Bell v. Shelby County Alabama et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Judge L Scott Coogler on 05/21/2013. (MSN)
2013 May-21 PM 02:51
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES COURT FOR
THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
BRITTNE A. BELL, as Personal
Representative of the Estate of
Rebecca Lynn Allred,
SHELBY COUNTY, ALABAMA
In this case, Brittne A. Bell (“Plaintiff”) alleges that the various defendants
violated her decedent’s constitutionally protected rights and caused her to suffer
injury under Alabama law when they incarcerated her without a hearing to determine
indigency, and then failed to provide her with water and adequate medical care.
Defendants have moved to have each of her claims dismissed.
Rebecca Lynn Allred was arrested on May 13, 2011, by law enforcement officers
in Harpersville, Alabama, for an unpaid fine issued for an expired license tag. (Doc. 4,
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¶ 11.) Ms. Allred was transported to and booked into the Shelby County Jail. During
her incarceration, she visited the jail nurse multiple times but was refused treatment
every time. (Id., ¶ 16.) Fellow inmates at the Shelby County Jail observed “a yellow
tinge to [Ms. Allred’s] skin and the whites of her eyes” (Doc. 29-1, ¶ 9), and contacted
Dustin Allred, Ms. Allred’s son, by telephone to inform him of Ms. Allred’s worsening
health. (Doc. 4, ¶ 17.) Mr. Allred visited her on May 15, 2011, and observed her in ill
health. (Id., ¶ 15.) He contacted the jail medical staff several times on May 16, 2011,
attempting to ascertain information and encourage treatment of Ms. Allred. (Id.)
Finally, he got in contact with the jail, but the medical staffer was dismissive of Mr.
Allred’s pleas for better treatment, telling him that Ms. Allred was a “regular visitor”
at the jail. (Id., ¶ 18.)
Ms. Allred was found unresponsive in her cell on the afternoon of May 17, 2011,
and was transported to the Shelby Baptist Medical Center Emergency Room. (Id. at
¶ 19.) She was diagnosed with “heptic encephalopathy . . . a brain disorder caused by
liver damage” which can be brought on by dehydration. (Doc. 29-1, ¶ 10.) She passed
away on May 18, 2011. (Doc. 4, ¶ 20.)
The autopsy of Ms. Allred diagnosed her with “acute bronchopneumonia,”
which includes symptoms of “fatigue, cough, vomiting, loss of appetite and fever.”
(Doc. 29-1, ¶ 7.) It is alleged that the fatigue and other symptoms of acute
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bronchopneumonia prevented Ms. Allred from leaving her bed to obtain water, thus
causing dehydration. (Id., ¶ 8.) Additionally, the autopsy revealed “acute massive
hepatocellular necrosis,” otherwise known as liver failure. (Id., ¶ 7.)
Plaintiff alleges the existence of a policy at the Shelby County Jail that
“prohibit[s] inmates from possessing drinking vessels, unless the inmate purchased
said cup or drinking vessel from the prison commissary.” (Id., ¶ 4.) Ms. Allred’s
indigent status did not allow her to buy a cup from the jail commissary, requiring her
to leave her bed to obtain drinking water. (Id., ¶ 6.) Plaintiff also contends that
problems with the jail’s plumbing system caused the tap water to be too hot to drink
or touch at times and caused the drinking fountains to be inoperable without the aid
of a cup or vessel. (Id., ¶ 5.) Plaintiff alleges that the refusal of medical treatment, the
restricted access to drinking vessels, and the conditions limiting access to drinking
water at the jail caused or contributed to the death of Ms. Allred.
Plaintiff filed her complaint on September 17, 2012 (Doc. 1), and amended it on
September 21, 2012, alleging the following claims: (1) deliberate indifference to the
decedent’s serious medical needs in violation of the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment, (2) a deprivation of the decedent’s due process rights in
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, through automatic incarceration without a hearing to
determine indigency, (3) a deprivation of the decedent’s right to equal protection in
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violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, through the automatic incarceration without a hearing
to determine indigency, (4) wrongful death, and (5) negligent hiring, training,
supervision, and retention. (Doc. 4.)
Sheriff Curry and Shelby Count each filed Motions to Dismiss (Docs. 12–15),
Prison Healthcare, LLC (“Prison Healthcare”) filed a combined Motion to Dismiss
and Motion for More Definite Statement (Doc. 17), Judicial Corrections Services
(“JCS”) filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 23, 24), and the Town of
Harpersville (“Harpersville”) and Theoangelo Perkins filed a Motion to Dismiss.
(Doc. 25.) Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to Amend and attached
thereto her proposed Amended Complaint. (Doc. 29.) The motions are ripe for
A defendant may move to dismiss a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) if the plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted. “When considering a motion to dismiss, all facts set forth in the plaintiff’s
complaint ‘are to be accepted as true and the court limits its consideration to the
pleadings and exhibits attached thereto.’” Grossman v. Nationsbank, N.A., 225 F.3d
1228, 1231 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting GSW, Inc. v. Long County, 999 F.2d 1508, 1510
(11th Cir. 1993)). Further, all “reasonable inferences” are drawn in favor of the
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plaintiff. St. George v. Pinellas County, 285 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2002).
