Autry et al v. Cleveland County Sheriff's Department et al
ORDER granting 52 Motion to Dismiss of Defendant Joseph Lester, as Sheriff of Cleveland County. Signed by Honorable Timothy D. DeGiusti on 9/15/2017. (mb)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA
ROBERT ALLEN AUTRY, an
Incapacitated Person individually, et al.,
CLEVELAND COUNTY SHERIFF’S
DEPARTMENT, et al.,
Case No. CIV-15-1167-D
Before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss of Defendant Joseph Lester, as Sheriff of
Cleveland County [Doc. No. 52], filed pursuant Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
asserts that the Second Amended Complaint fails to state a claim against him under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Plaintiff Robert Allen Autry or his mother, Plaintiff Sandra Valentine.
Plaintiffs have responded in opposition to the Motion, and Sheriff Lester has replied.
Thus, the Motion is fully briefed and at issue.
Factual and Procedural Background
Plaintiffs bring § 1983 claims against Sheriff Lester, in his official capacity only,
for his alleged failure on behalf of Cleveland County to provide medical care to Mr. Autry
while he was a pretrial detainee in the Cleveland County Detention Center or jail.
Plaintiffs originally sued the sheriff’s department and others who are no longer parties.
See Compl. [Doc. No. 1] at 1 & ¶¶ 7-11.
A scheduling order was entered on June 23,
On January 4, 2017, more than four months after the original deadline, Plaintiffs
added Sheriff Lester and the Board of County Commissioners of Cleveland County, as well
as numerous medical care providers, as defendants.
In February 2017, Plaintiffs
voluntarily dismissed the sheriff’s department and the Board of County Commissioners
pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41. See Stipulation [Doc. No. 54].
unidentified “John Doe” defendants for lack of service.
The Court dismissed the
See 4/6/17 Order [Doc. No. 33];
4/25/17 Order [Doc. No. 65]; 6/1/17 Order [Doc. No. 82].
The remaining defendants
have also filed motions to dismiss, which will be addressed by separate orders.
Plaintiffs assert in Count I that they “communicated to the Sheriff” and “[t]he
Sheriff and the Jail were on actual notice” of a serious medical need due to Mr. Autry’s
pre-existing medical condition from a prior head injury, but that “[t]he Sheriff intentionally
or deliberately failed to provide required medical treatment” of a sinus infection, “ignored
requests for proper medical care,” and delayed “appropriate medical treatment until it was
See Second Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 49], ¶¶ 46-48.
The factual allegations of
Plaintiffs’ pleading, as well as argument in their brief, confirm that any communications
and notice, as well as any failure to provide timely medical treatment, occurred through
jail employees and medical staff.
See id. ¶¶ 23-28, 30-31; Pls.’ Resp. Br. [Doc. No. 62]
Plaintiffs do not contend Sheriff Lester personally participated in the events
involving Mr. Autry.
Plaintiffs allege that the “improper treatment and the delay in
receiving proper treatment resulted in Autry suffering unneeded pain, suffering, and
ultimately in a serious medical injury resulting in permanent incapacitation where Autry
had portions of his brain removed from an un- or misdiagnosed and untreated sinus
infection that progressed to his brain with tragic results.”
No. 49], ¶ 49.
See Second Am. Compl. [Doc.
Plaintiffs claim “[t]he failure to properly provide medical care after
receiving actual notice of the need as well as the delay in administering proper care,
constituted deliberate indifference to the needs and rights of a pretrial detainee.”
Id. ¶ 50.
In Count II, Plaintiffs assert that Sheriff Lester (and the Board of County
Commissioners, which has now been dismissed) “deprived Plaintiff [Autry] of his federal
constitutional rights by failing to propagate appropriate standards, policies, training, and
procedures to ensure that pretrial detainees entitled to appropriate and necessary medical
care receive such treatment while in the care and custody of the Sheriff.”
Id. ¶ 53.
