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Shaunda Brummett; Greg Sisson; the Estate of Daniel Sisson v. County of San Diego; William D. Gore; and Does 1-50

March 25, 2013

SHAUNDA BRUMMETT; GREG SISSON; THE ESTATE OF DANIEL SISSON,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO; WILLIAM D. GORE; AND DOES 1-50, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Larry Alan Burns United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART MOTION TO DISMISS

This action concerns the wrongful death of Daniel Sisson in the Vista Detention Facility ("Facility"). Plaintiffs bring claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Eight Amendment violations (of Daniel Sisson's right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment) and for Fourteenth Amendment violations (for deprivation of the right of Daniel Sisson's parents, Shaunda Brummett and Greg Sisson's, to familial association). Plaintiffs also bring supplemental state law claims for negligence, failure to summon medical care, and wrongful death.

Defendants have moved to dismiss Sheriff William Gore as to all claims, the County of San Diego as to the first, second,*fn1 and fifth claims, and both named Defendants as to the third claim.

Factual Background

The following facts are taken from the first amended complaint (FAC). Daniel Sisson was booked into the Vista Detention Facility just after 4:00 p.m. on January 23, 2011 for possession of drugs for personal use, a violation of the terms of his probation.*fn2 He had a history of drug use and asthma. His history, taken at the time of booking, showed he had experienced an acute asthma attack associated with opiate withdrawal when in the same jail six months earlier. At the time, he denied using heroin daily, because he didn't want to take Vistaril, the medicine he knew would be prescribed for withdrawal.

That night he began to experience withdrawal symptoms and in the morning he told jail staff that he had been using heroin daily. After telling medical staff he did not want to take Vistaril, they prescribed Tigan, an anti-nausea drug, and a albuterol inhaler for his asthma, and returned him to his cell in the general population.

His condition worsened, and he stayed in his bunk the entire day on January 24. His symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, which are common among those undergoing heroin withdrawal. On January 25, as Daniel Sisson lay on his back in his bunk, he waved off his scheduled sick call appointment. Officials did not enter his cell or check on his condition. He spent the day lying in his bunk or vomiting.

Later that day, he began to suffer an asthma attack induced by heroin withdrawal. Nevertheless, officials did not assist him. Daniel Sisson's cellmate "desperately and repeatedly made efforts to convince [Facility] officers that Daniel was dying and in need of immediate medical attention . . . ." (FAC, 9:9--10.) In ignoring his needs, officials were "follow[ing] the policy, practice, and custom of leaving heroin detoxifying inmates to suffer in their cell, unsupervised, and without medical attention." (Id., 9:16--18.) Deputies at 8:10 p.m. finally performed a "welfare check" on his cell, and found his lifeless body. Due to the state of rigor mortis, he had been dead at least three hours. Based on remarks in the autopsy report, Plaintiffs deduce that he died around 5:00 p.m. and had been suffering an asthma attack several hours before that.

Although state law mandates that health and safety checks be performed at least hourly, because of understaffing, officers were performing safety checks less often. Sheriff Gore is alleged to be "at all relevant times the official responsible for [the Facility's] policies, practices, and customs." (FAC, 11:25--26.) Plaintiffs, on this basis, allege that he must have been aware of the risks associated with heroin withdrawal, and yet "remained deliberately indifferent to Daniel's health by continuing the policy of placing inmates undergoing heroin detoxification in general population." (Id., 11:26--28.)

Besides this policy, the FAC says the Facility had a policy, practice, or custom of failing to adequately train staff to identify and treat opiate detoxification.

Legal Standards

A Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir.2001). In ruling on a Motion to dismiss, the Court accepts all allegations of material fact in the complaint as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the non-moving parties. Cedars--Sinai Medical Center v. National League of Postmasters of U.S., 497 F.3d 972, 975 (9th Cir. 2007). The Court draws all reasonable inferences in the non-moving parties' favor. Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1072 (9th Cir. 2005). But the Court does not draw unreasonable inferences, W. Mining Council v. Watt, 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981), nor will it supply facts plaintiffs have not pleaded. See Ivey v. Board of Regents of the Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

To avoid dismissal, the complaint must "give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests" and its factual allegations must "raise the right to relief above a speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The complaint must contain enough factual allegations that, if accepted as true, would state a claim for relief that is "plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978) carves out an exception to the general rule that there is no respondeat superior liability under ยง 1983. That exception arises when a municipality's "official policies or established customs inflicts the constitutional injury." Id. at 708. A supervisor, likewise, cannot be held vicariously liable but can be held liable for implementing a policy so deficient that the policy amounts to a ...


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