While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not
need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the
“grounds” of his “entitle[ment] to relief” requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the
allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted).1 The
plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face.” Id. at
570. Unless a plaintiff has “nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to
plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed.” Id.
“[U]nsupported conclusions of law or of mixed fact and law have long been
recognized not to prevent a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal.” Dalrymple v. Reno, 334 F.3d 991,
996 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Marsh v. Butler County, Ala., 268 F.3d 1014, 1036 n.16
(11th Cir. 2001)). And, “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer
more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged—but it has
In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the U.S. Supreme Court abrogated the oft-cited
standard that “a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears
beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief” set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957). Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S.
at 560-63. The Supreme Court stated that the “no set of facts” standard “is best forgotten as an
incomplete, negative gloss on an accepted pleading standard: once a claim has been stated
adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the
complaint.” Id. at 563.
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not ‘show[n]’—‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). Therefore, the Supreme
Court suggested that courts adopt a “two-pronged approach” when considering
motions to dismiss: “1) eliminate any allegations in the complaint that are merely legal
conclusions; and 2) where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, ‘assume their
veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief.’” American Dental Ass’n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010)
(quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950).
Importantly, “courts may infer from the factual allegations in the complaint
‘obvious alternative explanation[s],’ which suggest lawful conduct rather than the
unlawful conduct the plaintiff would ask the court to infer.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.
Ct. at 1951-52). However, “[a] complaint may not be dismissed because the plaintiff’s
claims do not support the legal theory he relies upon since the court must determine
if the allegations provide for relief on any possible theory.” Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue
Shield of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir. 1997).
Plaintiff’s Motion for leave to Amend
Upon due consideration, Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Amend is due to be
granted; thus, in deciding the various motions to dismiss and for summary judgment,
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the Court considers the facts and claims as alleged in the proposed complaint attached
to Plaintiff’s motion. (See Doc. 29-1.) The proposed complaint (hereinafter the
“Second Amended Complaint”), adopts and realleges the factual allegations as set
forth in Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (Doc. 4) (hereinafter the “First Amended
Complaint”), only adding a few factual details while clarifying and restating Count I
of the First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 29-1. ¶ 2.) As the factual allegations and
claims of the Second Amended Complaint are substantially similar to those of the First
Amended Complaint, the Court will consider the motions and arguments made by the
various defendants against the First Amended Complaint as being applicable to the
new complaint. To the extent that the arguments would be different, particularly for
Count I, the motions will be denied with leave to refile.
Harpersville and Theoangelo Perkins’ Motion to Dismiss
In Harpersville and Theoangelo Perkins’ Motion to Dismiss, Theoangelo
Perkins requests that all counts against him be dismissed. The Second Amended
Complaint makes it clear that Theoangelo Perkins is being sued only in his official
capacity as the mayor of Harpersville. (Doc. 29, Ex. 1, ¶ 5.) Harpersville is also named
as a defendant in this case. “Official-capacity suits . . . generally represent only another
way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.” Kentucky
v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-166 (1985) (internal quotations omitted). The Eleventh
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Circuit has approved of dismissing the officials in such cases:
Because suits against a municipal officer sued in his official capacity and
direct suits against municipalities are functionally equivalent, there no
longer exists a need to bring official-capacity actions against local
government officials, . . . . To keep both the City and the officers sued in
their official capacity as defendants in this case would have been
redundant and possibly confusing to the jury.
Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F. 2d 764, 776 (11th Cir. 1991). For this reason, all counts
against Perkins are due to be dismissed.
Harpersville likewise requests that all counts against it be dismissed. In the
Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff adopts Counts II and III as alleged in the First
Amended Complaint. These are the only counts alleged against Harpersville. Counts
II and III allege that Harpersville deprived Ms. Allred of her due process and equal
protection rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, through automatic incarceration
without a hearing to determine indigency, proximately resulting in “injuries” and
“damages,” respectively. (Doc. 4, ¶¶ 33, 36.) Harpersville makes two arguments in
its motion to dismiss. First, it argues that Counts II and III are abated under Alabama’s
survivorship statute. Second, it argues that Plaintiff failed to allege a cognizable § 1983
claim against it.
“No language in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides for the survival of a civil rights
action in favor of another upon the death of the injured party. Because the statute is
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silent or ‘deficient’ in this respect, 42 U.S.C. § 1988(a) requires application of state
survivorship law, provided that law is ‘not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws
of the United States.’” Estate of Gilliam ex rel. Waldroup v. City of Prattville, 639 F.3d
1041, 1043 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1988(a)). Under Alabama’s
survivorship law, any action for personal injury that has not been filed before the
injured party dies does not survive in favor of the personal representative. Ala. Code
§ 6-5-462. See Bates v. L&N Emp. Credit Union, 374 So. 2d 323, 324 (Ala. 1979).