Plaintiffs claim that the denial of medical care to Mr. Autry by jail personnel and medical
staff as alleged in Count I was the result of a deficient medical care policy and a lack of
proper training “to not ignore a serious medical need” and “to communicate a serious
medical need to appropriate medical care provider[s].”
Id. ¶¶ 54, 56-57.
For relief on these claims, Plaintiffs seek to recover “actual damages allowed by
law” and punitive damages.
Id. ¶¶ 51, 57.
Plaintiffs’ pleading includes an itemized list
of damages that includes, as to both Plaintiffs, lost wages (past and future), medical
expenses, and pain and suffering.
Id. ¶ 92.
Ms. Valentine states that her damages
include a “loss of companionship, maintenance, support, advice, counsel, contribution of
both a pecuniary and non-pecuniary nature, society affection and comfort she would have
had with her son had he not been so grievously and permanenrly [sic] crippled both
physically and mentally.”
Id. ¶ 95.
Sheriff Lester’s Motion
Sheriff Lester seeks dismissal of Count I on the ground that an official-capacity
claim against him is a claim against Cleveland County and requires proof of an official
policy or custom that caused the alleged injury to Mr. Autry. 1
Sheriff Lester asserts that
the factual allegations of the Second Amended Complaint show Plaintiffs seek to impose
liability on Cleveland County for the alleged acts or omissions of unidentified jail
personnel or medical staff and Plaintiffs fail to allege the existence of any policy or custom
that would support county liability.
Sheriff Lester seeks dismissal of Count II on the
ground that the Second Amended Complaint lacks sufficient factual allegations to establish
§ 1983 liability based on a deficient policy or failure to train jail staff regarding medical
needs of detainees.
Sheriff Lester also seeks dismissal of any claim brought by
Ms. Valentine individually, arguing that she cannot recover under § 1983 for a loss of
consortium or any loss from a violation of Mr. Autry’s constitutional rights, and that she
has not alleged any violation of her own right. 2
It is well settled that “a claim against [a sheriff] in his official capacity . . . is the same
as bringing a suit against the county.” Martinez v. Beggs, 563 F.3d 1082, 1091 (10th Cir. 2009).
A county is not liable under § 1983 simply because its employees caused injury; a plaintiff must
show an established policy or custom was a direct cause of his injury. See Mocek v. City of
Albuquerque, 813 F.3d 912, 933 (10th Cir. 2015); Moss v. Kopp, 559 F.3d 1155, 1168-69 (10th
Sheriff Lester raises an additional issue of whether punitive damages are recoverable.
For reasons discussed infra, the Court finds it unnecessary to reach the issue of proper damages
on a § 1983 claim against Cleveland County. Otherwise, the Court would find that Sheriff
Lester’s Motion is not a proper vehicle for challenging the propriety of punitive damages because
a Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of a claim. “‘[T]he prayer for relief is no part of the
cause of action and . . . the parties are entitled to such relief and to such judgment as the complaint
. . . makes out.’” Coll v. First Am. Title Ins. Co., 642 F.3d 876, 901 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting
Daniels v. Thomas, 225 F.2d 795, 797 & n.5 (10th Cir. 1955).
Standard of Decision
“To survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)], a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F. 3d 1242, 1247 (10th
Cir. 2008). “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
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not
permit the court to infer more than the possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged
– but it has not ‘show[n]’ – ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.’”
R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).
Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.
Thus, in assessing plausibility, a court should first disregard
conclusory allegations and “next consider the factual allegations in [the] complaint to
determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.”
Id. at 681.
Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is a “context-specific task
that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”
See id. at 679; see also Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1248.
“In § 1983 cases, defendants often
include the government agency and a number of government actors sued in their individual
Therefore it is particularly important in such circumstances that the complaint
make clear exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom, to provide each individual
with fair notice as to the basis of the claims against him or her . . . .”
See Robbins, 519
F.3d at 1249-50 (emphasis in original); see also Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090,
1104 (10th Cir. 2009).
“[I]t is incumbent upon a plaintiff to ‘identify specific actions
taken by particular defendants’ in order to make out a viable § 1983 . . . claim.”
