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Nancy Schwartz On Behalf of Herself v. Lassen County Ex Rel. the Lassen County Jail

January 18, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge


Plaintiff Nancy Schwartz ("Plaintiff"), survivor of decedent, Michael Parker ("Decedent"), on behalf of herself and as successor-inp-interest to Decedent, seeks redress for several federal and state law claims alleging that the County of Lassen ("County"), Sheriff of Lassen County, Steven Warren ("Warren"), Officer Ed Vega ("Vega"), The City of Susanville ("City"), the Susanville Police Department ("Department"), and undersheriff John Mineau ("Mineau") violated decedent's civil rights leading up to, and during decedent's detainment at the Lassen County Adult Detention Facility (the "Facility").

By Memorandum and Order signed August 1, 2011, this Court granted in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint and granted Plaintiff leave to amend. (See ECF No. 38.) Presently before the court is the motion of Defendants Mineau and the County to dismiss claims 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 11, 12 and 13 of Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint*fn1 ("TAC") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Third Am. Compl. ["MTD"], filed September 2, 2011 [ECF No. 43].) Both the City and Officer Vega joined in the motion to dismiss.

(Joinder, filed Sept. 7, 2011, [ECF No. 47].)*fn2 For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.*fn3


The case arises out of the passing of Michael Parker, Plaintiff's son, who suffered from certain medical conditions - diverticulitis and congenital heart condition - that required a restricted diet (Pl.'s Third Am. Compl. ("TAC"), filed Aug. 24, 2001 [ECF No. 40] ¶ 13, 42.) Decedent passed away at Renown Hospital in Reno, Nevada, after colon and gastronomical complications. Prior to his death, Decedent intermittently spent time at the Lassen County Adult Detention Facility as a result of allegations of prowling and stalking his ex-girlfriend. The gravamen of Plaintiff's complaint is that Defendants violated Decedent's constitutional rights by refusing to provide necessary medical care while decedent was detained at the Facility.

Decedent was first detained at the Facility on July 3, 2009, when he "was arrested and charged with Lewd vagrancy, peep, prowl and stalking"; his mother posted bail at the set bond rate of $3,750. (Id. ¶ 14.) On July 17, 2009, Decedent was charged with violating a court order prohibiting Decedent from contacting his ex-girlfriend. (Id. ¶ 16.) Five days later, while detained at the center, Decedent requested to see a doctor; instead of seeing a doctor, a physician's assistant attended to Decedent and concluded that he suffered from a stomach flu. (Id. ¶ 18.) Finally, on August 6, 2009, after complaining of intense pain, the Center's contract physician administered x-rays which revealed an infected colon. (Id. ¶ 19.)

The next day, Plaintiff's mother posted Decedent's bail and Plaintiff was admitted to Renown Hospital in Reno, Nevada, in order to obtain a procedure in which a drain tube was inserted into his colon for purposes of addressing the infection. (Id. ¶ 20.) On August 29, 2009, Decedent's family physician, Dr. Meadows - also the contract doctor for the hospital - removed the drain tube at his office. (Id. ¶ 21.) According to the TAC, approximately one month after he removed the drain, Dr. Meadows wrote a letter stating that "any incarceration should be converted to a house arrest because of the serious medical condition of Michael Parker." (Id. ¶ 23.)

On September 21, 2009, Decedent accompanied Plaintiff to the bank. (Id. ¶ 24.) When she returned, she found her son surrounded by approximately six police cars. (Id.) The Susanville police officers informed Plaintiff that Decedent had driven past his ex-girlfriend's home that morning.

(Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff alleges that she told the officers that incarceration would kill her son. (Id. ¶ 26.) At that time, "Officer Vega stated that he would arrest Michael Parker . . . and did so despite actual knowledge that the Lassen Detention Facility Doctor specifically stated that Michael Parker should not be incarcerated because of his serious medical condition." (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff alleges that Decedent was taken to the Facility despite the individual officers' cognizance of the letter allegedly written by Dr. Meadows warning against incarceration. (Id. ¶ 30.)

