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Colbert v. City of Baton Rouge Parish of East Baton Rouge

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

January 8, 2018




         Before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 61) filed by Defendants, Sid J. Gautreaux, III, Sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish ("Sheriff Gautreaux") and Dennis Grimes, Warden of East Baton Rouge Parish Prison ("Warden Grimes"); the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 43) filed by Defendants, City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge ("EBR"), Prison Medical Services ("PMS"), and Rintha Simpson, Interim Director of Prison Medical Services ("Director Simpson"); and the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 56) filed by Defendants, Sargent S. Grant ("Sargent Grant") and Sargent J. Cage ("Sargent Cage"). All Defendants seek the dismissal of claims brought by Plaintiffs, Hosey Colbert and Shantita Colbert ("Plaintiffs") under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.

         Plaintiffs filed an Opposition to each Motion to Dismiss. (Docs. 58, 59, 63). Sheriff Gautreaux and Warden Grimes filed a Reply Memorandum. (Doc. 70). Sargent Grant and Sargent Cage also filed a Reply Memorandum. (Doc. 66). The Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Oral argument is not necessary.

         For the following reasons, the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 61) filed by Sheriff Gautreaux and Warden Grimes is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 43) filed by EBR, PMS, and Director Simpson is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 56) filed by Sargent Grant and Sargent Cage is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Hosey Colbert and Shantita Colbert are the parents of Tyrin Colbert ("Colbert"), their 17 year old son, who was murdered by an inmate while incarcerated as a pretrial detainee at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison ("EBRPP"). (Doc. 40 at p. 1). On January 12, 2017, Plaintiffs brought suit against, inter alia, EBR, which is the political entity responsible for funding operations and maintenance of the prison; Sheriff Gautreaux, who is responsible for running the prison; Warden Grimes, who is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the prison; PMS, which is the entity responsible for administering healthcare to the inmates; Rintha Simpson, who is the Interim Director of PMS; and "J. Does, " who are unknown sheriffs deputies and PMS staff. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 3-9).

         On August 14, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a superseding First Amended Complaint ("Complaint") adding additional claims and Defendants in place of "J. Does." (Doc. 40). The additional Defendants included Dr. Charles Bridges, who is the EBRPP Medical Director; Dr. Robert Blanche, who is the psychiatrist for the mental health program at EBRPP; as well as, Sargent Grant and Sargent Cage, who are employees of the East Baton Rouge Sheriffs Office. (Doc. 40 at ¶¶ 8-11).

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendants were, and continue to be, deliberately indifferent to the serious medical and mental health needs of prisoners in the EBRPP generally, and towards Colbert individually, which resulted in Colbert's death. (Id. at p. 1). Plaintiffs further allege that Defendants' "explicit and de facto policies and practices" violated Colbert's right to be free from punishment without due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at p. 2). Plaintiffs bring § 1983 violations against all Defendants all in their official capacities, and against Sheriff Gautreaux, Warden Grimes, Sargent Grant, and Sargent Cage in their individual capacities. (Doc. 40 at ¶¶ 88-111). Plaintiffs also allege violations of state law. (Id. at ¶¶ 115-28).

         A. Tyrin Colbert's Death

         Plaintiffs allege that on or about November 6, 2015, Colbert was arrested at his school. (Doc. 40 at ¶ 13). On November 10, 2015, Colbert allegedly reported feeling suicidal and was placed on suicide watch, where he was housed in Unit IFs M01 and N01 wings.[1] (Id. at ¶ 16). Three days later, Colbert reported hearing voices and having hallucinations, and he communicated to Defendant PMS staff that he needed help. (Id. at ¶ 18). Plaintiffs assert that on the same day, Defendant Dr. Blanche assessed Colbert "through the bars of [Colbert's] cell, " and determined that Colbert was neither suicidal nor depressed and that he was manipulating prison staff. (Id. at ¶ 19). Dr. Blanche then allegedly ordered that the suicide watch be discontinued. (Id.).