Thomas, 718 F.3d 1210, 1226 (10th Cir. 2013) (quoting Tonkovich v. Kan. Bd. of Regents,
159 F.3d 504, 532 (10th Cir. 1998)) (emphasis added by the court in Pahls).
Sheriff Lester’s § 1983 Liability – Official Policy
Plaintiffs agree their suit against Sheriff Lester is a suit against Cleveland County
and they “are required to establish the existence of a policy or custom by which [Mr. Autry]
was denied a constitutional right, and a direct causal link between the policy or custom and
the injury alleged.”
See Pls.’ Resp. Br. [Doc. No. 62] at 6-7.
Plaintiffs argue, based on
facts not alleged in their pleading and without any reference to the Second Amended
Complaint, that there have been multiple incidents of critical injury or death of Cleveland
County jail inmates, thus suggesting a policy or custom “that allows inmates to develop
life-threatening conditions without timely intervention that rises or could rise to the level
of deliberate indifference.”
Id. at 7.
Plaintiffs concede that the nature of the allegedly
inadequate jail policy “is not completely clear” but in Mr. Autry’s case “relates to the
transfer of relevant and important medical information about the inmate to appropriate
Plaintiffs contend they have been denied access to information and
discovery that would permit more detailed factual allegations, and their pleading should be
deemed sufficient, particularly in light of Mr. Autry’s incapacity.
Id. at 7-8.
Upon examination of the Second Amended Complaint, the Court finds only
conclusory allegations that an inadequate policy regarding medical care for county jail
inmates may have existed. 3
Plaintiffs fail to allege sufficient facts from which to identify
a deficient policy or practice or to suggest that any such deficiency caused Mr. Autry to be
denied medical treatment.
The factual allegations of the Second Amended Complaint
address only the deprivation of Mr. Autry’s constitutional right as a pretrial detainee to
adequate medical attention.
The facts stated in the Second Amended Complaint, which are accepted as true,
show that Mr. Autry suffered an accidental head injury as a teenager that “made sinus
infections especially dangerous” because it allowed “an untreated sinus infection to cause
See Second Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 49], ¶ 21.
While Mr. Autry was
detained in the county jail, he told his mother on November 13, 2014, that he had a sinus
infection, and she “informed the Jail’s receptionist” the next day that “he needed immediate
medical attention due to his traumatic brain injury (‘TBI’).”
Id. ¶ 23. Ms. Valentine
“was provided with a phone number for the Jail’s medical staff” the same day and she
“called the number repeatedly and left multiple messages for the Jail’s medical staff
regarding Autry’s TBI history . . . and the dangers of an untreated sinus infection in his
Plaintiffs allege, upon information and belief in Count II, that the jail’s “Policies and
Procedures Handbook . . . makes no distinction between pretrial detainees and [convicted]
inmates” and “[t]he relevant standard for a claim of inadequate provision of medical care for an
arrestee . . . comes from the Fourth Amendment.” Id. ¶¶ 54-55. The significance of this lack of
distinction is not explained in Plaintiffs’ brief. Case law holds that a pretrial detainee’s right to
medical care arises from the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment but the deliberate
indifference standard of the Eighth Amendment applies. See, e.g., Estate of Booker v. Gomez,
745 F.3d 405, 429 (10th Cir. 2014); Martinez, 563 F.3d at 1088.
Id. ¶ 24.
Mr. Autry received only medications for pain and fever.
later, on November 20, 2014, Ms. Valentine told “the medical staff” that Mr. Autry needed
additional care and on November 21, 2014, Mr. Autry spoke with the “Jail staff” about his
condition and “requested medical attention and antibiotics,” which were denied.
On November 25, 2014, “Autry was finally seen by the Jail’s medical staff and
he informed them of his condition and his previous TBI,” but he received no additional
Id. ¶ 28.
On November 26, 2014, he was transported to a hospital emergency
room, but was examined and returned to the jail “without receiving any antibiotics” or
“other stabilizing care.”