Alabama’s survivorship law is not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the
United States, even when the decedent would not otherwise have had sufficient time
to file such a claim before her death. Estate of Gilliam, 639 F.3d at 1047. However,
“when a constitutional violation actually causes the injured party’s death, a § 1983
claim can be asserted through the Alabama wrongful death statute.” Id. See also City
of Tarrant, Ala. v. Jefferson, 682 So. 2d 29, 29-31 (Ala. 1996); Brown v. Morgan County,
Ala., 518 F. Supp. 661, 665 (N.D. Ala. 1981).
In this case, Counts II and III plead “injuries” and “damages,” respectively.
Due to this Court’s order continuing the briefing deadlines (Doc. 33), Plaintiff has not
had an opportunity to inform the Court if she contends that Harpersville’s actions
caused Ms. Allred’s death, or if she alleges a cognizable § 1983 claim against the town.
Accordingly, the Court will defer its ruling on Harpersville’s request to dismiss, and
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Plaintiff will be directed to provide a responsive submission.
JCS’s Motion for Summary Judgment
The only counts alleged against JCS are Counts II and III, which allege that JCS
deprived Ms. Allred of her due process and equal protection rights in violation of 42
U.S.C. § 1983, through automatic incarceration without a hearing to determine
indigency, proximately resulting in “injuries” and “damages,” respectively. (Doc. 4,
¶¶ 33, 36.)
JCS makes two arguments in support of its motion for summary judgment. First,
it argues that Plaintiff’s claims are abated under Alabama’s survivorship statute. (Doc.
24 at 7–9.) Second, JCS argues that Plaintiff has no evidence suggesting that it played
any part in Ms. Allred’s arrest, incarceration, or death (Doc. 24 at 6), and offers an
affidavit as evidence. Due to this Court’s order continuing briefing deadlines (Doc.
33), Plaintiff has not had an opportunity to respond to these arguments. Accordingly,
the Court will defer its ruling on JCS’s Motion for Summary Judgment, and Plaintiff
will be directed to provide a responsive submission.
Prison Healthcare’s Motion to Dismiss or Motion for More Definite
Plaintiff includes Prison Healthcare in Counts I and IV of the Second Amended
Complaint. Prison Healthcare’s Motion for More Definite Statement is specific to
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Count I of the First Amended Complaint, and asks whether this count was alleged
against it. The Second Amended Complaint clarifies this issue, properly naming Prison
Healthcare in Count I; therefore, the Motion for More Definite Statement is moot.
Prison Healthcare’s Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim is specific to
Count IV. Count IV alleges a claim of wrongful death under Alabama law. Plaintiff
claims that an agent of Prison Healthcare refused to diagnose or treat the decedent,
resulting in her death. Because Prison Healthcare is a healthcare provider, it asserts
that Ala. Code § 6-5-551 requires a higher standard of pleading:
In any action for injury, damages, or wrongful death, whether in contract
or in tort, against a healthcare provider for breach of the standard of care
. . . the plaintiff shall include in the complaint filed in the action a detailed
specification and factual description of each act and omission alleged by
the Plaintiff to render the healthcare provider liable to the Plaintiff.
Ala. Code § 6-5-551. Prison Healthcare argues that the complaint does not allege
sufficient details or facts to meet this standard, specifically citing the lack of notice “as
to what alleged negligent acts it committed, [or] . . . the time and place that the alleged
negligent acts occurred.” (Doc. 28 at 2.) The Alabama Supreme Court has interpreted
the heightened pleading requirements of § 6-5-551 as similar to the requirement to
plead fraud with specificity under Rule 9(b) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure.
Mikkelsen v. Salama, 619 So. 2d 1382, 1384 (Ala. 1993). Applying this body of case law,
the court determined that “although every element of the cause of action need not be
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stated with particularity, the plaintiff must give the defendant health care provider fair
notice of the allegedly negligent act and must identify the time and place it occurred
and the resulting harm.” Id.
Plaintiff’s complaint gives Prison Healthcare fair notice of the alleged negligent
act complained of by stating that “[a]gents of [Prison Healthcare] refused to see [Ms.]
Allred, or to provide her with a diagnosis or treatment,” and “[a]s a proximate result
of the conduct of [Prison Healthcare], [Ms. Allred] was denied medical care for a
serious condition, proximately resulting in her death.” (Doc. 4, ¶¶ 39–40.) While
Plaintiff’s complaint does not pinpoint an exact time, it does allege Prison Healthcare
committed negligent acts “[d]uring the period of Ms. Allred’s incarceration.” (Doc.
