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Estate of Prasad v. County of Sutter

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 30, 2013

Estate of NATHAN PRASAD, deceased, by and through MARY PRASAD; MARY PRASAD; T.P., a minor; and A.P., a minor, Plaintiffs,
COUNTY OF SUTTER; J. PAUL PARKER, Sutter County Sheriff's Department Sheriff; DAVID SAMSON, Sutter County Jail Division Commander; NORMAN BIDWELL, Sutter County Jail Corrections Lieutenant; LOU ANNE CUMMINGS, Sutter County Health Officer; AMERJIT BHATTAL, Sutter County Assistant Director of Human Services -- Health Division; BRENT GARBETT, Sutter County Jail Nurse Program Manager; DORIS BROWN, Sutter County Jail Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner; MELODY YOUNG, Sutter County Jail Licensed Vocational Nurse; KIMBERLY WEISS, Sutter County Jail Licensed Vocational Nurse; GURKIRAT BHANGU, Sutter County Jail Licensed Vocational Nurse; CHRISTINA STOHLMAN, Sutter County Jail Correctional Officer; LESTER EATON, Sutter County Jail Correctional Officer; MIGUEL AGUILAR, Sutter County Jail Deputy Officer; OLGA TAHARA, Sutter County Jail Deputy Officer; ROSA DIAZ, Sutter County Jail Deputy Officer; ERIC CRAWFORD, Sutter County Jail Deputy Officer; BALJINDER RAI, Sutter County Jail Deputy Officer; SHANE DICKSON, Sutter County Jail Deputy Officer; UNKNOWN JAIL EMPLOYEE I; FREMONT-RIDEOUT HEALTH GROUP; MICHAEL FRATERS, D.O., Defendants

Decided: July 29, 2013.

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For Mary Prasad, Individually and as Guardian Ad Litem, Plaintiff: Aaron Joseph Fischer, Michael Bien, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Kathryn Grzenczyk Mantoan, Ernest Galvan, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, San Francisco, CA; Lori Rifkin, Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld, San Francisco, CA.

For T. P., Mary Prasad guardian ad litem, A. P., Mary Prasad guardian ad litem, Plaintiffs: Aaron Joseph Fischer, Michael Bien, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Kathryn Grzenczyk Mantoan, Ernest Galvan, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, San Francisco, CA.

For County of Sutter, J. Paul Parker, Sheriff, County of Sutter, David Samson, Division Commander, Sutter County Jail, Norman Bidwell, Corrections Lieutenant, Sutter County Jail, Doris Brown, Registered Nurse Practitioner, Sutter County Jail, Baljinder Rai, Deputy Officer, Sutter County Jail, Shane Dickson, Deputy Officer, Sutter County Jail, Lou Anne Cummings, Amerjit Bhattal, Brent Garbett, Kimberly Weiss, Gurkirat Bhangu, Christina Stohlman, Lester Eaton, Miguel Aguilar, Olga Tahara, Rosa Diaz, Eric Crawford, Defendants: John Robert Whitefleet, LEAD ATTORNEY, Porter Scott, APC, Sacramento, CA.

For Melody Young, Licensed Vocational Nurse, Sutter County Jail, Defendant: Kathleen J. Williams, LEAD ATTORNEY, Williams and Associates, Sacramento, CA.

For Fremont-Rideout Health Group, Defendant: Robert Harry Zimmerman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Schuering Zimmerman & Doyle, LLP, Sacramento, CA.

For Michael Fraters, Physician, Rideout Memorial Hospital, Defendant: Jennifer C. Kurlan, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices Of Leonard & Lyde, Chico, CA.


Troy L. Nunley, United States District Judge.

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Defendants County of Sutter, J. Paul Parker, David Samson, Norman Bidwell, Lou Anne Cummings, Amerjit Bhattal, Brent Garbett, Doris Brown, Melody Young, Kimberly Weiss, Gurkirat Bhangu, Christina Stohlman, Lester Eaton, Miguel Aguilar, Olga Tahara, Rosa Diaz, Eric Crawford, Baljinder Rai, Shane Dickson, (collectively the " Sutter Defendants" ), Michael Fraters, M.D., and Fremont-Rideout Health Group [1] (" Rideout" ) move to dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (" Rule" ) 12(b)(6). Fraters and Rideout also move to strike portions of Plaintiffs' complaint under Rule 12(f). Plaintiffs oppose Defendants' motions.


