McBride v. Houston County Health Care Authority et al
OPINION AND ORDER that defendants Greg Benton and City of Dothan's motion to dismiss, etc. 17 is granted in part and denied in part as further set out in order; that defendants Dinesh Karumanchi's and Houston County Health Care Authorit y's motions to dismiss, etc. 10 & 26 are denied and plaintiff McBride's medical-malpractice claims against them are not dismissed and will proceed in this case. Signed by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson on 6/7/2013. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(jg, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, SOUTHERN DIVISION
HOUSTON COUNTY HEALTH CARE )
AUTHORITY d/b/a Southeast )
Alabama Medical Center,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Courtney McBride charges that, while she
was in pre-trial custody in a city jail, the following
defendants subjected her to violations of both federal
and state law: Dothan Police Chief Greg Benton; the City
Houston County Health Care Authority.
She claims Police
Chief Benton and the City of Dothan deliberately denied
Fourteenth Amendment (as enforced by 42 U.S.C. § 1983)
and state law.
Additionally, she claims that, to the
extent that she was provided limited treatment by Dr.
Karumanchi and the Houston County Health Care Authority
(which operates the Southeast Alabama Medical Center), it
permanent injuries that are compensable under the Alabama
Medical Liability Act (1975 Ala. Code §§ 6-5-480 to –488
and 6-5-540 to -552).
Subject-matter jurisdiction is
proper under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal question), 1332
The case is now before this court on the
defendants’ motions to dismiss.
For the reasons that
follow, the motions will be granted in part and denied in
I. MOTION-TO-DISMISS STANDARD
In considering a defendant’s motion to dismiss, the
court accepts the plaintiff’s allegations as true, Hishon
v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984), and construes
the complaint in the plaintiff’s favor, Duke v. Cleland,
5 F.3d 1399, 1402 (11th Cir. 1993).
“The issue is not
whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether
the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the
Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974).
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint need not
contain “detailed factual allegations,” Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007), “only enough facts
to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
Id. at 574.
McBride’s allegations are as follows:
While in pre-
referred to the Southeast Alabama Medical Center for a
There, under the care of Dr.
disorder, psychotic disorder, and bipolar disorder.
Karumanchi prescribed numerous medications, one of which
was Lamictal, a seizure medication.
The doctor did not
warn McBride that it had been documented that Lamictal
causes sometimes Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a severe skin
condition that, if not treated, results in serious and
Although Dr. Karumanchi did not warn McBride about
the risk of the syndrome, he did warn her that it was
important that the medication be administered properly.
Fearful that jail officials would be unable or unwilling
to administer the medicine properly, McBride and her
mother pleaded with the doctor not to discharge her.
Nevertheless, after a two-week hospitalization, she was
continue taking her prescribed medications, including
Dr. Karumanchi instructed the officer who was
escorting McBride that, if her condition worsened, she
should be brought to the hospital’s emergency room.
officials, including Police Chief Benton.
McBride’s physical health worsened.
She complained to
officers of a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, and
Her face became swollen.
Over the following
days, McBride’s condition continued to decline steadily.
By the time six days had passed, she was in extreme pain,
which she described as “9,” on a scale of “1 to 10.”
These were all symptoms of the early
stages of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.
Throughout that week of declining health, McBride
made repeated requests to numerous jail officials for
medical attention, but she was ignored.
were relayed to Chief Benton, but he also did nothing.
extent of Benton’s knowledge over the course of these
days, but it does allege clearly that at least some of
her complaints were relayed to him.)
The seriousness of
the situation was apparent to other jail detainees who
witnessed McBride’s declining health.
They pleaded with
officers to obtain medical attention for McBride, but no
They gave her medicine at improper
times and, on several occasions, failed to provide her
attention began, she was finally permitted to see a
doctor at the Southeast Alabama Medical Center emergency
The doctor did not realize that she was in the
diagnosing her with only pharyngitis-tonsilitis (a virus
that causes inflammation of the throat and tonsils),
canker sore (a painful mouth sore), and rash.
returned to the jail that same day.
Either that same day or the next (the complaint is
unclear), McBride was released from the jail’s custody.