4, ¶ 16.) Since the complaint alleges Ms. Allred was incarcerated from May 13, 2011,
until her transportation to the hospital emergency room on May, 18, 2011, Plaintiff has
provided a specific period in which the alleged negligent acts occurred. Alabama courts
have accepted less definite time periods as sufficient. See Mikkelsen, 619 So. 2d at 1384
(complaint alleging date and time as “prior to the automobile accident” and “during
the several weeks preceding the said accident” found to be sufficient). Additionally,
the complaint makes it clear that Ms. Allred was incarcerated at the Shelby County Jail
when the alleged negligent acts occurred, thus identifying the “place it occurred” as
required by § 6-5-551. (See Doc. 4, ¶¶ 12-13.) For these reasons, Prison Healthcare’s
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motion to dismiss will be denied.
Shelby County’s Motion to Dismiss
Count I alleges deliberate indifference to the decedent’s serious medical needs
in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and seeks a
remedy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988. Shelby County argues that—even if
the jailers were deliberately indifferent to Ms. Allred’s serious medical needs—it
cannot be held liable under a respondeat superior theory in a § 1983 action.
The Second Amended Complaint alleges that Shelby County had a duty to
provide adequate funding to the jail for the necessary medical attention for inmates.
This duty arises under Ala. Code § 14-6-9 and provides that “necessary medicines and
medical attention [must be furnished by the sheriff or jailer, at the expense of the
county,] to those who are sick or injured, when they are unable to provide them for
themselves.” Id. See Shaw v. Coosa County Com’n, 330 F.Supp.2d 1285, 1289 (M.D.
Ala. 2004). The Eleventh Circuit has noted:
The federal courts have consistently ruled that governments, state and
local, have an obligation to provide medical care to incarcerated
individuals. This duty is not absolved by contracting with an entity such
as [an independent contractor]. Although [an independent contractor]
has contracted to perform an obligation owed by the county, the county
itself remains liable for any constitutional deprivations caused by the
policies or customs of the [independent contractor]. In that sense, the
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county’s duty is non-delegable. Lack of funds for facilities cannot justify
an unconstitutional lack of competent medical care and treatment for
Ancata v. Prison Health Services, Inc., 769 F.2d 700, 705 (11th Cir. 1985) (internal
Plaintiff alleges that Shelby County failed “to provide adequate funding for
medical care within the jail, and [failed] to provide adequate funding to keep the
physical plant operating properly, specifically the plumbing system.” (Doc. 29-1, ¶
21.) These allegations are sufficient to state a claim against Shelby County that
survives a motion to dismiss. Ancata, 769 F.2d at 705. See also Shaw v. Coosa County
Com’n, 330 F. Supp. 2d 1285, 1289 (M.D. Ala. 2004) (“Where, as here, it is alleged
that a breach of the county’s duty to provide adequate funding for medical treatment
of and medicines for inmates of the county jail caused such an inmate to die, this Court
cannot say that the motion to dismiss should be granted.”) (internal citations omitted).
Counts II and III
Counts II and III allege that Shelby County deprived Ms. Allred of her due
process and equal protection rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, through automatic
incarceration without a hearing to determine indigency, proximately resulting in
“injuries” and “damages,” respectively. (Doc. 4, ¶¶ 33, 36.)
In evaluating whether a local government such as a county is liable under § 1983,
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the Eleventh Circuit has held that:
[A] court must identify those officials or governmental bodies who speak
with final policymaking authority for the local government actor
concerning the action alleged to have caused the particular constitutional
or statutory violation at issue.
Two principles guide our analysis of which governmental actors
speak with final authority. First, we must focus our attention on the
particular area or issue for which the government official is alleged to be
the final policymaker. Second, our inquiry depends upon an analysis of
Alabama law. We must determine the actual function of an official in a
particular area by reference to the definition of the official's functions
under relevant state law.
Turquitt v. Jefferson County, Ala., 137 F.3d 1285, 1287 (11th Cir. 1998) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted).
Shelby County is not the final policymaking authority with respect to
incarceration because Alabama counties have limited involvement with the jails and
jail staff in their territory, mostly restricted to funding and physical maintenance.
Alabama Code §§ 11-14-10 and 11-14-13 establish the duties a county has with respect
to jails in their territory. These provisions pertain “exclusively to the physical plant
of the jail.” Turquitt, 137 F.3d at 1290. “The duty to ‘maintain a jail’ under § 11-14-10
is merely the duty to keep the ‘jail and all equipment therein in a state of repair and to
preserve it from failure or decline.’” Id. (quoting Keeton v. Fayette County, 558 So. 2d
884, 886 (Ala. 1989)). These code sections and the duties imposed “do not imply or
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impart any control over the jails’ operation.” Turquitt, 137 F. 3d at 1290.
