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Johnson v. City of Bessemer

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

June 22, 2017




         I. Introduction

         The events which form the basis of this action are truly tragic. Plaintiff's decedent, Sheneque Proctor was at a Bessemer hotel and consumed Xanax, cocaine, and methadone. As a result, she died of a drug overdose. What is even more tragic is that Proctor, a young woman and a mother, died alone in a jail cell, yet another victim of a destructive drug abuse epidemic gripping our nation and its communities. Defendants are five jailers who were working at the Bessemer City jail on the night and morning in question. Plaintiff has asserted a deliberate indifference to serious medical need claim against them pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. # 36 at ¶ 49).

         This matter is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Goodwin, Jones, Tamper, Caram, and Burch (collectively “Defendants”). (Doc. # 43). The motion is fully briefed. (Docs. # 43, 50, 51). Faced with the tragedy of Proctor's death, and the claims asserted in this case which followed it, the court evaluates the liability of the individual Defendants under the prevailing constitutional standards for deliberate indifference claims.

         II. Relevant Background and Facts[1]

         On November 1, 2014, Bessemer police were dispatched to the Economy Inn in Bessemer. (Doc. # 44-1 at p. 2). They had received a report of a female causing a disturbance. (Id.). When officers arrived at the Economy Inn, they encountered Proctor. (Id.). Proctor was upset because she had been staying at the Economy Inn and money of hers had gone missing. (Id.). An officer offered to write a report for theft (or loss) of the money, but Proctor refused, and only became “louder and more irate.” (Id.). Officers warned Proctor that if she did not calm down she would be arrested for disorderly conduct. (Id.).

         When officers informed Proctor that the Economy Inn wanted her off its premises, Proctor “got in the officers' faces” and continued yelling about her money. (Id.). At that point, an officer grabbed Proctor's arm to pull her back from the other officers. (Id.). When Proctor pulled away and started flailing, the officers put her under arrest, put her in handcuffs, and walked her to the back seat of a police cruiser to take her to jail. (Id.). Proctor slipped out of her handcuffs twice during the ride to the jail. (Id.).

         When the arresting officers arrived at the jail, they opened the back door of the police cruiser to speak to Proctor. (Id. at p. 3). Proctor refused to cooperate with the officers, and instead tried to get out of the car and walk past the officers. (Id.). One of the officers deployed a burst of OC spray in Proctor's face. (Id.). Only then were the officers able to handcuff Proctor again. (Id.). Because Proctor refused to walk from the police cruiser to the jail, the officers carried her into the jail and handcuffed her to the jail bench. (Id.). After carrying Proctor into the jail, one of the arresting officers, Officer Kinderknecht, returned to the police cruiser and found a small bag of marijuana on the back seat along with Proctor's phone and jewelry. (Id.).

         Because Officer Kinderknecht deployed his OC spray while attempting to subdue Proctor, he completed an OC Spray Interview Form. (See Doc. # 44-3). The form requires the officer who deployed the OC spray to read certain instructions to the individual who was sprayed with the OC spray. (Id.). As directed by the form, Officer Kinderknecht gave the following instruction to Proctor:

OC is non-toxic and the effects will dissipate in a short time. The effects of OC may however, mask or cover other medical conditions, including overdoses of certain drugs.

(Id.). Officer Kinderknecht also instructed Proctor as follows:

I am going to ask you (4) questions for your safety. Not answering my questions, withholding information, or giving false o[r] misleading answers could delay medical treatment and may seriously jeopardize your health and safety.

(Id.). Then, Officer Kinderknecht asked Proctor, “[a]re you currently under the influence of, or have you taken cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates, PCP, opiates, heroin, or alcohol within the last eight (8) hours?” (Id.). Proctor refused to answer this question. (Id.). He then asked Proctor, “[d]o you have heart problems, lung problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, or any other serious medical conditions?” (Id.). Again, Proctor refused to answer. Officer Kindknecht suspected that Proctor was under the influence of some substance, but he did not witness Proctor take any drugs. (Doc. # 44-2 at pp. 20, 50).

