Suffal et al v. Jefferson Parish et al
ORDER AND REASONS denying as moot 6 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim; granting 7 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim; granting in part 10 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Party Jefferson Parish dismisse d WITHOUT PREJUDICE, Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE as premature, and Plaintiffs' section 1983 claims are DISMISSED as to Correcthealth only. Plaintiffs are granted leave to amend their complaint within 20 days of this Order if they can allege facts supporting a section 1983 claim against Correcthealth. Signed by Judge Jane Triche Milazzo. (ecm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
TINA SUFFAL, ET AL
JEFFERSON PARISH, ET AL
SECTION: "H" (3)
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court are a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Jefferson
Parish (Doc. 6), a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Correcthealth Jefferson,
LLC ("Correcthealth") and Stacy Greene (Doc. 7), and a Motion for Judgment on
the Pleadings filed by Correcthealth, and Stacy Greene (Doc. 10). For the
following reasons, Jefferson Parish's Motion to Dismiss is DENIED AS MOOT,
Correcthealth and Dr. Greene's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED, and the Motion
for Judgment on the Pleadings is GRANTED IN PART.
Plaintiffs are the surviving mother and children of Eric Suffal. Mr. Suffal
died on July 28, 2013, as a result of a perforated duodenal ulcer, acute
peritonitis, and a brain herniation allegedly sustained while he was incarcerated
in the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center ("JPCC"). Suffal was booked into the
JPCC on July 11, 2013. At that time, he reported to the staff of the JPCC that
he had ingested rat poison over a period of three days prior to his incarceration.
After evaluating Suffal, the staff of the JPCC determined that he presented a
high risk of suicide, admitted him to the infirmary, and placed him on suicide
watch. Suffal remained in JPCC custody until July 24, 2013, when he was found
unresponsive and drooling in his cell. He was transferred to the LSU Interim
Public Hospital, where he died four days later. This suit followed.
Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Sheriff Normand, Correcthealth (the
medical provider at the JPCC), and Dr. Stacy Greene (the medical director at the
JPCC) were deliberately indifferent to Suffal's serious medical needs in violation
of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Eighth Amendment, that Defendants failed to
provide reasonable accommodations for his disability in violation of the
Americans with Disabilities Act, and that Defendants are liable for various state
law torts, including medical malpractice. Plaintiffs initially named Jefferson
Parish as an additional Defendant but have since filed an amended complaint
removing all claims against Jefferson Parish. Defendants Jefferson Parish,
Correcthealth, LLC, and Dr. Greene seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims with
The facts are drawn from Plaintiffs' Complaint and presented in the light most
favorable to Plaintiffs. See Guidry v. Am. Pub. Life Ins. Co., 512 F.3d 177, 180 (5th Cir. 2007).
Rule 12(c) provides that a party may move for judgment on the pleadings,
after pleadings are closed but early enough not to delay trial.2 The standard for
determining a Rule 12(c) motion is the same as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to
dismiss.3 To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead
enough facts "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."4 A claim is
"plausible on its face" when the pleaded facts allow the court to "draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."5
A court must accept the complaint’s factual allegations as true and must "draw
all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor."6 The court need not, however,
accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations.7 To be legally
sufficient, a complaint must establish more than a "sheer possibility" that the
plaintiff’s claims are true.8
The complaint must contain enough factual
allegations to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence
of each element of the plaintiff's claim.9 If it is apparent from the face of the
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) (2014).
Guidry, 512 F.3d at 180.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 547 (2007)).
Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009).
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Lormand, 565 F.3d at 255–57.
complaint that an insurmountable bar to relief exists and the plaintiff is not
entitled to relief, the court must dismiss the claim.10 The Court's review "is
limited to the complaint, any documents attached to the complaint, and any
documents attached to the motion to dismiss that are central to the claim and
referenced by the complaint."11
LAW AND ANALYSIS
The Court will address each of the three Motions in turn.
