United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
ROSEMARY KEITH, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Dwight Hammonds, Plaintiff,
RUTH NAGLICH, ET AL., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Keith brings this lawsuit via 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on behalf
of her deceased son, Dwight Hammonds, alleging that the
Defendants, individuals employed by the Alabama Department of
Corrections (ADOC) and by MHM Correctional Services, Inc.
(MHM), a private contractor used by the ADOC to provide
mental health care to prisoners, violated her son's
rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment. Ms. Keith
also brings a parasitic state law claim under Alabama's
wrongful death statute, Ala. Code § 6-5-410. The
Defendants have now filed two motions to dismiss pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, docs.
7 and 17, primarily arguing that the complaint fails to
plausibly allege the existence of a constitutional violation.
After carefully reviewing the parties' briefs, docs. 7;
9; and 17,  and the complaint, doc. 1, the court finds
that the Defendants' motions are due to be granted.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must
contain “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
“[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not
require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it
demands more than an unadorned,
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007)). Mere “‘labels and conclusions' or
‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action'” are insufficient. Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Nor does a
complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked
assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual
enhancement.'” Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a
complaint fails to comply with Rule 8(a)(2) or does not
otherwise state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
When evaluating a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court
accepts “the allegations in the complaint as true and
constru[es] them in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff.” Hunt v. Aimco Props., L.P., 814
F.3d 1213, 1221 (11th Cir. 2016). However, “[t]o
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must . . .
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A complaint states a
facially plausible claim for relief “when the plaintiff
pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Id. While the
plausibility standard does not impose a “probability
requirement, ” the allegations in a plaintiff's
complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility
that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.;
see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (emphasizing that
the “[f]actual allegations [included in the complaint]
must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level”). Ultimately, the line between
possibility and plausibility is a thin one, and making this
determination is a “context-specific task that requires
the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and
common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
Hammonds was a troubled young man with an extensive history
of mental health problems including: (1) “a history of
outpatient mental health treatment;” (2) at least one
period of inpatient treatment following a suicide attempt;
and (3) several experiences involving repetitive suicidal
ideation. Doc. 1 at 5. In 2001, Mr. Hammonds was sentenced to
forty years in prison and, as part of the ADOC prisoner
intake process, underwent a psychiatric evaluation which
showed he was suffering from “a serious mental
illness.” Id. at 5-6. The examining
psychiatrist recommended that the ADOC provide Mr. Hammonds
with medication and refer him to a counselor for further
treatment. Id. at 6. While in prison, Mr. Hammonds
was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and, at
least as of May 2005, his medical records indicate that he
still suffered from a serious mental illness. Id.
2006, however, the ADOC adopted a new coding system for
monitoring the mental health of prisoners. Id. In
April 2008, pursuant to the new mental health criteria, Mr.
Hammonds received a classification of MH-0 indicating that he
had “no need for mental-health care.”
Id. While the ADOC did briefly assign a mental
health code of MH-1 to Mr. Hammonds, a classification showing
a mild psychological impairment, he was soon returned to his
prior MH-0 classification. Id. at 6-7. The complaint
does not allege that Mr. Hammonds experienced any other
mental health issues until 2015 when he was placed on suicide
watch for an unspecified period of time. Id. at 7,
13. Shortly after Mr. Hammonds' release from suicide
watch, prison officials assigned him to administrative
segregation after an incident involving a confrontation with
guards in his dormitory. Id. at 7. Mr. Hammonds did
not receive mental health treatment or counseling before
being placed in isolation, id., and roughly a day
later he committed suicide in his segregation cell.
Id. at 8. His death occurred approximately ten days
after the ADOC released him from suicide watch. Id.
four individual Defendants in this case have filed two
separate motions to dismiss. Docs. 7 and 17. The two
Defendants employed by MHM, Dr. Robert Hunter and Nakeetsha
Dryer (collectively the MHM Defendants), argue that Ms.
Keith's complaint is a “shotgun pleading”
subject to summary dismissal, and that, in any event, the
complaint fails to plausibly allege that they violated Mr.
Hammonds' constitutional rights. The other two
Defendants, Christopher Gordy and Ruth Naglich (collectively
the ADOC Defendants), are employed by the ADOC and raise a
largely duplicative argument claiming qualified immunity on
the basis that Ms. Keith has failed to plausibly allege a
violation of her son's constitutional rights. The court
will address each motion separately.
The MHM Defendants Motion to Dismiss
Ms. Keith's Complaint is not a Shotgun Pleading
Defendants' primary argument for dismissal is that Ms.
Keith's complaint is a quintessential “shotgun
pleading.” A shotgun pleading is typically defined as
“a complaint containing multiple counts where each
count adopts the allegations of all preceding counts, causing
each successive count to carry all that came before and the
last count to be a combination of the entire
complaint.” Weiland v. Palm Beach Cty.
Sheriff's Office, 792 F.3d 1313, 1321 (11th Cir.
2015). These types of pleadings are generally flawed because
they fail “to give the defendants adequate notice of
the claims against them and the grounds upon which each claim
rests.” Id. at 1323. However, dismissal based
on this failing requires a complaint so deficient that
“‘it is virtually impossible to know which
allegations of fact are intended to support which claim(s)
for relief.'” Id. at 1326 (quoting
Anderson v. Dist. Bd. of Trs. of Cent. Fla. Cmty.
Coll., 77 F.3d 364, 366 (11th Cir. 1996)).
Ms. Keith's complaint is not as clear as it might be, it
does include specific factual allegations supporting each of
her claims and providing enough substance to enable the MHM
Defendants to “‘discern what [Ms. Keith] is
claiming and [to] frame a responsive pleading.'”
Id. (quoting T.D.S. Inc. v. Shelby Mut. Ins.
Co., 760 F.2d 1520, 1544 n.14 (11th Cir. 1985) (Tjoflat,
J., dissenting)). Indeed, the MHM Defendants' motion to
dismiss accurately identifies the basis for the various
claims Ms. Keith asserts against them. See Doc. 7 at
3. Moreover, the complaint specifically identifies each of
the claims it asserts along with particularized supporting
facts. This is simply not a situation where the complaint
“‘presents scores of allegations regardless of
their relevance and incorporates them in their entirety into
several counts asserting discrete claims for
relief.'” Kyle K. v. Chapman, 208 F.3d
940, 944 (11th Cir. 2000) (GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cty. of
Escambia, 132 F.3d 1359, 1368 (11th Cir. 1998)). Nor
does the fact that a single claim is asserted against
multiple defendants “render the complaint [fatally]
deficient.” Id. Where, as here, a complaint
consists of identifiable claims brought against specific
defendants and supported by particularized facts, the court
declines to classify it as a shotgun pleading subject to
The Complaint Fails to Plausibly Allege that the MHM
Defendants Violated Mr. Hammonds' Constitutional
Defendants also aver that Ms. Keith failed to adequately
allege that they violated the constitution. This is a
prisoner suicide case brought via § 1983 alleging the
violation of Mr. Hammonds' constitutional rights secured
via the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. It is by now well
established that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on
cruel and unusual punishment also proscribes deliberate
indifference to a prisoner's serious medical needs.
See, e.g., Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97,
104 (1976). In this circuit, an inmate at risk of
committing suicide is considered to have a serious medical
need and accordingly suicide ...