Bevan v. Santa Fe County et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER by District Judge Kenneth J. Gonzales granting 145 Plaintiff's First Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support. (tah)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
AIMEE BEVAN, as Personal Representative of
the Estate of Desiree Gonzales, deceased,
Civ. No. 15-73 KG/SCY
SANTA FE COUNTY, MARK CALDWELL, Warden,
in his official capacity, MARK GALLEGOS,
Deputy Warden/Acting Youth Development Administrator,
in his individual capacity, GABRIEL VALENCIA,
Youth Development Administrator, Individually,
MATTHEW EDMUNDS, Corrections Officer, individually,
JOHN ORTEGA, Corrections Officer, MOLLY ARCHULETA,
Corrections Nurse, Individually, ST. VINCENT HOSPITAL, and
NATHAN PAUL UNKEFER, M.D.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff’s1 Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment and Memorandum in Support (Motion for Partial Summary Judgment), filed March
14, 2016. (Doc. 145). Santa Fe County Defendants2 filed a response on April 8, 2016, and
Plaintiff filed a reply on May 17, 2016. (Docs. 159 and 178). Having considered the Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment, the accompanying briefing, and relevant law, the Court grants the
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.
It is undisputed that on May 7, 2014, Santa Fe Police officers transported Desiree
Gonzales from St. Vincent Hospital’s Emergency Department, where she had been treated for a
Plaintiff is the personal representative of the estate of Desiree Gonzales.
Santa Fe County Defendants include Santa Fe County, Mark Gallegos, Gabriel Valencia,
Matthew Edmunds, John Ortega, and Molly Archuleta.
heroin overdose, to the Santa Fe County Youth Development Center (YDC). It is also
undisputed that Gonzales experienced respiratory distress while at YDC and eventually stopped
breathing. See St. Vincent Emergency Physician Report (Doc. 145-2) at 1, 3, and 4 (Gonzales
“would stop breathing & gasp for air,” made “gurgling noises,” had “difficulty breathing,”
complained to her mother of chest pain, and finally stopped breathing altogether). It is further
undisputed that when Gonzales stopped breathing and became nonresponsive YDC staff called
911. Id. at 3-4. Several hours later, Gonzales died at St. Vincent Hospital. Id. at 4. The Office
of the Medical Investigator determined that the cause of death was “Toxic effects of heroin,” and
noted that Gonzales’ “lungs were heavy and wet (pulmonary edema) with microscopic features
of an infection (bronchopneumonia)….” (Doc. 145-4) at 1 and 3.
Pertinent to this Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Plaintiff sued Santa Fe County
Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Counts One and Two of the Complaint for Wrongful Death
(Complaint) (Doc. 1) at 4-21. Plaintiff bases the Section 1983 claims on the allegation that Santa
Fe County Defendants’ delay in providing Gonzales with medical care violated her rights under
the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
B. Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party shows “there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(a). Once the moving party meets its initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dep't, 717
F.3d 760, 767 (10th Cir. 2013). A dispute over a material fact is “genuine” only if “the evidence
is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court views the facts in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party’s
favor. Tabor v. Hilti, Inc., 703 F.3d 1206, 1215 (10th Cir. 2013).
Plaintiff moves for summary judgment on one aspect of the Eighth Amendment claims:
the need for objective evidence of a serious medical need. A plaintiff may bring an Eighth
Amendment claim for cruel and unusual punishment based on “[a] prison official’s deliberate
indifference to an inmate’s serious medical needs….” Mata v. Saiz, 427 F.3d 745, 751(10th Cir.
2005). This type of claim “involves both an objective and a subjective component.” Id. (quoting
Sealock v. Colorado, 218 F.3d 1205, 1209 (10th Cir. 2000)). The objective component, the
component at issue in this Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, requires that the plaintiff
produce evidence of a “sufficiently serious” medical need “that has been diagnosed by a
physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily
recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Id. (quoting Sealock, 218 F.3d at 1209). When
a plaintiff alleges a delay in medical care, as in this case, the plaintiff must show “that her
medical need was objectively sufficiently serious, and that defendants’ delay in meeting that
need caused her substantial harm.” Id. at 752. The purpose of the objective component “is to
limit claims to significant, as opposed to trivial, suffering….” Id. at 753. Plaintiff argues that
the objective harm in this case was both the respiratory distress Gonzales suffered and her death,
both caused by heroin use.