         A. Defendant Goodwin

         Defendant Goodwin, as a member of the “B-Watch, ” began her shift at 2:00 p.m. on November 1, 2014. (Doc. # 44-6 at p. 31). When she arrived at the jail, approximately ten minutes before her shift was to begin, Goodwin saw the arresting officers struggle to place handcuffs on Proctor in the jail's parking lot. (Id. at pp. 31-32). When Goodwin entered the jail to start her shift, Proctor was handcuffed to the jail bench outside the jail bars. (Id. at p. 32). As part of the intake process, Goodwin tried to obtain certain information from Proctor, including her name. (Id. at p. 33). However, Proctor cursed and spat at the police officers and jail staff and refused to give her name. (Id. at pp. 33-37).

         Eventually, Proctor calmed down enough that Defendants Goodwin and Mullins were able to take her handcuffs off. (Id. at p. 36). From there, Goodwin and Mullins led Proctor to the back of the jail where she cleaned up and dressed out in a jail uniform. (Id. at pp. 36-38).[2]Goodwin then took Proctor to a single person cell. (Id. at pp. 44-45, 49; Doc. # 44-7, Jail Surveillance Video at 13:22:26). Goodwin took Proctor to this cell because Proctor had been combative when she came to the jail, and Goodwin did not want Proctor to cause any trouble with the other inmates. (Id.). Goodwin believed that Proctor was high on some drug based on her behavior, but Proctor did not appear unsteady on her feet and her speech was normal. (Id. at pp. 49-50).

         Shortly after Goodwin placed Proctor in her cell, another inmate called out to Goodwin and said that Proctor was “ready to talk.” (Id. at p. 117). At that point, Goodwin let Proctor out of her cell. (Id.; Doc. # 44-7, Jail Surveillance Video at 13:37:38). Proctor apologized for how she had behaved and asked to use the phone. (Id.). Goodwin told Proctor that she could use the phone once she had been booked in. (Id.). Proctor complied with the booking process, and Goodwin took Proctor's picture and recorded her personal information. (Id.).

         After Proctor had been booked in, she made a phone call to her mother in which she asked her mother to bond her out, asked about her baby, and mentioned that she had been sprayed by the arresting officers. (Id. at pp. 145, 148). During her booking and phone call, Proctor was cooperative and did not seem “out of it.” (Id. at p. 148). After Proctor's phone call, Goodwin returned Proctor to her cell. (Id. at p. 142; Doc. # 44-7, Jail Surveillance Video at 14:00:45).

         Goodwin next interacted with Proctor at 4:44 p.m., when she entered Proctor's cell to serve her dinner. (Id. at p. 100; Doc. # 44-7, Jail Surveillance Video at 15:44:57). Goodwin entered Proctor's cell to find Proctor sitting on the side of her bed, with her back hunched over and her head in her hands. (Doc. # 44-7, Jail Surveillance Video at 15:44:57). Apart from breathing, Proctor did not otherwise move or respond to Goodwin's entry into her cell. (Id.). Goodwin walked over to Proctor and touched her on the left shoulder. (Id. at 15:45:06). While she continued breathing, Proctor did not respond. (Id.). Goodwin then tugged twice at Proctor's left shoulder. (Id. at 15:45:08-14). While Proctor's head and torso moved slightly from the force of the tug, she did not otherwise respond to Goodwin's attempts to rouse her. (Id.). Goodwin grabbed Proctor by both shoulders and laid her down on the bed. (Id. at 15:45:14-27). Goodwin then lifted one of Proctor's legs off of the floor and placed it on the bed in a laying position. (Id. at 15:45:27-40). Again, while Proctor continued to breath, she did not make any other response to Goodwin's efforts to lay her down in her bed. (Id.). An inmate stood near the doorway of Proctor's cell during this interaction, and appeared to watch Goodwin attempt to rouse Proctor and subsequently lay her in her bed. (Id. at 15:45:00-40). After laying Proctor down, Goodwin briefly left her cell and returned to place a cup on Proctor's food tray, which Goodwin had placed on a piece of furniture near the foot of Proctor's bed. (Id. at 15:50:25-36).

