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Zaunbrecher v. Wiley

United States District Court, Middle District of Louisiana

April 17, 2015




This matter comes before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (R.Doc. 103) filed by Defendant Rhonda Shear. The Defendant contends she is entitled to qualified immunity for her alleged conduct in the death of Ascension Parish Jail inmate Jamie Zaunbrecher on Sunday, February 24, 2013; that she was not deliberately indifferent to Zaunbrecher’s medical needs; and that the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. The Plaintiffs Carmon Zaunbrecher, Rachel Zaunbrecher and Trevor Zaunbrecher, individually and on behalf of their deceased father, Jamie Zaunbrecher (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”), oppose the motion (R.Doc. 110). The Defendant filed a reply brief. (R.Doc. 112-1). No oral argument is necessary.

Considering the law and facts in the record, the Defendant’s motion is granted in part and denied in part. The Court dismisses with prejudice the claim Plaintiffs made against Shear under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, the Court will retain jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ state law claims.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). If the mover bears his burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of fact, “its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts ... [T]he nonmoving party must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586–587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (internal citations omitted). The non-mover's burden is not satisfied by “conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a ‘scintilla’ of evidence.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994) (citations and internal quotations omitted). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.’” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587. Further:

In resolving the motion, the court may not undertake to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, weigh the evidence, or resolve factual disputes; so long as the evidence in the record is such that a reasonable jury drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party could arrive at a verdict in that party's favor, the court must deny the motion.

International Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir.1991).

II. Qualified Immunity Standard

The Fifth Circuit has explained:

A qualified immunity defense “serves to shield a government official from civil liability for damages based upon the performance of discretionary functions if the official's acts were objectively reasonable in light of then clearly established law.” Thompson v. Upshur County, 245 F.3d 447, 456 (5th Cir.2001); see also Kinney v. Weaver, 367 F.3d 337, 349 (5th Cir.2004) (en banc) (discussing the important goals served by the qualified immunity doctrine). “When a defendant invokes qualified immunity, the burden is on the plaintiff to demonstrate the inapplicability of the defense.” McClendon v. City of Columbia, 305 F.3d 314, 323 (5th Cir.2002) (en banc) (per curiam).
To discharge this burden, a plaintiff must satisfy a two-prong test. First, he must claim that the defendants committed a constitutional violation under current law. See, e.g., Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609, 119 S.Ct. 1692, 143 L.Ed.2d 818 (1999); Palmer v. Johnson, 193 F.3d 346, 351 (5th Cir.1999). Second, he must claim that the defendants' actions were objectively unreasonable in light of the law that was clearly established at the time of the actions complained of. See id.

Atteberry v. Nocona General Hosp., 430 F.3d 245, 253 (5th Cir. 2005).

As to the first prong, the Defendant Rhonda Shear allegedly violated the Eighth Amendment by being deliberately indifferent in providing Jamie Zaunbrecher medical care. To prove deliberate indifference, the Plaintiffs must prove:

the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; 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 the inference.

Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837, 114 S.Ct. 1970 (1994). Phrased another way, the Supreme Court has stated:

a[n] … official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying humane conditions of confinement only if he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.

Id. at 847. Concerning a “substantial risk of serious harm, ” the Fifth Circuit has defined a “serious medical need” as “one for which treatment has been recommended or for which the need is so apparent that even layman would recognize that care is required.” Gobert v. Caldwell, 463 F.3d 339, 345 n. 12 (5th Cir. 2006).

“Deliberate indifference in this context ‘describes a state of mind more blameworthy than negligence. Rather, ‘acting or failing to act with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm … is the equivalent of recklessly disregarding that risk.’” Atteberry, 430 F.3d at 254 (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835, 836, 114 S.Ct. 1970). “The test for deliberate indifference is subjective, rather than objective, in nature because ‘an official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for ...

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