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Colson v. City of Alcoa

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division

August 10, 2017

CITY OF ALCOA, TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Jennifer Russell's Motion to Dismiss [doc. 27], Defendant Jennifer Russell's Brief [doc. 28], Plaintiff Annissa Colson's Response in Opposition [doc. 44], and Defendant Jennifer Russell's Reply [doc. 45]. For the reasons herein, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny the motion in part.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Annissa Colson (“Ms. Colson”) alleges that one evening she was involved in a car accident and that Officer Dustin Cook (“Officer Cook”) and Officer Arik Wilson (“Officer Wilson”), both of the Alcoa Police Department, arrested her on charges that include driving under the influence and reckless endangerment. [Compl., doc. 1, ¶ 5]. Ms. Colson claims that, while at the scene of the accident, she consented to a blood alcohol test and that Officer Cook and Officer Wilson drove her to Blount Memorial Hospital for the test. [Id.]. She alleges, however, that she withdrew her consent once they arrived at the hospital, causing Officer Cook and Officer Wilson to instruct her to get back into their patrol vehicle. [Id.]. At that point, Ms. Colson, who claims to suffer from multiple anxiety disorders including “severe panic disorder, ” alleges that she experienced a “crippling panic attack, gasping for breath, in obvious distress” and asked Officer Cook and Officer Wilson to let her breathe. [Id. ¶¶ 1, 5]. “I need to breathe. Please let me breath, ” she allegedly said to them. [Id. ¶ 56]. According to Ms. Colson, who refers to herself as “diminutive, ” Officer Cook and Officer Wilson believed that she was resisting their commands and responded by forcing her back into their patrol vehicle. [Id. ¶ 6]. She claims that Officer Cook pulled her into the patrol vehicle from inside while Officer Wilson pushed her into it, and in the process, Officer Wilson thrust his knee into her knee and caused it to “pop.” [Id. ¶¶ 6-7].

         Once Ms. Colson was inside the patrol vehicle, she was allegedly “screaming in pain and crying for her mother.” [Id. ¶ 9]. Ms. Colson claims that Officer Cook then contacted his supervisor, Lieutenant Keith Fletcher (“Lieutenant Fletcher”), and requested guidance on how to proceed, including advice as to whether they should take Ms. Colson to have her knee examined by a medical professional. [Id.]. Lieutenant Fletcher allegedly told them to take Ms. Colson to Blount County Jail, where the staff nurse could check her knee and conduct a mandatory blood draw. [Id. ¶¶ 9, 64]. According to Ms. Colson, they transported her to Blount County Jail, and Defendant Jennifer Russell (“Nurse Russell”)- the jail's nurse-and others met her there. [Id. ¶¶ 10, 11, 65].[1] Ms. Colson claims that as they escorted her through the jail, she was screaming in pain because of her knee, fell to the floor, and had to be lifted to her feet. [Id. ¶ 66]. She alleges that she was brought to a room, surrounded by officers, and strapped into a “restraint char.” [Id. ¶¶ 10, 66-67]. At that point, Nurse Russell allegedly performed “an abbreviated” and “slipshod” exam of her knee, during which she instructed Ms. Colson to “do a series of exercises, ” compared her knees, saw no swelling, and found no “visible injury.” [Id. ¶¶ 68, 171]. She allegedly left the room and returned later but only to draw her blood. [Id. ¶¶ 11, 69]. Ms. Colson alleges that she remained fastened in the restraint chair for roughly another five hours, having received no medication to ease the pain in her knee or a brace. [Id. ¶¶ 68, 75, 171].

         Ms. Colson asserts that after she was released from Blount County Jail, she learned that she had suffered “a tibial plateau fracture, a torn ACL, [and] a torn LCL, ” which required surgery and months of post-operative therapy. [Id. ¶¶ 16, 78]. She also maintains that she endured “substantial mental anguish.” [Id. ¶ 16]. As a result, she has filed this lawsuit against the City of Alcoa, Tennessee; Blount County, Tennessee; and officers of these local governments in their official and individual capacities, bringing several claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988 and alleging violations of her constitutional rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. [Id. at 32-53]. Ms. Colson implicates Nurse Russell in several of these claims, alleging the unlawful and excessive use of force (Count Four), inadequate medical treatment (Count Nine), and failure to protect (Count Ten) in violation of § 1983. [Id. at 37-38, 48-53]. She also brings claims under Tennessee common-law against Nurse Russell, including one for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count Twelve) and one for negligence (Count Thirteen). [Id. at 54-56]. Nurse Russell now moves for dismissal of these claims.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), “[a] pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that create a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged conduct in the complaint. Id.

         When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court accepts the allegations in the complaint as true and construes them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Mixon v. Ohio, 193 F.3d 389, 400 (6th Cir. 1999). “[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions, ” however. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A plaintiff's allegations must consist of more than “labels, ” “conclusions, ” and “formulaic recitation[s] of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted); see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” (citation omitted)). “Although a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) invites an inquiry into the legal sufficiency of the complaint, not an analysis of potential defenses to the claims set forth therein, dismissal nevertheless is appropriate when the defendant is entitled to a meritorious affirmative defense such as qualified immunity.” Peatross v. City of Memphis, 818 F.3d 233, 240 (6th Cir. 2016).

         III. Analysis

         Section 1983 permits a claim for damages against “[e]very person who, under color of [state law], subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Because § 1983 has “a ‘color of law' requirement, ” a defendant “can be held liable only if state law, whether provided by statute or judicially implied, empowers him with some legal obligation to act.” Doe v. Claiborne County, 103 F.3d 495, 512 (6th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). A claim under § 1983 therefore consists of two elements: (1) the defendant deprived the plaintiff of a constitutional right or a federal statutory right and (2) the defendant deprived the plaintiff of one of these types of rights while acting under color of state law (i.e., state action). Id. at 511; Christy v. Randlett, 932 F.2d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 1991). “Absent either element, a section 1983 claim will not lie.” Christy, 103 F.3d at 511.

         A. Count Nine: Failure to Provide Adequate Medical Care

         In Count Nine, Ms. Colson asserts that Nurse Russell's alleged failure to provide her with adequate medical care resulted in an abridgment of her constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment. [See Pl.'s Resp. at 2]. The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, U.S. Const. amend. VIII, and under the Eighth Amendment, prisoners have a constitutional right to medical care, Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976). When a prison official is deliberately indifferent to a prisoner's serious medical needs, that official violates the prisoner's Eighth Amendment right to medical care. Id. at 104-05; see Grose v. Caruso, 284 F. App'x 279, 284 (6th Cir. 2008) (“[I]t is well-settled that lack of proper medical treatment can constitute an Eighth Amendment violation.” (citations omitted)). Also, “it is undisputed that . . . nurses are subject to suit under § 1983” if they are deliberately indifferent to a prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights while acting under color of state law. Harrison v. Ash, 539 F.3d 510, 521 (6th Cir. 2008).[2] In moving the Court to dismiss Count Nine, Nurse Russell relies on a twofold argument, contending that Ms. Colon's allegations do not equate to deliberate indifference and that she is entitled to qualified immunity. [Def.'s Br. at 9-21].

         1. Deliberate Indifference to a ...

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