Taylor v. Starr et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Corey L. Maze on 4/26/2021. (SRD)
2021 Apr-26 AM 09:37
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ROBERT EDWARD TAYLOR,
JR., as the Personal Representative
and Administrator of the Personal
Estate of Brett Verdun Taylor,
ERIC STARR, et al.,
Case No.: 1:20-cv-00489-CLM
Brett Taylor died from acute methamphetamine toxicity while being detained
at the Calhoun County jail. The administrator of Taylor’s estate now sues several
law enforcement officials and healthcare providers at the Calhoun County jail,
asserting claims of deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, negligence,
wantonness, and vicarious liability.
The healthcare provider defendants (Southern Health Partners, Inc., Maggen
Cranford, Hadassah Underwood, Heather Clay, and Brent Cobb) seek to dismiss all
claims. Doc. 64. According to the healthcare provider defendants, the
administrator’s third amended complaint should be dismissed because it is an
impermissible shotgun pleading and it violates the heightened pleading requirements
of the Alabama Medial Liability Act. In response to the healthcare provider
defendants’ motion, the administrator agrees to voluntarily dismiss Count IV. See
Doc. 68 at 2 n.1. For the reasons stated within, the court will DENY the healthcare
provider defendants’ motion (doc. 64) and will DISMISS WITHOUT
PREJUDICE Count IV of the third amended complaint.
STATEMENT OF THE ALLEGED FACTS
Anniston Police Officer Ryan Nolen arrested and charged Taylor with public
intoxication after receiving a call that Taylor was acting strangely in the parking lot
of an American Inn. Doc. 53 ¶¶ 21, 22. After Taylor arrived at the Calhoun County
jail, three officers escorted him to a holding cell without first conducting a medical
assessment. Id. ¶ 25. But Taylor could not hold an intelligible conversation with the
jailers, so they eventually took him to see Cranford, an LPN employed by Southern
Health to provide medical care at the Calhoun County jail. Id. ¶¶ 15, 29. Cranford
then determined that Taylor was manic and positive for both meth and
amphetamines. Id. ¶ 29.
Although Cranford had determined that Taylor had ingested meth or
amphetamines, could not communicate intelligibly, and was in a state of manic
behavior, she and the other nurses employed by Southern Health failed to send
Taylor to the local emergency room for a full medical evaluation and care. Id. ¶ 35.
Instead, jail officials placed Taylor in cell 7-B where he received no medical care.
Id. ¶ 38. Taylor died in his cell from acute methamphetamine toxicity between 12:13
am and 12:26 am on July 14, 2018. Id. ¶¶ 51–53.
After Taylor’s death, the administrator of his estate sued several of the law
enforcement officials and healthcare providers at Calhoun County Jail. Count I of
the third amended complaint alleges that defendants violated Taylor’s Fourteenth
Amendment rights, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, because they were deliberately
indifferent to his serious medical needs. Id. ¶¶ 66–69. Count II brings claims of
negligence and wantonness against the individual defendants. Id. ¶¶ 70–73. Count
III asserts that Southern Health was negligent and wanton under a respondeat
superior theory of liability. Id. ¶¶ 74–76. And Count IV alleges that “[t]he
negligence, wantonness, and violations of Mr. Taylor’s constitutional rights . . .
combined and concurred in causing Brett Taylor’s death.” Id. ¶ 78.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to include “a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).
And Rule 10(b) provides:
A party must state its claims or defenses in numbered paragraphs, each
limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances. A later
pleading may refer by number to a paragraph in an earlier pleading. If
doing so would promote clarity, each claim founded on a separate
transaction or occurrence—and each defense other than a denial—must
be stated in a separate count or defense.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b). Complaints that violate these requirements are impermissible
shotgun pleadings. See Weiland v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff’s Office, 792 F.3d 1313,
1320 (11th Cir. 2015). This court “has the inherent authority to control its docket
and ensure the prompt resolution of lawsuits, which includes the ability to dismiss a
complaint on shotgun pleading grounds.” Vibe Micro, Inc. v. Shabanets, 878 F.3d
1291, 1295 (11th Cir. 2018) (quotations omitted).
The healthcare provider defendants’ motion to dismiss doesn’t attack the
merits of the factual allegations in the administrator’s complaint. Instead, the
healthcare provider defendants argue that the complaint should be dismissed because
the administrator didn’t plead the facts in the way that Rule 8(a)(2), Rule 10(b), and
the Alabama Medical Liability Act require. As explained below, the administrator
pleaded the facts adequately enough.
Plaintiff’s complaint is not an impermissible shotgun pleading.
