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Henderson v. LeBlanc

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

May 2, 2018




         This matter comes before the Court on the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to FRCP 12(b)(1) and FRCP 12(b)(6) (Doc. 44) filed by Defendants James LeBlanc, Darrell Vannoy, Stephanie Lamartiniere, Leslie Dupont, Dr. Randy Lavespere, and Nurse Betty Taplin (LeBlanc, Vannoy, Lamartiniere, and Dupont are collectively the “Warden Defendants”; Dr. Lavespere and Taplin are collectively the “Medical Defendants”; and all defendants are collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff William Henderson opposes the motion. (Doc. 37.) Neither Defendants nor Plaintiff filed a reply. Oral argument is not necessary. The Court has carefully considered the law, the allegations in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 44), and the arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule.

         For the following reasons, the Court will grant the Defendants' motion in part and deny it in part. Plaintiff's claims for prospective injunctive relief against the Defendants in their official capacity are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment. However, all of Plaintiff's claims for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, except those against Nurse Taplin, are dismissed for failure to state a viable claim. Plaintiff's claims against the Warden Defendants will be dismissed with prejudice, as further amendment would be futile. Plaintiff's claims against Dr. Lavespere are dismissed without prejudice, and Plaintiff is given twenty-one (21) days in which to cure the deficiencies in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 37), if he can do so. If the deficiencies are not cured, these claims will be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Relevant Factual Background[1]

A. The Parties

         Plaintiff is an inmate at Louisiana State Penitentiary (“LSP”). (Doc. 37 at 1.) This suit involves the Defendants' alleged failure to ensure that the Plaintiff receive his HIV medication timely and consistently.

         Defendant James LeBlanc is the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (“DPSC”). According to Plaintiff, LeBlanc (1) is “responsible for the functioning and control of all programs within the” DPSC, (2) “creates the rules and regulations that govern the inner workings of [DPSC]”, and (3) “is tasked with creating policies that ensure the basic medical needs of [DPSC] offenders are met and that there is an internal system to readily address offender grievances in a timely fashion”. (Doc. 37 at 3-4.)

         Defendant Darrel Vannoy is LSP's Warden. (Doc. 37 at 4-5.) Plaintiff alleges that Vannoy is the “final policy and decision maker of LSP and . . . is tasked with ensuring offenders at LSP receive adequate medical care.” (Doc. 37 at 5.) Vannoy (1) “is . . . in charge of hiring and contracting with medical professionals tasked to treat offenders with serious medical conditions, such as HIV[, ]” and (2) is also “responsible for reviewing any administrative grievance [(“ARP”)] and implementing curative remedies to serious grievances, such as inadequate medical care.” (Doc. 37 at 5.)

         Defendant Stephanie Lamartiniere is the assistant warden of health services at LSP. (Doc. 37 at 5.) She “is charged with overseeing offender medical treatment at LSP, which includes the treatment of offenders diagnosed with HIV.” (Doc. 37 at 5.)

         Defendant Leslie Dupont is a deputy warden. (Doc. 37 at 6.) Dupont “is the unit head and tasked with reviewing responses to ARPs.” (Doc. 37 at 6.)

         As to the Medical Defendants, Nurse Betty Taplin “is the senior nurse in charge of HIV positive offenders at” LSP. (Doc. 37 at 7.) Dr. Randy Lavespere is the “medical director of the R.E. Barrow Treatment Center” at LSP and “has the responsibility to ensure all doctors provide adequate care to offenders, including HIV positive offenders” like the Plaintiff. (Doc. 37 at 7.)

         B. Underlying Events

         Plaintiff was raped a number of times at the Terrebonne Parish Jail. (Doc. 37 at 1.) As a result, he contracted HIV. (Doc. 37 at 1.) Plaintiff was subsequently convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. (Doc. 37 at 1.)

         On December 10, 2012, Plaintiff came to LSP. (Doc. 37 at 8.) That day, he asked to be tested for HIV. (Doc. 37 at 8.)

         Several months later, Plaintiff was tested. (Doc. 37 at 8.) One month later, Plaintiff was found to be HIV positive. (Doc. 37 at 8.) “It was further determined that Plaintiff was in immediate need of medications due to the fact that his ‘T-Cell Count' was almost low enough to officially diagnose Plaintiff with AIDS.” (Doc. 37 at 8.)