Id. ¶ 29.
On December 1, 2014, Mr. Autry lost consciousness
and was transported back to the hospital, where he underwent emergency brain surgery.
It was determined that “Autry had a serious bacterial infection in his brain as a result of an
untreated sinus infection.”
Id. ¶ 33.
A second emergency surgery was performed on
December 5, 2014, and Mr. Autry then underwent a series of operations and procedures to
place a feeding tube, insert a tracheal tube, and replace a cranial monitoring probe.
January 2015, Mr. Autry was determined to be “totally incapacitated from a brain injury”
and “would likely never return to an independent state.”
Id. ¶ 40.
From these facts, no deficient jail policy or custom can be discerned, and no causal
connection between a policy and Mr. Autry’s injury is apparent. These omissions are fatal
to any § 1983 claim against Sheriff Lester in his official capacity. 4 Plaintiffs’ argument
See, e.g., Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dep.’t, 717 F.3d 760, 769 (10th
Cir. 2013) (“the longstanding interpretation of § 1983’s standards for imposing municipal liability”
under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691-92, 694 (1978), requires “that
a plaintiff must identify a government’s policy or custom that caused the injury” and “show that
that they should be permitted to obtain through discovery the necessary facts to support a
basis of county liability lacks any citation of legal authority or any support in existing law.
Their argument is contrary to case law holding that a plaintiff must satisfy the pleading
standard of Rule 8(a) to “unlock the doors of discovery.”
See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79;
Ghailani v. Sessions, 859 F.3d 1295, 1303-04 (10th Cir. 2017).
For these reasons, the Court finds that Plaintiffs fail to state in Count I of their
Second Amended Complaint a § 1983 claim against Sheriff Lester based on a denial of
medical care to Mr. Autry.
B. Sheriff Lester’s § 1983 Liability – Inadequate Training
Plaintiffs arguably assert another theory of county liability in Count II of the Second
Amended Complaint: “the lack of proper training [of jail personnel] to communicate a
serious medical need to [an] appropriate medical care provider” resulted in a denial of
necessary medical care to Mr. Autry and “constitutes structural deliberate indifference.”
See Second Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 49], ¶ 54.
Plaintiffs claim they “attempted to
communicate the seriousness of [Mr.] Autry’s condition to . . . jail personnel” but his
worsening condition “went unrecognized” and “the Sheriff’s staff either failed to recognize
or chose to ignore the situation.” Id. ¶ 56. In their brief, Plaintiffs cite City of Canton v.
Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989), which held that inadequate training of employees may
the policy was enacted or maintained with deliberate indifference to an almost inevitable
constitutional injury”) (internal quotations omitted) (citing Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs v. Brown, 520
U.S. 397, 403 (1997); City of Canton v. Harris, 489 us 378, 389 (1989)); id. at 770 (for causation,
“the challenged policy or practice must be closely related to the violation of the plaintiff’s federally
protected right”) (internal quotation omitted).
result in municipal liability “where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference
to the rights of persons with whom the [employees] come into contact.” See Pl.’s Resp.
Br. [Doc. No. 62] at 8. “A municipality can be liable where ‘the need for more or different
training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of
constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be said to have been
deliberately indifferent to the need.’” Schneider, 717 F.3d at 773 (quoting City of Canton,
489 U.S. at 390).
Upon consideration, the Court finds that the Second Amended Complaint states
sufficient facts to suggest that poor communication among jail personnel or medical staff
regarding Mr. Autry’s medical history and his susceptibility to injury from an untreated
sinus infection, may have contributed to a delay in treatment.
Only pure speculation,
however, would permit any inference that a lack of communication was the result of
Where a § 1983 claim rests on inadequate training, “a plaintiff must
identify a specific deficiency that was obvious and was closely related to his injury, so that
it might fairly be said that the official policy or custom was both deliberately indifferent to
his constitutional rights and the moving force behind his injury.”
