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Ball v. McCoullough

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

October 17, 2017

JIM HENRY BALL, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
R. MCCOULLOUGH, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the court on the Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint and Incorporated Memorandum of Law filed by Defendant Dr. Karen E. Callahan (“Defendant Callahan” or “Dr. Callahan”) on July 5, 2017 (Doc. # 78), the Motion to Dismiss Third Amended Complaint filed by Defendant W. Fowler (“Defendant Fowler”) on August 25, 2017 (Doc. # 106), and the Motion to Dismiss Third Amended Complaint filed by Defendant Callahan on August 25, 2017 (Doc. # 108). The parties have fully briefed Defendant Callahan's Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint (Docs. # 78, 91, 107) and Defendant Fowler's Motion to Dismiss Third Amended Complaint (Docs. # 106, 113, 114). Despite the court's Order (Doc. # 111) that Plaintiff file a responsive brief to Defendant Callahan's Motion to Dismiss Third Amended Complaint (Doc. # 108) on or before September 11, 2017, Plaintiff has not responded to this Motion (Doc. # 108).

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed this action in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County on May 20, 2016. (Docs. # 1-1, 1-4, 1-5, 1-6, 1-7, 1-8, 1-9, 1-16, 1-17, 1-18, 1-19, 1-20, 1-21, 1-22). On July 7, 2016, Defendants removed this case to the Middle District of Alabama. (Doc. # 1-1). The case was transferred to the Northern District of Alabama on August 29, 2016. (Doc. # 1). Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on January 9, 2017. (Doc. # 43).

         After the court appointed an attorney to represent Plaintiff “for the limited purpose of drafting a second amended complaint, ” Plaintiff filed the Second Amended Complaint on June 19, 2017. (Docs. # 73, 74). The claims in the Second Amended Complaint relate to (1) Plaintiff's confinement in the Birmingham City Jail from November 2014 through February 2015 and (2) Plaintiff's treatment by Defendant Callahan while at Grandview Medical Center (“Grandview”) in January 2015. (Doc. # 74). On June 22, 2017, Defendants (including Defendant Fowler) who were identified in the Complaint and First Amended Complaint but were not included in the Second Amended Complaint were dismissed from the proceeding. (Doc.# 76). After the court gave Plaintiff leave to amend the Second Amended Complaint (Doc.# 88), Plaintiff filed a Third Amendment to Complaint, which added claims against Defendant Fowler. (Doc. # 97).

         II. Relevant Facts

         “A Rule 12(b)(6) motion questions the legal sufficiency of a complaint; therefore, in assessing the merit of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must assume that all the factual allegations set forth in the complaint are true.” Mays v. U.S. Postal Serv., 928 F.Supp. 1552, 1557-58 (M.D. Ala. 1996). Thus, for the purpose of resolving Defendant Callahan's Motions (Doc. # 78, 108) and Defendant Fowler's Motion (Doc. # 106), the court treats the facts alleged in the Second Amended Complaint (Doc. # 74) and Third Amendment to Complaint (Doc. # 97) as true. The court also liberally construes documents filed pro se, [1] such as Plaintiff's Third Amendment to Complaint (Doc. # 97). Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The underlying facts of Plaintiff's claims -- which are related to (A) his alleged denial of services at Cooper Green Mercy Health Services (“Cooper Green”), (B) his treatment in and the conditions of Birmingham City Jail, and (C) his medical care at Grandview -- are outlined below.

         A. Plaintiff's Claims against Defendant Fowler

         At some point between May 13, 2014 and February 2015, [2] a Birmingham City Jail officer escorted Plaintiff to Cooper Green. (Doc. # 97 at p. 2). Plaintiff told Defendant Fowler, a medical clerk at Cooper Green, that he was experiencing excruciating pain; however, Defendant Fowler allegedly denied Plaintiff access to Cooper Green's services. (Id.). Plaintiff claims this denial of services exacerbated his condition. (Id.).

         In Count 10 of his Third Amendment to Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Fowler had a legal and contractual duty to allow Plaintiff access to Cooper Green's services, Defendant Fowler breached her duty to allow Plaintiff access to these services, and Defendant Fowler's breach was wanton conduct that was the proximate cause of Plaintiff's physical and psychiatrist injuries. (Id. at p. 4). Liberally construed, Plaintiff's pro se Third Amendment purports to assert both a § 1983 claim and a medical malpractice claim against Defendant Fowler. (Doc. # 97 at p. 3-4). Plaintiff requests compensatory and punitive damages along with his costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. (Id. at p. 4-5).

         B. Plaintiff's Claims against Defendants City of Birmingham, Davis, Singleton, Taylor, Campbell, Nunn, Sheffield, Debra, Rogers, T. Brown, Moten, Drake, Bradford, and Daniels

         On November 19, 2014, Plaintiff was arrested on outstanding warrants and taken to Birmingham City Jail to await trial. (Doc. # 74 at ¶¶ 2, 16). Plaintiff told personnel at the jail that he was suicidal and homicidal, and, from November 20, 2014 through January 15, 2015, [3]

         Plaintiff was held in a suicide watch strip cell. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-19). On January 19, 2015, Plaintiff was placed in punitive segregation. (Id. at ¶ 31). Shortly thereafter, he was moved to the medical cell block where he remained until February 20, 2015. (Id.). The claims against Defendants City of Birmingham, Davis, Singleton, Taylor, Campbell, Nunn, Sheffield, Debra, Rogers, T. Brown, Moten, Drake, Bradford, and Daniels (collectively, “the Birmingham City Jail defendants”) relate to the conditions of and events occurring within Birmingham City Jail. (See id. at ¶¶ 34-45, 49-53).