         “In mid-2013, Plaintiff began receiving four different types of medication” for his HIV. (Doc. 37 at 9.) Plaintiff was supposed to receive two medications once a day and two medications twice a day. (Doc. 37 at 9.) Three months later, Plaintiff was scheduled to see a specialist via TeleMed. (Doc. 37 at 9.)

         During the first TeleMed appointment, a doctor told the Plaintiff “(for the first time) that Plaintiff should receive and take his medications twice daily and once daily, depending on the prescription.” (Doc. 37 at 9.) According to Plaintiff, “Nurse Betty[] was present[, ] and the specialist informed her that she should not dispense Plaintiff's medications all at once. This conversation was recorded.” (Doc. 37 at 9.) Plaintiff also alleges: “The TeleMed specialist explained to [him] that if he did not consistently take his medications for the rest of his life, Plaintiff would suffer an agonizing deterioration of his immune system which would make him susceptible to rare cancers and impair his immune system, making him susceptible to an early death.” (Doc. 37 at 9.) The TeleMed specialist also said that “inconsistent dispensation of antiretroviral HIV medication leads to viral resistance which compromises Plaintiff's ability to stave off full-blown AIDS.” (Doc. 37 at 10.)

         In 2014, Plaintiff was not given any of his medicines “anywhere from three to six times per month[.]” (Doc. 37 at 10.) “At one point, Plaintiff did not receive any medications for nearly two and a half weeks.” (Doc. 37 at 10.)

         In mid-2014, Plaintiff filed his first ARP against LSP “for failing to consistently provide [him] with his antiretroviral medications.” (Doc. 37 at 10.) LSP eventually changed Plaintiff's medications “to a different ‘class group' (three pills once a day) as his initial antiretroviral medications failed because of inconsistent dosing.” (Doc. 37 at 10.)

         In May 2015, Plaintiff was transferred to a different part of the prison. (Doc. 37 at 10.) “It took approximately one week for his medications to arrive at Main Prison.” (Doc. 37 at 10.)

         In late 2015, Plaintiff was returned to the last part of the prison. (Doc. 37 at 11.) “In late November through December, Plaintiff was again denied his medications for numerous days in a row.” (Doc. 37 at 11.)

         According to Plaintiff, “Plaintiff continues to receive inconsistent doses of his antiretroviral medications. As recently as August 25, 2016, Plaintiff failed to receive the necessary daily doses of his life-sustaining medications.” (Doc. 37 at 11.)

         Plaintiff's claims are broadly divided into two categories. As to the Warden Defendants, Plaintiff's claims mainly relate to their handling of his ARPs. Plaintiff's allegations against the Medical Defendants focus on their allegedly improper provision of care. The specific allegations against each defendant will be set forth below.

         II. Discussion

         A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         In Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., 135 S.Ct. 346 (2014), the Supreme Court explained: “Federal pleading rules call for a ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); they do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” Id., 135 S.Ct. at 346-47 (citation omitted).

         Interpreting Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Fifth Circuit has explained:

The complaint (1) on its face (2) must contain enough factual matter (taken as true) (3) to raise a reasonable hope or expectation (4) that discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of a claim. “Asking for [such] plausible grounds to infer [the element of a claim] does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal [that the elements of the claim existed].”

Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 257 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007)).

         Applying the above case law, the Western District of Louisiana has stated:

Therefore, while the court is not to give the “assumption of truth” to conclusions, factual allegations remain so entitled. Once those factual allegations are identified, drawing on the court's judicial experience and common sense, the analysis is whether those facts, which need not be detailed or specific, allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” [Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)]; Twombly, 55[0] U.S. at 556. This analysis is not substantively different from that set forth in Lormand, supra, nor does this jurisprudence foreclose the option that discovery must be undertaken in order to raise relevant information to support an element of the claim. The standard, under the specific language of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), remains that the defendant be given adequate notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it is based. The standard is met by the “reasonable inference” the court must make that, with or without discovery, the facts set forth a plausible claim for relief under a particular theory of law provided that there is a “reasonable expectation” that “discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of the claim.” Lormand, 565 F.3d at 257; Twombly, 55[0] U.S. at 556.

Diamond Servs. Corp. v. Oceanografia, S.A. De C.V., No. 10-00177, 2011 WL 938785, at *3 (W.D. La. Feb. 9, 2011) (citation omitted).

