Beckermann v. Babich et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER re: 29 MOTION to Dismiss Case filed by Defendant William Strange, Defendant Brad Clark, Defendant Brandy Hickey, Defendant Myrtle Pruitt. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff 9;s Amended Complaint (Docket No. 29) is GRANTED to the extent it seeks to dismiss plaintiff's claims against Clark, Pruitt and Hickey for violating Mo. Rev. Stat. 217.410; to the extent it seeks to dismiss plaintiff's deliberate indifferen ce claim against Stange; and to the extent it seeks to dismiss plaintiff's official capacity claims against Stange, Clark, Pruitt and Hickey. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Docket No. 29) is DENIED in all other respects. An order of dismissal will be filed separately. Signed by District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr on 2/21/17. (CSG)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
JEFFREY A. BECKERMANN,
GLEN BABICH, et al.,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court upon Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended
Complaint, filed by defendants William Stange, Brad Clark, Myrtle Pruitt, and Brandy Hickey.
(Docket No. 29). Plaintiff has not responded to the motion, and the time for doing so has passed.
The motion will be granted in part, and denied in part.
Plaintiff is an inmate confined to the custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections
(“MDOC”). Stange, Clark, Pruitt and Hickey are employed by MDOC. The events giving rise
to this lawsuit occurred at the Southeast Correctional Center (“SECC”).
In the amended complaint, plaintiff alleges as follows.
On June 2, 2015, plaintiff
fractured his right hand while fighting with another inmate. At approximately 5:30 p.m., he told
a corrections officer he needed medical care for his hand, and he was evaluated by defendant
Cody Stanley, a nurse. Stanley measured plaintiff’s vital signs and departed, and plaintiff was
placed into a cell with another inmate.
At approximately 6:00 p.m. that same evening, Clark visited plaintiff’s cell to conduct an
initial administrative segregation hearing. Plaintiff showed Clark his “obviously fractured right
hand that was very swollen and by now discolored,” and requested medical treatment. (Docket
No. 8 at 21). Clark ignored his request. At approximately 7:25 p.m., Pruitt and Hickey visited
plaintiff’s cell, and plaintiff showed them his “obviously fractured right hand that was by this
time very swollen and discolored, and pleaded for immediate medical treatment from both
defendants and made them well aware that medical staff was denying him any medical treatment
whatsoever.” (Id. at 22). Pruitt and Hickey ignored his request.
On June 9, 2015, plaintiff was taken to the nurse’s station and evaluated by defendant
Jason Clements, a nurse. Clements taped two tongue depressors around plaintiff’s right fourth
metacarpal and ring finger, and referred plaintiff for an x-ray to be performed at a later date. On
June 11, 2015, plaintiff underwent an x-ray, which was positive for fracture. Plaintiff then
received medical treatment consisting of a hard splint, a plastic bag to cover the splint while
showering, and pain medication.
On June 23, 2015, plaintiff was transported to Jefferson City, Missouri to see Dr. Wilson,
an orthopedic specialist. Dr. Wilson told plaintiff that, because of the long delay in medical
treatment, he would require extensive reconstructive surgery that would involve re-fracturing his
hand, and then repairing it using a bone from his wrist, a metal plate, and six pins. Dr. Wilson
requested approval of the surgery, and ultimately performed it on July 22, 2015.
Plaintiff alleges that Clark, Pruitt and Hickey were deliberately indifferent to his serious
medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff also alleges that Clark, Pruitt and
Hickey failed to comply with Mo. Rev. Stat. 217.410, which required them to notify the
department director that plaintiff was suffering neglect and abuse. Plaintiff alleges that Stange is
responsible for the actions of his officers. Plaintiff also alleges that Stange transferred him to
another facility after he initiated the grievance process.
II. Legal Standard
Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “authorizes a court to dismiss a
claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989).
The motion to dismiss standard is different from the frivolity review standard under 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B), and dismissal for failure to state a claim does not invariably mean that the claim
lacked arguable merit. Id. at 329. “When a complaint raises an arguable question of law which
the district court ultimately finds is correctly resolved against the plaintiff, dismissal on Rule
12(b)(6) grounds is appropriate, but dismissal on the basis of frivolousness is not.” Id. at 328.
When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must assume that all of the factual
allegations in the complaint are true, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007),
and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Braden v. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 595 (8th Cir. 2009). The Court disregards legal conclusions, and
reviews the factual allegations for facial plausibility. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679
(2009). “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.”
Id. at 677. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “a civil rights complaint must contain
facts which state a claim as a matter of law and must not be conclusory.” Gregory v. Dillard’s,
Inc., 565 F.3d 464, 473 (8th Cir. 2009) (en banc).
Defendants Clark, Pruitt, and Hickey: Eighth Amendment
Plaintiff alleges that Clark, Pruitt and Hickey (collectively “defendants”) violated his
Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment through deliberate
indifference to his serious medical needs.