Rather, “an Alabama sheriff acts exclusively for the state rather than for the
county in operating a county jail.” Turquitt, 137 F.3d at 1288. Shelby County argues
that it cannot be held liable for the acts of the Sheriff or his employees that are
tortious. Indeed, “a sheriff is an executive officer of the State,” and “not an employee
of a county for the purposes of imposing liability on the county.” Ex parte Sumter
County, 953 So. 2d at 1239. The complaint contains no factual allegations
demonstrating that Shelby County has any control over the operations of the jail, the
Sheriff, or jail employees. Further, Plaintiff has offered no legal authority supporting
her contention that Shelby County was responsible for incarcerating Ms. Allred or
failing to provide a hearing to determine indigency. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to
state a claim of a constitutional violation against Shelby County in Counts II and III.
While Count IV against Prison Healthcare is premised upon Alabama’s
wrongful death statute, Count IV against Shelby County is a wrongful death claim
brought under federal law through the guise of § 1983. Plaintiff claims that Shelby
County “instituted and maintained a policy or custom of denying inmates medical
care,” violating the Fourteenth Amendment and proximately resulting in the
decedent’s death. (Doc. 4, ¶ 39.)
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As previously mentioned, Alabama law provides that “necessary medicines and
medical attention to those who are sick or injured, when they are unable to provide
them for themselves,” must be furnished by the sheriff or jailer, at the expense of the
county. King, 620 So. 2d at 625. This duty is non-deligable, and a “[l]ack of funds for
facilities cannot justify an unconstitutional lack of competent medical care and
treatment for inmates.” Ancata, 769 F.2d at 705.
The Second Amended Complaint alleges a breach of Shelby County’s duty to
provide adequate funding for medical care within the jail. (Doc. 29-1, ¶ 21.) Further,
Plaintiff alleges that this breach caused or contributed to the denial of medical
treatment for Ms. Allred, which ultimately caused her death. (Id., ¶ 23.) Pursuant to
Eleventh Circuit law, these allegations are sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss
because they could provide relief under a claim of wrongful death.
Plaintiff alleges that Shelby County has duties to screen applicants, train and
supervise the jailers, and terminate employees who could not understand the law or
perform their jobs properly. (Doc. 4, ¶ 43.) Plaintiff alleges that the County breached
this duty by failing to train or supervise the Prison Healthcare contractors and other
employees in their duties to administer basic medical care to inmates, thus causing Ms.
Allred’s death. (Id. at ¶¶ 44-45.) However, Plaintiff fails to state a claim for relief since
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counties only have the powers delegated to them by the state legislature, which does
not include control over jail operations. See Turquitt, 137 F.3d at 1289. Counties in
Alabama have no control over the sheriff, deputies, or jailers, as they are properly
classified as state officers. See Lancaster v. Monroe County, 116 F. 3d 1419, 1430 (11th
Cir. 1997) (under Alabama law, counties required to pay salaries, but are not given
control over jailers, sheriffs, or deputies). See also Gaines v. Choctaw County
Commission, 242 F. Supp. 2d 1153, 1159 (S.D. Ala. 2003). Further, a county’s duty to
provide funding for “necessary medicines and medical attention to those who are sick
or injured, when they are unable to provide them for themselves,” King, 620 So. 2d
at 625, does not include a duty to train or supervise the Prison Healthcare contractors
and other employees in administering basic medical care to inmates. See Marsh, 268
F.3d at 1026 (“[U]nder Alabama law the County is not responsible for assuring
procedures are in place for inmates to get medical care.”). For these reasons, Count
V is due to be dismissed as to Shelby County.
Sheriff Chris Curry’s Motion to Dismiss
Several counts of Plaintiff’s complaint are specifically pled against Sheriff Curry
in both his official and individual capacities. Under Alabama law, as interpreted by the
Eleventh Circuit, a claim against a sheriff in his official capacity is considered to be a
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suit against the state and, as such, is precluded by the Eleventh Amendment. See
Lancaster v. Monroe County, 116 F.3d 1419, 1429–30 (11th Cir. 1997) (dismissing § 1983
official capacity claims against an Alabama sheriff based on Eleventh Amendment
immunity). As such, those Counts are due to be dismissed as to Sheriff Curry in his
In his motion to dismiss, Sheriff Curry argues that he is entitled to the defense
of qualified immunity as to Counts I, II, and III in his individual capacity, and that
Counts I, II, and III fail to meet the heightened pleading standard of Iqbal and Twombly.
He further argues that he is entitled to the defense of absolute immunity as to Counts
IV and V in his individual capacity.
Count I alleges deliberate indifference to the decedent’s serious medical needs
in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and seeks a
remedy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988. Plaintiff bases her claim on two
separate allegations: (1) Sheriff Curry’s drinking-cup policy, and (2) Sheriff Curry’s
failure to provide medicine and medical care to Ms. Allred.
Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Sheriff Curry breached his duties to keep
drinking water accessible at all times to each prisoner, and to provide necessary
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medicines and medical attention to Ms. Allred, who was not provided any medication
at all. (Doc. 29-1, ¶¶ 24–26.)2 However, these duties arise under state law, and a
breach thereof is a state law claim precluded by absolute immunity. Art. 1, § 14 of the
Alabama Constitution. See Sumter County, 953 So.2d at 1239 (Ala. 2006). Despite this,
the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does prohibit deliberate
indifference to the serious medical needs of pretrial detainees. Belcher v. City of Foley,
Ala., 30 F.3d 1390, 1396 (11th Cir. 1994) (minimum standard of medical care allowed
under Fourteenth Amendment for pretrial detainees is the same as that allowed by
Eighth Amendment for convicted persons); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976)
(Eighth Amendment prohibits deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of
prisoners because it constitutes the unnecessary and unwanton infliction of pain).
Sheriff Curry argues that he is entitled to a defense of qualified immunity as to
Count I. Qualified immunity shields governmental officers from “liability for civil
damages if their actions did not violate ‘clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’” Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730,
739 (2002) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). To support his
Alabama sheriffs must "keep the jail supplied with wholesome water for drinking . . .
[and] keep drinking water accessible at all times to each prisoner," Ala. Code § 11-14-21, as well
as furnish "necessary medicines and medical attention to those who are sick or injured when they
are unable to provide for themselves." Ala. Code § 14-6-19.
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qualified immunity defense, Sheriff Curry “must first prove that he was acting within
the scope of his discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred.”
Mathews v. Crosby, 480 F.3d 1265, 1269 (11th Cir. 2007). Since Plaintiff concedes in her
brief that Sheriff Curry was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority when
the alleged constitutional violation occurred (Doc. 30 at 9), the burden shifts to
Plaintiff to demonstrate that qualified immunity is not appropriate by showing that the
constitutional right was “clearly established” by preexisting federal law at the time of
the action. Mathews, 480 F.3d at 1269 (citing Saucier v. Katz, 553 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)).
Determining whether Sheriff Curry is entitled to a qualified immunity defense
involves a two prong analysis: “First, a court must decide whether the facts that a
plaintiff has alleged or shown make out a violation of a constitutional right. Second,
if the plaintiff has satisfied this first step, the court must decide whether the right at
issue was ‘clearly established’ at the time of the defendant’s alleged misconduct.
Qualified immunity is applicable unless the official's conduct violated a clearly
established constitutional right.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009)
(internal citations omitted). The Supreme Court has provided that “judges of the
district courts . . . should be permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding
which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first
in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555
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U.S. 223, 236 (2009).
Rather than determine whether Plaintiff states a claim in Count I for a
constitutional violation regarding Sheriff Curry’s drinking-cup policy, the Court will
exercise its discretion and determine whether the right at issue was clearly established
at the time of Sheriff Curry’s alleged misconduct assuming, arguendo, that his
drinking-cup policy violates Plaintiff’s constitutional rights.
“A government–officer defendant is entitled to qualified immunity unless, at
the time of the incident, the ‘preexisting law dictates, that is, truly compel[s],’ the
conclusion for all reasonable, similarly situated public officials that what Defendant
was doing violated Plaintiffs’ federal rights in the circumstances.” Marsh, 268 F.3d at
1030–31 (citing Lassiter v. Alabama A&M Univ., 28 F.3d 1146, 1150 (11th Cir. 1994)).
“The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established
is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the
situation he confronted.” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202 (2001). While a case with
identical facts is not necessary for the law to be clearly established, “the preexisting
law must make it obvious that the defendant’s acts violated the plaintiff’s rights in the
specific set of circumstances at issue.” Youmans v. Gagnon, 626 F.3d 557, 563 (11th Cir.
2010) (citation omitted).
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In her brief Plaintiff fails to cite any preexisting law clearly establishing that a
person in Sheriff Curry’s position was violating Ms. Allred’s constitutional rights by
promulgating a policy prohibiting drinking vessels other than those purchased from the
jail commissary. Furthermore, this Court finds no case law with identical facts to those
at issue in this case that would clearly establish the constitutional right Plaintiff claims
Sheriff Curry violated. Despite this, the Eleventh Circuit has held:
[T]he existence of a factually similar case is not the only way to put
officials on notice of the unlawfulness of their conduct. Indeed, “[a]
government official can be put on notice that his actions will violate a
constitutional or statutory right by . . . a legal principle announced by a
decision from a court with jurisdiction over the place where the violation
of rights was committed.”
Harper v. Lawrence County, Ala., 592 F.3d 1227, 1237 (11th Cir. 2010). In Harper, the
court found that prior case law establishing the illegality of delayed or inadequate
treatment for alcohol withdrawal should have put supervisors on notice that policies
of delayed investigation into the treatment of alcohol withdrawal would be unlawful
as well. Id.
Unlike the plaintiff in Harper, Plaintiff has not even presented case law
establishing the illegality of prohibiting an inmate from possessing certain drinking
vessels. Furthermore, this Court cannot find any law announcing such a legal principle.
