United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING DR. MARVIN TROTTER'S MOTION TO
PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON United States District Judge
motion of defendant Dr. Marvin Trotter to dismiss the
constitutional claim asserted against him in the
above-entitled action came on for hearing before this court
on July 12, 2017. Plaintiffs appeared by their counsel
Nathaniel Leeds, and defendant appeared by his counsel Chad
Couchot. Having read the parties' papers and carefully
considered their arguments and the relevant legal authority,
the court hereby GRANTS the motion as follows.
a case brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by the survivors
of Earl Ward, a 77-year-old man who was taken into custody by
the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department following what
appears to have been a complaint of domestic abuse by his
wife, Margaret Ward. See First Amended Complaint
(“FAC”) ¶ 1. He was arrested on March 20,
2016, and held in custody at the Mendocino County Jail, where
he fell in his cell on April 16, 2016, and suffered numerous
injuries. FAC ¶¶ 1, 43. He died on May 30, 2016,
following surgery for his injuries. FAC ¶¶ 1, 44.
to his arrest, Mr. Ward allegedly suffered from dementia,
“which made him prone to confusion and uncontrollable
rages.” FAC ¶ 1. While in custody, he allegedly
displayed symptoms of confusion, delusion, agitation, and
paranoia, FAC ¶¶ 25-27, which plaintiffs claim was
immediately evident to jail staff. On March 21, 2016, he
became agitated, hitting the window in his cell and saying he
wanted to die, and later repeatedly pushing on the door of
his locked cell. FAC ¶ 25. He was subsequently
transferred to a "safety cell." FAC ¶ 25. On
March 22, 2016, he was observed standing at the door smiling,
and again trying to push out; three hours later he was
observed staring at the wall, holding a drinking cup on his
head; and an hour later he was observed by a jail staffer to
have a "disorganized thought process." FAC ¶
March 24, 2016, a social worker from the U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs (“VA”) medical services observed
that Mr. Ward was unable to articulate why he had been
arrested. FAC ¶ 28. On March 28, 2016, jail staff noted
that he refused to take his medications. FAC ¶ 29. That
same day, a social worker from VA medical services again
spoke with Mr. Ward and noted that Mr. Ward indicated he was
in Chicago. FAC ¶ 30. On April 2, 2016, a jail deputy
observed Mr. Ward standing on his bunk trying to push the
window open. FAC ¶ 31. Later that day, another deputy
observed Mr. Ward standing on his bunk and falling backwards,
possibly hitting his head. FAC ¶ 32.
April 3, 2016, at 3:40 a.m., after jail personnel observed
that Mr. Ward had a bruise on his head with dried blood, he
was taken to the Ukiah Valley Medical Center
("UVMC"), FAC ¶ 34, where he was seen in the
Emergency Room (“ER”). Medical center staff noted
that Mr. Ward remained asleep during the exam, and stated
that he was not oriented to person, place, or time. FAC
¶ 34. The deputies stated that it was the first time he
had slept since March 20, 2016. FAC ¶ 34. Blood tests
showed he had an elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN), which
plaintiffs assert is a sign of dehydration and renal failure.
FAC ¶ 35.
same day (April 3, 2016), Dr. Trotter discharged Mr. Ward
from the ER, reporting that he "does have dementia,
recently residing in jail, likely had an acute episode of
delirium, probably due to lack of sleep, as it is reported he
has not slept for a week and a half before presenting to the
emergency room. He was on his bunk when he dozed off and
fell." FAC ¶ 36. Plaintiffs claim that upon his
return to the jail, Mr. Ward continued to exhibit agitation,
confusion, and delusion, and repeatedly attempted to climb
out of a fixed window. FAC ¶ 39. Plaintiffs allege that
defendants "did not undertake adequate fall-risk
protection efforts after observing Mr. Ward's attempts to
climb within this cell on April 6th." FAC ¶ 41.
April 16, 2016, thirteen days after his visit to the ER, Mr.
Ward was discovered lying on the floor of his cell and was
taken in for further medical evaluation, which revealed that
he had multiple vertebral fractures and broken ribs, internal
bleeding, a partially collapsed lung, and acute kidney
failure. FAC ¶ 43. Mr. Ward's orthopedic injuries
required surgery, which plaintiffs claim led to complications
and ultimately to his death on May 30, 2016. FAC ¶ 44.