The Eleventh Circuit has identified four rough categories of prohibited
shotgun pleadings. The first category of shotgun pleading is a complaint that
includes “multiple counts where each count adopts the allegations of all preceding
counts, causing each successive count to carry all that came before and the last count
to be a combination of the entire complaint.” Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1321. The second
type of shotgun pleading is a complaint that is “replete with conclusory, vague, and
immaterial facts not obviously connected to any particular cause of action.” Id. at
1322. The third category is a complaint that fails to separate into different counts
“each cause of action or claim for relief.” Id. at 1323. Finally, the fourth type of
shotgun pleading is a complaint that asserts “multiple claims against multiple
defendants without specifying which of the defendants are responsible for which
acts or omissions, or which of the defendants the claim is brought against.” Id. What
unifies each category of shotgun pleading “is that they fail to one degree or another,
and in one way or another, to give the defendants adequate notice of the claims
against them and the grounds upon which each claim rests.” Id.
The court addresses each category of shotgun pleading in turn.
1. The healthcare provider defendants argue that the third amended complaint
falls into the first shotgun pleading category because Count I realleges the factual
allegations in paragraphs 1 to 65, Count II realleges paragraphs 1 to 69, Count III
realleges paragraphs 1 to 4 and 14 to 65, and Count IV realleges paragraphs 1 to 76.
Because the allegations realleged in Counts I and III are factual allegations and not
allegations from predecessor counts, these two counts do not fall into the first
category of shotgun pleading. See id. at 1324. And the administrator has agreed to
voluntarily dismiss Count IV, so the court needn’t address whether that count falls
into the first shotgun pleading category.
That leaves Count II. Like pleadings that fall into the first shotgun pleading
category, Count II not only realleges all the factual allegations in the third amended
complaint, but it also realleges the allegations in Count I. See Doc. 53 ¶ 70. But the
Eleventh Circuit has cautioned that dismissals on shotgun pleading grounds are only
“appropriate where it is virtually impossible to know which allegations of fact are
intended to support which claim(s) for relief.” Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1325 (quotations
omitted). And here, it is not virtually impossible to understand what facts support
the administrator’s negligence and wantonness claims. Instead, it is apparent from
the third amended complaint that the administrator contends that the facts that
underly his deliberate indifference claim also support his state law negligence and
wantonness claims. So the court will not dismiss the complaint as a category one
2. The healthcare provider defendants next argue that the third amended
complaint falls into the second category of shotgun pleading because it is “replete
with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously connected to any
particular cause of action.” See id. at 1322. But the only specific allegations that the
healthcare provider defendants point to as being vague and conclusory are the
allegations contained within paragraph 63:
With Starr, Luker, Perry, Graham, Hall, Johnson, Thornton, Summers,
Blair, Southern Health and nurse defendants acting jointly and in
concert with each other, all of them had the duty and opportunity to
protect Mr. Taylor, to obtain the necessary medical treatment for Mr.
Taylor in a timely manner and/or to establish policies, practices, and/or
procedures and implement training to recognize medical emergencies
and seek appropriate emergency medical treatment, but each defendant
failed and/or refused to perform such duty and therefore caused Mr.
Doc. 53 ¶ 63.
The court agrees with the healthcare provider defendants that paragraph 63 is
not a model of clarity. But the court is unconvinced that a single vague paragraph,
even one realleged four times, renders the third amended complaint “replete with
conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts.” Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1322 (emphasis
added). And after reviewing the other factual allegations in the third amended
complaint, the court finds that the allegations are specific enough to put each
defendant on notice as to his alleged involvement in Taylor’s death. So the court will
not dismiss the complaint as a second category shotgun pleading.
3. The healthcare provider defendants point to Counts II and IV as falling into
the third type of shotgun pleading (i.e., a pleading that fails to separate different
causes of action into different counts). Again, because the administrator has agreed
to voluntarily dismiss Count IV, the court needn’t consider whether it falls within
this category of shotgun pleading.
And the court accepts the administrator’s explanation that he included
allegations in Count II that the individual defendants acted “negligently, wantonly,
willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond [their] authority, under
mistaken interpretation of law or in violation of the law, statute, and/or regulation,”
see doc. 53 ¶¶ 71, 73, to overcome a potential state-agent immunity defense. He did
not intend for Count II to assert claims other than claims for negligence and
wantonness. Thus, the court finds that the only causes of action alleged in Count II
are claims for negligence and wantonness. Although that means that the
administrator has brought two causes of action in one count, the court finds that “this
is not a situation where a failure to more precisely parcel out and identify the facts
relevant to each claim materially increased the burden of understanding the factual
allegations underlying each [cause of action].” Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1324. So the
court will not dismiss the third amended complaint as a category three shotgun
4. The only count that the healthcare provider defendants point to as falling
into the fourth category of shotgun pleading is Count IV. And they concede that the
administrator’s voluntary dismissal of Count IV removes the complaint from this
category of shotgun pleading. See Doc. 69 at 3–4. So the court will not dismiss the
third amended complaint as a category four shotgun pleading.