I. Jefferson Parish's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 6)
Plaintiffs' initial Complaint purported to assert claims against Jefferson
Parish. The Amended Complaint, however, does not assert any claim against
the Parish. "[A]n amended complaint supersedes original complaint and renders
it of no legal effect unless the amended complaint specifically refers to and
adopts or incorporates by reference the earlier pleading."12 Thus, the Court
construes the amendment as a request to voluntarily dismiss the Parish.13
Nonetheless, Jefferson Parish asks this Court to construe the amendment as an
admission that Plaintiffs have no viable claim against it and to dismiss it with
prejudice. This request is denied. A plaintiff generally has an absolute right to
Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007).
Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir.
Canal Ins. Co. v. Coleman, 625 F.3d 244, 246 n.2 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations
See Celanese Corp. v. Coastal Water Auth., 475 F. Supp. 2d 623, 628 n.2 (S.D. Tex.
2007) (construing an amendment as a voluntary dismissal).
voluntarily dismiss a claim before the opposing party serves an answer or
motion for summary judgment.14 "Moreover, the first time a plaintiff voluntary
dismisses his claim, it is without prejudice."15 Jefferson Parish has filed neither
an answer nor a motion for summary judgment. Therefore, the Court construes
Plaintiffs' amendment as a voluntary dismissal of Jefferson Parish. Accordingly,
Jefferson Parish is dismissed without prejudice, and the Motion to Dismiss is
denied as moot.
II. Correcthealth and Dr. Greene's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7)
Correcthealth and Dr. Greene move to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims, to the
extent that they arise under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act as
Defendants argue, and Plaintiffs concede, that Louisiana law
requires that all medical malpractice actions be presented to a medical review
panel prior to the institution of litigation.16 Indeed, Plaintiffs requested a
medical review panel in connection with this matter and concede that the
medical malpractice claims are premature. Therefore, the medical malpractice
claims against Correcthealth and Dr. Greene are dismissed without prejudice as
III. Correcthealth and Dr. Greene's Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings (Doc. 10)
Correcthealth and Dr. Greene contend that Plaintiffs have failed to allege
Harvey Specialty & Supply, Inc. v. Anson Flowline Equip. Inc., 434 F.3d 320, 324 (5th
Cir. 2005) (citing Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 41(a)(1)).
Yesh Music v. Lakewood Church, 727 F.3d 356, 359 (5th Cir. 2013).
Thibodeaux v. Donnell, 9 So. 3d 120, 123 (La. 2009).
facts sufficient to support a claim pursuant to section 1983 and the Eighth
Amendment. "A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition
against cruel and unusual punishment when his conduct demonstrates
deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious medical needs."17 "The mere delay
of medical care can also constitute an Eighth Amendment violation but only if
there has been deliberate indifference that results in substantial harm."18 "A
prison official acts with deliberate indifference only if (A) he knows that inmates
face a substantial risk of serious bodily harm and (B) he disregards that risk by
failing to take reasonable measures to abate it."19 "A showing of deliberate
indifference requires the inmate to submit evidence that prison officials refused
to treat him, ignored his complaints, intentionally treated him incorrectly, or
engaged in any similar conduct that would clearly evince a wanton disregard for
any serious medical needs."20
While "[d]eliberate indifference is an extremely high standard to meet,"21
Plaintiffs have pled sufficient facts to support such a claim in this case.
Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the staff of JPCC knew on July 11 that Suffal
posed a high risk of suicide and that he had ingested rat poison over a three day
period. During an exam on July 17, medical staff noted that Suffal's abdomen
By July 19, Suffal was complaining of headaches, sleep
Easter v. Powell, 467 F.3d 459, 463 (5th Cir. 2006).
Id. (internal quotations omitted).
Gobert v. Caldwell, 463 F.3d 339, 346 (5th Cir. 2006).