Without such case law, Sheriff Curry could not have been put on notice that his
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drinking-cup policy would be unlawful. For this reason, Sheriff Curry is entitled to
qualified immunity as to Count I regarding his drinking-cup policy.
Failure to Provide Medicine and Medical Care
In accordance with the two prong qualified immunity analysis, Plaintiff must
first make out a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment by alleging facts sufficient to
show deliberate indifference. This can be established by demonstrating that a prison
official “(1) had subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm; (2) disregarded that
risk; and (3) acted with more than gross negligence.” Harper, 592 F.3d at 1234
(citations omitted). Although Plaintiff has alleged that the medical staff of the Shelby
County Jail was made aware of the severity of Ms. Allred’s illness by her son (Doc.
291-1, ¶ 11), and the jailors were made aware of her serious medical condition by her
fellow inmates and by virtue of her appearance (id., ¶ 12), she does not allege any facts
showing that Sheriff Curry had personal subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm
to Ms. Allred.
Normally, vicarious liability and respondeat superior claims cannot be alleged
under § 1983. See Hartley v. Parnell, 193 F.3d 1263, 1269 (11th Cir. 1999); Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) (recognizing that “[g]overnment officials may not be
held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of
respondeat superior”). However, supervisory liability may be applied “‘when there is
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a causal connection between actions of the supervising official and the alleged
constitutional violation.’” Gonzales v. Reno, 325 F.3d 1228, 1234 (11th Cir. 2003)
(quoting Braddy v. Florida Dep’t of Labor & Employment Sec., 133 F.3d 797, 802 (11th
Cir. 1998)). To establish a causal relationship, Plaintiff must show that either: (1) “a
history of widespread abuse puts [Sheriff Curry] on notice of the need to correct the
alleged deprivation, and he fails to do so,” (2) “[Sheriff Curry’s] custom or policy .
. . result[s] in deliberate indifference to constitutional rights,” or (3) “facts support an
inference that [Sheriff Curry] directed the subordinates to act unlawfully or knew that
the subordinates would act unlawfully and failed to stop them from doing so.” Harper,
592 F.3d at 1236 (quoting Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1360–61 (11th Cir. 2003)).
In her First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Sheriff Curry “instituted
and maintained a policy or custom of denying inmates medical care.” (Doc. 4, ¶ 39.)
However, this allegation is conclusory, and cannot support a theory of supervisor
liability against Sheriff Curry. See Doe v. School Bd. Of Broward County, Fla., 604 F.3d
1248, 1267 (11th Cir. 2010) (conclusory assertion of a custom or policy resulting in
deliberate indifference not sufficient for supervisor liability). Moreover, Plaintiff
alleges a single, isolated incident from which a custom or policy cannot be inferred. See
City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 824 (1985) (single, isolated incident not
sufficient to infer a municipal policy or custom). Accordingly, the facts as alleged do
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not make out a constitutional violation against Sheriff Curry regarding his policy of
denying inmates medicine and medical care. The Court is not prepared to dismiss this
Count, however, and will direct Plaintiff to either amend her complaint to allege more
than conclusory statements, or abandon her claim of deliberate indifference against
Sheriff Curry in his individual capacity.
Count II and III
Counts II and III allege that Sheriff Curry deprived Ms. Allred of her due
process and equal protection rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, through automatic
incarceration without a hearing to determine indigency, proximately resulting in
“injuries” and “damages,” respectively. (Doc. 4, ¶¶ 33, 36.)
In reviewing the pleadings for a factual basis to support Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims,
the Court notes that a plaintiff is obligated to provide “more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555. A complaint will be considered insufficiently pled “if it tenders ‘naked
assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.’”Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557)). “Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to . . . § 1983
suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the
official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.
Page 26 of 31
Plaintiff does not allege any specific facts linking Sheriff Curry to Ms. Allred’s
automatic incarceration without a hearing, either directly or through a theory of
supervisor liability. She does not allege that Sheriff Curry personally participated in
Ms. Allred’s incarceration and lack of a hearing. She does not allege a history of
widespread abuse that put Sheriff Curry on notice of the need to correct such
constitutional violations. She does not allege a custom or policy implemented by
Sheriff Curry regarding automatic incarcerations without hearings. Finally, she does
not allege any facts supporting an inference that Sheriff Curry directed his
subordinates to incarcerate Ms. Allred without a hearing to determine indigency.
Instead, she merely asserts that all Defendants violated Ms. Allred’s rights by
automatically imposing incarceration for failure to pay fines and costs without a
hearing to determine indigency. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim of a
constitutional violation against Sheriff Curry as to Counts II and III.
Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint is a state law claim of wrongful
death pled against Sheriff Curry via 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging constitutional violations
that resulted in the decedent’s death. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Sheriff Curry
promulgated a policy of denying inmates medical care as guaranteed by the Fourteenth
Amendment. (Doc. 4, ¶ 39.)