See Porro v. Barnes,
624 F.3d 1322, 1328 (10th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations omitted; citing City of Canton,
489 U.S. at 385); see also Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61 (2011). The Supreme
Court has observed:
A pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is
ordinarily necessary to demonstrate deliberate indifference for purposes of
failure to train. . . . Without notice that a course of training is deficient in a
particular respect, decisionmakers can hardly be said to have deliberately
chosen a training program that will cause violations of constitutional rights.
Connick, 563 U.S. at 62 (internal quotations and citations omitted).
In this case, Plaintiffs allege no facts to show that a possible need for more or
different training regarding communication of medical information was so likely to result
in the violation of a detainee’s right to medical care that Sheriff Lester can reasonably be
said to have been deliberately indifferent to the constitutional rights of jail inmates, or that
a lack of training was the moving force behind Mr. Autry’s injury.
facts argued in their brief fail to cure this deficiency.
Even the additional
The Court therefore finds that
Plaintiff’s allegations regarding inadequate training of jail personnel fail to state a plausible
§ 1983 claim against Sheriff Lester.
C. Plaintiff Sandra Valentine’s § 1983 Claim
Sheriff Lester asserts that damages under Section 1983 must be based on a violation
of a plaintiff’s individual rights and that Ms. Valentine cannot recover for any
constitutional deprivation suffered by her son.
It is a “well-settled principle that a section
1983 claim must be based upon the violation of plaintiff’s personal rights, and not the rights
of someone else.”
Archuleta v. McShan, 897 F.2d 495, 497 (10th Cir. 1990).
do not disagree with this proposition but, instead, argue in a conclusory fashion in their
brief that “Valentine alleges a substantive due process claim based on the violation of her
right to familial companionship and society.”
See Pls.’ Resp. Br. [Doc. No. 62] at 9.
Although Plaintiffs cite no legal support for this theory, the Court is aware of case
law recognizing a substantive due process right of familial association.
See, e.g., Griffin
v. Strong, 983 F.2d 1544, 1547 (10th Cir. 1993). Substantive due process rights “refer to
‘substantive liberties of the person,’ such as ‘personal decisions relating to marriage,
procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education.’”
Okla. Bar Ass’n, 998 F.2d 1559, 1568 (10th Cir. 1993) (quoting Planned Parenthood v.
Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 853 (1992)).
The concept also “acts substantively to restrain the
state from the ‘affirmative abuse of power.’”
Id. (quoting DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty.
Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 196 (1989)).
The Court finds in Plaintiffs’ argument
and the alleged facts of the Second Amended Complaint, no basis to support a substantive
due process claim of Ms. Valentine based on physical injuries suffered by her son.
Opportunity for Amendment
Plaintiffs include in their response brief an informal request to further amend their
pleading if it is found to be deficient.
They do not propose any particular amendment,
however, and have not complied with the requirement of LCvR15.1 to provide a proposed
pleading as an exhibit.
Further, prior opportunities to amend have failed to yield a
sufficient pleading, and the deadline set by the Scheduling Order expired long ago.
these circumstances, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to show “justice so requires”
leave to amend.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2); see also Garman v. Campbell Cty. Sch.
Dist. No. 1, 630 F.3d 977, 986 (10th Cir. 2010) (requiring written motion for leave to
amend); Frank v. U.S. West, Inc., 3 F.3d 1357, 1365-66 (10th Cir. 1993) (refusing leave to
amend may be warranted due to undue delay, failure to cure deficiencies by amendments
previously allowed, or futility of amendment).
The Second Amended Complaint relates an unfortunate series of events resulting in
a debilitating injury to Mr. Autry that might have been avoided.
However, for the reasons
set forth above, the Court finds that the Second Amended Complaint fails to state a
plausible § 1983 claim against Sheriff Lester in his official capacity by Plaintiff Robert
Allen Autry or Plaintiff Sandra Valentine.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Defendant Sheriff Lester’s Motion to Dismiss
[Doc. No. 52] is GRANTED.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 15th day of September, 2017.
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