         Goodwin entered Proctor's cell again at 5:39 p.m. to check on her. (Id. at 16:39:18). At that time, Goodwin walked through Proctor's cell to the head of her bed to check on Proctor. (Id. at 16:39:20-28). Proctor was in the same position in which Goodwin had left her - lying down with her right leg hanging over the side of the bed. (Id.). Goodwin did not testify that she observed Proctor move her body (outside of the typical movement associated with breathing)[3], but the jail's surveillance video shows Proctor move her left arm slightly in an upward direction while Goodwin stood over her. (Id. at 16:39:26, 30). Goodwin entered Proctor's cell two more times, at 8:38 p.m. and 9:27 p.m. to check on her. (Id. at 19:38:45; 20:27:54-29:03). On both occasions, Proctor was in the same position as she had been since Goodwin first placed her on her bed, and, apart from her breathing, did not move when Goodwin entered the room. (Id.). During her check of Proctor which began at 9:27 p.m., Goodwin retrieved a blanket and covered Proctor with that blanket. (Id. at 20:28:04-58).

         Proctor was breathing each time Goodwin checked on her. (Doc. # 44-6 at pp. 59, 103, 104, 111, 153). Moreover, at some point during Goodwin's shift, Proctor began snoring.[4] (Id. at p. 67). Proctor's snoring was loud, and she was still snoring when Goodwin left at the end of her shift. (Id. at p. 72). At some point during Goodwin's shift, one of the inmates told Goodwin that Proctor stated she had been taking Xanax bars. (Id. at p. 69).

         B. Defendant Jones

         Defendant Jones first encountered Proctor around the start of his shift, at 2:00 p.m. on November 1, 2014. (Doc. # 44-4 at pp. 12-13). Around that time, Jones was standing with another correctional office, Sergeant Mullins. (Id. at p. 10). Mullins brought Proctor from the outside bench into the jail. (Id. at pp. 10-11). Mullins asked Proctor if she had been taking anything -- an apparent reference to drugs -- and Jones heard Proctor answer that she had taken “everything.” (Id. at pp. 12-14). Jones then heard Mullins ask if Proctor wanted medical assistance. (Id. at pp. 60-61). Proctor responded that she did not, and that she just needed to use the phone.[5] (Id. at p. 61).

         Proctor “appeared to be irate and uncooperative” during the course of this interaction. (Id. at p. 25). However, her behavior was not otherwise out of the ordinary, and she did not appear to Jones to be high or having any difficulty with her balance. (Id. at pp. 13-15, 18, 31). Jones next observed Proctor when she came out of her cell to use the telephone, and he noted that Proctor had calmed down and appeared “good to go” at that time. (Id. at p. 61).

         Jones' only other interaction with Proctor came during jail checks. He performed one jail check on the female side of the jail.[6] (Id. at pp. 11, 20; Doc. # 44-5). During this check, Jones looked into Proctor's cell. (Id. at p. 11). He saw that she was breathing, and that her chest and stomach were rising up and down. (Id.). Moreover, he heard Proctor snoring during this jail check. (Id. at p. 20).

         C. Defendant Tamper

         Defendant Tamper assisted with booking Proctor into the jail. (Doc. # 44-10 at p. 20). At that time, Proctor was angry. (Id. at pp. 20-21). During the booking process, Tamper did not know that Proctor had been sprayed with OC spray. (Id. at p. 21). As part of the booking process, Tamper completed a Bessemer Police Department medical questionnaire form. (See Doc. # 44-11). Tamper asked Proctor a series of medical questions, and both Tamper and Proctor signed the bottom of the form using an electronic pad. (Id.; Doc. # 44-10 at p. 23). When asked whether she was using any street drugs, Proctor only indicated that she was using “weed.” (Doc. # 44-11).

         Tamper did not perform any jail checks of Proctor's cell during his shift on November 1, 2014. (See Doc. # 44-5). However, Tamper did observe Proctor on the video monitor on one occasion. (Doc. # 44-10 at p. 20). At that time, Proctor was lying down and appeared to be asleep. (Id. at pp. 20, 45). Tamper left the jail when his shift ended at 10:00 p.m. (Id. at p. 16).

