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Thomas v. Fayette County

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

June 9, 2017

CAROLINE THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
FAYETTE COUNTY, Defendants.

          ORDER ADOPTING THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION FOR PARTIAL DISMISSAL

          JOHN T. FOWLKES, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Defendants Fayette County, Tennessee and Sheriff Bobby Riles' Partial Motion to Dismiss that was filed on March 14, 2017. (ECF No. 26). All pretrial matters have been referred to the United States Magistrate Judge for report and recommendation or determination pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e)(2)(B) and W. D. Tenn. LR 4.1(b)(2). (Admin. Order 2013-05). On May 12, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a report and recommendation on the Defendant's Partial Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 32). On May 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed timely objections to the report and recommendation to which the Defendants filed an opposing response on May 30, 2017. (ECF Nos. 34 & 40).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A United States District Judge may refer certain dispositive pretrial motions to a United States Magistrate Judge for submission of proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C); Brown v. Wesley Quaker Maid, Inc., 771 F.2d 952, 957 (6th Cir. 1985). While most actions by a Magistrate Judge are reviewed for clear error, dispositive recommendations to the District Court Judge are reviewed de novo. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 141-42 (1985).

         A District Court Judge shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. Although, the District Judge may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge, the judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. Also, de novo review is not required when the objections to the report and recommendation are frivolous, conclusive or general. See 28 U.S.C. §636 (b)(1)(B) and (C); Fed. Rule Civ. P. 72(b); Baker v. Peterson, 67 Fed. App'x 308, 311 (6th Cir. 2003); Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th Cir. 1986).

         III. FACTUAL HISTORY

         The Magistrate Judge has issued two reports and recommendations in this case thus far. The initial report and recommendation included an extensive summary of the factual history of this case. (ECF No. 12). The last report and recommendation provides a succinct description of the remaining claims in this matter along with an updated procedural history. (ECF No. 32, p. 2). Plaintiff has submitted objections that do not challenge any of the proposed findings of fact within the report and recommendation. Therefore, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's proposed findings of fact.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Defendants assert that the official capacity claims against Sheriff Riles should be dismissed as redundant, due to claims against Fayette County. Matthews v. Jones, 35 F.3d 1046, 1049 (6th Cir. 1994). The Defendants also argue that the individual capacity claim against Sheriff Riles for failure to provide medical treatment as required under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 should be dismissed. The Defendants assert that Plaintiff failed to plead with particularity acts that show deliberate indifference rising to criminal recklessness. (ECF No. 26-1, pp. 3-7). Brooks v. Celeste, 39 F.3d 125 (6th Cir. 1994).

         While noting that pro se complaints are construed more liberally than pleadings drafted by lawyers, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the Court grant the Defendant's Partial Motion to Dismiss all claims against Sheriff Riles in both his individual and official capacities. The Magistrate Judge concluded that Plaintiff's § 1983 claim against Sheriff Riles in his official capacity should be dismissed because a § 1983 claim against a government official is tantamount to an action against a governmental entity or in this case, Fayette County.[1] (ECF No. 32, pp. 6-7). See Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690, n. 54 (1978) (Normally, a suit under § 1983 should be brought against either the local public official in his individual capacity and the local government which employs him); Leach v. Shelby County Sheriff, 891 F.2d 1241, 1244-45 (6th Cir. 1989); and Foster v. Michigan, 573 F.Appx. 377, 390 (6th Cir. 2014). Plaintiff's objections only generally refer to her claim against Sheriff Riles in his official capacity by describing the County's motion to dismiss this claim as “twisted statements.” Plaintiff has failed to provide any legal support or specific objections to the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation on this issue. Therefore, the Court overrules Plaintiff's objection and adopts the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to dismiss claims against Sheriff Riles in his official capacity.

         With reference to Plaintiff's individual capacity claim against Sheriff Riles for deliberate indifference to her serious medical needs, the Magistrate Judge clarified that in order to sustain this claim, a plaintiff must establish that the prison official intentionally denied or delayed access to medical care for a serious need under both an objective and subjective component. Blackmore v. Kalamazoo County, 390 F.3d 890, 895 (6th Cir. 2004)(quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)). The Magistrate Judge determined that Plaintiff has satisfied the objective component. (ECF No. 32, pp. 7-8). In the complaint, Plaintiff sufficiently alleges serious medical conditions of atrial fibrillation, thyroid cancer, high blood pressure, and eye surgery on the day prior to her detention at the Fayette County jail. She also alleged that during her incarceration, she was denied the daily prescribed medications for these conditions. (ECF No. 1, pp. 13-14, 16-17). Accordingly, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's finding that Plaintiff has satisfied the objective component of a deliberate indifference to serious medical needs claim.

         However, in order to establish a viable claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, a plaintiff must also satisfy the subjective component of this claim. This requirement is met when the prison official: 1) knows and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health and safety; and 2) is aware of facts from which an inference may be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837.

         Despite Thomas' assertions in her response to the partial motion to dismiss, the Magistrate Judge determined that she had failed to allege in her complaint that Sheriff Riles knew any facts pertaining to her medical condition, participated in detaining and imprisoning her or personally took an active role in denying her medical treatment. The Magistrate Judge also concluded there were no facts showing that Sheriff Riles was even present at the Fayette County jail while Thomas was incarcerated. (ECF No. 32, p. 9). The Magistrate Judge noted that only one paragraph in Count VII of the complaint referred to Sheriff Riles other than the general allegations regarding his role as policy maker for the County. The Magistrate Judge concluded that Plaintiff's factual assertions that Sheriff Riles should have known his employees' misconduct are insufficient to support a claim of subjective indifference to the Plaintiff's serious medical needs. Combs v. Wilkinson, 315 F.3d 548, 558 (6th Cir. 2002) (ECF No. 1, p. 19 & ECF No. 32, pp. 9-10).

         Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's findings that she failed to allege that Sheriff Riles: 1) was present at the jail at any time during her incarceration; 2) participated in the alleged events at the jail; 3) engaged in any affirmative acts related to Plaintiff's alleged lack of medical treatment; or 4) had any knowledge of or any role in providing or denying treatment to Plaintiff. (ECF No. 34, pp. 3-4). The Defendants respond that Plaintiff merely ...


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