         C. Plaintiff's Claims against Defendant Callahan

         On January 5, 2015, Plaintiff was moved from the Birmingham City Jail to the psychiatric unit at Grandview Medical Center (“Grandview”), where Dr. Callahan served as Plaintiff's treating physician. (Id. at ¶¶ 28-29). Plaintiff's January 6, 2015 laboratory tests indicated that Plaintiff had a low blood count; however, Dr. Callahan “did not make any effort to determine the cause or treat” these results. (Id. at ¶¶ 30, 47). On January 19, 2017, Plaintiff was released from Grandview and returned to the Birmingham City Jail. (Id. at ¶ 31). Once Plaintiff was released from the jail in February 2015, he sought further medical attention, and a colonoscopy revealed that Plaintiff was bleeding internally. (Id. at ¶ 33). Surgery was required to correct this medical issue. (Id.).

         Plaintiff alleges that (1) Dr. Callahan treated Plaintiff while he was in the custody of the City of Birmingham, (2) he was a patient of Dr. Callahan's pursuant to an order of commitment from the Jefferson County Probate Court, and (3) therefore, Dr. Callahan was acting under the color of state law. (Id. at ¶ 15). Under Count Five of his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Callahan was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's physical medical needs and requests compensatory and punitive damages, costs and attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and any further relief to which he is entitled.[4] (Id. at ¶¶ 47-48). In Count Nine of his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that Dr. Callahan had a legal and contractual duty to provide Plaintiff with reasonable medical care; she breached this duty; this breach was the proximate cause of Plaintiff's physical injuries and damages; and this breach constituted negligent or wanton conduct that was below the standard of care for similarly situated medical providers.[5] (Id. at ¶¶ 53-55). Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Defendant Callahan along with his costs. (Id. at p. 16).

         III. Misjoinder of Defendants

         The court first addresses whether Plaintiff has misjoined the claims among the Defendants and, if so, what the appropriate remedy is for his misjoinder. A plaintiff may join claims against multiple defendants if (1) the claims “aris[e] out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences” and (2) “any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2). The central purpose of Rule 20 is to promote judicial efficiency and expedite the resolution of claims, thereby eliminating unnecessary, additional lawsuits. Alexander v. Fulton Cty., 207 F.3d 1303, 1323 (11th Cir. 2000), overruled on other grounds by Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304 (11th Cir. 2003).

         Rule 21 provides that “the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party, ” and “[t]he court may also sever any claim against a party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 21. Rule 42(b) also allows for separate trials where the efficiency of a consolidated trial is outweighed by its potential prejudice. Grayson v. K Mart Corp., 79 F.3d 1086, 1097 (11th Cir. 1996). Thus, the court “has broad discretion to join parties or not.” Swan v. Ray, 293 F.3d 1252, 1253 (11th Cir. 2002).

         In determining whether claims are properly joined, courts in the Eleventh Circuit apply the logical relationship test. Smith v. Trans-Siberian Orchestra, 728 F.Supp.2d 1315, 1319 (M.D. Fla. 2010). “Under this test, a logical relationship exists if the claims rest on the same set of facts or the facts, on which one claim rests, activate additional legal rights supporting the other claim.” Id. (citing Republic Health Corp. v. Lifemark Hosps. of Fla., Inc., 755 F.2d 1453, 1455 (11th Cir.1985). “‘Whether severance would facilitate . . . judicial economy is among the factors a court may examine while determining whether to sever [ ] claims.'” Formosa v. Lowe's Home Centers, Inc., 806 F.Supp.2d 1181, 1187 (N.D. Ala. 2011) (quoting Tillis v. Cameron, 2007 WL 2806770, at *5 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 25, 2007)).

         When a court finds misjoinder, it can order one of two remedies: (1) dropping parties on such terms as are just, or (2) severing the plaintiff's claims and proceeding with them separately. DirecTV, Inc. v. Leto, 467 F.3d 842, 845 (3d Cir. 2006). The statute of limitations is not tolled when a court “drops” a defendant under Rule 21; however, when the court severs a claim, the suit simply continues against the severed defendant in another guise. Id. Because the choice of remedy can affect a plaintiff's ability to obtain relief, “a court must analyze the consequences of a dismissal on a claimant's ability to meet the statute of limitations prior to choosing dismissal over severance.” Id. at 846.

         Here, because of the complex nature of medical malpractice claims and the absence of factual overlap between Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Callahan and against the other defendants, allowing the claims against Defendant Callahan and the other defendants to proceed as one case would not facilitate judicial economy. See, e.g., Stojcevski v. Cnty. of Macomb, 143 F.Supp.3d 675, 683 (E.D. Mich. 2015) (holding that claims related to the same jail during the same time period required “entirely different proof” and were, therefore, misjoined); Deskovic v. City of Peekskill, 673 F.Supp.2d 154, 171 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (noting that a joint trial would lead to confusion of the jury when claims against various defendants “involve separate witnesses, different evidence, and different legal theories and defenses”). The fact that Plaintiff remained under the custody of the City of Birmingham (Doc. # 74 at ¶ 15) when Defendant Callahan treated him at Grandview -- a private hospital not associated with the jail -- does not create a logical relationship with Plaintiff's claims against the Birmingham City Jail defendants. See Smith, 728 F.Supp.2d at 1319. Furthermore, Plaintiff has not alleged a conspiracy linking Defendant Callahan's alleged conduct to ...


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