         Additionally, in November, an EBRPP deputy reportedly found Colbert rocking back and forth, talking to the wall, and shaking in his cell on the juvenile wing. (Id. at ¶ 22). Colbert allegedly had not been sleeping, and Dr. Blanche reportedly noted that Colbert "may be responding to internal stimuli, " that he seemed "very anxious, " and that he had an "imaginary friend." (Id. at ¶ 23). However, Dr. Blanche was purportedly unsure whether Colbert was "psychotic" or "malingering." (Id. at ¶ 23).

         In all alleged instances, Dr. Blanche allegedly conducted his assessments "through the bars of [Colbert's] cell." (Id. at ¶¶ 22-25). Plaintiffs assert that Dr. Blanche prescribed Colbert a number of psychotropic medications, such as "Ativan and Haldol.[2] (Id. at ¶¶ 23-24). On November 25, 2015, Colbert reported to PMS staff that he had been sexually assaulted by another prisoner. (Id. at ¶ 26).

         On December 6, 2015, Plaintiffs claim that while Colbert was housed in Unit II's M01 cellblock, an EBRPP deputy observed Colbert put his arm into the cell and "then [he] started screaming and struggling to pull his arm out of the cell." (Id. at ¶ 28). Allegedly, an x-ray two days later revealed that Colbert's forearm was broken, and three days later, on December 11, 2015, Colbert was transported to the hospital. (Id. at ¶ 28). The hospital purportedly required Colbert to follow up with the physician within 2-3 weeks, but no follow up appointment was made and Colbert "never saw the [physician] again." (Id. at ¶ 30). Plaintiffs assert that Colbert was not transported to any "scheduled medical call outs" within EBRPP that occurred on December 14 and 28, 2015, and January 4, 6, and 11, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 31).

         On January 23, 2017, Colbert allegedly expressed to an EBRPP deputy that he wanted to kill himself, prompting the deputy to bring Colbert to PMS staff. (Id. at ¶ 33). Plaintiffs claim that when Defendant PMS staff spoke with Colbert, he "stared" and did not respond, prompting PMS to strip Colbert of his clothes, handcuff and shackle him, and place him in a paper gown, at which point Colbert purportedly "threw himself to the floor and bloodied his mouth" causing him to be "placed on lockdown." (Id. at ¶ 33).

         On January 28, 2017, after Colbert was taken off suicide watch, the EBRPP security staff placed Colbert in a two-person cell on the juvenile wing with another 17 year old male, Kermitious Thomas ("Thomas").[3] (Id. at ¶ 35-36). Plaintiffs allege that on February 17, 2016, Thomas murdered Colbert, and was later convicted of the murder. (Id. at ¶¶ 37-38). According to Plaintiffs, no EBRPP security staff was assigned to monitor the juvenile wing on February 17, 2016, and Defendants Sargent Grant and Sargent Cage did not ensure that the wing was adequately monitored. (Id. at ¶ 41). Plaintiffs further assert that other detainees on the unit with Colbert and Thomas heard the two "fighting and yelling, " and that Colbert yelled 'Tm sorry" and "I give up." (Id. at ¶ 42). When EBRPP staff checked on Colbert, he was found unresponsive, face down, with a blanket around his neck. (Id. at ¶ 43). Colbert was transported to a hospital and died the next day. (Id.).

         B. Medical and Mental Health Care at the EBRPP

         Defendant EBR contracted with Health Management Associates ("HMA") "to provide an assessment of the clinical operations and medical services being provided by the City Parish at the [EBRPP]." (Doc. 40 at ¶ 45). According to Plaintiffs, the authors of the HMA study interviewed Baton Rouge officials, including Defendants Director Simpson, Warden Grimes, Dr. Blanche, and Dr. Bridges. (Id. at ¶ 46). The site visit and tour of EBRPP and interviews took place in February of 2016, and the findings and recommendations were presented publicly to the Metro Council on June 8, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 46).