She returned again to the emergency room (of her own
volition this time) and voiced similar complaints as she
had on the prior visit.
Despite exhibiting classic
symptoms of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, the hospital staff
again failed to diagnose the condition.
to McBride focused on whether she had engaged in rough
They concluded that McBride had, in addition to the
conditions diagnosed previously, blisters and candidiasis
(a fungal infection) and nothing more.
The next day, McBride made her fourth visit to the
By that time, a rash covered essentially
her entire body; her skin was falling off; and she was in
extreme and excruciating pain.
For the first time,
hospital staff recognized her as suffering from StevensJohnson Syndrome as a result of the Lamictal, and her use
of the medication was discontinued.
She was transferred
to the hospital’s intensive-care unit and some time later
to the burn unit.
untreated for so long, McBride has severe scarring over
the majority of her body.
She has lost all of her hair
and her nails now grow abnormally.
Her vision has been
weakened, and she no longer menstruates.
constant, extreme pain.
She is under
She contends that, if she had
received earlier and better care, this all could have
A. Deliberate-Indifference Claim Against
Police Chief Benton
McBride contends that Police Chief Benton violated
her constitutional rights when he, aware of her dire need
for medical care, denied her access to a doctor for
approximately one week.
Benton responds that, on the
plausible claim against him and, alternatively, to the
1. Sufficiency of the pleading
The deliberate indifference of jail officials to the
serious medical needs of pre-trial detainees violates the
Lancaster v. Monroe Cnty., 116
F.3d 1419, 1425 (11th Cir. 1997).
A jailer acts with
“deliberate indifference” when he knows that a detainee
is in serious need of medical care, but he fails or
refuses to obtain medical treatment.
A detainee’s need for medical care
is “serious” when, if the need is unmet, it poses a
substantial risk of serious harm.
Taylor v. Adams, 221
F.3d 1254, 1258 (11th Cir. 2000) (citing Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976), and Farmer v. Brennan,
511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)).
A need is also “serious” when
it is “so obvious that even a lay person would easily
Farrow v. West, 320 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003)
(quotation marks and citation omitted).
nevertheless be unconstitutional if the treatment was
McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1255 (11th Cir.
1999); see also id. at 1257 (“A core principle of Eighth
Amendment jurisprudence in the area of medical care is
that prison officials with knowledge of the need for care
may not, by ... delaying care, ... cause a prisoner to
needlessly suffer the pain resulting from his or her
There can be little doubt that McBride’s allegations
make out a claim of deliberate indifference.
to her complaint, Chief Benton was made aware that Dr.
Karumanchi had instructed that, if McBride’s condition
worsened in the jail, she should be brought back to the
emergency room and that, regardless, Benton ignored her
pleas for medical attention when her face became swollen,
a fever developed, and she began to have difficulty
Over the following days, according to McBride’s
complaint, her condition worsened further to the point
professionals), aware of the obvious need for medical
attention, pleaded with jail officials to obtain medical
care, and Benton still did nothing.
In response, Chief Benton raises several contentions
about the adequacy of McBride’s complaint.
argues that the complaint’s allegation that he was made
aware of her requests for medical attention is “cryptic,”
“conclusory,” and “implausible” and should therefore be
discounted by this court.
Def.’s Br. (Doc. No. 18) at
conclusory, or implausible about a supervisory official
at a jail being informed of a detainee’s requests for
Second, Chief Benton argues that McBride’s complaint
commits a “sleight of hand” by portraying, deceptively,
returning McBride to the emergency room if her conditions
According to Benton, the “conditions” the
physical) conditions; therefore, once McBride’s physical
conditions deteriorated, the jailers had no reason to
think medical care was needed.
Id. at 12-13.
statement, instead alleging that Dr. Karumanchi asked for
McBride’s return if her “general health” worsened “in
medicine known to create the risk of Stevens-Johnson
Pl.’s Br. (Doc. No. 23) at 4.
She offers to
ambiguity, but no amendment is necessary.
If there was
doctor’s instructions to return McBride to the emergency
room if her general health worsened and that Benton
deliberately ignored those instructions.