In support, plaintiff alleges that defendants
intentionally denied him access to medical care, despite the fact that he displayed to them his
obviously swollen and discolored hand and requested treatment. Plaintiff alleges that the delay
in medical treatment adversely affected his condition to the point that he required extensive
reconstructive surgery. In the instant motion, defendants contend that plaintiff fails to state a
The Eighth Amendment protects plaintiff from a confinement that involves cruel and
unusual punishment through deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. Deliberate
indifference may be demonstrated by prison guards who intentionally deny or delay access to
medical care. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104–05 (1976).
To prevail on a deliberate indifference claim, plaintiff must demonstrate that he suffered
from an objectively serious medical need, and that defendants actually knew of but deliberately
disregarded such need. Dulany v. Carnahan, 132 F.3d 1234, 1239 (8th Cir. 1997). A “serious
medical need” as “one that has been diagnosed by a physician requiring treatment, or one that is
so obvious that even a layperson would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor’s attention.”
Holden v. Hirner, 663 F.3d 336, 342 (8th Cir. 2011). When an inmate alleges that the delay in
treatment is the constitutional deprivation, the objective severity of the deprivation should also
be measured by reference to the effect of the delay in treatment. Beyerbach v. Sears, 49 F.3d
1324, 1326 (8th Cir. 1995).
For the objective prong, because plaintiff’s hand had not been diagnosed by a physician,
he must show that his injury was so obvious that a layperson would recognize the need for a
Taking plaintiff’s allegations as true, the Court concludes that he has
established this objective prong. Plaintiff alleges that, when he showed his hand to defendants
there were obvious physical manifestations of fracture, in that the hand was swollen and
discolored. Even a layperson viewing an obviously swollen and discolored hand would easily
recognize the need for a doctor’s attention. See Holden, 663 F.3d at 342; see also Hubbard v.
Gross, 199 Fed. Appx. 433, 438 (6th Cir. 2006) (broken and swollen hand was so obvious that
even a layperson would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor’s attention). Plaintiff has also
sufficiently alleged that the delay in treatment adversely affected his condition and prognosis, in
that he alleges the delay in treatment necessitated extensive reconstructive surgery.
Beyerbach, 49 F.3d at 1326.
Finally, plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that defendants
deliberately disregarded his objectively serious medical need by ignoring his repeated requests
for medical treatment, leaving him to suffer the pain and incapacity of a broken hand for a week
until finally seeing a nurse (who then merely taped tongue depressors to plaintiff’s broken hand).
Defendants argue that plaintiff was not deprived of medical care as evidenced by his own
admissions that he was examined by a nurse, had tongue depressors taped to his broken hand
several days after the fact, subsequently received an x-ray and orthopedic evaluation, and
ultimately underwent surgery. This argument is not well taken. Plaintiff does not allege that he
never received medical treatment or that he disagreed with the course of the medical treatment he
received; he alleges that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs
and created a delay in his receipt of medical treatment that adversely affected his condition and
Defendants contend: “[s]ince plaintiff was not deprived access to a nurse’s
examination on June 2, 2015, the Defendants could reasonably rely on the nurse’s examinations
as sufficient care for Plaintiff’s injury.” (Docket No. 30 at 7). Defendants also argue that
plaintiff failed to establish an objectively serious medical need because he fails to allege a
medical diagnosis of his hand before speaking with Clark, and he fails to allege a medical
diagnosis or a doctor’s order before speaking with Hickey and Pruitt. These arguments are not
The nurse’s evaluation preceded defendants’ interactions with plaintiff, and
defendants do not argue, with any specificity, that they were aware of the nurse’s assessment or
that they relied upon it in deciding to deny plaintiff’s requests for medical care. Also, alleging a
medical diagnosis or doctor’s order would have required plaintiff to be seen by a doctor, the very
thing plaintiff alleges defendants unconstitutionally denied him. Plaintiff sufficiently establishes
an objectively serious medical need in that he alleges he displayed a hand with obvious physical
manifestations of injury, and that the resulting delay adversely affected his condition and
prognosis. Having taken plaintiff’s allegations as true and carefully considered defendants’
arguments in the instant motion, the Court concludes that plaintiff has sufficiently stated a claim
against Clark, Hickey and Pruitt for violating his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel
and unusual punishment through deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.
Defendants Clark, Pruitt, and Hickey: Mo. Rev. Stat. 217.410
Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated the reporting requirements of Mo. Rev. Stat.
217.410. Defendants argue that, because Mo. Rev. Stat. 217.410 confers no federal right to
offenders, plaintiff’s allegations that they failed to follow it do not state a cause of action under
42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court agrees.
Section 1983 of Title 42 was designed to provide a “broad remedy for violations of
federally protected civil rights.” Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 685
(1978). It provides no substantive rights; it merely provides a remedy for violations of all
“rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws [of the United States].”
42 U.S.C. § 1983; see also Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994). To state a claim under
42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must establish: (1) the violation of a right secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) that the alleged deprivation of that right was
committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
Chapter 217 of the Missouri Revised Statutes requires MDOC employees to report
offender abuse under certain circumstances, and criminalizes the failure to report such abuse.
Mo. Rev. Stat. 217.410. It confers no federal rights to offenders, and therefore, the allegation
that defendants violated it fails to allege the violation of a federal right and consequently fails to
state a claim under § 1983. Because plaintiff’s claims that defendants violated Mo. Rev. Stat.