Page 27 of 31
Sheriff Curry’s only argument against this Count is that it is based entirely upon
a state law claim, and he is entitled to absolute immunity. See Lancaster, 116 F.3d at
1430–31 (affirming summary judgment on state law wrongful death and negligence
claims against sheriff and other executive officers of the state in their official capacities
and individually based on absolute immunity). Under Alabama law, a state law claim
against an Alabama sheriff in his individual capacity is barred by the doctrine of
sovereign immunity. Id. at 1430.
In Count IV, Plaintiff utilizes § 1988 and the Alabama wrongful death statute
to create a § 1983 wrongful death claim, see Estate of Gilliam, 639 F.3d at 1047 (“when
a constitutional violation actually causes the injured parties death, a § 1983 claim can
be asserted through the Alabama wrongful death statute”), that survives Sheriff
Curry’s absolute immunity defense in his individual capacity. See Martinez v. State of
Cal., 444 U.S. 277, 284 n.8 (1980) (conduct by persons acting under color of state law
which is wrongful under § 1983 cannot be immunized by state law). However, the only
conduct Plaintiff alleges that Sheriff Curry committed that could contribute to Ms.
Allred’s wrongful death was instituting and maintaining “a policy or custom of
denying inmates medical care.” (Doc. 4, ¶ 39.) As previously explained, this allegation
is conclusory, and the single incident involving Ms. Allred is not sufficient to infer a
custom or policy of denying inmates medical care. See supra Part IV.G.2.a.ii.
Page 28 of 31
Accordingly, the facts as alleged do not make out a constitutional violation against
Sheriff Curry regarding Ms. Allred’s wrongful death. The Court is not prepared to
dismiss this Count, however, and will direct Plaintiff to either amend her complaint
to allege more than conclusory statements, or abandon her claim of wrongful death
against Sheriff Curry in his individual capacity. For this reason, Sheriff Curry’s motion
to dismiss will be denied as to Count IV.
In Count V, Plaintiff alleges that Sheriff Curry breached his duties to screen
applicants, train and supervise the jailers, and terminate employees who could not
understand the law or perform their jobs properly. (Doc. 4, ¶ 43.)
It is difficult to discern from the First Amended Complaint whether Count V
is a state law claim, or a federal claim.3 If it is a state law claim, then Sheriff Curry’s
status as an executive officer of the State of Alabama provides him with absolute
immunity to Plaintiff’s negligence claim when “acting within the line and scope of
[his] employment.” Sumter County, 953 So. 2d at 1239 (quoting Ex parte Purvis, 689
So.2d 794, 795 (Ala.1996)); see also Art. 1, § 14, Ala. Const. of 1901. No allegations
Plaintiff uses language in Count V indicating that she may have intended it to be a § 1983
claim. (Doc. 4, ¶ 45) (Jailers acted “under color of state law” and “deprived [Ms. Allred] of her
constitutionally guaranteed rights.”)
Page 29 of 31
have been made to suggest that Sheriff Curry was acting outside of the scope of his
duties as a sheriff.
Furthermore, if Count V is a federal claim, then Plaintiff would need to allege
facts sufficient to demonstrate deliberate indifference, rather than mere negligence,
in the hiring, training, supervision, or retention of Sheriff Curry’s employees to hold
him liable under § 1983. Greason v. Kemp, 891 F.2d 829, 836–37 (11th Cir. 1990). She
has not done so. Accordingly, Count V fails to state a claim against Sheriff Curry in his
individual capacity and is therefore due to be dismissed.
For the above reasons, Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Amend is due to be
GRANTED. Defendants Harpersville and Theoangelo Perkins’ Motion to Dismiss is
due to be GRANTED in part. Theoangelo Perkins’ request to dismiss all counts
against him is due to be GRANTED. A ruling on Harpersville’s request to dismiss all
counts against it is due to be DEFERRED, and Plaintiff will be directed to provide a
responsive submission to Harpersville’s request. Defendant Prison Healthcare’s
combined Motion to Dismiss and Motion for More Definite Statement is due to be
DENIED as to Counts I and IV, with leave to refile as to Count I. A ruling on
Defendant JCS’s Motion for Summary Judgment is due to be DEFERRED, and
Plaintiff will be directed to provide a responsive submission to JCS’s motion.
Page 30 of 31
Defendant Sheriff Curry’s Motion to Dismiss is due to be GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part. Sheriff Curry’s request to dismiss Counts I and IV are due to be
DENIED with leave to refile, and his requests to dismiss Counts II, III, and V are due
to be GRANTED. Defendant Shelby County’s Motion to Dismiss is due to be
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Shelby County’s requests to dismiss Counts
I and IV are due to be DENIED with leave to refile, and its requests to dismiss Counts
II, III, and V are due to be GRANTED. Defendant Theoangelo Perkins is due to be
DISMISSED as a defendant. A separate order will be entered.
Done this 21st day of May 2013.
L. SCOTT COOGLER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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