United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Keith Watkins CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Joshua Hutchinson spent 229 days in solitary confinement at
the Montgomery County Detention Center (the
“jail”) as a pretrial detainee because of his
sleep apnea. Or rather, he was placed in a suicide watch cell
segregated from other inmates as an accommodation of his
sleep apnea because the jail staff concluded that the CPAP
machine that Mr. Hutchinson needed to sleep could be used as
a weapon by inmates in general population. So it is that Mr.
Hutchinson spent his time awaiting trial alone in a jail cell
in which the lights were always on, with no access to the
outdoor recreation facilities or other programs made
available to other inmates. And so it is that, as a result of
his time spent in isolation, Mr. Hutchinson suffered
psychological harm, “transform[ing] from a person with
a normal presentation to a withdrawn, non-communicative,
angry, and paranoid individual who would refuse to eat,
refuse medical care, and engage in other antisocial
behaviors.” (Doc. # 70, at 10.)
are a few of the well-pleaded factual allegations contained
in Mr. Hutchinson's Amended Complaint, in which he brings
claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the jail staff
responsible for his placement, the company- QCHC, Inc.-that
contracted with the County to provide medical services to
inmates, and the individual QCHC nurses and physicians
responsible for medical treatment at the jail. All defendants
move to dismiss. Before the court is the Magistrate
Judge's Report and Recommendation (Doc. # 116), to which
Mr. Hutchinson has timely filed objections (Doc. # 117). Upon
an independent review of the record and a de novo
determination of those issues to which Mr. Hutchinson
objects, the court finds that the Magistrate Judge's
Recommendation is due to be adopted.
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this action under
28 U.S.C. § 1331. The parties do not contest personal
jurisdiction or venue.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court reviews objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report
and Recommendation de novo, and it “may
accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings
or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure tests the sufficiency of the
complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8:
“a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, courts “must
accept the well pleaded facts as true and resolve them in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Paradise
Divers, Inc. v. Upmal, 402 F.3d 1087, 1089 (11th Cir.
2005) (citation omitted). To survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny,
however, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). If there
are “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation
that discovery will reveal evidence” to support the
claim, there are “plausible” grounds for
recovery, and a motion to dismiss should be denied.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.
Magistrate Judge provided a thorough recitation of the
factual and procedural history of this case, which Mr.
Hutchinson does not dispute and which the court need not
repeat. (See Doc. # 116, at 4-11.) Mr. Hutchinson
objects to two of the Magistrate Judge's recommendations:
first, that his § 1983 claim for deliberate indifference
to serious medical needs against QCHC be dismissed with
prejudice; and second, that his § 1983 deliberate
indifference claims against the Sheriff Defendants be
dismissed with prejudice. Each objection will be considered in
Hutchinson alleges that QCHC as an entity was deliberately
indifferent to his serious medical needs and can be held
liable under § 1983 “due to the actions of its
final policymakers, Drs. Bates and Kern.” (Doc. # 70,
at 15.) The Magistrate Judge agreed that § 1983
liability could attach to QCHC because it was acting as the
functional equivalent of a municipality when it contracted to
provide medical care at the jail. And the Magistrate Judge
noted that an entity can be liable under a “policy or
custom” theory if, among other ways, a plaintiff
alleges that the constitutional violations resulted from the
actions of an official with final policymaking authority.
(Doc. # 116, at 32.) The Magistrate Judge concluded, however,
that Mr. Hutchinson's amended complaint does not state a
claim upon which relief can be granted because it fails to
allege that the decisions by Drs. Kern and Bates were not
subject to review, nor does it specify the actions, conduct,
or areas over which they exercised final authority. (Doc. #
116, at 33-34.) “In fact, the amended complaint is
completely silent on the scope of Drs. Kern and Bates's
final policymaking authority for QCHC and certainly does not
allege that either Dr. Kern or Dr. Bates had final
policymaking authority over an inmate's housing or the
specific conditions of an inmate's confinement. The most
[Mr.] Hutchinson alleges is that Drs. Kern and Bates were
final policymakers for QCHC.” (Doc. # 116, at 34.)
Supreme Court has explained that the “final
policymaker” theory of municipal liability attaches
“only where the decisionmaker possesses final authority
to establish municipal policy with respect to the action
ordered.” Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati,
475 U.S. 469, 481 (1986) (emphasis added). In other words,
the theory provides a plausible claim for relief
“where-and only where-a deliberate choice to follow a
course of action is made from among various alternatives by
the official or officials responsible for establishing final
policy with respect to the subject matter in question.”
Id. at 483.
the facts in the light most favorable to Mr. Hutchinson, the
amended complaint alleges that (1) Drs. Bates and Kern
“acted as final policymakers for QCHC, ” (2) they
provided care for Mr. Hutchinson, knew of his deteriorated
mental state, and refused to do anything, and (3) therefore
the policy or custom of QCHC was to deny Mr. Hutchinson the
care he needed by failing to take any steps to address the
conditions of his confinement. (Doc. # 70, at 12, 14- 15.) As
the Magistrate Judge pointed out, the problem is the link.
There are no allegations to suggest that when Drs. Bates and
Kern were individually treating Mr. Hutchinson that they were
establishing the custom or policy of ...