         HMA found that Defendant EBR underfunds the medical, mental health, and dental care program at the EBRPP. (Id. at ¶ 47). HMA recommended that, given the average daily population of prisoners in the EBRPP, the budget should be doubled- from the current $5 million a year to almost $10 million. (Id. at ¶ 47). Additionally, HMA found that the EBRPP "is not adequately staffed by health care providers to address the health care needs of the population detained at the facility." (Id. at ¶ 48). HMA further found, inter alia, that the two infirmary rooms were "infirmaries' in name only" as they were inadequate and not within sightlines, inmates were required to make multiple delayed requests for health care, M01 and N01 provided a "woefully inadequate physical environment for the most unstable mentally ill" in the prison, and there "is no [mental health] programming done at" EBRPP ... "due to inadequate staffing and lack of available group rooms." (Id. at ¶¶ 50, 52, 54, 58).

         C. Systems and Policies at the EBRPP

         Plaintiffs aver that as a result of both "explicit and de facto policies and practices" that allow suicidal and mentally ill prisoners to be housed in solitary confinement, such policies not only denies necessary treatment, but they also exacerbate the prisoners' condition and causes unnecessary pain and suffering; especially for adolescents like Colbert. (Doc. 40 at ¶ 76).

         According to Plaintiffs, the failures of all Defendants are well known and consistent with a pattern and practice. (Id. at ¶ 80). Plaintiffs' Complaint included the following examples:

a. Since 2013, at least four people died at the jail due to inadequate medical and mental health care;
b. In February of 2015, Defendant GRIMES publically acknowledged that cell doors in the EBRPP do not open and shut due to rust, the layout of the prison makes it difficult to monitor prisoners, ' and overpopulation requires sending hundreds of prisoners to other parishes;
c. In October of 2015, a Baton Rouge elected official complained of a study into the medical care at EBRPP, noting that "the council already knows about numerous problems" including understaffing, medical equipment shortages, and insufficient compensation for medical professionals;
d. Also in October of 2015, Defendant GAUTREAUX was cited as requesting a new jail "for years" and that "officials long ago identified the problem: a dilapidated facility that is ill-equipped to hold mentally ill who are booked";
e. In February 2016, Defendant GAUTREAUX's spokesperson was reported to acknowledge that Tyrin's death proves that EBRPP is not safe for either EBRPP deputies or inmates. Casey Rayborn Hicks noted that Defendant GAUTREAUX "proposed in a new facility a layout that has more visibility for deputies [and] surveillance cameras."

(Doc. 40 at ¶ 80). Additionally, Plaintiffs' Complaint cites to media reports concerning the reported significant decline in the quality of health care at the EBRPP, and to instances where Sheriff Gautreaux and Warden Grimes advocated for a new jail to address problems previously discussed. (Id. at ¶ 82). II. LEGAL STANDARD A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8, which requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."' Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Ml Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] ... a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 679.

         "[F]acial plausibility" exists "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Hence, the complaint need not set out "detailed factual allegations, " but something "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" is required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. When conducting its inquiry, the Court "accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and views those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Bustos v. Martini Club Inc., 599 F.3d 458, 461 (5th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks omitted).


         A. Plaintiffs' § 1983 Official Capacity Claims

         Applicable Law - Monell Liability

         "Although municipalities [and government officials] cannot be held liable under section 1983 by virtue of the doctrine of respondeat superior, they are subject to such liability where official custom or policy is involved in the injury." O'Quinn v. Manuel, 773 F.2d 605, 608 (5th Cir. 1985) (citing City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 817 (1985)); see also Monell v. Dep't. of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691-94 (1978). Specifically, municipal liability under § 1983 "requires proof of three elements: a policymaker; an official policy; and a violation of constitutional rights whose moving force is the policy or custom." Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 237 F.3d 567, 578 (5th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). The policymaker must have actual or constructive knowledge of the official policy or custom. Pineda v. City of Houston, 291 F.3d 325, 328 (5th Cir. 2002). The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has held:

Actual knowledge may be shown by such means as discussions at council meetings or receipt of written information. Constructive knowledge may be attributed to the governing body on the ground that it would have known of the violations if it had properly exercised its responsibilities, as, for example, where the violations were so persistent and widespread ...

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