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Cook v. Board of County Commissioners for County of Curry

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

January 23, 2018

KELLY COOK, as Mother and Next Friend of CHRISTIAN COOK, Plaintiff


         This matter comes before the Court on the following motions: (i) Plaintiff Kelly Cook's Motion to Amend the Complaint (ECF No. 25); and (ii) the Rule 12(b) Motion to Dismiss and for Qualified Immunity (ECF No. 15), filed by Defendants Board of County Commissioners for the County of Curry (the “Board”), Tori Sandoval, and Sandra Martin (collectively, hereinafter the “County Defendants”).[1] The Court, having considered the motions, briefs, pleadings, and relevant law, concludes that Plaintiff's motion to amend will be granted, and the County Defendants' motion to dismiss and for qualified immunity will be denied.


         Christian Cook had a history of mental illness, developmental disorders, and behavioral issues, including known diagnoses for ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, borderline intellectual functioning, schizoid features, nocturnal enuresis, OCD features, and febrile seizures. Proposed Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 17, ECF No. 25-1. On June 21, 2013, when he was 15 years old, he was arrested and booked into the Curry County Juvenile Detention Center (“CCJDC”). Id. ¶¶ 5, 15-16. At the time, Defendant Tori Sandoval was the CCJDC administrator; Defendant Sandra Martin was a high-ranking guard with supervisory authority at CCJDC; and Defendant Board employed the individual defendants. Id. ¶¶ 4-7.[3] Defendants Sandoval and Sandra Martin had day-to-day contact with Christian and were fully aware of the conditions in which he was housed. Id. ¶ 200. The CCJDC facility has a design capacity of 16 juveniles and the average population during Christian's detention was only 11 juveniles. Id. ¶¶ 201-02.

         At the time of his booking, a nurse conducted a medical screening of Christian and noted his diagnosis of ADHD, he appeared anxious, and had a rash, yet he was not treated for either condition. Id. ¶¶ 18-19. The nurse recommended Christian be housed in general population; instead, he was housed in solitary confinement, where he remained for the duration of his 11-month detention at CCJDC. See Id. ¶¶ 15, 20-22, 186. Despite staffing levels of 16 juvenile detention officers at CCJDC and times when staff often outnumbered juveniles 2:1, Christian was housed in solitary confinement and rarely allowed out of his cell. Id. ¶¶ 203-06.

         The week after Christian arrived, Sheila Stevenson, a licensed independent social worker (“LISW”) with TeamBuilders Counseling Services, assessed Christian and noted he had problems with anxiety and enuresis and had a diagnosis of borderline intellectual functioning. See Id. ¶¶ 23-24. She also noted that he exhibited symptoms of anxiety and depression, and learned from his mother that Christian had difficulty performing activities of daily living, such as maintaining hygiene without help. See Id. ¶¶ 23-26.

         During his stay in solitary confinement, Christian's mental health deteriorated quickly. Id. ¶ 28. Guards frequently noticed Christian was visibly upset, crying, afraid in his cell, and depressed, yet records indicate he received no mental health care in response to these observations. See Id. ¶¶ 29-32, 35-40, 46, 59-61, 82-90, 107-08, 138-42, 160. On August 7, 2013, Christian was visibly upset and told staff he felt like he was passing out and afraid to fall asleep. Id. ¶ 35. Although they moved him to a holding cell, he was not provided medical treatment. Id. ¶ 36. The following morning Christian began experiencing severe anxiety with hyperventilation, began crying, and said he needed to go to the hospital, but the jail provided no medical treatment beyond instructing him to relax and slow his breathing. Id. ¶¶ 37-39. Following the incident, Christian was placed on “Health and Wellness” Watch, at 30-minute increments, on which he remained for the rest of his approximately nine and a half month stay. Id. ¶¶ 41-42. During the first seven days on “Health and Wellness” Watch, records show he remained in his cell for at least 20 hours per day, received only two short showers, and was let out for recreation only twice. Id. ¶ 57. Christian began talking to himself underneath his bed, banging on the door and walls of his cell, and yelling. Id. ¶¶ 58, 110, 113.