Plaintiffs allege the following in their Second Amended Complaint (" SAC" ). On January 21, 2011, Nathan Prasad was

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booked into Sutter County Jail (" Jail" ) on minor parole-related charges. (SAC ¶ ¶ 1, 44.) While in Jail custody for the next week, Prasad experienced multiple organ failure, bronchopneumonia, severe sepsis, cyanosis, chills, fever, radiating bruising, swelling, and excruciating pain. (Id. ¶ ¶ 46, 56, 61, 73, 75.) Prasad's condition was caused by a spreading bacterial infection that could have been treated with a course of antibiotics. (Id. ¶ 75.) Prasad was not provided with necessary medical care, however, and he died from this infection hours after he was transported from the Jail to Rideout. (Id. ¶ ¶ 75, 78.) Prasad was thirty years old when he died. (Id. ¶ 6.)

Prasad initially contracted an antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection a year before this while in Jail custody. (Id. ¶ 43.) Jail officials and employees knew that the Jail had a long-standing and trenchant problem with contagious bacterial infections, and medical staff at that time documented Prasad's recurrent Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (" MRSA" ) infections. (Id. ¶ 43.) When Prasad was rebooked at the Jail in January 2011, County officials--including Deputies Aguilar, Tahara, Diaz, Crawford, Rai, and Dickson; Correctional Officers Stohlman and Eaton; Vocational Nurses Young, Weiss, and Bhangu; Nurse Practitioner Brown; and Health Officer Cummings--reviewed documentation of Prasad's history of mental illness and recurrent MRSA infections. (Id. ¶ ¶ 43, 54.)

Soon after his arrival at the Jail, Prasad reported to Jail staff that he was experiencing significant pain in his lower extremities. (Id. ¶ 46.) He was also displaying bruising on his legs. (Id. ¶ 3.) After several days of reported and documented medical concerns, on January 26, Brown evaluated Prasad, and following consultation with Cummings, referred Prasad to the Emergency Department at Rideout. (Id. ¶ ¶ 48, 50.) By contract, Rideout was the sole facility to which Jail inmates were transported to receive emergency medical care. (Id. ¶ 2.) Because of this contract and the significant and ongoing coordination between Rideout and the Jail, (id. ¶ 34), Rideout and its staff knew that the Jail failed to provide sufficient around-the-clock access to medical care and could not supply the access to emergency medical treatment necessary for individuals with serious medical needs. (Id. ¶ ¶ 2, 51, 52.)

At the Jail, Cummings, Assistant Human Services Director Bhattal, and Nurse Program Manager Garbett authorized and implemented a policy whereby Jail medical staff were available only from 4:00 a.m. to midnight. (Id. ¶ 82.) This policy was maintained even though Sheriff Parker, Jail Commander Samson, Jail Lieutenant Bidwell, Cummings, Bhattal, and Garbett were on notice from prior documented reports that medical staff should be available at the Jail seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. (Id. ¶ ¶ 82, 85.) Despite the lack of 24-hour medical staff and the consequent danger to inmates with emergency medical needs, Parker, Samson, and Bidwell created and enforced a policy whereby only medical staff were responsible for obtaining medical care for inmates. (Id. ¶ ¶ 74, 83.) The County, Cummings, Garbett, and Bhattal also failed to consistently transmit critical medical information about Jail inmates to inmates' health care providers. (Id. ¶ ¶ 49, 81.)

During his January 26 examination, information about Prasad's clinically significant history of recurrent MRSA infections was not shared with Rideout or Dr. Fraters, Prasad's Emergency Department treating physician. (Id. ¶ 49.) Had this information been provided, it could have signaled the need for a simple blood test that would have identified Prasad's advancing infection and enabled prompt, life-saving

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antibiotic treatment. (Id. ¶ 49.) Instead, Fraters discharged Prasad. (Id. ¶ 50.) Fraters knew that Prasad was exhibiting signs of a serious and life-threatening condition and would need access to emergency medical treatment if his symptoms worsened or new symptoms developed. (Id. ¶ 50.) Prasad's safe discharge to the Jail depended on a capacity for emergency medical response that Fraters and Rideout both knew did not exist there. (Id. ¶ ¶ 34, 35.) Fraters discharged Prasad with orders that if Prasad's symptoms worsened or new symptoms developed, he was to be returned to the Emergency Department immediately. (Id. ¶ 50.)

When Prasad returned to the Jail from his short Emergency Department admission, Jail staff--including Bidwell, Cummings, Brown, Young, Weiss, Bhangu, Stohlman, Eaton, Aguilar, Tahara, Diaz, Crawford, Rai, and Dickson--were all made aware of Prasad's discharge instructions ordering that he be taken to the Emergency Department immediately if his symptoms worsened or new symptoms developed. (Id. ¶ ¶ 53, 54.) Nonetheless, on multiple occasions over the next two days, these Defendants observed Prasad's serious and deteriorating medical conditions, but did not comply with the discharge instructions or secure Prasad timely or adequate medical care. (Id. ¶ ¶ 46, 60.)

