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Brawner v. Scott County

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

May 21, 2019

TAMMY M. BRAWNER and GREGORY BRAWNER, Plaintiffs,
v.
SCOTT COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          J. RONNIE GREER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Scott County, Tennessee's, motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). For the reasons herein, and for the reasons that the Court has already explained on the record at trial, it will grant Scott County's motion.

         I. Background

         On May 7, 2019, the Court began a jury trial in this case, in which Plaintiff Tammy Brawner-a former pretrial detainee at the Scott County Jail-maintained that she suffered multiple seizures at the jail and that the jail's correctional officers, in response to her seizures, tased her and did not provide her with adequate medical care. More specifically, she brought three claims against Scott County: (1) a municipal liability claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the violation of her Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care; (2) a municipal liability claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the violation of her Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from excessive force; and (3) a negligence claim under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (“TGTLA”), § 29-20-101 et seq. In addition, her husband, Gregory Brawner, brought a claim under Tennessee law for loss of consortium.

         On the eve of trial, the parties, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii), stipulated to the dismissal of all the individual defendants-six correctional officers who had been in Scott County's employment. [Stipulation of Dismissal, Doc. 182, at 1]. During trial, the parties agreed to the dismissal of Mrs. Brawner's negligence claim and to the dismissal of her husband's claim for loss of consortium, leaving Mrs. Brawner's two municipal liability claims as the lone claims for the jury's deliberation.

         In making her case at trial, Mrs. Brawner contended that officers-unspecified officers- tased her in the leg while she was incarcerated in Scott County Jail and offered into evidence photos that show puncture marks in her leg. [Trial Exs. 16(a), 16(b)].[1] In addition, Mr. Brawner testified that Mrs. Brawner once told him that an officer or officers tased her in the leg, but his testimony was hearsay, and the Court instructed the jury not to consider it. Mr. Brawner also introduced into evidence Mrs. Brawner's medical records, which state: “[S]he was in the jail back in July for failure to appear in court, when she started having seizures. . . . [B]ut the cops thought she was faking and tazed [sic] her[.]” [Trial Ex. 9, at 2]. Next, as to her claim for inadequate medical care, Mrs. Brawner presented into evidence Scott County's “Policy and Procedure Manual for Jail Health and Services.” [Trial Ex. 12]. Under this policy, “each inmate is supposed to receive a full physical examination, including ‘an inquiry into medications and special health requirements, ” “within fourteen [14] days of booking[.]” [Final Pretrial Order, Doc. 155, at 7].

         At the close of Mrs. Brawner's evidence, Scott County moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(a). As to Mrs. Brawner's claim for excessive force, Scott County argued that she introduced no evidence that an officer tased her or that a pattern of similar tasings had occurred in Scott County Jail. As to Mrs. Brawner's claim for inadequate medical care, Scott County insisted that she did not present evidence of deliberate indifference and that her evidence- at best-sufficed to show negligence. In response to Scott County's motion for judgment as a matter of law, the Court engaged in a lengthy discussion with Mrs. Brawner's counsel, requesting clarification regarding the precise contours of Mrs. Brawner's § 1983 claims:

The Court: You're arguing in the first instance that there is this 14-day policy, and that policy in and of itself as applied to Tammy Brawner resulted in deliberate indifference to her medical needs, serious medical need.
Mrs. Brawner's Counsel: Correct.
The Court: That's one argument.
Mrs. Brawner's Counsel: That's one of them.
The Court: What is your failure to train argument?
Mrs. Brawner's Counsel: The failure to train is going back to this: had they properly trained [Captain Glynndara Tucker, who performed Mrs. Brawner's intake and did not alert the jail's nurse to Mrs. Brawner's medications] and all the staff on what the actual policy should have been, they wouldn't have had this problem, but they don't do that.

[Trial Tr. (on file with the Court)].

         Mrs. Brawner also appeared to argue that Scott County has a policy of not permitting pretrial detainees to receive controlled substances, even if a doctor has prescribed them, and that this policy caused her to receive inadequate medical care:

Mrs. Brawner's Counsel: Your Honor, let me make a few points if I may, okay, the 14-day holding pattern policy, one. Two, no controlled substances in the jail. [Dr.] Haggerty blasted that. That's a big problem. That's a big problem.

[Id.]. Along these lines, Dr. Haggerty did indeed express disapproval of this policy during his testimony:

Mrs. Brawner's Counsel: There's been some argument already in this case, and there's been a stipulation to the effect that the county, Scott County, just doesn't provide controlled substances in the jail. Do you have an opinion on that?
Dr. Haggerty: Yes, sir. I have a strong opinion on that, and I have to answer a question with a question: why wouldn't you? The patient has a medical problem. The patient's prescribed medications. They're controlled substances, so why would you not provide them?

[Id.]. Mrs. Brawner, however, acknowledged that she presented no evidence demonstrating that these policies or their implementation resulted in a pattern of similar constitutional misconduct in Scott County Jail:

The Court: One of the ways to establish an inadequate training claim is indeed to show a pattern of comparable constitutional violations. There's no evidence of that here, is there?
Mrs. Brawner's Counsel: No, Your Honor.

[Id.].

         After hearing and carefully considering the parties' arguments, the Court orally granted Scott County's motion as to both of Mrs. Brawner's § 1983 claims and stated its reasons on the record. The Court found that Mrs. Brawner failed to present legally sufficient evidence of any individual officer's use of a taser on Mrs. Brawner or evidence of surrounding circumstances that would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that an officer's use of force was objectively unreasonable. The Court also noted that Mrs. Brawner failed to introduce any evidence of a pattern of similar constitutional violations arising from the use of a taser on other pretrial detainees or inmates in Scott County Jail.

         Next, in addressing Mrs. Brawner's claim for inadequate medical care, the Court found no evidence showing that any individual officer was deliberately indifferent to Mrs. Brawner's medical needs. At most, Mrs. Brawner's evidence met the standard for a negligence claim but not the standard for deliberate indifference. The Court also stated that the record, for this claim, too, was without evidence of a pattern of prior constitutional violations-namely violations relating to any individual officer's failure to adequately tend to the serious medical needs of a pretrial detainee suffering seizures. After entering its verdict from the bench, the Court informed the parties that it would issue this written opinion.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 50(a) authorizes a court to grant a defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law during a jury trial if the plaintiff (1) “has been fully heard on an issue” and (2) “a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the [plaintiff] on that issue.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). If reasonable jurors, however, could draw different conclusions from the plaintiff's evidence, judgment as a matter of law is improper. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-51 (1986). Rule 50(a)'s legal standard “mirrors” the standard that governs summary judgment. Id. at 250. ...


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