BOWEN v. HUMPHREY et al
ORDER DENYING 52 Dr. Schoolcraft's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Ordered by U.S. District Judge MARC THOMAS TREADWELL on 7/16/2014. (tlh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
WALKER D. BOWEN, as the
administrator of the estate of
TERRANCE DESMOND BOWEN,
CARL HUMPHREY, DOUG
UNDERWOOD, ANTHONY BROOKINS,
CAGER EDWARD DAVIS, and BRUCE
REX SCHOOLCRAFT, D.O., in their
CIVIL ACTION NO. 5:13-CV-256 (MTT)
Terrance Bowen was beaten to death by his prison cellmate. This lawsuit,
brought by his estate under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleges the Defendants violated Bowen’s
Eighth Amendment rights when they placed him in a cell with Carl Merkerson, the man
who killed him. The Defendants are Carl Humphrey, warden of Baldwin State Prison;
Doug Underwood, deputy warden of security at the prison; Anthony Brookins, lieutenant
in charge of the unit in which Bowen and Merkerson lived; Cager Edward Davis, a
corrections officer at the prison who supervised inmates in the unit where Bowen and
Merkerson lived; and Bruce Rex Schoolcraft, D.O., a psychiatrist who treated inmates’
mental illnesses. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 3-8).
Before the Court is Dr. Schoolcraft’s motion to dismiss (Doc. 52) the Plaintiff’s
amended complaint (Doc. 50).1 For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED.
After nearly two years of incarceration, Merkerson, a convicted murderer, was
moved to Baldwin State Prison on February 18, 2010. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 9, 11). He was a
Level III mental health inmate. (Doc. 50, ¶ 13). Inmates assigned this designation are
described in a prison manual as having a “tenuous mental status that is easily
overwhelmed by everyday pressures, demands and frustrations” as well as “impulsive
behavior, poor judgment, a deterioration of emotional controls, loosening of
associations, delusional thinking and/or hallucinations.” (Doc. 50, ¶ 14). Merkerson
had a long history of paranoid schizophrenia, and he suffered from delusions, including
one that his head had been severed and replaced. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 56-60). When his
mental condition “decompensated,” he became violent and dangerous, and he was
unable to control his impulses or understand the consequences of his actions. (Doc.
50, ¶¶ 64-66).
On February 26, 2010, shortly after he was transferred to Baldwin State Prison,
Merkerson assaulted his cellmate, John Williams. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 17, 18). The resulting
disciplinary report characterized Merkerson’s conduct as a “High-Assault without a
weapon.” (Doc. 50, ¶ 21). Under prison guidelines, “MH-MR inmates…charged with
assault are to be ‘housed’ alone.” (Doc. 50, ¶ 23). Merkerson was then moved to a cell
Dr. Schoolcraft is not a state employee. The state Defendants also have a pending motion to
dismiss. (Doc. 53). On June 6, 2014, the Court granted the Plaintiff 60 days to engage in
limited discovery related to his allegations against the state Defendants, postponing
consideration of their motion. Additionally, because he is not a state employee, Dr. Schoolcraft
does not contend he is entitled to qualified immunity.
by himself in unit K-3, the lock-down segregation unit for disciplinary, protected custody,
and mental health inmates. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 28, 38).
During the last weekend in February 2010, Merkerson’s mother visited her son.
(Doc. 50, ¶ 99). Shortly after that visit, about a week before Merkerson killed Bowen,
she spoke by telephone to Merkerson’s mental health counselor. She told the
counselor that Merkerson’s mental condition was decompensating, that he became
violent and dangerous when that happened, and that he needed to be isolated from
other inmates so that he would not hurt anyone. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 99-103). Based on this
warning and her own observations of Merkerson, Merkerson’s mental health officer
arranged for a treatment team meeting on March 2 or March 3 about Merkerson’s
decompensation. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 193-194). The treatment team included Dr. Schoolcraft.
(Doc. 50, ¶ 195).
At the meeting, Dr. Schoolcraft was informed that Merkerson was dangerous and
decompensating. The team, which included Dr. Schoolcraft, thought Merkerson should
be housed in a cell by himself so that he would not harm others. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 196-197).
Merkerson’s mental health counselor also told Dr. Schoolcraft that Merkerson needed
an involuntary medicine evaluation because he was not swallowing his pills due to his
decompensation. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 198-199). After the treatment team meeting, Dr.
Schoolcraft reviewed Merkerson’s medical records detailing his psychiatric condition.
He also observed him in person. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 204-205). However, Dr. Schoolcraft did
not perform an involuntary medicine evaluation or order the involuntary medication of
Merkerson. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 202-203). Nor did he take action to ensure that Merkerson
would remain housed alone even though he could have had Merkerson transferred to
the Crisis Stabilization Unit, the Acute Care Unit, or Central State Hospital. (Doc. 50, ¶¶
Merkerson remained alone in his cell until March 7, 2010, when Bowen was
placed in the cell with him. (Doc. 50, ¶ 29). Bowen was a mental health inmate who
had been in the prison system since June 2003. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 30-31). At five feet eight
inches and 163 pounds, he was substantially smaller than Merkerson, who stood six
feet two inches and weighed 250 pounds. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 69-70). On March 9, 2010, two
days after Bowen was moved to Merkerson’s cell, officers serving lunch found Bowen
with his head stuffed in the toilet, his body limp, brutally beaten, and unmoving. (Doc.