On the evening of January 26, Weiss documented that Prasad was suffering from uncontrollable pain and spoke to Brown about it. (Id. ¶ 56.) Despite the discharge instructions, Prasad was neither evaluated later that night nor returned to the Emergency Department. (Id. ¶ 56.) From January 26 to January 28, Prasad stated aloud repeatedly that he was in extreme pain and having trouble breathing. (Id. ¶ 57.) He reported to Brown, Young, Weiss, Bhangu, Aguilar, Tahara, Diaz, Crawford, Rai, and Dickson that he thought he was going to die unless he received immediate medical attention. (Id. ¶ 57, 104f.) He completed and submitted at least one written request for medical treatment, relaying that he was suffering " extreme pain" and required " emergency" medical attention. (Id. ¶ 47.)

Observing Prasad's worsening condition, several fellow inmates notified Jail staff, including Young, Weiss, Bhangu, Aguilar, Rai, and Dickson, of Prasad's condition. (Id. ¶ 58.) Jail staff responded that Prasad " was faking his pain and other symptoms and that he and the other inmates needed to 'get over it.'" (Id. ¶ 58.) Attempting to help Prasad, fellow inmates collected blood Prasad had coughed up in an empty milk carton and showed it to Young and Rai, along with Brown and Dickson. (Id. ¶ 59, 104j.) Neither Young nor Rai evaluated Prasad or provided medical treatment for him. (Id. ¶ 60.)

At 9:00 a.m. on January 27, Brown documented Prasad's dangerous vital signs, recording his abnormally high pulse rate, precipitous drop in blood pressure, low grade fever, marked dehydration, and spreading bruising through his midsection. (Id. ¶ ¶ 3, 61.) Brown was aware of Prasad's rapidly worsening condition and need for immediate treatment, but only prescribed Prasad an additional pain killer. (Id. ¶ 61.)

During the January 27 evening medication pass, Prasad's serious illness, intense distress and need for immediate emergency medical care were evident. (Id. ¶ 62.) Vocational Nurse Bhangu observed Prasad's dire condition, but failed to document Prasad's symptoms, provide for his treatment, or secure any emergency medical care. (Id. ¶ 62.) Aguilar witnessed Prasad's condition and was told by Prasad and other inmates that Prasad required immediate medical attention. (Id. ¶ 63.) Aguilar made no effort to secure medical care or address Prasad's urgent

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medical needs. (Id. ¶ 63.) Dickson observed Prasad screaming in pain and begging to be taken to the hospital. (Id. ¶ 64.) In response, Dickson ignored Prasad's medical needs and ridiculed Prasad as " the type of person who comes to jail because he wants to get free medical care." (Id. ¶ 64.)

In the pre-dawn hours of January 28, after many hours of pleading for help and of deterioration, Rai and Young observed that Prasad's blood pressure and blood-oxygen saturation were dangerously low, that he was vomiting up blood, and was dizzy, sweating, cold, and clammy. (Id. ¶ 65.) Young documented all of this. (Id. ¶ 65.) Prasad reported to Rai and Young that he felt like he was " going to die." (Id. ¶ 65.) In response, Rai and Young placed Prasad in a Jail office, but provided no medical treatment, made no arrangements for his transport to the hospital, and failed to monitor his eroding health. (Id. ¶ 66.) Prasad was made to sit in the Jail room without medical attention of any kind for the next four hours as his condition continued to deteriorate. (Id. ¶ 67.)

Diaz and Tahara heard Prasad's pleas for help and reports that he felt like he was " going to die," and they heard Young tell Prasad that she would do nothing for him. (Id. ¶ 68.) Together, Young, Diaz, and Tahara locked Prasad back in the Jail office without providing or summoning any medical care. (Id. ¶ 68.) Crawford listened as Prasad kicked the locked door to the Jail office, repeatedly and desperately yelling " I can't breathe! I can't breathe!" (Id. ¶ 69.) In response, Crawford ordered Prasad to stop yelling and lie down. (Id. ¶ 69.) Crawford did not report these observations or make any effort to secure Prasad medical care. (Id. ¶ 69.)

As the Officer in Charge, Eaton was aware that Prasad had been reporting difficultly breathing for at least several hours, and that he was locked in the Jail office and not receiving any medical care. (Id. ¶ ¶ 70, 71.) At the end of his 6:00 a.m. shift, Eaton conveyed this information to Stohlman. (Id. ¶ 71.) Neither Eaton nor Stohlman made any effort to summon medical care for Prasad. (Id. ¶ 72.) Garbett, too, was informed of Prasad's critical condition, but did nothing to summon emergency care. (Id. ¶ 67.)

