Leftridge v. Pulaski County, Arkansas et al
OPINION AND ORDER denying Pulaski County's 6 Motion to Dismiss Leftridge's complaint. Signed by Judge Susan Webber Wright on 8/2/12. (vjt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
ARKANSAS, and JOHN DOE(S),
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Sandra Leftridge, the personal representative of the Estate of Jessie Edwards,
claims the right to pursue a wrongful death action under Ark. Code Ann. § 16-62-102 and brings
this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Pulaski County, an Arkansas political
subdivision with jurisdiction and control over the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office and the
Pulaski County Jail, and against Defendant(s) John Doe(s), individual(s) employed by Defendant
Pulaski County. Leftridge seeks compensatory and punitive damages contending that Edwards’s
death by suicide on August 24, 2010, was caused by unconstitutional practices at the Pulaski
County Regional Detention Facility (“PCRDF”).
The matter is now before the Court on motion of Pulaski County to dismiss Leftridge’s
complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) [doc.#6]. Leftridge has responded in opposition
to Pulaski County’s motion to dismiss [doc.#8]. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies
Pulaski County’s motion to dismiss Leftridge’s complaint.
According to the complaint1, Jessie Edwards appeared in Pulaski County Circuit Court,
Second Division, on August 24, 2010, where the prosecutor observed that Edwards exhibited
erratic behavior. Compl. ¶ 7. Edwards was administered a drug test, which she failed. Compl. ¶
8. A bench warrant was issued for Edwards’s arrest, but because Edwards voiced medical
complaints, she was transported to a hospital before being taken to the PCRDF and booked.
Compl. ¶¶ 9-11.
Leftridge claims that when Edwards arrived at the jail, staff knew or should have known
that Edwards had been raped the prior year by a Pulaski County detention officer. Compl. ¶ 12.
Edwards banged her head repeatedly into the wall, but this behavior was ignored. Compl. ¶ 13.
Edwards again tested positive for drugs and informed the staff that she was on depression
medication. Compl. ¶ 14. Her medication allegedly was never administered. Compl. ¶ 14.
Instead, Edwards was placed in a cell where she began to cry and thrash around. Compl. ¶ 15.
Leftridge claims Edwards told the staff she needed to return to the hospital for mental health
treatment, but the staff ignored the request and placed Edwards on administrative segregation.
Compl. ¶ ¶ 15-16. The jail staff allegedly did not institute suicide measures. Compl. ¶ 16.
A short time later, Edwards continued to display erratic behavior by hollering and rolling
on the ground and complaining of a seizure. Compl. ¶ 17. Leftridge claims that despite these
signs of mental distress, the staff advised Edwards that she was fine and left her in her cell alone
and unsupervised. Compl. ¶ 18. Less than an hour later, Edwards wrapped a bed sheet around
her neck and committed suicide. Compl. ¶ 19.
The Court accepts as true the factual allegations of the complaint for purposes of today’s
Pulaski County moves to dismiss Leftridge’s complaint on grounds that Leftridge’s
claims against Pulaski County are implausible and factually deficient to demonstrate that the
alleged warning signs of self-harm put Pulaski County on notice of a strong likelihood that
Edwards would commit suicide.
In reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept as true all factual allegations in
the complaint, but is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action,
supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 1949. “Nor does a complaint
suffice if it “tenders ‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.’” Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must plead “enough
facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim
has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more
than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 556). A well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it appears that actual proof of those facts
is improbable and that recovery is very remote and unlikely. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. A
complaint cannot, however, simply leave open the possibility that a plaintiff might later establish
some set of undisclosed facts to support recovery. Id. at 561. Rather, the facts set forth in the
complaint must be sufficient to nudge the claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.
Id. at 570. “[W]here 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 not ‘show[n]’ – ‘that the pleader
is entitled to relief.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).
The Court first addresses Pulaski County’s argument that Leftridge’s claims against
Pulaski County for its failure to properly train its employees are factually deficient. Pulaski
County argues that Leftridge’s allegations on their face do not sustain a claim of deliberate
indifference to Edwards’s potential for suicide and thus lack the requisite specificity to state a
claim that is plausible on its face.
The legal inquiry for the deliberate indifference issue in inmate suicide cases is the same
whether or not the jailers discover the decedent’s suicidal tendencies: “whether the jailers were
deliberately indifferent to the risk of suicide.” Rellergert v. Cape Girardeau County, 924 F.2d
794, 796 (8th Cir. 1991). Pulaski County, as a municipality, is liable for the failure to prevent
Edwards’s suicide if “a constitutional violation has been committed pursuant to an official
custom, policy, or practice.” Johnson v. Blaukat, 453 F.3d 1108, 1114 (8th Cir. 2006)(citing
Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of N.Y.C., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978)). The County cannot be
held liable on the theory of respondeat superior; however, liability under § 1983 can be created
where an alleged failure to train constitutes deliberate indifference to the rights of others. City of
Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989); Langford v. Norris, 614 F.3d 445, 460 (8th
Cir. 2010); Liebe v. Norton, 157 F.3d 574, 579 (8th Cir. 1998).
Here, Leftridge’s complaint states several instances where Edwards’s behavior could
have put Pulaski County on notice that Edwards would harm herself. Leftridge alleges that
“Edwards voiced medical complaints,” “banged her head repeatedly into the wall,” “thrash[ed]
around,” and “holler[ed] and roll[ed] on the ground...complaining of a seizure.” Compl. ¶¶ 911, 13, 15, 17. The Court finds that Leftridge’s allegations state a claim of deliberate
indifference that is plausible on its face. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
Pulaski County argues that even if the claims against Pulaski County are factually
sufficient, the complaint is implausible and has not established that an official custom, policy, or
practice constitutes a “strong likelihood” of deliberate indifference to the rights of others.
Under Rule 12(b)(6), the issue is not whether Edwards’s behavior put Pulaski County on
sufficient notice, but rather whether Leftridge’s allegations state a claim that is plausible on its
face. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
Here, Leftridge’s complaint states :
“Defendant Pulaski County had a custom or practice of failing to train its
employees to be observant of and act upon signs and indications of suicide in
detainees. Defendant Pulaski County failed to implement training materials and
programs related to recognizing and understanding patterns of mental illness and
suicide. In particular, Defendant Pulaski County failed to train its employees to
recognize the dangers and warning signs of suicide.”
Compl. ¶ 29.
The Court finds that Leftridge sufficiently describes at this time what Pulaski County
allegedly did through official custom, policy, or practice that caused and contributed to
deliberate indifference to Edwards’s suicide potential and that Leftridge’s complaint against
Pulaski County for its failure to properly train its employees thus states claims for relief that are
plausible on their face. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court denies Pulaski County’s motion to dismiss
Leftridge’s complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) [doc.#6].
IT IS SO ORDERED this 2nd day of August 2012.
/s/Susan Webber Wright
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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