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Suffal v. Parish

United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana

January 15, 2015





On January 7, 2015, the Motion for Leave to File First Supplemental and Amending Complaint [Doc. #17] came on for oral hearing before the undersigned. Present were Elizabeth Cumming and Rodney Glenn Cater on behalf of plaintiffs and Craig Canizaro on behalf of certain defendants. After the oral hearing, the Court took the motion under advisement. Having reviewed the motion, the opposition, and the case law, the Court rules as follows.

I. Factual Background

The complaint alleges as follows. Plaintiffs are the surviving family of the deceased, Eric Christopher Suffal, including Suffal’s three surviving minor children. Suffal was confined in July 2013 to the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center (“JPCC”), where he was in the custody and/or care of the named defendants. Suffal entered the JPCC Infirmary on July 11, 2013, and his family was notified on July 28, 2013 that he had been hospitalized with life-ending brain damage and other medical complications that resulted in his brain death and removal from life-sustaining devices. Plaintiffs had not been informed that Suffal had been hospitalized nor had they been permitted any opportunity to have any contact or visitation with him before his death. Plaintiffs received little or no information to explain how Suffal went from being placed in the JPCC facility on suicide watch to suffering anoxic brain injury and death from a ruptured duodenal ulcer and resulting septicemia.

Plaintiffs sued the Parish of Jefferson, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Newell Normand, Correcthealth Jefferson, L.L.C. ("Correcthealth"), and Dr. Stacy Greene under, inter alia, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On October 28, 2014, defendants removed the lawsuit to this Court.

II. The Parties' Contentions

A. The Motion to Amend

Plaintiffs argue that while they attempted to learn more about the death of Suffal, the age of Suffal’s minor children and the fact that several of his surviving family members live out of state complicated their ability to investigate the death of their loved one. Plaintiffs note that defendants have filed motions to dismiss and/or for judgment on the pleadings. Since the filings, they have learned more about Suffal’s death and seek to amend the complaint to supplement their allegations as to their claim of deliberate indifference. They maintain that the amendment will render moot many of the deficiencies highlighted by defendants’ motions.

B. Defendants' Opposition

Correcthealth and Greene (collectively, “defendants”) filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that plaintiffs can not assert a viable claim for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. They argue that the proposed amended complaint verifies that plaintiffs’ claims fall under alleged state-law medical negligence alone. They thus contend that the proposed amended complaint is futile.

Defendants maintain that the amended complaint details the plethora of medical care that Suffal received from Correcthealth while incarcerated. They note that he was observed, examined, assessed and/or treated every single day of his incarceration from July 11-24, 2014. Citing the allegations of the amended complaint, defendants note that plaintiffs only fault them for failing to provide the correct care or for failing to provide additional care.

Citing case law, defendants argue that the fact that an inmate’s medical treatment may not have been the best that money can buy is insufficient to establish a federal violation. They maintain that the federal Constitution does not require even that an inmate’s care be free from negligence or medical malpractice. Plaintiffs must establish a “subjective intent to cause harm, ” and defendants maintain that they can not do so. They note that federal courts are loath to second-guess medical decisions in federal civil rights actions. They also note that an incorrect diagnosis does not amount to deliberate indifference. Defendants maintain that even were the allegations of the amended complaint true, their actions would amount solely to negligence, which does not establish a federal violation.

Defendants also argue that the allegations that the JPCC Infirmary is inadequate are baseless given that the facilities received accreditation from the ...

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