Santa Fe County Defendants concede that Gonzales’ death meets the objective
component of an Eighth Amendment claim. See, e.g., Martinez v. Beggs, 563 F.3d 1082, 108889 (10th Cir. 2009) (agreeing that death meets sufficiently serious harm element of objective
component of Eighth Amendment claim). Santa Fe County Defendants, however, argue that the
Complaint does not allege respiratory distress as a substantial harm. Contrary to this argument,
Plaintiff asserts in the Complaint that Gonzales’ “difficulty breathing,” “gasping for air,” and not
breathing were “clear signs of a serious medical condition,” but Santa Fe County Defendants did
not seek medical aid until Gonzales became unresponsive. (Doc. 1) at 11-14, ¶¶ 58, 59, 60, 62,
and 69. One can reasonably infer from the Complaint that Plaintiff alleges that delay in medical
care resulted in a substantial harm, i.e., Gonzales ceasing to breathe and becoming unresponsive.
Santa Fe County Defendants’ argument that Plaintiff failed to allege in her Complaint that
respiratory distress was a substantial harm is without merit.
Next, Santa Fe County Defendants assert that respiratory distress is only a symptom of
heroin toxicity, and may not, as a matter of law, constitute a sufficiently serious medical need or
a substantial harm for the purpose of meeting the objective component of the Eighth Amendment
claims. In Mata v. Saiz, the Tenth Circuit held that although severe chest pain is a symptom of a
heart attack it, nonetheless, “is a serious medical condition under the objective prong of the Eight
Amendment’s deliberate indifference standard.” 427 F.3d at 754. The Tenth Circuit concluded
that the plaintiff met the objective component because she “suffered both unnecessary pain and a
worsening in her condition—in the form of permanent and irreversible heart damage.” Id. at
In this case, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Santa Fe County
Defendants, no reasonable jury could find that Gonzales’ respiratory distress was not a
worsening in her condition. Under Mata, this worsening in Gonzales’s condition can be an
objectively and sufficiently serious medical need. In fact, no reasonable jury could find that
Gonzales’ respiratory distress was either trivial or not “so obvious that even a lay person would
easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” See Mata, 427 F.3d at 751 (quoting
Sealock, 218 F.3d at 1209). Consequently, Gonzales’ respiratory distress was a sufficiently
serious medical need.
Santa Fe County Defendants also argue that in a medical delay case the substantial harm
requirement can only be “satisfied by lifelong handicap, permanent loss, or considerable pain”
and not by a symptom like respiratory distress. Garrett v. Stratman, 254 F.3d 946, 950 (10th
Cir. 2001). The Tenth Circuit recently explained in Kellum v. Mares that the relevant question
with respect to symptoms in a medical delay case is whether the delay in medical care worsened
the inmate’s condition by creating a substantial intermediate harm. 657 F. App'x 763, 771 (10th
Cir. 2016) (“The relevant question is whether the delay worsened Ms. Kellum's condition, not
caused it, and the district court found the delay caused the substantial ‘intermediate harm[s]’ of
worsened infection and unnecessary pain.”). Kellum does not exclude the possibility that
respiratory distress, as a symptom, can be a substantial intermediate harm, which meets the
objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim.
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Santa Fe County Defendants, no
reasonable jury could find that the delay in providing medical care at YDC did not worsen
Gonzales’s condition to the point that the delay caused her to finally cease breathing and
become unresponsive. No reasonable jury could find that the respiratory distress and eventual
unresponsiveness was not a substantial intermediate harm.
Plaintiff has carried her burden of demonstrating that, as a matter of law, the respiratory
distress Gonzales suffered satisfies the objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim.
Plaintiff is, therefore, entitled to summary judgment on the issue of the objective component of
her Eighth Amendment claims.
IT IS ORDERED that
1. Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support (Doc.
145) is granted; and
2. summary judgment will be entered in Plaintiff’s favor, thereby, establishing that
Gonzales’ respiratory distress and death meet the objective component of Plaintiff’s Eighth
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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