         The Fifth Circuit further explained that all well-pleaded facts are taken as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Thompson v. City of Waco, Tex., 764 F.3d 500, 502-03 (5th Cir. 2014). The task of the Court is not to decide if the plaintiff will eventually be successful, but to determine if a “legally cognizable claim” has been asserted.” Id. at 503.

         B. Sovereign Immunity

         Preliminarily, Defendants seek dismissal of all claims for monetary damages against the Defendants in their official capacity as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Defendants assert that the most recent complaint “again does not specify whether [Plaintiff] is seeking damages against each defendant in their personal or official capacities[, ]” so, “[o]ut of an abundance of caution, ” Defendants request dismissal on Eleventh Amendment grounds.

         Plaintiff responds that he “seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to ensure he will receive his life-sustaining medication without interruption for the duration of his incarceration. For his claim of declaratory and injunctive relief, he sues the defendants in their official capacities, which is not precluded by the Eleventh Amendment.” (Doc. 46 at 3.)

         The Court agrees with Plaintiff. “The Eleventh Amendment bars claims against a state brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Aguilar v. Texas Dep't of Criminal Justice, 160 F.3d 1052, 1054 (5th Cir. 1998) (citing Farias v. Bexar Cty. Bd. of Trustees for Mental Health Mental Retardation Servs., 925 F.2d 866, 875 n. 9 (5th Cir. 1991)). “Section 1983 does not waive the states' sovereign immunity[.]” Id. (citing Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 338 n. 7, 99 S.Ct. 1139, 59 L.Ed.2d 358 (1979)).

         Nevertheless, “[i]n Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908), the Supreme Court carved out an exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity.” Aguilar, 160 F.3d at 1054. “The [Ex Parte Young] Court held that enforcement of an unconstitutional law is not an official act because a state can not confer authority on its officers to violate the Constitution or federal law.” Id. (citing American Bank & Trust Co. of Opelousas v. Dent, 982 F.2d 917, 920-21 (5th Cir. 1993)). “To meet the Ex Parte Young exception, a plaintiff's suit alleging a violation of federal law must be brought against individual persons in their official capacities as agents of the state, and the relief sought must be declaratory or injunctive in nature and prospective in effect.” Id. (citing Saltz v. Tenn. Dep't of Emp't Sec., 976 F.2d 966, 968 (5th Cir. 1992)).

         Here, Plaintiff satisfies the Ex Parte Young exception. In his prayer, Plaintiff asks for “[a]n immediate order for injunctive relief requiring all necessary personnel within the Department of Corrections to ensure that Mr. Henderson receives his daily dosages of life-sustaining medications[.]” (Doc. 37 at 22.) Plaintiff also acknowledges in his opposition that he sues the Defendants in their official capacity for this injunctive relief. (Doc. 46 at 3.) Lastly, Plaintiff alleges that his problem is ongoing, as the Second Amended Complaint states that Plaintiff “continues to receive inconsistent doses of his antiretroviral medications” and that, “[a]s recently as August 25, 2016, Plaintiff failed to receive the necessary daily doses of his life-sustaining medications.” (Doc. 37 at 11.) Accordingly, Defendants' motion to dismiss on Eleventh Amendment grounds is denied.

         C. Claims Against the Warden Defendants 1. Parties' Arguments

         Defendants also seek dismissal of Plaintiff's claims for damages. Defendants focus on two aspects of Plaintiff's claims against the Warden Defendants: Plaintiff's ARP and the Warden Defendants' role as supervisors.

         As to the first, Defendants rely on Geiger v. Jowers, 404 F.3d 371, 374 (5th Cir. 2005), which, according to Defendants, held that an inmate has no “federally protected liberty interest in having . . . grievances resolved to his satisfaction”, so there can be no due process violation arising from an official's failure to investigate a grievance. (Doc. 44-1 at 5 (quoting Geiger, 404 F.3d at 374).) Defendants maintain:

In this instant matter, plaintiff's only claims against defendant Stephanie Lamartiniere are that defendant Lamartiniere responded to plaintiff's ARP grievance stating in the response the reasons for her decision. In addition, plaintiff's only claims against defendants, Vannoy and Dupont, are that they also signed off or approved the response provided by defendant Lamartiniere to the plaintiff regarding his ARP grievance. Finally, plaintiff's only claims against defendant James LeBlanc relate to a second step response from his office related to plaintiff's ARP grievance. According to the clear jurisprudence from the ...

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