United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
PHILLIP CORDELL FIKES, as the personal representative of the Estate of Phillip David Anderson, Plaintiff,
RON ABERNATHY, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
SCOTT COOGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court are Defendant Tuscaloosa County, Alabama's
("Tuscaloosa" or "the County"), motion
for summary judgment (doc. 78), and Defendants', Sheriff
Ron Abernathy ("Abernathy"), Chief Eric Bailey
("Bailey"), Sergeant Kenneth Abrams
("Abrams"), and Detention Officer Patrick
Collard's ("Collard") (collectively "the
law enforcement defendants") motion for summary judgment
(doc. 84). Plaintiff Phillip Cordell Fikes ("Fikes"
or "Plaintiff") brought this suit as the personal
representative of the Estate of Phillip David Anderson
("Anderson" or "decedent"), alleging
deliberate indifference to serious medical needs under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims for negligence,
wantonness, wrongful death, and intentional infliction of
emotional distress. For the reasons stated below,
Tuscaloosa's motion for summary judgment is due to be
granted, and the law enforcement defendants' motion for
summary judgment is due to be granted in part and denied in
was arrested on Saturday, February 7, 2015, based on an
outstanding warrant for contempt of court arising out of his
failure to appear at a child support hearing in Tuscaloosa
County. He was taken to the Tuscaloosa County jail ("the
jail"), where he remained until February 15, 2015, the
day of his death.
the intake process, Anderson informed jail officials about
his health problems and daily medications. Anderson
answered in the affirmative when asked whether he had any
current illnesses and health problems. On February 9, 2015,
Anderson was seen by Dr. Phillip Bobo (" Dr.
Bobo"). The nursing notes from the visit indicate that
Dr. Bobo prescribed naproxen for Anderson. According to
Plaintiff, Anderson did not receive any of the daily
medication he required. Consequently, on Thursday, February
12, 2015, Anderson's daughter, Erica Fikes
("Erica"), visited the jail attempting to deliver
Anderson's thyroid medication. Erica testified that the
jail officials would not accept the medication because it was
only in its original bottle, but not in the original box.
for inmates in the jail is conducted by Whatley Health
Services, Inc. ("Whatley"), a private, non-profit,
community health center, pursuant to a contract between
Whatley and Tuscaloosa. Whatley in turn contracts with a
physician and also nurses to provide care. Tuscaloosa also
has a contract with Capstone Health Services Foundation, an
Alabama non-profit corporation, to provide psychiatric
services to the inmates at the jail. There was a charge of
twenty-five dollars ($25.00) for an inmate to see the doctor
and obtain medical care at the jail at all times during
was housed in cell block 11 ("CB 11") during the
entirety of his time in the Tuscaloosa Jail. Abrams and Col
lard each served as shift supervisors over the area which
included CB11 during a number of shifts within the relevant
time frame. The Tuscaloosa County Policy and Procedure
Directives ("The Directives") state that
"detention officers and other personnel are trained to
respond to health-related situations within a four minute
response time." (Doc. 86- 7 at 23.) The training program
that personnel undergo includes instruction in the
recognition of signs and symptoms, as well as information
concerning required action in potential emergency situations.
The Directives contain a provision explaining that while the
determination of when to transfer an inmate to an emergency
facility and decisions regarding transportation by ambulance
are usually made by medical staff, "extenuating
circumstances may require the prompt decision by the Shift
Supervisor for immediate transport of [an] inmate to the
designated emergency facility via EMS." (Id.)
to Fikes, beginning with one of his first meals in jail and
continuing throughout his detention, Anderson felt ill and
was unable to keep his food down. He was in severe pain
throughout his stay at the facility, and spent time prostrate
on the floor moaning and holding his stomach, asking for
help. On Friday, February 13, 2015, Anderson was administered
medication by Tuscaloosa County Jail medical staff for
constipation. The following day, Saturday, February 14, 2015,
at approximately 8:18 p.m., Detention Officer Jeremiah Van
Horn ("Van Horn") notified the Supervisor on duty
that Anderson was complaining of stomach pain, shortness of
breath, and that he had been unable to hold down food for a
number of days. Supervisor Anderson then called Nurse
Bridgette Thomas ("Nurse Thomas") who advised that
Anderson had been seen and was being treated.
that same day, Anderson was taken to the medical clinic by
Detention Officer Clay Montgomery ("Montgomery")
who told the staff there that Anderson needed to be seen.
Upon arrival at the clinic, Anderson was moaning and groaning
and holding his stomach stating that he did not feel well.
Nurse Thomas and another nurse took Anderson's
temperature and blood pressure, and then consulted with Dr.