Plaintiff alleges that, during the bond hearing, Mineau reported to the court numerous instances of prowling and TRO violations "for the purpose of influencing the court to make the bond so high that [Plaintiff], with her bond capacity as a bond agent, could not write the bond, thus insuring Michael Parker would not be released on bond." (Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff further alleges that the "Sheriff of Lassen County knew that [Mineau] had exaggerated and told untruthful statements to the judge in order to raise the amount of the bail and knew that [Plaintiff] was a bail agent and that the amount of the bail would have to be raised to an amount higher than usually required for a misdemeanor." (Id. ¶ 34.) Decedent's bail was ultimately set at $150,000. (Id. ¶ 35.)

Plaintiff alleges that she visited her son in the facility on September 30, 2009*fn4 and requested of an unknown guard that her son be released for medical attention; Plaintiff alleges that the Facility refused her request to release Decedent to home arrest or provide him "necessary life-sustaining medical attention." (Id. ¶¶ 36-37.) According to Plaintiff, when she visited Decedent one week later, he had visibly lost over forty pounds. (Id. ¶ 38.) When Plaintiff asked Decedent why he had not seen a doctor, he replied that the Facility staff told him "quit complaining and make the best of it." (Id. ¶ 39.)

On October 22, 2009, Decedent was once again released to Renown Hospital. (Id. ¶ 40.) Plaintiff alleges that nobody from the detention facility contacted her to inform her that her son was transferred to the hospital until three weeks after his transport, when Mineau informed her that Decedent was released. (Id. ¶ 41.) Shortly thereafter, Decedent died of gastronomical complications. /// /// ///


On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6),*fn5 all allegations of material fact must be accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336,337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). Rule 8(a)(2) "requires only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the [. . .] claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not require detailed factual allegations. However, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted). A court is not required to accept as true a "legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). /// /// /// /// ///

"Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216 (3d ed. 2004) (stating that the pleading must contain something more than "a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.")).

Furthermore, "Rule 8(a)(2). . . requires a 'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Thus, "[w]ithout some factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard to see how a claimant could satisfy the requirements of providing not only 'fair notice' of the nature of the claim, but also 'grounds' on which the claim rests." Id. (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, supra, at § 1202). A pleading must contain "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. If the "plaintiffs . . . have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, their complaint must be dismissed." Id. However, "[a] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and 'that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'" Id. at 556 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

A court granting a motion to dismiss a complaint must then decide whether to grant leave to amend. Leave to amend should be "freely given" where there is no "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, . . . undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment . . . ." Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) (listing the Foman factors as those to be considered when deciding whether to grant leave to amend). Not all of these factors merit equal weight. Rather, "the consideration of prejudice to the opposing party . . . carries the greatest weight." Eminence Capital, 316 F3d at 1052 (citing DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton, 833 F.2d 183, 185 (9th Cir. 1987). Dismissal without leave to amend is proper only if it is clear that "the complaint could not be saved by any amendment." Intri-Plex Techs. v. Crest Group, Inc., 499 F.3d 1048, 1056 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal citations and quotations omitted).


A. Plaintiff's § 1983 claims

Defendants contend that none of Plaintiff's § 1983 claims against Mineau in either his individual, or his supervisory capacity are cognizable because Plaintiff has failed to allege any violations of Decedent's or Plaintiff's federally guaranteed rights.

Specifically, Defendants contend that Plaintiff has failed to state facts sufficient to show that Mineau was deliberately indifferent to Decedent's serious medical needs such that the court could infer a plausible constitutional violation. (See MTD at 3:22-6:12.) Defendants further contend that Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims also fail against the County of Lassen because: (1) Plaintiff has improperly brought her first four § 1983 claims on behalf of Decedent for his pain and suffering and (2) Plaintiff fails to adequately plead the existence of a policy to establish Monell liability. (See Id. at 9:4-13-21.) Plaintiff counters that the circumstantial evidence, as pled by the TAC, is sufficient for the court to infer that Mineau was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical needs, and the County's failure to train caused Plaintiff's constitutional deprivation such that the motion to dismiss should be denied in accordance with the standard governing dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).

