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Bevan v. Santa FE County

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

August 15, 2017

AIMEE BEVAN, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Desiree Gonzales, deceased, Plaintiff,
SANTA FE COUNTY, GABRIEL VALENCIA, Youth Development Administrator, Individually, MATTHEW EDMUNDS, Corrections Officer, individually, JOHN ORTEGA, Corrections Officer, MOLLY ARCHULETA, Corrections Nurse, Individually, ST. VINCENT HOSPITAL, and NATHAN PAUL UNKEFER, M.D., Defendants.


         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendant Molly Archuleta's Motion for Summary Judgment (Motion for Summary Judgment), filed April 15, 2016. (Doc. 164). Plaintiff filed a response on May 17, 2016, and Defendant Molly Archuleta (Archuleta) filed a reply on June 22, 2016. (Docs. 176 and 204). Having considered the Motion for Summary Judgment, the accompanying briefing, and the relevant evidence, the Court grants the Motion for Summary Judgment, in part, as described below.

         A. Background

         1. Facts Relevant to the Motion for Summary Judgment[1]

         This case involves, in part, whether Desiree Gonzales received adequate medical care while incarcerated at the Santa Fe Youth Development Program (YDP). Just prior to Gonzales' incarceration at the YDP, Gonzales had been treated for a heroin overdose and medically cleared for incarceration at the YDP. It is undisputed that Gonzales experienced respiratory distress while at the YDP and eventually stopped breathing. See St. Vincent Emergency Physician Report (Doc. 145-2) at 1, 3, and 4 (Gonzales “would stop breathing & gasp for air, ” made “gurgling noises, ” had “difficulty breathing, ” complained to her mother of chest pain, and finally stopped breathing altogether). It is also undisputed that when Gonzales stopped breathing and became nonresponsive YDP staff called 911. Id. at 3-4. Several hours later, Gonzales died at St. Vincent Hospital. Id. at 4. The Office of the Medical Investigator determined that the cause of death was “Toxic effects of heroin.” (Doc. 145-4) at 1.

         YDP employed Archuleta as a registered nurse. (Doc. 164-1) at 2, depo. at 6. Archuleta was not at the YDP on the night of Gonzales' incarceration because physical nursing coverage had ended for the evening. Id. at 3, depo. at 12. No medical personnel were present at the YDP that night.

         After Gonzales was booked into the YDP, Defendant Matthew Edmunds (Edmunds), a YDP staff member, called Archuleta. Id. at 8, depo. at 60. Edmunds informed Archuleta that Gonzales had been hospitalized at St. Vincent Hospital for a heroin overdose about two hours previously and had been administered Narcan. Id. at 12; (Doc. 176-5) at 2, transcript at 36. Edmunds advised Archuleta of Gonzales' “state” which Edmunds described as (1) “not in a normal state of mind, ” (2) “groggy” eyed, and (3) having “slurred” speech.[2] (Doc. 142-8). Archuleta later admitted that Edmunds' description of Gonzales' “state” would have been “red flags” to her. (Doc. 176-5) at 3, transcript at 37.

         Edmunds further told Archuleta that St. Vincent Hospital medically cleared Gonzales to go to the YDP. (Doc. 164-1) at 12. Edmunds observed that the medical clearance noted “A & O” and asked Archuleta what “A & O” means. Id. Archuleta explained that “A & O” means alert and oriented. Id. Archuleta then asked Edmunds if Gonzales was alert and oriented. Id. He responded, “Yes.” Id. Archuleta, nonetheless, instructed Edmunds to have Gonzales “sleep in a ‘boat' either in the dayroom or in the horseshoe” so that staff could check on her and monitor her breathing. Id. Archuleta also told Edmunds to call her if staff had any concerns. Id.

         About three hours after this call, the YDP administrator called Archuleta to inform her that Gonzales was unresponsive and that 911 had been called. Id. By the time Archuleta arrived at the YDP, paramedics were already rendering aid to Gonzales. Id. at 13.