Not until nearly four hours after Prasad was placed in the Jail office exhibiting dangerous symptoms was an ambulance summoned. (Id. ¶ 73.) By that time, Prasad's skin had turned blue due to severe oxygen deficiency and cyanosis; his blood pressure could no longer be detected; and he was suffering from severe sepsis. (Id. ¶ 73.) Prasad experienced severe bronchopneumonia, multiple organ failure, and excruciating pain. (Id. ¶ 75.) When he finally reached the Intensive Care Unit (" ICU" ) at Rideout, he was unconscious and in critical condition. (Id. ¶ 75.)

Once Prasad reached the ICU, Parker, Samson, Bidwell, and Stohlman attempted to distance the Jail from Prasad's dire condition, taking steps to drop all pending charges and " release" Prasad on his own recognizance. (Id. ¶ 77.) Prasad was in a coma at the time. (Id.) Stohlman personally signed paperwork effecting Prasad's release on his own recognizance, collected Prasad's belongings from Jail, and transported them to Rideout as Prasad lay dying. (Id. ¶ 77.)

Meanwhile, no Defendant timely contacted Prasad's family. (Id. ¶ 76.) At 4:19 p.m. on January 28, Prasad was pronounced dead by Rideout staff at the age of thirty. (Id. ¶ ¶ 6, 78.) Prasad's mother, Mary Prasad, his children, T.P. and A.P., then six and seven years old, and his other family members were unable to make it to Rideout while Prasad was still alive. (Id. ¶ ¶ 6, 76.) Throughout his life Prasad had supported his children emotionally and financially

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and remained exceptionally close with his mother. (Id. ¶ 6.) Prasad's mother and children have been profoundly harmed by his death. (Id. ¶ ¶ 100-02.)


A. Motion to Dismiss

Decision on a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal motion requires determination of " whether the complaint's factual allegations, together with all reasonable inferences, state a plausible claim for relief." United States ex rel. Cafasso v. Gen. Dynamics C4 Sys., Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1054 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)).

In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court " accepts the complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Adams v. U.S. Forest Serv., 671 F.3d 1138, 1142-43 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56). However, this tenet does not apply to " legal conclusions . . . cast in the form for factual allegations." Fayer v. Vaughn, 649 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). " Therefore, conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (" A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555)).

B. Motion to Strike

Rule 12(f) permits a court to " strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." Since interpretation of the Rule begins with its plain meaning, a motion to strike will not be granted unless the matter to be stricken is " (1) an insufficient defense; (2) redundant; (3) immaterial; (4) impertinent; or (5) scandalous." Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co., 618 F.3d 970, 973-74 (9th Cir. 2010).

As the movants, Fraters and Rideout bear the burden on their motions to strike, SEC v. Sands, 902 F.Supp. 1149, 1166-67 (C.D. Cal. 1995), and their motions will not be granted unless the matter to be stricken could have no possible bearing on the controversy. Neveau v. City of Fresno, 392 F.Supp.2d 1159, 1170 (E.D. Cal. 2005); see Nat'l Res. Def. Council v. Kempthorne, 539 F.Supp.2d 1155, 1162 (E.D. Cal. 2008) (noting such motions are disfavored and infrequently granted). Further, when ruling on the motions to strike, the court accepts Plaintiffs' allegations as true and liberally construes the complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs. Stearns v. Select Comfort Retail Corp., 763 F.Supp.2d 1128, 1140 (N.D. Cal. 2010); Multimedia Patent Trust v. Microsoft Corp., 525 F.Supp.2d 1200, 1211 (S.D. Cal. 2007); Lazar v. Trans Union LLC, 195 F.R.D. 665, 669 (C.D. Cal. 2000).


C. Sutter County, Parker, Samson, Bidwell, Cummings, Bhattal, Garbett, Brown, Young, Weiss, Bhangu, Stohlman, Eaton, Aguilar, Tahara, Diaz, Crawford, Rai, and Dickson's Dismissal Motion

Plaintiffs allege claims against the Sutter Defendants for cruel and unusual punishment based on theories of direct, supervisory,

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and municipal liability, (SAC ¶ ¶ 103-26); substantive due process interference with the right to family integrity, (id. ¶ ¶ 127-30); failure to furnish or summon medical care, (id. ¶ ¶ 131-36); and wrongful death. (Id. ¶ ¶ 137-42.) The Sutter Defendants move to dismiss each of these claims. ...

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