Clark v. Adams, 233 F. App'x 400, 401 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Domino v. Texas Dep't
of Criminal Justice, 239 F.3d 752, 756 (5th Cir. 2001)).
Gobert, 463 F.3d at 346.
disturbances, and was refusing food. On July 21, Suffal's condition began to
rapidly deteriorate. He experienced nausea, vomiting, and was unable to finish
his meals. On July 22, Dr. Greene examined Suffal and noted that he had been
experiencing nausea and vomiting for several weeks (i.e. since he had ingested
the rat poison). By the end of the day on July 22, Suffal was no longer able to
stand. JPCC staff did not send Suffal to the hospital until the morning of July
24, after he was found unresponsive in his cell.
Dr. Greene's failure to send Suffal to the hospital on July 22 does not,
however, rise to the level of a constitutional violation unless Dr. Greene was
deliberately indifferent to Suffal's medical needs and Suffal suffered harm as a
result of the delay in seeking treatment. Plaintiffs allege that Suffal died as a
result of the delay, thus the remaining question is whether Plaintiffs have
alleged that Dr. Greene was deliberately indifferent.
Plaintiffs allege that Dr. Greene knew on July 22 that (1) Suffal had
ingested a quantity of rat poison in the days prior to his incarceration, (2) Suffal
was exhibiting symptoms of abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, and (3) other
than the rat poison, there was no plausible explanation for these symptoms.
These facts support an inference that Dr. Greene knew Suffal faced an obvious
risk of bodily harm. Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that Dr. Greene disregarded
the risk to Suffal's health by failing to take any action until Suffal was totally
unresponsive. Accordingly, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs have pled facts
sufficient to support a deliberate indifference claim.
For their part, Defendants argue that some of Plaintiffs' factual allegations
are incorrect and that they provided Suffal some medical treatment, thus
defeating a deliberate indifference claim. Both arguments are rejected. While
Defendants may disagree with Plaintiffs' description of the facts, the Court is
required at this stage of the proceedings to accept Plaintiffs' factual allegations
as true. Moreover, Defendants may not escape liability merely by providing
some treatment to Suffal, if Defendants' failure to provide additional treatment
constitutes deliberate indifference.22
Finally, Correcthealth argues that it cannot be held vicariously liable for
the actions of Dr. Greene unless Plaintiffs can demonstrate that Suffal's injuries
were the result of a constitutionally deficient custom, policy, or practice. The
Court agrees. "Section 1983 does not create supervisory or respondeat superior
liability. The individual officials may be liable only for implementing a policy
that is itself a repudiation of constitutional rights and the moving force of the
The Amended Complaint contains numerous
conclusory allegations that Correcthealth implemented various policies and
procedures that ultimately injured Suffal, but fails to include any facts regarding
the nature of these alleged policies, much less a description of how they are
Accordingly, the section 1983 claim against
Correcthealth is dismissed without prejudice.24 Plaintiffs are granted leave to
See, e.g., Monceaux v. White, 266 F. App'x 362 (5th Cir. 2008) (holding that nurse was
deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's serious medical needs when she treated plaintiff's injury
herself instead of calling a physician).
Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 742 (5th Cir. 2002).
This does not, however, mean that Correcthealth is dismissed as a defendant from
this action. Plaintiffs also assert several state law claims against it. Those claims remain
amend their complaint within 20 days of this Order if they can allege facts
supporting a section 1983 claim against Correcthealth.
For the foregoing reasons, Jefferson Parish's Motion to Dismiss is
DENIED AS MOOT, Correcthealth and Dr. Greene's Motion to Dismiss is
GRANTED, and the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is GRANTED IN
PART. Jefferson Parish is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE, Plaintiffs'
claims pursuant to the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act are DISMISSED
WITHOUT PREJUDICE as premature, and Plaintiffs' section 1983 claims are
DISMISSED as to Correcthealth only.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 12th day of February, 2015.
JANE TRICHE MILAZZO
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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