50, ¶¶ 75-77, 80). Blood painted the cell walls and ran out from under the cell door.
(Doc. 50, ¶¶ 79, 83). Bowen was transported to the Medical Center of Central Georgia,
where he died a few hours later. (Doc. 50, ¶¶ 90, 95).
Motion to Dismiss Standard
To avoid dismissal pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter to “‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007)). “At the motion to dismiss stage, all well-pleaded facts are accepted as
true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff.” Garfield v. NDC Health Corp., 466 F.3d 1255, 1261 (11th Cir. 2006)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, “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 not ‘shown’ – that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “[C]onclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or
legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal.” Oxford Asset
Mgmt., Ltd. v. Jaharis, 297 F.3d 1182, 1188 (11th Cir. 2002). Where there are
dispositive issues of law, a court may dismiss a claim regardless of the alleged facts.
Marshall Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cnty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir.
1993) (citation omitted).
Under the Eighth Amendment, prison officials have a duty to “take reasonable
measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.” Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega,
748 F.3d 1090, 1099 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832
(1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted). More to the point, they “have a duty to
protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.” Id. (quoting Farmer,
511 U.S. at 833) (internal quotation marks omitted). Not every injury that one inmate
suffers at the hands of another inmate gives rise to constitutional liability, but a prison
official violates the Eighth Amendment “when a substantial risk of serious harm, of
which the official is subjectively aware, exists and the official does not respond
reasonably to the risk.” Id. (quoting Carter v. Galloway, 352 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th
Cir.2003)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
To plead a failure to protect claim under the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must
allege facts that show “(1) a substantial risk of serious harm; (2) the defendants'
deliberate indifference to that risk; and (3) causation.” Goodman v. Kimbrough, 718
F.3d 1325, 1331 (11th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted); Losey v. Warden,
521 F. App’x 717, 719 (11th Cir. 2013). The first element – risk of harm – is viewed
objectively. Caldwell, 748 F.3d at 1099. The second element – whether the defendants
were deliberately indifferent to that risk – has both a subjective and objective
component: The plaintiff must show the defendants subjectively knew the inmate faced
a substantial risk of serious harm and that the defendants disregarded that risk by not
responding in an objectively reasonable manner. Id.; Rodriguez v. Sec’y for Dep’t of
Corr., 508 F.3d 611, 617 (11th Cir. 2007). A prison official has subjective knowledge
when he is both “aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a
substantial risk of serious harm exists” and when he “also draw[s] the inference.”
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837; Caldwell, 748 F.3d at 1099-1100. “[A]n Eighth Amendment
claimant need not show that a prison official acted or failed to act believing that harm
actually would befall an inmate; it is enough that the official acted or failed to act despite
his knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842.
In this case, Dr. Schoolcraft contends the claims against him should be
dismissed because the Plaintiff cannot plausibly allege his subjective knowledge of the
risk of harm Merkerson posed to Bowen. The Court disagrees. Accepting the Plaintiff’s
allegations as true, Dr. Schoolcraft actually knew that Merkerson, a convicted murderer
suffering from schizophrenia, was dangerous and that his mental condition was
decompensating to the point that he was an immediate danger to those around him. Dr.
Schoolcraft learned this from his participation in the treatment team meeting that had
been prompted by a specific warning from Merkerson’s mother. Dr. Schoolcraft was
further made aware that Merkerson was not taking his medication and that the
treatment team believed he should not be placed in a cell with another inmate due to his
Despite acquiring this knowledge, Dr. Schoolcraft did not act to ensure
Merkerson was isolated from other inmates. Dr. Schoolcraft protests that he did not
know Bowen actually feared Merkerson or that Merkerson posed a “particularized risk”
to Bowen. However, the Plaintiff has sufficiently pled facts that suggest Dr. Schoolcraft
knew that any inmate placed with Merkerson would be exposed to a substantial risk of
serious harm simply by being confined to close quarters with him during that time.
Given what Dr. Schoolcraft allegedly knew about Merkerson’s then-deteriorating
condition, this is not a case where his actual knowledge of potential harm requires some
additional event or piece of information regarding Bowen’s specific fear of Merkerson.
See, e.g., Carter, 352 F.3d at 1349-50 (affirming summary judgment for the defendants
where the plaintiff had not told them he feared the problem inmate who later attacked
him or that the inmate had previously threatened him). Unlike the inmate in Carter,
whose past problems were not enough to put prison officials on notice of the danger he
posed, Merkerson presented a specific risk to anyone placed in a cell with him at the
time he attacked Bowen because it was at that time that his mental stability was
breaking down. Dr. Schoolcraft knew about this breakdown as it was happening. Thus,
there existed more than a generalized or speculative risk based on some history of past
problems. The risk Merkerson posed to a cellmate was imminent, and it was a risk
about which Dr. Schoolcraft was subjectively aware.2
As for Dr. Schoolcraft’s ability and authority to keep Merkerson isolated from other inmates,
which he claims was not within his purview, that will require a more in-depth evidentiary review
and cannot be determined at this stage of the proceedings.
Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, Dr. Schoolcraft’s motion to dismiss is
SO ORDERED, this 16th day of July, 2014.
S/ Marc T. Treadwell
MARC T. TREADWELL, JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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