         Archuleta testified at her deposition that YDP accepts medically cleared juveniles, but will send juveniles to the hospital if they appear to be under the influence of drugs. (Doc. 204-1) at 3, depo. at 42-43. Archuleta was aware that “opiates can cause respiratory depression” and had instructed YDP staff to check for respiratory depression by determining if a resident is breathing. (Doc. 176-2) at 3, depo. at 54-55. Archuleta acknowledged that breathing is necessary to maintaining life. Id. at 4, depo. at 54. She further testified that YDP staff receive first aid and CPR training, but she did not testify that the staff involved with the incident at issue had, in fact, received such training. (Doc. 164-1) at 7, depo. at 45.

         In addition to the above factual evidence, both Plaintiff and Archuleta present expert evidence with respect to the constitutional claims addressed in this Motion for Summary Judgment. Expert evidence, however, is not necessary to decide whether summary judgment is appropriate as to those claims. Instead, the claims focus on whether Archuleta had a culpable mind, a subjective inquiry involving whether Archuleta acted with deliberate indifference. See Powell v. Shah, 618 F.App'x 292, 296 (7th Cir. 2015) (holding that where “the only issue in this case was whether the doctors had a ‘sufficiently culpable state of mind' … the court accurately recognized [it] as a subjective inquiry that did not require an expert….”) (citations omitted); Campbell v. Sikes, 169 F.3d 1353, 1371 n. 22 (11th Cir.1999) (finding that expert's affidavit does not support finding of deliberate indifference, which is subjective inquiry). Accordingly, the Court does not consider the expert evidence.

         2. The Complaint for Wrongful Death (Complaint) (Doc. 1) at 4-19

         This is a removed lawsuit in which Plaintiff is suing Archuleta in her individual capacity as a nurse. Plaintiff brings the following claims against Archuleta in Count One of the Complaint: (1) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Fourteenth Amendment due process claim; (2) a Section 1983 Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim; and (3) a cruel and unusual punishment claim under the New Mexico Constitution, Article II, Section 13.

         In Count Three of the Complaint, Plaintiff brings a New Mexico Tort Claims Act (NMTCA) negligence and wrongful death claim against Archuleta for failing to provide Gonzales with adequate medical care. (Doc. 1) at 15, ¶ 82. Plaintiff specifies that NMSA 1978, § 41-4-12 waives immunity from suit under the NMTCA. Id. at ¶ 80. Section 41-4-12 provides waiver of immunity “when law enforcement officers cause wrongful death through the deprivation of rights, privileges and immunities secured by the U.S. Constitution or New Mexico Constitution.” Id.

         Archuleta moves for summary judgment on all claims against her and asserts qualified immunity as to the Section 1983 claims. Plaintiff opposes the Motion for Summary Judgment in its entirety.

         B. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party shows “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). Once the moving party meets its initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dep't, 717 F.3d 760, 767 (10th Cir. 2013). A dispute over a material fact is “genuine” only if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Tabor v. Hilti, Inc., 703 F.3d 1206, 1215 (10th Cir. 2013).

         When a defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis of a qualified immunity defense, the Court “still view[s] the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve[s] all factual disputes and reasonable inferences in its favor.” Estate of Booker v. Gomez, 745 F.3d 405, 411(10th Cir. 2014). Unlike other affirmative defenses, the plaintiff bears the burden of overcoming the defense of qualified immunity. Id. “This is a heavy burden.” Carabajal v. City of Cheyenne, Wyoming, 847 F.3d 1203, 1208 (10th Cir. 2017).

         The Court must grant qualified immunity unless the plaintiff demonstrates “(1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was ‘clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct.'” Quinn v. Young, 780 F.3d 998, 1004 (10th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011)). “[I]n order for the law to be clearly established, there must be a Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit decision on point, or the clearly established weight of authority from other courts must have found the law to ...

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