217.410 are fatally flawed in their legal premise and designed to fail, Young v. City of St.
Charles, Mo., 244 F.3d 623, 627 (8th Cir. 2001), they will be dismissed pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Furthermore, Clark, Pruitt and Hickey are entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiff’s
claim that they violated Mo. Rev. Stat. 217.410. Qualified immunity protects state actors from
liability under § 1983 unless the plaintiff shows both that the official violated a constitutional
right and that the right was “‘clearly established’ at the time of defendant’s alleged misconduct.”
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). In this case, plaintiff has failed to show the
violation of a constitutional right via his claim that Clark, Hickey and Pruitt violated Mo. Rev.
Stat. 217.410, and they are entitled to qualified immunity on that claim alone. Finally, the Court
agrees that plaintiff’s official-capacity claims against Clark, Pruitt and Hickey are barred by
sovereign immunity. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985).
Plaintiff alleges that, three days after he filed “the first stage of his Inmate Grievance
Process, a Informal Resolution Request (IRR), regarding his fractured right hand,” Stange
transferred him to another institution where he was immediately placed on “sleeper status.”
(Docket No. 8 at 23). Plaintiff also alleges that Stange transferred him in a calculated effort to
suppress his use of the prison grievance procedure. In the instant motion, Stange argues that
plaintiff’s claims against him should be dismissed because he is being sued as a supervisor and
not because he was personally or directly involved in any incident.
Although “a prisoner enjoys no constitutional right to remain in a particular institution,”
Murphy v. Missouri Dept. of Correction, 769 F.2d 502, 503 (8th Cir. 1985), and although prison
officials generally may “transfer a prisoner for whatever reason or for no reason at all,” Olim v.
Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 250 (1983), a prisoner cannot be transferred in retaliation for the
exercise of a constitutional right. Goff v. Burton, 7 F.3d 734, 737 (8th Cir. 1993). “The filing of
a prison grievance, like the filing of an inmate lawsuit, is protected First Amendment activity.”
Haynes v. Stephenson, 588 F.3d 1152, 1155-56 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Lewis v. Jacks, 486 F.3d
1025, 1029 (8th Cir. 2007)). “[P]rison officials do not have the discretion to punish an inmate
for exercising his first amendment rights by transferring him to a different institution.” Murphy,
769 F.2d 502, 503 (citing Garland v. Polley, 594 F.2d 1220, 1222-23 (8th Cir. 1979)).
To state a cause of action for retaliation under § 1983, a plaintiff need allege only that he
exercised a constitutionally protected right, and that his exercise of that right motivated prison
officials to transfer him to a different institution. See Orebaugh v. Caspari, 910 F.2d 526, 529
(8th Cir. 1990) (“To state a cause of action for retaliation under section 1983, Orebaugh need
allege only that he exercised his right to petition for redress of grievances and that his exercise of
this right motivated prison officials to bring disciplinary charges against him”). Construed
liberally, the amended complaint sufficiently states a cause of action, inasmuch as plaintiff
alleges that he exercised his First Amendment right to file a grievance and his exercise of that
right motivated Stange to transfer him.
Plaintiff also alleges that Stange was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs
because Stange is ultimately responsible for the actions of all correctional staff at SECC and
failed to properly oversee them. He does not allege that Stange was causally linked to, or that he
bore any personal responsibility for, the denial of his requests to receive medical care. Stange
argues that plaintiff’s claims against him should be dismissed because he is being sued as a
supervisor and not because he was personally or directly involved in any incident. With respect
to plaintiff’s deliberate indifference claims against Stange, the Court agrees. “Liability under §
1983 requires a causal link to, and direct responsibility for, the alleged deprivation of rights.”
Madewell v. Roberts, 909 F.2d 1203, 1208 (8th Cir. 1990). To be cognizable under § 1983, a
claim must allege that the defendant was personally involved in or directly responsible for the
incidents that deprived the plaintiff of his constitutional rights. Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d
1334, 1338 (8th Cir. 1985). Claims sounding in respondeat superior are not cognizable under §
1983. Boyd v. Knox, 47 F.3d 966, 968 (8th Cir. 1995). Plaintiff’s deliberate indifference claims
against Stange will therefore be dismissed.
In addition, the Court agrees that Stange is entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiff’s
deliberate indifference claims because plaintiff has failed to show that he violated a
constitutional right. See Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232. Finally, the Court agrees that plaintiff’s
official-capacity claims against Stange are barred by sovereign immunity. See Graham, 473
U.S. at 165-66.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended
Complaint (Docket No. 29) is GRANTED to the extent it seeks to dismiss plaintiff’s claims
against Clark, Pruitt and Hickey for violating Mo. Rev. Stat. 217.410; to the extent it seeks to
dismiss plaintiff’s deliberate indifference claim against Stange; and to the extent it seeks to
dismiss plaintiff’s official capacity claims against Stange, Clark, Pruitt and Hickey.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended
Complaint (Docket No. 29) is DENIED in all other respects.
An order of dismissal will be filed separately.
Dated this 21st day of February, 2017.
STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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