Third, Chief Benton contends that, even if he did
ignore for almost a week McBride’s writhing in pain and
responsible for that delay, because, even if he would
have permitted the ailing detainee to go to the emergency
room at an earlier time, it is likely that the doctors
there would have failed to diagnose properly and treat
her Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.
Def.’s Br. (Doc. No. 18)
He argues, given that the hospital’s doctors
eventually did misdiagnose the condition, there is no
reason to think they would have done better if afforded
an earlier opportunity.
The argument is meritless.
1. The police chief’s brief makes this argument as
“The complaint does not contain any
factual allegations which plausibly
demonstrate that taking the plaintiff to
the hospital any earlier would have
changed her outcome.... [T]he complaint
alleges that doctors at Southeast
Alabama Medical Center did not diagnose
condition on two separate hospital
visits that occurred after she contends
The police chief’s obligation to provide medical care to
detainees in his custody is not absolved by an assumption
that local doctors will provide negligent and inadequate
Chief Benton should have taken her to
the hospital. The period in question is
between the plaintiff’s discharge from
the hospital on July 4, 2012 and the
plaintiff’s return to the hospital on
July 10, 2012. The complaint does not
plausibly demonstrate that taking the
plaintiff back to the hospital on July
5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 would have yielded a
different result than occurred when the
plaintiff visited the hospital on July
10 and 11.
On each occasion, the
plaintiff was evaluated by a different
Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. The complaint
does not plausibly demonstrate how
taking the plaintiff to the hospital
before July 10--during a period when her
symptoms were admittedly less severe-would have resulted in an earlier
diagnosis and treatment. Based on the
foregoing, Chief Benton moves to dismiss
[the charge] for failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted.”
(Doc. No. 18) at 14-15 (emphasis in original).
care (even if ex-post circumstances to some extent lend
credence to the assumption).
Chief Benton’s assumption that no good would have
likely come from sending her to the hospital earlier is
returned to the hospital the same day she began taking
Lamictal and suffering side effects, the doctors there
would have been more--not less--likely to identify the
real cause of her ailments.
As such, her complaint
charges that Chief Benton, in addition to the doctors, at
least in part, caused her injury.
It must be remembered
that a motion to dismiss is before the court, not a
motion for summary judgment; here, if McBride’s complaint
alleges a plausible claim, the court must allow it to
There is no serious question that the complaint
plausibly alleges that Benton contributed to her injury,
and whether that allegation has plausible merit should be
evidence is developed, not on a dismissal motion. The
police chief is on notice of the charges against him, and
he may now defend against them on the basis of actual
evidence, not naked speculation.2
2. Qualified immunity
Next, Chief Benton argues that, even if McBride does
allege a viable claim against him, he is immune under the
2. Additionally, McBride’s claim raises the issue of
whether Benton should be held liable for denying McBride
access to medical care regardless of whether his delay
caused her Stevens-Johnson Syndrome to progress to the
point alleged. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has
explained: “Where the seriousness of a prisoner’s needs
for medical care is obvious even to a lay person, the
constitutional violation may arise. This violation is
not premised upon the ‘detrimental effect’ of the delay,
but rather that the delay alone in providing medical care
creates a substantial risk of serious harm. When prison
officials are aware of a prisoner’s obvious and serious
need for medical treatment and delay medical treatment of
that condition for non-medical reasons, their conduct in
causing the delay creates the constitutional infirmity.
In such cases, the effect of the delay goes to the extent
of the injury, not the existence of a serious medical
condition.” Blackmore v. Kalamazoo Cnty., 390 F.3d 890,
899 (6th Cir. 2004); see also Smith v. Carpenter, 316
F.3d 178, 188 (2d Cir. 2003) (holding that “an Eighth
Amendment claim may be based on a defendant's conduct in
exposing an inmate to an unreasonable risk of future harm
and that actual physical injury is not necessary in order
to demonstrate an Eighth Amendment violation”).
“protects government officials ‘from liability for civil
damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which
a reasonable person would have known.’”
Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v.
immunity, which was once called “good-faith immunity,”
see, e.g., Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 639-40 (1980)
(“[A] public official[‘s] position might entitle him to
immunity if he acted in good faith.”); Harlow, 457 U.S.
at 807 (referring to “qualified or good-faith immunity”),
essentially seeks to protect government officials from
monetary liability for unexpected changes in the law.
violated legal rights that were not “clearly established”
in the law at the time of his challenged conduct, this
court will not make him pay for the lack of foresight.
See Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2085 (2011)
(“Qualified immunity gives government officials breathing
room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open
established” in the law, the question before the court is
whether “the state of the law ... gave [the defendant]
plaintiff] was unconstitutional.”
U.S. 730, 740 (2002).
Hope v. Pelzer, 536
Put another way, “‘[c]learly
established’ for purposes of qualified immunity means
that the contours of the right must be sufficiently clear
that a reasonable official would understand that what he
is doing violates that right.
This is not to say that an
official action is protected by qualified immunity unless
the very action in question has previously been held
unlawful, but it is to say that in the light of preexisting law the unlawfulness must be apparent.”
v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 614-15 (1999) (punctuation marks
and citations omitted); see also Hope, 536 U.S. at 741
(“[O]fficials can still be on notice that their conduct
In 1976, the Supreme Court held that “deliberate
indifference to [the] serious medical needs of prisoners”
violates the Constitution.
97, 104 (1976).
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S.
Since then, there have been decades of
government’s obligation to provide for the medical care
of those in its prisons and jails.
By 2012 (the year of
Benton’s alleged conduct), the constitutional rule had
long been “well settled.”
Harris v. Coweta Cnty., 21
Chief Benton disputes this legal standard,
arguing that he is entitled to immunity unless McBride
identifies for the court a case with “indistinguishable
facts.” Def.’s Reply Br. (Doc. No. 28) at 6. That is
not the correct standard.
See Hope, 536 U.S. at 739
(reversing Eleventh Circuit decision that required case
law with “materially similar” facts); McElligott, 182
F.3d at 1260 (“[O]ne simply cannot say that a prisoner
has a clearly established right to adequate psychiatric
care but that that right is not violated by a particular
treatment amounting to grossly inadequate care unless
some prior court has expressly so held on ‘materially
Such an approach would add an
unwarranted degree of rigidity to the law of qualified
immunity.”) (quotation marks and citation omitted).
(collecting cases on the evolution of prisoner-medicalneeds jurisprudence).
The court sees nothing about the
allegations in this case that distinguishes it from the
principle” that jailers, “with knowledge of the need for
care may not, by ... delaying care, ... cause a prisoner
to needlessly suffer the pain resulting from his or her
McElligott, 182 F.3d at 1257.
Chief Benton is alleged to have, in knowing contravention
getting worse by the day.
If the allegation is true, it
is an obvious constitutional violation.
Cf. Hope, 536
U.S. at 738.4
Chief Benton, quoting language from a prior
Eleventh Circuit opinion, argues that:
involving a delay in medical treatment” are “highly factspecific and involve an array of circumstances pertinent
to just what kind of notice is imputed to a government
official and to the constitutional adequacy of what was
done to help and when. Most cases in which deliberate
Chief Benton, giving the complaint an unjustifiably
cramped reading, understands it to allege that, until the
day in which he permitted McBride to return to the
hospital (about a week after she initially requested it),
she had exhibited nothing more than minor “cold-like
symptoms, which are not a serious medical condition”
triggering a governmental obligation to respond.
Reply Br. (Doc. No. 28) at 16.
He argues, given those
symptoms, existing case law did not put him on notice of
a constitutional obligation to respond.
As an initial
matter, the court is troubled by the police chief’s
characterization of McBride’s symptoms as merely “coldlike.”
The court does not read the complaint the same
indifference is asserted are far from obvious violations
of the Constitution.” Bozeman v. Orum, 422 F.3d 1265,
1274 (11th Cir. 2005).
Regardless of the accuracy of
that broad description, in dicta, of “most cases,” the
allegations against Benton in this case do, in fact,
amount to an obvious violation. See id. at 1274 (denying
qualified immunity because prison officials “knew [the
prisoner] was unconscious and not breathing and--for
fourteen minutes--did nothing”).
way.5 Additionally, Benton’s contention invokes a “highly
The complaint describes McBride’s conditions
leading up to her eventual readmission to the hospital as
“Almost immediately [after returning to
the jail from her initial stay in the
hospital] her condition worsened. She
began to complain to jailers of a sore
throat, difficulty swallowing and fever.
