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Rombach v. Culpepper

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 8, 2018


         SECTION "B"(2)


         Defendants Chief of Police Joe Culpepper, Warden Scott Adams, and Mayor Wendy O'Quin Perrette have filed a motion for summary judgment. Rec. Doc. 29. Plaintiff timely filed an opposition. Rec. Doc. 45. Defendants then sought, and were granted, leave to file a reply. Rec. Doc. 50. For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that the motion (Rec. Doc. 29) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


         This case arises out of Gregory Rombach's death while in custody at the Bogalusa City Jail on July 9, 2015. See Rec. Doc. 3 ¶ 4. At 1:52 a.m. on Monday, July 6, 2015, Mr. Rombach was arrested for shoplifting from a Walmart.[1] See Rec. Doc. 29-6. During booking, the police learned that there was a warrant for Mr. Rombach's arrest for failure to appear. See id.; Rec. Doc. 29-7. Mr. Rombach was subsequently arrested per the warrant. See Rec. Docs. 29-6; 29-8. At 2:55 a.m. on July 6, 2015, Mr. Rombach filled out a medical form, indicating that he had no medical conditions other than an allergy to penicillin. See Rec. Doc. 29-9 at 1-2. In the afternoon of July 6, 2015, Mr. Rombach was sentenced for failure to appear to fifteen days in custody or a $250.00 fine. See Rec. Doc. 29-10. Mr. Rombach's arraignment for the shoplifting arrest was set for one week later, on July 13, 2015. See Id. Mr. Rombach was then returned to the custody of the Bogalusa City Jail. See id.

         Mr. Rombach made three telephone calls from jail before he passed away. He first called his mother in the early hours of July 6, 2015, to tell her that he had been arrested and to ask that she bail him out of jail. See Rec. Doc. 29-13 at 3-5. He called his parents again, likely on July 7, 2015, when he spoke with his father. See Rec. Doc. 29-14 at 2. When asked how he was doing, Mr. Rombach responded, “Not so good, Dad.” Id. Mr. Rombach also called his brother, but the record does not indicate when that call took place. See Rec. Doc. 29-15.

         At some point after booking, Mr. Rombach told jail personnel that he was withdrawing from heroin. See Rec. Docs. 29-2 ¶¶ 10-11; 29-5 ¶¶ 6, 8. Scott Adams, the warden of the jail, states in his affidavit that a nearby hospital told him that “there is no real treatment of withdrawal symptoms and it is sufficient for the jail to observe the inmate in withdrawal and provide plenty of hydration, aspirin, and malox-type products to assist the inmate with the symptoms experienced in going through withdrawal.” Rec. Doc. 29-5 ¶ 13. According to Warden Adams, “Rombach requested and was given a small dose of castor oil for relief of constipation.” Id. ¶ 14. There is no other evidence in the record of whether and how Mr. Rombach was treated for his withdrawal symptoms.

         Warden Adams' employees had similar understandings of what jail policy required them do when an inmate was suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Louis Clark, a jail employee, testified in his deposition that inmates experiencing withdrawal symptoms are given “Imodium for diarrhea[, ]” “ibuprofen for pain, [and] muscle spasm, and Emetrol [for] . . . nausea.” Rec. Doc. 45-7 at 2. Lisa Erwin, another jail employee, echoed Clark's testimony in her own deposition when she testified that “[t]he only thing [the jail] give[s] [inmates] now is Emetrol, Imodium, and ibuprofen.” Rec. Doc. 45-5 at 3. Erwin went on to explain that she didn't have “any protocols” for inmates going through withdrawal, but agreed with Warden Adams that the nearby hospital had recommended treatment with over-the-counter medications. See Id. Erwin did not know if the hospital had told the jail how to know when an inmate's withdrawal symptoms are severe enough to warrant professional medical attention. See id.

         At some point after informing jail personnel that he was in withdrawal, Mr. Rombach was moved to a private padded cell. See Rec. Doc. 29-2 ¶ 14. Jail personnel said that the move was “because [Mr. Rombach] was being disruptive” and so jail personnel wanted to “observe [Mr. Rombach] better.” Id. Jail personnel state that when questioned about his symptoms while in the private padded cell, Mr. Rombach “said he was fine and requested to go back to his cell [;]” a request that was accommodated. See Rec. Doc. 29-5 ¶ 11. Christopher Flot, an inmate who was in the jail at the same time as Mr. Rombach, states that Mr. Rombach “was placed in a private cell after he repeatedly called for medical attention.” Rec. Doc. 45-3 at 1. Mr. Flot states that Mr. Rombach was moved to the private cell on Mr. Rombach's second day of incarceration, which was likely July 7, 2015.[2] See id.

