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Saldana v. Curry County Detention Center

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

April 10, 2017

EDGAR SALDANA, Plaintiff,
v.
CURRY COUNTY DETENTION CENTER, et. al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING CORRECTIONAL HEALTHCARE COMPANIES' MOTION FOR PARTIAL JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Correctional Healthcare Companies' (“CHC”) Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings, filed on February 23, 2017 (Doc. 74). Having reviewed the parties' briefs and the applicable law, the Court finds that Defendant's Motion is well-taken, and is therefore, GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Edgar Saldana was an inmate at the Curry County Detention Center (the “Detention Center”). He alleges that on November 13, 2013, Detention Center correctional officers beat him, causing injuries. Two days after the beating, Plaintiff was transported to an emergency room. The ER evaluation revealed that Plaintiff sustained rib fractures and a punctured/collapsed lung because of the beating. Plaintiff claims the correctional officers beat him because he became paranoid and disruptive after he was denied proper care and anti-psychotic medication for his existing and previously diagnosed serious mental illness. CHC employees provided physical and mental healthcare services at the detention center. Plaintiff contends the care provided was constitutionally inadequate. Specifically, CHC staff had prescribed anti-psychotic medication to Plaintiff. Despite having identified the Plaintiff's need for prescription medication management, Plaintiff claims CHC's administration of the medication was sporadic. The gist of Plaintiff's claims against CHC is that CHC refused to administer anti-psychotic medication to Plaintiff and refused to medicate him against his will when he was incapable of caring for his own medical needs. The Amended Complaint states Plaintiff's mental illness went substantially untreated, and he suffered frequent episodes of decompensation and resulting paranoia, fear, aggression, and other psychotic symptoms. Plaintiff also claims that in the days prior to the November 13, 2013 beating, medical personnel discontinued Plaintiff's medication, which constituted a breach of the standard of care.

         Plaintiff alleges the Defendants failed to provide proper medical treatment and care, which led to Plaintiff's aggressive condition on November 13, 2013 and ultimately led to his beating. The Amended Complaint contains six causes of action, three of which are directed at CHC. In the present motion, CHC addresses Counts II and IV. Count II alleges CHC was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's medical and safety needs because CHC had a policy or custom that permitted inmates to be denied adequate medical care. See Amended Complaint at ¶41 (a). Count II further alleges CHC was deliberately indifferent in its supervision and training of its employees. Id. at ¶41 (b). Count IV alleges CHC failed to require proper training for responding to inmates with mental illness. Id. at ¶48. Count IV, like Count II, alleges CHC was deliberately indifferent in its supervision and training of its employees. Id. at ¶49 (b).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is considered under the same standard of review applicable to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Morris v. City of Colo. Springs, 666 F.3d 654, 660 (10th Cir. 2012). While “[n]ormally a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted should be made prior to filing the answer or in the answer itself, ” a defendant can accomplish the same end after an answer is filed by filing a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Jacobsen v. Deseret Book Co., 287 F.3d 936, 941, n.2 (10th Cir. 2002). When evaluating a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court assumes the truth of all well-pleaded facts in the complaint and draws reasonable inferences from those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Dias v. City and County of Denver, 567 F.3d 1169, 1178 (10th Cir. 2009). A complaint need not set forth detailed factual allegations, yet a “pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” is insufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted).

         A plaintiff's complaint will survive a motion to dismiss or a motion for judgment on the pleadings only where the complaint contains sufficient facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; Mink v. Knox, 613 F.3d 995, 1000 (10th Cir. 2010). “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Thus, the mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complainant must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007) (emphasis omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         CHC argues the Amended Complaint does not articulate facts that identify a CHC policy or custom that led to a violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. CHC also contends the Amended Complaint does not allege facts that show CHC had actual or constructive notice that its training methods were inadequate. The Court considers each argument in turn, and agrees the Amended Complaint should be dismissed under Rule 12(c).

         I. Count II: CHC Policy or Custom

         First, CHC argues Plaintiff failed to articulate a cognizable claim for supervisory liability. Plaintiff brought Count II against CHC pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which does not allow for supervisory liability based purely on respondeat superior. Dodds v. Richardson, 614 F.3d 1185, 1197 (10th Cir. 2010). Supervisors such as CHC can be held liable for their own unconstitutional or illegal policies, but not for the torts that their employees commit. As such, supervisory liability requires a showing that such policies were a “deliberate or conscious choice.” Barney v. Pulsipher, 143 F.3d 1299, 1307-08 (10th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted); Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997) (“[I]t is not enough for a § 1983 plaintiff merely to identify conduct properly attributable to the municipality.[1] The plaintiff must also demonstrate that, through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was the ‘moving force' behind the injury alleged.” (emphasis in original)).

         Here, CHC contends, Plaintiff has not alleged any well-pleaded facts in support of his claim that CHC had a policy or custom that led to the deprivation of his constitutional rights. Plaintiff made conclusory statements regarding “a policy and custom” and these perfunctory statements are inadequate under Iqbal. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680-81.

         The Court agrees with CHC and concludes Plaintiff has failed to identify any CHC policy or custom that could have led to his alleged constitutional deprivations. As CHC appropriately points out, Plaintiff only mentions “policy and custom” twice in his Complaint, but he does not identify any such policy or custom. See Compl. ¶ 41(a). Plaintiff brings his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which does not allow for supervisory liability based purely on respondeat superior. Dodds, 614 F.3d at 1197. Plaintiff has not identified any policies and has not alleged such policies were a “deliberate or conscious choice.” Barney, 143 F.3d at 1307-08; See also Brown, 520 U.S. at 404 (“[I]t is not enough for a § 1983 plaintiff merely to identify conduct properly attributable to the municipality. The plaintiff must also demonstrate that, through its deliberate conduct, the municipality[2] was the ‘moving force' behind the injury alleged.” (emphasis in original)).

         In this case, Plaintiff has not alleged any facts that plausibly show a direct link between CHC's custom or policy and Plaintiff's alleged injuries. See, e.g., Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680-81 (conclusory allegations of a discriminatory policy were insufficient to state a claim). Indeed, Plaintiff has not met the threshold requirement of directing this Court to any unconstitutional CHC custom or policy, and Plaintiff has not alleged facts showing a direct causal link between any policy and his alleged injuries. See Bryson v. City of Oklahoma City, 627 F.3d 784, 788 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Hinton v. City of Elwood, 997 F.2d 774, 782 (10th Cir. 1993) (“A municipality may not be held liable under § 1983 solely because its employees inflicted injury on the plaintiff. ...


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