Bobo. The nurses informed Montgomery that the doctor could
not see Anderson until the following Monday, February 16th.
Anderson continued to moan and groan and proceeded to lie
down on a bench in the medical center. The nurses
administered a liquid medication that Anderson could not keep
down, he vomited for a number of minutes while gagging,
moaning and holding his stomach. Montgomery was advised that
there was nothing else that could be done until Monday.
Anderson then was escorted back to CB 11 all the while
holding his stomach and verbalizing that he was in pain.
approximately 11:00 p.m. on Saturday evening, Supervisor
Raymond Anderson, Sergeant Michael Hall and Sergeant Darren
Strong responded to CB 11 where they visually observed
Anderson lying on his bed moaning, groaning, sweating and
holding his stomach. He was unable to speak to the officers
when they asked him what was wrong. They proceeded to the
medical clinic to notify the medical personnel. The nurses on
duty informed the officers that Anderson was being treated
for constipation and he would be put on a liquid diet the
Sunday, February 15, 2015, at approximately 12:45 a.m.,
Detention Officers Edward Pierce ("Pierce") and
Meagan Franklin ("Franklin") responded to noises
coming from CB 11. They observed Anderson lying on the floor
between two tables moaning and holding his stomach. Pierce
and Franklin notified Nurse Thomas who entered the cellblock
and looked at Anderson. She stated that she had already
notified her supervisor, Nurse Elizabeth Evers, as well as
Dr. Bobo of Anderson's condition and was instructed by
them not to send Anderson to the hospital. A little while
later, at approximately 1:01 a.m., Supervisor Raymond
Anderson called Pierce and instructed him to take Anderson to
the medical clinic where Nurse Thomas saw Anderson, but did
not administer any medication. Anderson was then returned to
a deputy sheriff who serves as a Sergeant with the criminal
investigation division, and Eric Bailey, a deputy sheriff who
serves as the Chief of Jail Operations began their shift as
Shift Supervisors at 7 a.m. on Sunday the 15th. Though the
details are disputed, at one point during their shift, they
checked on Anderson. Multiple inmates had reported that, the
evening prior, Anderson had hollered in pain all throughout
approximately 12:04 p.m., Detention Officer David Cannon
("Cannon") responded to CB 11 due to inmates
kicking on the door. Cannon observed Anderson lying on the
floor and inmates holding his head, the inmates stated he had
passed out on the way to the bathroom. Cannon approached
Anderson and asked him what was wrong but, Anderson did not
respond. A wheelchair was obtained by Collard at the
direction of the nurse. Cannon then called a "code
10-33" which is the code for a medical emergency. Nurse
Stephanie Kaiser and Sergeant Abrams arrived in CB 11 and
initiated CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation). The AED
(Automated External Defibulator) was also utilized to assist
with life-saving measures. Some inmates in CB 11 contacted
Anderson's family to inform them of the situation.
NorthStar EMS, Inc., responded to the facility and assisted
with lifesaving measures and, ultimately transported Anderson
to DHC Regional Medical Center's Emergency Room.
Chief of Jail Operations, arrived at DCH and spoke with
Anderson's family regarding his condition. Shortly after
being transported, Anderson was pronounced dead-the cause of
death was determined to be a perforated duodenal ulcer. The
Tuscaloosa Sheriff's Office conducted an investigation of
Anderson's death soon afterwards.
Motions for Summary Judgment
Standard of Review
judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine if "the record
taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find
for the nonmoving party." Id. A genuine dispute
as to a material fact exists "if the nonmoving party has
produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could
return a verdict in its favor." Greenberg v.
BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th
Cir. 2007) (quoting Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental
Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001)). The
trial judge should not weigh the evidence, but determine
whether there are any genuine issues of fact that should be
resolved at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).
considering a motion for summary judgment, trial courts must
give deference to the non-moving party by "view[ing] the
materials presented and all factual inferences in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party." Animal Legal
Def. Fund v. U.S. Dep't of Agric, 789 F.3d 1206,
1213-14 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress &
Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)). However,
"unsubstantiated assertions alone are not enough to
withstand a motion for summary judgment." Rollins v.
TechSouth, Inc., 833 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1987).
Conclusory allegations and "mere scintilla of evidence
in support of the nonmoving party will not suffice to
overcome a motion for summary judgment." Melton v.
Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1220 (11th Cir. 2016) (per
curiam) (quoting Young v. City of Palm Bay, Fla.,
358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004)). In making a motion for
summary judgment, "the moving party has the burden of
either negating an essential element of the nonmoving
party's case or showing that there is no evidence to
prove a fact necessary to the nonmoving party's
case." McGee v. Sentinel Offender Servs., LLC,
719 F.3d 1236, 1242 (11th Cir. 2013). Although the trial
courts must use caution when granting motions for summary
judgment, "[s]ummary judgment procedure is properly
regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather
as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole."