         Mr. Flot's declaration provides other details about Mr. Rombach's time in jail.[3] According to Mr. Flot, Mr. Rombach was assigned to the cell next to his, where the inmates were confined from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. every day. See Rec. Doc. 45-3 at 1. Both Mr. Flot and Mr. Rombach had access to the same day room when not confined to their cells. See Id. Mr. Flot states that Mr. Rombach ate “very little food, which he vomited up.” Id. Mr. Flot heard Mr. Rombach “ask to be taken to a hospital for medical attention.” Id. at 2. According to Mr. Flot, a prison employee who heard Mr. Rombach's request said that Mr. Rombach could not go to the hospital. See Id. Mr. Flot also states in his declaration that he “personally told Mr. Otis, Mr. Lewis, [and] Ms. Knight that [Mr. Rombach] did not feel well, was not eating and was vomiting, and [that Mr. Rombach] needed a doctor.”[4] Id. Mr. Flot also declares that the jail employees “did not make regular inspections of the cells when [the inmates] were on lockdown at night.” Id. at 2-3.

         Another inmate was also aware that Mr. Rombach was not feeling well.[5] Chadwick Hart, who either shared a cell with Mr. Rombach or Mr. Flot the night that Mr. Rombach passed away, told Detective David Miller that Mr. Rombach was throwing up at 11:00 p.m. on July 8, 2015, and that Mr. Rombach continued to throw up throughout the night. See Rec. Doc. 45-2. These statements are consistent with the prison report of Mr. Rombach's death. See Id. When Detective Miller arrived at Mr. Rombach's cell on July 9, 2015 to investigate Mr. Rombach's death earlier that day, he saw vomit in the toilet in the cell. See Id. An autopsy was subsequently conducted; the cause of death was a “perforated duodenal ulcer with peritonitis.” See Rec. Doc. 29-11 at 2. The autopsy also revealed that Mr. Rombach had amphetamine, methamphetamine, and opiates in his system when he died. See Id. at 3.

         In January 2016, Plaintiffs filed the instant lawsuit. See Rec. Docs. 1; 3. There are two distinct sets of defendants. All defendants have been sued in their individual and official capacities. See Rec. Doc. 3 ¶ 3. One set is a group of John and Jane Does, who are described as employees of “the Bogalusa Police Department and/or of the City of Bogalusa and its jail.” See Id. ¶ 3(d). The Amended Complaint alleges that these unnamed defendants are liable to Plaintiffs under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by denying Mr. Rombach necessary medical care, which resulted in his death. See Id. ¶¶ 21, 23. The Amended Complaint also alleges that these unnamed defendants are liable to Plaintiffs under Louisiana Civil Code Articles 2315, 2315.1, and 2316 for causing Mr. Rombach's death. See Id. ¶¶ 22-23.

         The other set of Defendants is a group of three named individuals: Joe Culpepper, the Chief of Police in Bogalusa; Scott Adams, the Warden of the Bogalusa City Jail; and Wendy O'Quin Perrette, the Mayor of the Bogalusa. See Id. ¶ 3(a)-(c). The Amended Complaint alleges that the named defendants are liable to Plaintiffs for facilitating Mr. Rombach's death through negligent hiring and training and failure to develop appropriate policies for inmates with medical needs. Id. ¶ 24(a)-(d). These allegations also appear to state a claim for municipal liability under the doctrine established by the United States Supreme Court in Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). The Amended Complaint also alleges that that the named defendants are liable for the actions of the unnamed defendants “under the principle of respondeat superior.” Rec. Doc. 3 ¶ 24(e).

         The named defendants then moved for summary judgment. See Rec. Doc. 29. Later that same day, Plaintiffs filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint that properly names the John and Jane Doe defendants. See Rec. Doc. 30. The motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Wilkinson, who denied the motion without prejudice. See Rec. Doc. 42. Plaintiffs then filed a motion to continue trial, with the intention of reurging their motion for leave to file an amended complaint if a continuance was granted. See Rec. Doc. 43. The motion to continue trial was granted and Plaintiffs were given one week to file another motion for leave to file an amended complaint. See Rec. Doc. 51. Because the proposed Amended Complaint does to affect Plaintiffs' claims against the originally-named defendants, the instant motion for summary judgment is still before the Court.

         LAW ...

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