Her face was swollen.... Over the next
several days, Ms. McBride’s condition
continued to decline....
and other detainees who observed her
steadily declining condition pleaded
attention for Ms. McBride.... Finally,
on July 10, 2012, Ms. McBride was
transported to SAMC Emergency Room. At
that time she complained of sore throat,
difficulty swallowing, trouble eating,
earache, congestion, swollen face, fever
and chills. She was dehydrated. She
disoriented state. She was in extreme
pain, rating her pain as a nine out of
Compl. (Doc. No. 1) ¶¶ 14-17. Benton’s reading of the
complaint as alleging nothing more than “cold-like
symptoms” up until July 10, when “more serious symptoms
[first] emerged” (and Benton was immediately thereafter
taken to the hospital), Def.’s Reply Br. (Doc. No. 28) at
4, does not square with the complaint’s plain description
of her gradually declining condition. See Fed. R. Civ.
P. 8(e) (“Pleadings must be construed so as to do
circumstances pertinent to just what kind of notice is
imputed to [him] and to the constitutional adequacy of
what was done to help and when.”
Bozeman v. Orum, 422
inappropriate for resolution at the motion-to-dismiss
See Bannum, Inc. v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 901
F.2d 989, 999 (11th Cir. 1990) (district court, before
discovery, “terminated [the case] at a premature stage”
on the basis of immunity); cf. Todd v. Exxon Corp., 275
F.3d 191, 199 (2d Cir. 2001) (“[C]ourts hestitate to
grant motions to dismiss for failure to plead [issues
requiring] deeply fact-intensive inquir[ies].”). As this
constitutional violation, the court will not dismiss the
case based on speculation about what the evidence may
3. Individual versus official capacity suits
Finally, there is the issue that Police Chief Benton,
in addition to being sued in his “individual capacity,”
has also been sued in his “official capacity” as a city
agent, while McBride has also named the city itself as a
A lawsuit against a municipal officer in his
official capacity is functionally equivalent to suing the
defendants is redundant and unnecessary.
See Busby v.
City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 776 (11th Cir. 1991)
(affirming district court’s dismissal of § 1983 claims
against official-capacity defendants, stating, “To keep
both the City and the officers sued in their official
capacity as defendants in this case would have been
Therefore, the court will dismiss the lawsuit against
Benton in his official capacity (but not his individual
capacity) to eliminate the redundancy.
Benton will proceed.
In all other
B. Deliberate-Indifference Claim Against Police Chief
Benton Based on Supervisor Liability and DeliberateIndifference Claim Against the City of Dothan Based on
In addition to claiming that Chief Benton personally
caused her suffering by delaying medical care, McBride
further charges that Chief Benton, in his supervisory
capacity, and the city itself established an austere
policy and custom regarding the provision of medical care
at the jail such that, when she needed medical attention,
all staff at the jail, in addition to Benton himself,
refused affording it to her.
1. Police Chief Benton
supervisory conduct in four ways.
McBride may show (1)
unconstitutional conduct” of others at the jail.
v. Lawrence Cnty., 592 F.3d 1227, 1236 (11th Cir. 2010).
Or she may show that “there [was] a casual connection
between the [unconstitutional] conduct and [Benton’s]
actions, and [t]here are three ways to establish such a
causal connection:” (2) “when a history of widespread
abuse puts the responsible supervisor on notice of the
need to correct the alleged deprivation, and he fails to
do so”; (3) “when a supervisor’s custom or policy results
in deliberate indifference to constitutional rights”; or
(4) “when facts support an inference that the supervisor
directed the subordinates to act unlawfully or knew that
the subordinates would act unlawfully and failed to stop
Because Chief Benton is alleged to have personally
McBride’s constitutional rights--that is, that he, like
the staff under him, personally knew of her dire need for
medical care and he nevertheless refused to provide it-that is enough to make out adequately a deliberateindifference claim based on supervisor liability.
entitled to qualified immunity against that claim.6
id. at 1237 (“In our view, our prior pronouncements on
the illegality of delayed or inadequate treatment for
supervisor[s] on notice ... that delayed or inadequate
treatment of alcohol withdrawal would be unlawful.
cases should also have put supervisors on notice that
policies or customs of delayed investigation into and
Because Chief Benton is alleged to have
personally participated in the unconstitutional conduct,
the court’s analysis may stop there and need not address
the issue of Benton’s possible liability if a policy or
custom he established resulted in other jail staff
causing a constitutional violation with which the police
chief did not personally participate.