         On another occasion, a jail officer reported that he saw a journal entry Christian wrote saying he was tired of being abused and neglected and was tired of living. Id. ¶ 48. The next day a nurse who examined Christian noted he was anxious, uncooperative, and angry and again recommended he be housed in general population, yet jail staff continued to house him in a solitary cell. Id. ¶¶ 52-55. When Christian received counseling, his counselor noticed how emotionally distressed he was. Id. ¶ 75-76, 127-29, 136. He experienced frequent anxiety attacks throughout his detention and began exhibiting odd behavior, such as flushing food down his toilet, frequently being seen standing on his sink, and picking at his skin, leading to infections. See Id. ¶¶ 77, 92-97, 106, 109, 176. Although Christian was offered his medications, he intermittently refused to take them, so guards discontinued his prescriptions without the consent or advice of his mother or physician. Id. ¶¶ 100-01. In response to his bizarre behavior, guards often punished him with loss of privileges, including not being let out of his cell. Id. ¶¶ 175-77.

         Christian did not receive schooling until nine days after classes began for other children. Id. ¶ 66. Despite having an updated Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) setting forth his needs for special education, occupational therapy, and counseling, Christian consistently received far fewer minutes of education than the 235 minutes of math and 235 of English each week set forth in his IEP. See Id. ¶¶ 63-72, 124-25, 172-74. For example, during the entire month of September, Christian received only 36 minutes of education. Id. ¶ 68. Records show that there was not a single month during his detention when Christian received occupational therapy or mental health counseling each week as his IEP required. Id. ¶ 73.

         Christian's condition deteriorated to the point that a forensic evaluation was ordered to determine his competency, yet he remained isolated without mental healthcare. Id. ¶¶ 117-18. Christian continued to be isolated in his cell for extraordinary lengths of time. Id. ¶ 126. Records indicate that between December 20, 2013 and January 5, 2014, Christian was not allowed out for recreation. See Id. ¶¶ 138-140. On January 23, 2014, Christian made comments to Melodye Thomas that he felt like hurting himself, which she reported to Defendant Sandra Martin. Id. ¶¶ 142-44. They placed him on 15-minute suicide watch for 24 hours that day. Id. ¶ 144. Over the next several weeks, he continued to be housed in isolation, and if he was moved from his cell, it was to the multi-purpose room in isolation, devoid of social interaction. Id. ¶¶ 146-47. He went days, sometimes weeks without any recreation. See Id. ¶¶ 148-168. From September 3 and 14, 2013, Christian was allowed out once for 58 minutes of recreation; from November 22 through 29, 2013, and again from December 2 through 11, 2013, he was not allowed out for recreation; from April 14 through 21, 2014, he received only 14 minutes of recreation outside his cell; and during the week of May 4, 2014, he was allowed out to recreation once for 18 minutes. Id. ¶¶ 150-154. During the last two months of detention, Christian often went days isolated to his cell for over 20 hours per day. Id. ¶ 171. The lack of recreation and prolonged isolation caused his mental health to decline very quickly. Id. ¶ 155.

         On February 28, 2014, guards noted Christian was crying in his cell, lying underneath the bunk, asking for his mom, and later in the day he flooded his cell and was rubbing the window with a wet blanket. Id. ¶¶ 160-62. He began yelling that he was going to kill himself and they placed him on suicide watch, yet he was not provided any mental health intervention following his suicide threats. Id. ¶¶ 163-65. Records indicate Christian was not allowed out for recreation from February 23, 2014 until March 11, 2014. See Id. ¶¶ 167-68.

         On May 7, 2014, Christian urinated on himself and refused to shower. Id. ¶ 178. Although he eventually agreed to shower when threatened that he must shower or not be let out of his cell, he was only let out for an additional two minutes for the entire day following his shower. Id. ¶ 180. On May 12, 2014, guards found Christian hiding under his blanket with blood everywhere. Id. ¶ 181. Christian told them he bites his lip when he becomes anxious. Id. ¶ 182. The next day, Christian's mother expressed concern that he had plans to kill himself, so they moved him to a holding cell for observation without providing mental health counseling or giving him access to a doctor. Id. ¶¶ 183-84. Following this incident, he was not allowed out for recreation for the remainder of his detention until May 27, 2014, when he was released to Copper Hill in Utah for treatment to attain competency. Id. ¶¶ 185-86. From June 21, 2013 through May 27, 2014, Christian spent eleven months in solitary confinement without a hearing or periodic classification review. Id. ¶¶ 242, 249.

