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Stedam v. Cumberland County

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Cookeville Division

June 17, 2019

CHERYL ANNE STEDAM, individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Tracy Charles Ray Wright, Deceased Plaintiff,



         Pending before the Court is Defendants' Amended Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Doc. No. 17.) Stedam has responded in opposition, to which the Defendants have replied. (See Doc. Nos. 24, 25.) Stedam also has filed a Motion to Amend (Doc. No. 13), seeking to amend her complaint to name two additional defendants, Cumberland County Sheriff Casey Cox and Cumberland County Jail Administrator Tim Claflin, in their individual and official capacities. (Doc. No. 13.) The Defendants have filed a response in opposition, to which Stedam has replied. (Doc. Nos. 23, 26.) Also pending is Defendants' Motion for Permission to File Sur-Reply in relation to the Motion to Amend. (Doc. No. 27.) For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Amended Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings will be granted in part, Stedam's Motion to Amend will be granted, and Defendants' Motion for Permission to file Sur-reply will be denied as moot.

         I. Factual Background

         Stedam alleges that her son, Tracy Charles Ray Wright, was an inmate at the Cumberland County Jail in March 2018. (Doc. No. 1-2 at 2.) She states that Defendants were responsible for the care and management of the inmates confined in that facility, including Wright. (Id. at 2-3.) She further alleges that Defendants were on notice of Wright's “fragile medical condition” and, despite repeated requests for medical treatment, Defendants failed to provide essential medical care to Wright. (Id. at 3.) As alleged, this failure directly resulted in and caused the death of Wright on March 11, 2018. (Id.) Stedam believes that Defendants' conduct was so blatantly inappropriate that it constitutes intentional maltreatment and deliberate indifference to Wright's care. (Id.) Accordingly, Stedam brings a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for violation of Wright's constitutional rights. (Id.) Additionally, Stedam asserts that Defendants' conduct gives rise to a Tennessee state law negligence claim and violation of the Tennessee Constitution. (Id. at 3-4.) Stedam also seeks punitive damages. (Id. at 4-6.)

         In response, Defendants filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, which they then amended. (Doc. Nos. 7, 17.) In their Amended Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Defendants seek judgment as a matter of law on Stedam's state law negligence claim. (Doc. No. 17.) Defendants first argue that Stedam's state law negligence claim is, in actuality, a health care liability claim within the ambit of Tennessee's Health Care Liability Act (“THCLA”). (Doc. No. 18 at 3.) Defendants reason that Stedam's negligence claim qualifies as a health care liability claim under the THCLA because the claim is against “a County employing a health care provider (i.e., a nurse) and [is] based on the provision of, or failure to provide, health care services to [Wright].” (Id. at 7.)

         Defendants argue that, under the THCLA, there are two mandatory filing requirements to bring such a claim: (1) a certificate of good faith filing requirement; and (2) a pre-suit notice requirement. (Id. at 4.) Stedam failed to comply with these requirements, and, therefore, her Tennessee negligence claim should be dismissed. (Id. at 5.) Further, Stedam's Tennessee Constitution claims should be dismissed because Tennessee does not recognize a private cause of action for damages based upon alleged violations of the Tennessee Constitution. (Id. at 9-10.) Stedam's request for punitive damages must be dismissed because Cumberland County, and, by extension, Cumberland County's Sherriff's Department, are immune from punitive damages. (Id.) Alternatively, Defendants separately argue that Cumberland County Sheriff's Department is not a distinct legal entity subject to suit, and, therefore should be dismissed from the case. (Id. at 10.)

         Stedam opposes the motion. She contends that Defendants are not “health care providers” under the THCLA, which prevents her negligence claim from qualifying as a health care liability claim. (Id. at 5.) Stedam believes that it is the role of the Court to determine whether the state law claim qualifies as a health care liability claim or sounds in ordinary negligence. (Id.) She maintains that the claim sounds in ordinary negligence because “the decision to determine whether the decedent required medical attention did not require medical science, specialized training or skill but could be determined by a lay person or any jail personnel.” (Id. at 8.) Additionally, Stedam notes that she has filed a pending Motion to Amend for leave to amend her Complaint to add Casey Cox, Cumberland County Sheriff, and Tim Claslin, Captain of Cumberland County Jail, and can recover punitive damages from these defendants under § 1983 and the Government Tort Liability Act (“GTLA”). (Id. at 11.) Stedam argues that these amendments relate back to her original complaint because her failure to name Cox and Claflin was a mistake and Cox and Claflin received notice of this action and would not be prejudiced in defending against it. (Doc. No. 14.) The Defendants oppose Stedam's motion, arguing that claims against them are now untimely and Stedam has not shown the necessary mistake concerning the proper party's identity required for those claims to relate back to her original filing under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c). (Doc. No. 23.)

         II. Legal Standards

         The standard of review for a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is the same as for a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Ziegler v. IBP Hog Market, Inc., 249 F.3d 509, 51-52 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Mixon v. Ohio, 193 F.3d 389, 399-400 (6th Cir. 1999)). “For purposes of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, all well-pleaded material allegations of the pleadings of the opposing party must be taken as true, and the motion may be granted only if the moving party is nevertheless clearly entitled to judgment.” JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Winget, 510 F.3d 577, 581 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         The factual allegations in the complaint need to be sufficient to give notice to the defendant as to what claims are alleged, and the plaintiff must plead “sufficient factual matter” to render the legal claim plausible, i.e., more than merely possible. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). However, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation” need not be accepted as true on a motion to dismiss, nor are recitations of the elements of a cause of action sufficient. Hensley Mfg. v. ProPrise, Inc., 579 F.3d 603, 609 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) provides that district courts should “freely” grant a motion for leave to amend a pleading “when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The Supreme Court has explained that this “mandate” flows from the principle that a plaintiff “ought to be afforded an opportunity to test [her] claim on the merits” where “the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon . . . may be a proper subject of relief . . . .” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). Consequently, absent “any apparent or declared reason-such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of the amendment, etc.-the leave sought should, as the rules require, be ‘freely given.'” Leary v. Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 905 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Foman, 371 U.S. at 182). A proposed amendment is futile when it “would not permit the complaint to survive a motion to dismiss.” Miller v. Calhoun Cty., 408 F.3d 803, 817 (6th Cir. 2005). Although the Sixth Circuit “reviews denials of leave to amend only for abuse of discretion, ” its case law “manifests ‘liberality in allowing amendments to a complaint.'” Newberry v. Silverman, 789 F.3d 636, 645 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Janikowski v. Bendix Corp., 823 F.2d 945, 951 (6th Cir. 1987)).

         III. Tennessee Health Care Liability Act

         The THCLA governs “health care liability” claims and imposes certain notice and filing requirements on plaintiffs. Specifically, § 29-16-121 of the THCLA requires that a plaintiff asserting a claim that falls within the purview of the Act must “give written notice of the potential claim to each health care provider that will be named as a defendant” at least sixty days prior to the filing of the complaint. Additionally, § 29-26-122 of the THCLA requires that, “[i]n any health care liability action in which expert testimony is required, ” the plaintiff must file a certificate of good faith stating that he has consulted with an expert who believes there is “a good faith basis to maintain the action.” Stedam argues that her negligence claim is not subject to the THCLA because it is not a “health care liability” claim within the meaning of the Act.

         In determining whether a claim is subject to the THCLA, courts consider the plain language of the Act's definition of a “health care liability action, ” which is “conclusive.” Osunde v. DeltaMed. Ctr., No. W2015-01005, 2016 WL 537075, *7 (Tenn. Ct. App. ...

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