr. Hammonds relies on the report in his Response to the County's motion and brief as providing notice to the County of deficiencies in the medical care provided to inmates of the DeKalb County Jail (doc. 18, at 2, 7-9); and the Defendant County provided a copy of that report as an attachment to its reply brief (doc. 20-1). Mr. Hammonds has not challenged the authenticity of the copy of the report that the County provided.

         “When matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the district court in a [motion to dismiss], the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, and all parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Nalls v. Coleman Low Federal Inst., 307 Fed. App'x 296, 297 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12). However, “the court may consider a document attached to a motion to dismiss without converting the motion into one for summary judgment if the attached document is (1) central to the plaintiff's claim and (2) undisputed. In this context, ‘undisputed' means that the authenticity of the document is not challenged.” Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2005).

         The court FINDS that the report in question is central to Mr. Hammonds's claim and its authenticity is undisputed. Accordingly, the court considers the content of this document in its consideration of the motions to dismiss without converting them into a motions for summary judgment.

         B. Facts

         The allegations in this case are based on events that occurred involving Plaintiff Stephen Hammonds from September 29, 2014 through October 16, 2014, while he was detained at the DeKalb County Detention Center (“Jail”) in Fort Payne, Alabama.

         1. Mr. Hammonds's Condition

         Mr. Hammonds suffers from Diabetes Mellitus Type I, also known as juvenile onset diabetes, which requires frequent monitoring of blood sugar levels. To control his disease, Mr. Hammonds uses a combination of short term and long term insulin, and keeps his medication and monitoring devices with him at all times. Since his 1994 diagnosis, he has successfully self-managed his condition with this insulin combination and monitoring. The disease could impair the operation of major bodily functions and the ability to concentrate if blood sugar levels become out of control. A potential life-threatening complication of this disease is diabetic ketoacidosis (“DKA”), which can lead to nerve damage, blindness, systemic organ failure or death. The warning signs of DKA include vomiting, dehydration, shortness of breath, confusion, inability to consume or retain food, and coma-like symptoms of unconsciousness. Treatment for DKA involves intravenous fluids, insulin, and other additives, and may vary depending on blood tests and sugar levels.

         2. Mr. Hammonds's Arrest and Detention at the Jail in DeKalb County

         On September 29, 2014, DeKalb County officers arrested Mr. Hammonds for unlawful possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia, and took him to the Jail, where he was held as a pretrial detainee. Mr. Hammonds had advised the arresting officers of his condition and his need for insulin injections, and the arrest report noted it, stating “Medical: severe Type I diabetic takes 2 shots daily * no phone calls per DTF (Drug Task Force).” (Compl. Doc. 1, at 9 ¶ 22). The arresting officers confiscated his insulin medication, injection syringes, and blood-glucose monitor.

         The Complaint does not assert claims against Mr. Hammonds's arresting officers, but asserts that the Constitutional and statutory violations occurred upon his detention at the KeKalb County Jail. The Complaint lists the following individuals as violating Mr. Hammonds's Constitutional and statutory rights: DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris, DeKalb County Chief Jail Administrator Matthew Martin, and the doctor that the jail employs part-time, Dr. Robert Theakston.

         Upon arriving at the jail, Mr. Hammonds was initially placed in a holding cell, and he was not given access to DeKalb County's electronic medical kiosk. When he received initial medical screening, Mr. Hammonds weighed approximately 180 pounds, and Dr. Theakston and the medical staff examined him only upon arrival. Mr. Hammonds advised Dr. Theakston, DeKalb County jailers and jail medical staff, including administrator Martin, about his condition, medical history, and, specifically, his need for a special Type R and Type N (long- and short-acting) insulin combinations to control his type of diabetes. Sheriff Harris also had notice of his medical condition. However, Dr. Theakston took no steps to verify Mr. Hammonds's statements about his specific insulin needs, and instead, placed him on the sliding scale insulin dosage commonly used for Diabetes Mellitus Type II, a different type of diabetes. During his incarceration, Mr. Hammonds was never provided the long- and short-acting insulin injections. Further, Mr. Hammonds was only occasionally allowed to monitor his blood sugar levels.

         On the day after his arrest, September 30, Mr. Hammonds was transferred from the holding cell to “B-Pod, ” and began experiencing symptoms of high blood sugar because of insulin deprivation. He suffered from abdominal pain, began vomiting, became unable to eat or drink, and experienced confusion, continuous aches, and dizzy spells. He was unable to move easily, and other inmates lifted him from the floor to his bunk. During the times when he was periodically lucid, Mr. Hammonds pleaded to see the doctor and continued to report his diabetic condition, his need for proper long- and short-acing insulin injections, and the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis. He repeatedly informed the DeKalb County staff and its jailers that he was in great pain. However, he did not see Dr. Theakston ...


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