Because the third amended complaint does not fall into any of the shotgun
pleading categories, the court will not dismiss the complaint on shotgun pleading
In a footnote, the healthcare provider defendants assert that the two-year statute of limitations
bars all the administrator’s claims. Because the healthcare provider defendants do not expound
upon this argument, the court doesn’t consider whether the third amended complaint is untimely.
Plaintiff has met the heightened pleading requirements of the Alabama
Medical Liability Act.
The healthcare provider defendants also argue that the state law claims against
them should be dismissed because the administrator failed to satisfy the heightened
pleading requirements of the Alabama Medical Liability Act. The Alabama Medical
Liability Act provides:
In any action for injury, damages, or wrongful death, . . . against a health
care provider for breach of the standard of care, whether resulting from
acts or omissions in providing health care, or the hiring, training,
supervision, retention, or termination of care givers, the Alabama
Medical Liability Act shall govern the parameters of discovery and all
aspects of the action. The plaintiff shall include in the complaint filed
in the action a detailed specification and factual description of each act
and omission alleged by plaintiff to render the health care provider
liable to plaintiff and shall include when feasible and ascertainable the
date, time, and place of the act or acts. . . . Any complaint which fails
to include such detailed specification and factual description of each act
and omission shall be subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted.
Ala. Code § 6-5-551.
“Section 6-5-551 has been considered a substantive provision applicable in
federal court.” Kruse v. Corizon, 2013 WL 3366043, at *9 n.20 (S.D. Ala. July 5,
2013). And the Alabama Supreme Court has interpreted § 6-5-551 as requiring
plaintiffs to “give the defendant health care provider fair notice of the allegedly
negligent act and” to “identify the time and place it occurred and the resulting harm.”
See Mikkelsen v. Salama, 619 So. 2d 1382, 1384 (Ala. 1993). But the Alabama
Supreme Court has not been exacting in analyzing complaints under § 6-5-551. For
example, the court has said that simply alleging that a doctor prescribed medication
for bipolar disorder but failed to warn his patient not to operate a motor vehicle while
taking the medication met the requirements of § 6-5-551. See id. at 1384–85.
After reviewing the allegations in the third amended complaint, the court finds
that it complies with § 6-5-551’s requirements. The gist of the administrator’s
allegations against the individual nurses is that they knew that Taylor had side effects
from ingesting meth and amphetamines but did not provide him with any medical
care. He also asserts that they did not perform adequate medical assessments on
Taylor. And he contends that Southern Health is vicariously liable for the actions of
its employee. The administrator alleges that all these acts happened at the Calhoun
County jail. And many of the administrator’s factual allegations point to the
approximate times when he alleges the healthcare provider defendants should have
provided Taylor with proper medical assessments and medical care. See Doc. 53 ¶¶
29 32, 33, 40, 41. So the allegations about what happened when Taylor was in the
Calhoun County jail meet § 6-5-551’s requirement of a “detailed specification and
factual description” of the act(s) that make the individual nurses liable.
The third amended complaint is less specific when it comes to details about
allegations that Clay and Cobb, who were Southern Health supervisors, failed to
adequately train the other nurses or implement adequate policies and procedures at
the Calhoun County jail. But the failure to train is an omission, not an affirmative
act, and this court agrees with other district courts that § 6-5-551’s requirement that
the complaint “shall include when feasible and ascertainable the date, time, and place
of the act or acts” applies by its plain language only to allegations based on acts, not
omissions. See, e.g., Betts v. Eli Lilly & Co., 435 F. Supp. 2d 1180, 1189 (S.D. Ala.
2006). The court thus finds that the third amended complaint provides “fair notice”
of how the administrator alleges the healthcare provider defendants contributed to
Taylor’s death. So the court determines that the administrator’s state law claims
satisfy the Alabama Medical Liability Act’s pleading requirements. See Mikkelsen,
619 So. 2d at 1384.
For these reasons, the court will DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE Count
IV of the third amended complaint. Otherwise, the court will DENY the healthcare
provider defendants’ motion to dismiss (doc. 64). The court will enter a separate
order that carries out these findings and sets deadlines for the defendants to answer
the third amended complaint and for the parties to file their Rule 26(f) report.
DONE this April 26, 2021.
COREY L. MAZE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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