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986).
Tuscaloosa's Summary Judgment Motion
September 19, 2016, Tuscaloosa filed a motion to dismiss
(doc. 31), which was granted in part and denied in part on
May 25, 2017. (Doc. 45.) As explained in the Court's
Memorandum of Opinion, the only claim remaining against
Tuscaloosa is that it improperly funded healthcare at the
Tuscaloosa County Jail via involvement in an allegedly
deliberate plan to delay medical treatment in order to lower
medical costs-which in turn caused Anderson's death. (See
Doc. 45 at 8 ("[T]he only liability that Tuscaloosa can
incur under § 1983 is for not appropriating the funds
that the sheriff needs for maintenance of the
jail." (citing Turquitt v.
Jefferson Cty., Ala., 137 F.3d 1285, 1290 (11th Cir.
failed to respond to Tuscaloosa's motion for summary
judgment; however, this Court is nonetheless obligated to
determine whether Tuscaloosa is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law on the undisputed facts.  See Trs. of
Cent. Pension Fund of lnt'l Union of Operating Eng'rs
Participating Emp'rs v. Wolf Crane Serv., Inc., 374
F.3d 1035, 1039 (11th Cir. 2004) (A district court
"cannot base the entry of summary judgment on the mere
fact that the motion was unopposed but, rather, must consider
the merits of the motion." (internal quotation marks
omitted)). As such, the Court will address the merits of
County is required under Alabama law to provide funds for
both the upkeep of the jail and necessary medical care for
the inmates held in the jail. Ala. Code § 14-6-19
(1975). At the federal level, the Due Process Clause (for
pretrial detainees) and the Eighth Amendment of the
U.S. Constitution requires local governments to provide
necessary medical care to incarcerated persons. Goebert
v. Lee Cty., 510 F.3d 1312, 1326 (11th Cir. 2007)
("Deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious
medical needs is a violation of the Eighth Amendment.").
In order to prevail on a claim against a county under §
1983, a plaintiff must show that "the constitutional
violation occurred as a result of a county policy[, ] . . .
the [county's] action was taken with the requisite degree
of culpability, and . . . a direct causal link [exists]
between the [county's] action and the deprivation of
federal rights." Cagle v. Sutherland, 334 F.3d
980, 986 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Bd. of Cty. Commas of
Bryan Cnty.} Okla. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997)).
Culpability can be established by showing deliberate
indifference, which requires "(1) subjective knowledge
of a risk of serious harm; (2) disregard of that risk; (3) by
conduct that is more than mere negligence."
McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1255 (11th
Cir.1999). The U.S. "Supreme Court has recognized that
correctional inmates 'must rely on prison authorities to
treat [their] medical needs; if the authorities fail to do
so, those needs will not be met.' Federal and state
governments therefore have a constitutional obligation to
provide minimally adequate medical care to those whom they
are punishing by incarceration." Harris v.
Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495, 1504 (11th Cir. 1991) (citing
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976)). A
county is not absolved of this duty solely by contracting
with a private medical provider. Ancata v. Prison Health
Servs., Inc., 769 F.2d 700, 705 (11th Cir. 1985).
proffered the affidavit of Bill Lamb ("Lamb"), the
Chief Financial Officer for Tuscaloosa County, who prepares
and administers the budgets for all county offices, to show
that its funding was more than minimally adequate. He
testified that during the fiscal year in which Anderson was
incarcerated, the county expended nearly $1.8 Million on
medical care at the Tuscaloosa County Jail, on an inmate
population averaging less than 600. (See Doc. 79-1.) Of that
total, $1, 383, 291.78 was for medical services and $402,
617.15 was allocated for drugs and medical supplies. When
divided, the sum equals approximately $3, 000 per inmate for
medical care. Additionally, Lamb testified that "no
requests for funding of medical services or supplies were
denied during [the] fiscal year, and the County [ ] never
refused to pay any medical bill arising from the jail."
Tuscaloosa's contract for medical services with Whatley
provides for routine doctor visits to the jail, and for a
doctor to be on call for emergencies. It also provides for
around-the-clock nursing services and a clinic within the
jail facility which is stocked and equipped by the county.
(See Doc. 79-4.)
Court finds the funding amount to be adequate, especially
when considered in conjunction with the number of inmates.
The Court also finds that Tuscaloosa did not breach its
duties to properly fund the jail, or more specifically, to
properly fund the medical treatment for those held in the
jail, and finds no direct causal link between
Tuscaloosa's policies and ...