Margaret Ward (in her personal capacity, and as the executor
of Mr. Ward's estate), Kevin Ward, and Ina Ward
(surviving heir of Jeff Ward, deceased) filed the original
complaint in this action on February 22, 2017, and filed the
FAC on March 23, 2017. Named as defendants are the County of
Mendocino; Thomas Allman, the Sheriff of Mendocino County and
two Sheriff's deputies, Michael Grant and Lorrie Knapp;
California Forensic Medical Group, Inc. ("CFMG" - a
company that provides and manages medical services in jails,
including the Mendocino County Jail); and two physicians, Dr.
Michael Medvin and Dr. Trotter.
assert (1) a "personal capacity" Fourteenth
Amendment claim of deprivation of life without due process of
law, deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, and
denial of medical care (against Sheriff Allman, Deputies
Grant and Knapp, CFMG, Dr. Medvin, and Dr. Trotter); (2) a
"supervisory liability" Fourteenth Amendment claim
(against Sheriff Allman); (3) an "elder abuse"
claim under California law (against the County, Sheriff
Allman, Deputies Grant and Knapp, and CFMG); and (4) a claim
of medical negligence and wrongful death (against CFMG, Dr.
Medvin, and Dr. Trotter).
Trotter now seeks an order dismissing the Fourteenth
Amendment “deliberate indifference” claim
asserted against him, for failure to state a claim.
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests for the legal
sufficiency of the claims alleged in the complaint. Ileto
v. Glock, 349 F.3d 1191, 1199-1200 (9th Cir. 2003).
Under the minimal notice pleading requirements of Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 8, which requires that a complaint
include a "short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, "
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), a complaint may be dismissed under Rule
12(b)(6) if the plaintiff fails to state a cognizable legal
theory, or has not alleged sufficient facts to support a
cognizable legal theory. Somers v. Apple, Inc., 729
F.3d 953, 959 (9th Cir. 2013).
the court is to accept as true all the factual allegations in
the complaint, legally conclusory statements, not supported
by actual factual allegations, need not be accepted.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009);
see also In re Gilead Scis. Secs. Litig., 536 F.3d
1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008). The complaint must proffer
sufficient facts to state a claim for relief that is
plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 558-59 (2007) (citations and
quotations omitted). 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 (citation omitted).
the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more
than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has
alleged - but it has not 'show[n]' - 'that the
pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. at
679. Where dismissal is warranted, it is generally without
prejudice, unless it is clear the complaint cannot be saved
by any amendment. Sparling v. Daou, 411 F.3d 1006,
1013 (9th Cir. 2005).
Trotter argues that the FAC fails to state facts sufficient
to state a Fourteenth Amendment claim of deliberate
indifference to Mr. Ward's serious medical needs, and
fails to establish that he acted under color of state law in
treating Mr. Ward.
1983 "provides a cause of action for the
'deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United
States." Wilder v. Virginia Hosp. Ass'n,
496 U.S. 498, 508 (1990) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983).
Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights,
but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights
elsewhere conferred. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S.
386, 393-94 (1989).
state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that
a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United
States was violated and that the alleged violation was
committed by a person acting under the color of state law.
See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988);
Ketchum v. Alameda County, 811 F.2d 1243, 1245 (9th
Cir. 1987). The plaintiff must also allege facts showing that
“the defendant's conduct was the actionable cause
of the claimed injury;” that is, the plaintiff must
establish both causation-in-fact and proximate causation.
See Harper v. City of L.A., 533 F.3d 1010, 1026 (9th
Cir. 2008) (citing Van Ort v. Estate of Stanewich,
92 F.3d 831, 837 (9th Cir. 1996)).
Allegations of deliberate indifference
Trotter argues that plaintiffs have not alleged facts
sufficient to state a claim for deliberate indifference to
serious medical needs. He contends that absent a showing of
the requisite culpability, plaintiffs' claim against him
must properly be characterized as a claim of medical
malpractice - i.e., a claim that he denied Mr. Ward
proper medical care before discharging him from the hospital,
or a claim that the discharge ...