If the facts
ultimately show as much, the qualified-immunity inquiry
becomes more complicated because the question may become,
for example, whether Benton had sufficient notice of his
subordinate’s wrongdoing to require him to modify
existing policies or implement new policies altogether.
Such questions, which are unnecessary to address now
stage, will be evaluated on the basis of the evidence
presented. Cf. Camilo-Robles v. Zapata, 175 F.3d 41, 46
(1st Cir. 1999) (“[T]he extent of a superior’s knowledge
of his subordinate’s proclivities is a central datum in
determining whether the former ought to be liable (or
immune from suit) for the latter's unconstitutional
acts.... [H]owever, the question of notice is hopelessly
factbound.”) (citation omitted).
treatment of alcohol withdrawal would be unlawful as
2. City of Dothan
Similarly, to hold the city liable, McBride must show
that the city itself, acting through an agent with final
indifference to the medical needs of jail detainees or a
custom of permitting such indifference, and that the
violation to McBride’s rights.
See, e.g., McDowell v.
Brown, 392 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004) (discussing
Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and
If liability rests on a custom (rather
than an official policy) it is generally necessary to
show a practice that is so “persistent and wide-spread”
that it “takes on the force of law.”
(quotation marks and citations omitted).
Id. at 1290
McBride alleges that, regardless of whether Chief
Benton himself knew of her individual need for care, she
was denied care because of a broader policy or custom of
McBride were regularly denied needed access to doctors.
She claims that the defendants inadequately trained jail
staff to address medical needs and inadequately funded
and staffed the jail.
The city argues that McBride’s
allegations are too vague and scarce on detail to amount
to a plausible claim, and should thus be dismissed.
Given that McBride has alleged, in
detail, a pattern of numerous jail officials, including
Benton himself, ignoring her obvious need for medical
attention for an extended period, it is not implausible
that the multiple jailers were acting pursuant to a
common policy or custom, whatever the precise contours
that policy or custom may have.
See Powe v. City of
Chicago, 664 F.2d 639, 650 (7th Cir. 1981) (“[W]here the
plaintiff alleges a pattern or a series of incidents of
unconstitutional conduct, then the courts have found an
allegation of policy sufficient to withstand a dismissal
McBride’s allegations of a policy or custom are
sufficiently descriptive for the city to defend against.
Moreover, she could not reasonably be expected to assert
more, given that discovery has not yet occurred.
Smith v. Brevard Cnty., 461 F. Supp. 2d 1243, 1250 (M.D.
opportunity during discovery to learn the specifics of
the practices and customs that go on inside BCDC, however
these specifics need not be alleged in the Complaint.
require such specificity would mean that Plaintiffs would
be required to know the inter-workings of correctional
facilities before they could bring a complaint.
correctional facilities are generally closed off from the
public eye, this would be a difficult task at best.”).
In short, McBride has alleged enough to make out
adequately a claim against the city.
C. State-Law Claims Against Police Chief Benton
and the City of Dothan
McBride asserts state-law claims of negligence and
wantonness against Chief Benton and the city.
defendants, in response, contend that they are immune
under state law.
McBride concedes that the negligence
and wantonness claims against Benton should be dismissed,
and therefore, the court will dismiss them pursuant to
the parties’ agreement.
However, McBride contests the
city’s purported immunity.
The wantonness claim against the city can easily be
dismissed, as, under Alabama law, “a city cannot be
liable for wanton conduct.”
Hollis v. City of Brighton,
immunity does not shield the negligent conduct of a jail
See Walker v. City of Huntsville, 62 So. 3d
474, 501 (Ala. 2010) (“We now hold that a municipal
jailer who lacks the authority of a police officer cannot
claim immunity under concepts applicable to the immunity
of a State agent.”).