         D. Defendant Caram

         As a member of the C-watch, Defendant Caram began her shift at 10:00 p.m. on November 1, 2014. (Doc. # 44-12 at p. 13). When Caram began her shift, she spoke with Goodwin. (Id. at p. 14; Doc. # 44-6 at p. 129). At that time, Goodwin informed Caram that “there was a female in [cell] ¶ 2 that came in combative and was upset most of the shift.” (Doc. # 44-12 at p. 14). Moreover, Goodwin told Caram that an inmate had previously informed her that Proctor had supposedly taken Xanax and that she (Goodwin) had been keeping an eye on Proctor during her shift.[7] (Doc. # 44-6 at p. 129-30).

         Caram performed checks on the female side of the jail at 11:30 p.m., 12:17 a.m., 12:53 a.m., 2:00/1:00 a.m.[8], 2:22 a.m., and 2:51 a.m. (See Doc. # 44-5). Caram heard Proctor snoring at various times throughout the night, but could not recall a specific time when she last heard Proctor snoring. (Doc. # 44-12 at pp. 37-39). Caram did not try to wake or get a response out of Proctor during the jail checks. (Id. at pp. 71-72). Unless she notes a “reason to be concerned, ” Caram does not attempt to wake up inmates who are asleep until breakfast. (Doc. # 44-12 at pp. 26-28).

         When Caram was serving breakfast, she called out Proctor's name, but Proctor did not answer her. (Id. at p. 24). At that point, Caram entered Proctor's cell, and called her name out again a few more times. (Id.; Doc. # 44-7, Jail Surveillance Video, 4:04:55). When Proctor did not respond, Caram shined her flashlight on Proctor's chest to see if Proctor was breathing. (Id.). Caram could not see if Proctor's chest was moving, so she moved her shirt to see if she could see any movement from her skin. (Doc. # 44-12 at p. 24). Seeing no movement, Caram called for paramedics, who arrived on the scene at 4:11 a.m. (See Doc. # 44-13). Proctor was pronounced dead at the scene. (Doc. # 44-9 at p. 9). The coroner determined that Proctor died of a polydrug overdose of methadone, cocaine, and alprazolam (Xanax). (Id. at pp. 9-10).

         E. Defendant Burch

         As a member of C-watch, Defendant Burch began his shift at 10:00 p.m. (Doc. # 44-14 at p. 17). Burch performed jail checks on the female side of the jail at 10:25 p.m., 11:00 p.m., 12:53 a.m., 1:53 a.m., and 3:37 a.m. (See Doc. # 44-5). Around 4:00 a.m., Burch went to serve breakfast. (Doc. # 44-14 at pp. 25-26). He placed Proctor's tray in her window where she could access it and yelled out to Proctor to inform her that it was breakfast time. (Id. at p. 26). When Proctor did not respond, Burch told Caram that he knocked on the Proctor's cell and did not get a response. (Id.). From there, Caram went to check on Proctor. (Id.). During his shift, Burch was not aware that Proctor had ingested any drugs. (Id. at pp. 31, 47).[9]

         III. Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party asking for summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(c) requires the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings and -- by pointing to affidavits, or depositions, answers to interrogatories, and/or admissions on file -- designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Id. at 324.

         The substantive law will identify which facts are material and which are irrelevant. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). All reasonable doubts about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-movant. See Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Educ. For Bibb Cty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1314 (11th Cir. 2007); Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). A dispute is genuine, “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. See Id. at 249.

         When faced with a “properly supported motion for summary judgment, [the non-moving party] must come forward with specific factual evidence, presenting more than mere allegations.” Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales, Inc., 131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997). As Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., teaches, under Rule 56(c) a plaintiff may not simply rest on her allegations made in the complaint; instead, as the party bearing the burden of proof at trial, she must come forward with at least some evidence to support each element essential to her case at trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. “[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [her] pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 248 (citations omitted).

         Summary judgment is mandated “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. “Summary judgment may be granted if the non-moving party's evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative.” Sawyer v. Southwest Airlines Co., 243 F.Supp.2d 1257, 1262 (D. Kan. 2003) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-51).

         “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Essentially, the inquiry is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Sawyer, 243 F.Supp.2d at 1262 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52); see also LaRoche v. Denny's, Inc., 62 F.Supp.2d 1366, 1371 ...

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