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Newsome-Goudeau v. State

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

March 22, 2018

NICOLE NEWSOME-GOUDEAU
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA, ET AL.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE HORNSBY

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          ELIZABETH ERNY FOOTE UNITED/STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a motion to dismiss filed by Dr. William Mark Haynes ("Haynes"), the Claiborne Parish Coroner. [Record Document 24]. The parties have filed an opposition and a reply, which have been considered by the undersigned. [Record Documents 26 and 27]. For the reasons below, the motion is GRANTED, and all claims against Haynes are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is the widow of Terrence Goudeau ("Goudeau"), a former inmate at David Wade Correctional Center ("DWCC"). [Record Document 20 at 1, 3]. On July 12, 2016, Goudeau was found dead in his cell; Haynes then ordered an autopsy. [Id. at 5, 9]. Plaintiff has alleged two theories regarding Goudeau's death. First, in accordance with the autopsy, she alleges that Goudeau hanged himself. [Id.]. Alternately, she alleges that Goudeau's death resulted from "foul play or criminal violation" based on evidence of bruising on the body. [Id. at 10].

         Regarding the suicide theory, Plaintiff has alleged that DWCC employees knew that Goudeau "had attempted and/or threatened to commit suicide on prior occasions" and that they breached the standard of care for suicidal inmates by placing him a cell containing "hanging hazards." [Id. at 5-6]. As his surviving spouse, Plaintiff brings a wrongful death action, a survival action, and a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against the State of Louisiana, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, DWCC (collectively, the "State Defendants"), Jerry Goodwin, DWCC's warden ("Goodwin"), and an unnamed insurance company and unnamed DWCC employees.[1] [Id. at 2, 7-8].

         Plaintiffs allegations against Haynes arise in the context of her "foul play" theory. She alleges that Goodwin instructed Haynes to send the body to a forensic pathologist in Youngsville, Louisiana in contravention of Haynes's usual policy of sending bodies from DWCC to Little Rock, Arkansas for autopsy. [Id. at 9]. As a result, the autopsy report was allegedly "misleading or highly questionable . . . resulting on information and belief in a spoliation of evidence in the cause of death of Terrence Goudeau." [Id.]. Because Plaintiffs pleading with regard to Haynes is not entirely clear, the Court proceeds on the assumption that she has asserted a wrongful death action, a survival action, a § 1983 claim, and a tort claim arising from his duties as coroner. [Id. at 9-10].

         II. Law and Analysis

         A. Standard of Review

         In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiffs complaint must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." BellAtl. Corp. v. Twomblj, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Lmmbly, 550 U.S. at 556). In determining whether the plaintiff has stated a plausible claim, the court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to her, see In re Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC, 624 F.3d 201, 210 (5th Cir. 2010), and accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, see Lwombly, 550 U.S. at 555; In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig, 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2009). However, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Thus, the Court does not have to accept as true "conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions." Vlotkin v. IP Axess Inc, 407 F.3d 690, 696 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing Southland Sec. Corp. v. INSpire Ins. Sols, Inc., 365 F.3d 353, 361 (5th Cir. 2004)).

         B. Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

         A wrongful death action "embraces conduct that causes the death of another, " while a survival action "comes into existence simultaneously with the existence of the tort." Walls v. Am. Optical Corp., 98-0455, pp. 14-15 (La. 9/8/99); 740 So.2d 1262, 1274 (first quoting Taylor v. Giddens, 618 So.2d 834, 840 (La. 1993); then quoting Callais v. Allstate Ins. Co., 334 So.2d 6982, 700 (La. 1975)). Because there is no allegation that Haynes caused Goudeau's death and because Goudeau died prior to Haynes's involvement in this matter, [Record Document 20 at 5], to the extent that Plaintiff has alleged either a wrongful death action or a survival action against Haynes, she has failed to state a claim.

         C. Section 1983 Claims

          Section 1983 is violated only when a person deprives another of a constitutional or statutory right under the color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012); Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan,526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999). Because a deceased person lacks constitutional rights, Whitehurst v. Wright,592 F.2d 834, 840 & n.9 (5th Or. 1979), Haynes cannot have violated Goudeau's constitutional rights. Plaintiff may also be alleging that Haynes, in his capacity as coroner, violated her rights. However, as her ...


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