Moreover, the parties agree that
the city may be held vicariously liable for the negligent
conduct of its employees, acting in the scope of their
employment, who are not themselves immune, including
See City of Lanett v. Tomlinson, 659 So. 2d 68,
70 (Ala. 1995) (under 1975 Ala. Code § 11-47-190, a
“municipality may be liable ... under the doctrine of
respondeat superior for injuries that result from the
wrongful conduct of its agents or officers in the line of
Therefore, it seems obvious that McBride has
alleged a viable claim for negligence against the city.
The city’s argument to the contrary relies on a
strained reading of McBride’s complaint.
complaint’s language strictly, the city argues that it
pleads only that the city itself “breached a duty to the
plaintiff,” rather than pleading that jailers for whom
the city is vicariously liable breached a duty.
Reply Br. (Doc. No. 28) at 18.
The court sees little
ambiguity, and, thus, the court declines to do so.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d) and (e); see also 5 Wright & Miller,
Federal Practice and Procedure § 1286 (3d ed. 2004) (“One
of the most important objectives of the federal rules is
that lawsuits should be determined on their merits and
according to the dictates of justice, rather than in
terms of whether or not the averments in the paper
pleadings have been artfully or inartfully drawn.”).
In sum, McBride’s state-law claims against Chief
Benton and the wantonness claim against the city will be
The negligence claim against the city will go
forward, as the city may be held vicariously liable for
the negligent conduct of its jailers.
D. Punitive-Damages Claims Against
the City of Dothan
charges that the city should be made to pay punitive
However, the city is immune from McBride’s
claims for punitive damages under both federal and state
See City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453
Prichard, 709 So. 2d 1199, 1205 (Ala. 1998) (state).
Therefore, McBride’s claims against the city will be
dismissed insofar as they seek punitive damages, but not
insofar as they seek other relief.
E. Medical-Malpractice Claims Against Dr. Karumanchi
and the County Health Care Authority
With a terse, single-sentence request, Dr. Karumanchi
asks this court to dismiss McBride’s medical-malpractice
claim against him because it fails to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted.
In the absence of legal
argument of any sort, this court declines the invitation
to speculate on the grounds, if any, that Dr. Karumanchi
has in mind.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 7(b)(1)(B) (“A request
for a court order must be made by motion [which] state[s]
with particularity the grounds for seeking the order.”)
In the alternative, the doctor asks
that the court sever the claims against him for separate
Again, he offers no explanation as to why
(providing grounds for separate trials), and this court
will not guess.
With equally sparse briefing, both Dr. Karumanchi and
the Houston County Health Care Authority contend that the
state-law claims against them predominate substantially
over the federal-law claims, and, therefore, this court
should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over
See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(2) (“The court may decline
to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a [state-law]
claim if ... the claim substantially predominates over
the ... claims over which the district court has original
The court disagrees that the state-law
claims predominate here.
Moreover, even if that were the
case, they would still fall properly within the court’s
diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
Dr. Karumanchi’s and the Houston County Health Care
Authority’s dismissal motions will be denied.
Benton and City of Dothan’s motion to dismiss, etc. (Doc.
No. 17) is granted in part and denied in part as follows:
(1) Defendant Benton is dismissed insofar as he is
sued in his official capacity.
He remains a defendant in
his individual capacity.
(2) Plaintiff Courtney McBride’s request for punitive
damages against defendant City of Dothan is denied.
(3) Plaintiff McBride’s following claims are not
dismissed and will proceed in this case: (a) the federal
deliberate-indifference claim against defendant Benton in
his individual capacity; (b) the federal deliberateindifference
against defendant Benton in his individual capacity; (c)
municipal-liability, against defendant City of Dothan;
defendant City of Dothan.
dismissed and will not proceed in the case: (a) the
defendant Benton and (b) the state-law wantonness claim
against the defendant City of Dothan.
Karumanchi’s and Houston County Health Care Authority’s
motions to dismiss, etc. (Doc. Nos. 10 & 26) are denied
against them are not dismissed and will proceed in this
DONE, this the 7th day of June, 2013.
/s/ Myron H. Thompson
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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