         While at Copper Hills, Christian made many statements of his desire to commit suicide. Id. ¶ 188. The Copper Hills treatment providers determined he would not be able to attain competency to stand trial within a year, if ever, so his criminal charges were dropped. Id. ¶¶ 192-93. Because of the severity of Christian's condition, he remained at Copper Hills for treatment of his mental illnesses until his discharge on October 19, 2014, and he now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Id. ¶¶ 194-96.

         Defendants Sandoval and Sandra Martin knew how badly Christian's mental health deteriorated during his time at CCJDC. Id. ¶ 207. They also knew CCJDC was not equipped to house and treat inmates in need of expert mental healthcare like Christian, yet they accepted Christian as an inmate and placed him in solitary confinement where they allowed him to remain, untreated, for eleven months. Id. ¶¶ 208-12. Defendant Sandra Martin was aware of Christian's need for medical attention, was directly informed that he was expressing suicidal concerns that were new symptoms, yet she continued to allow him to be housed in isolation without adequate mental healthcare. Id. ¶¶ 217-20. Defendants failed to provide Christian with constitutionally mandated recreation time each day, resulting in him not leaving his cell or going outside for long periods of time, and they were aware that subjecting a child to these conditions was inhumane. Id. ¶¶ 222-23. Defendant Sandoval was made aware in October 2013 that the New Mexico Association of Counties was advising jails not to house the mentally ill in segregation, but to give them access to recreation and social interaction with other inmates, and to evaluate them every other day by mental health. See Id. ¶¶ 224-28.


         Plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint on behalf of her son Christian asserting claims for (i) violation of substantive due process based on inhumane conditions of confinement and inadequate medical care against Defendants Sandoval, Sandra Martin, and Joan Martin; (ii) violation of procedural due process against the Board, Tori Sandoval in her official capacity, and Sandra Martin in her official capacity (“Official Capacity Defendants”) for arbitrarily placing Christian in solitary confinement without a classification hearing or periodic classification review; (iii) violation of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, against the Official Capacity Defendants for denying Christian access to a free appropriate education as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”); (iv) violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 et seq. (“ADA”), against the Official Capacity Defendants for failing to accommodate Christian's mental disability and denying him the benefits and services of the jail by reason of his mental disability; (v) a claim against the Official Capacity Defendants for a custom and policy of violating constitutional rights by housing seriously mentally ill juveniles in isolation without providing them needed mental healthcare; and (vi) state law negligence claims. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 3. The County Defendants filed a Rule 12(b) Motion to Dismiss and for Qualified Immunity seeking dismissal of all the federal claims against them (ECF No. 15). Plaintiff then moved to amend the complaint, which the County Defendants oppose.


         A court should freely give leave to amend a complaint when justice so requires. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Whether to allow amendment of the pleadings is within the discretion of the trial court. Minter v. Prime Equipment Co., 451 F.3d 1196, 1204 (10th Cir. 2006). Leave sought must be freely given in the absence of any justifiable reason for the denial of the motion, such as undue delay, bad faith, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments, undue prejudice, or futility of amendment. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). “A proposed amendment is futile if the complaint, as amended, would be subject to dismissal.” Bradley v. Val-Mejias, 379 F.3d 892, 901 (10th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jefferson County Sch. Dist. v. Moody's Investor's Services, 175 F.3d 848, 859 (10th Cir. 1999)). To survive dismissal, a complaint must set forth factual allegations that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). When reviewing a plaintiff's complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and construe them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009).

         Plaintiff moves to amend the complaint to correct the name of Defendant Sue Martin to Sandra Martin, remove the Rehabilitation Act claim, and make minor corrections to two other counts. Pl.'s Mot. to Am. 1, ECF No. 25. The County Defendants oppose the motion based on futility, arguing that Plaintiff cannot cure the failure to exhaust administrative remedies by dropping the claim seeking educational remedies or removing certain factual assertions from the complaint. The Court will consider the futility arguments when analyzing Defendant's motion to dismiss, using the facts as ...

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