The court examines Plaintiff's § 1983 claims in three parts:

(1) Plaintiff's individual liability claims against Mineau;

(2) Plaintiff's supervisory liability claims against Mineau; and

(3) Plaintiff's Monell liability claims against Lassen County. The court will then analyze Plaintiff's state law claims.

1. Individual Liability*fn6

As opposed to prisoner claims under the Eighth Amendment, a pretrial detainee is entitled to be free of cruel and unusual punishment under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 537 n. 16; Simmons v. Navajo Cnty., Ariz., 609 F.3d 1011, 1017-18 (9th Cir. 2010). A pretrial detainee's due process right in this regard is violated when a jailer fails to promptly and reasonably procure competent medical aid when the pretrial detainee suffers a serious illness or injury while confined. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104-105 (1976). In order to establish a plausible claim for failure to provide medical treatment, Plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to permit to court to infer that (1) Decedent had a "serious medical need that (2) Mineau was "deliberately indifferent" to that need. Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006); Cf. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 837 (1994). A serious medical need exists when "failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain. Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096 (internal citations and quotations omitted). ///

The Supreme Court, in Farmer, explained in detail the contours of the "deliberate indifference" standard. Specifically, Mineau is not liable under the Fourteenth Amendment for his part in allegedly denying necessary medical care unless he knew "of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to [Mineua's] health or safety" Id. at 837. Deliberate indifference contains both an objective and subjective component: "the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw that inference." Id. Plaintiff "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." Id. at 842 (emphasis added). Important for purposes of this motion, "[w]hether a prison official had the requisite knowledge of a substantial risk is a question of fact subject to demonstration in the usual ways, including inference from circumstantial evidence, and a fact finder may conclude that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the very fact that the risk was obvious." Id. (emphasis added) (internal citations ommitted). According to the Supreme Court, this standard "sends a clear message to prison officials that their affirmative duty under the Constitution for the safety of inmates is not to be taken lightly. Id. at 852 (Blackmun, J., concurring).

The court finds unavailing Defendants' contentions that the TAC lacks sufficient allegations to support any*fn7 of Plaintiff's § 1983 claims in his individual capacity. Specifically, based on all the circumstances as alleged, the court can reasonably infer that Mineau was deliberately indifferent to Decedent's serious medical needs. The circumstantial facts, as alleged, that are relevant to Mineau are as follows: he had knowledge of Decedent's history based on the fact that he "worked as the undersheriff of Lasssen County during the incidents that are described . . . [and] gave testimony to set the bail for Michael Parker at $150,000 on a misdemeanor offense" (Compl ¶ 6, 33); Mineau knew Plaintiff and has intimate knowledge of decedent's history with the County (See Id. ¶¶ 33, 41.); Decedent's doctor sent a letter explaining that Decedent should be put on house arrest as opposed to detention because of his serious medical condition (Id. ¶ 23); during a previous confinement at the facility, Decedent had to be admitted to the hospital for emergency surgery (Id. ¶ 20); during previous detainments, Decedent put in numerous requests to see the doctor (Id. ¶ 18); when Nancy Schwartz visited her son, she requested that he be released for medical attention (Id. ¶ 36-37); within just two weeks of detention, Decedent had lost over forty pounds (Id. ¶ 38); when Plaintiff asked her son "why he had not seen a doctor[] he stated to her that the staff had said to him to "quit complaining and make the best of it" (Id. ¶ 39); ultimately, and although he was not able to make bail, Decedent had to be released from the facility and admitted to the hospital because his health was failing so quickly. (Id. ¶ 40); Although Mineau knew of ...

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