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McGill v. Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

October 24, 2014

KENNETH McGILL, Plaintiff,


R. BROOKE JACKSON, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Sheriff Mink's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 104]. For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.


The background of this case was fully outlined in the Court's June 27, 2014 Order [ECF No. 103] and is incorporated herein. The present motion concerns whether Defendant Sheriff Mink is entitled to summary judgment on the sole claim remaining against him, a § 1983 deliberate indifference action alleging a failure to provide adequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Sheriff Mink argues that "there is no evidence to support a claim that the Sheriff's Office has or had a policy, practice, or custom of not sending out inmates for emergency medical care." [ECF No. 104 at 2]. In response, Mr. McGill contends that there are two bases for liability against the Sheriff's Department: (1) direct entity liability for an unconstitutional policy, practice, or custom; and (2) indirect liability through the non-delegable duty doctrine for the policy, practice, or custom of the CHC defendants. [ECF No. 120 at 2]. The Court agrees with the defendant that there is no evidence to support direct entity liability, but also agrees with the plaintiff that the defendant must remain in the action with respect to indirect liability on a non-delegable duty theory.


"Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Utah Lighthouse Ministry v. Found. for Apologetic Info. & Research, 527 F.3d 1045, 1050 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court considers "the factual record, together with all reasonable inferences derived therefrom, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party...." Id. The moving party has the burden of producing evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In challenging such a showing, the non-movant "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is genuine if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.



Under the Eighth Amendment, a prison official may not act with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828 (1994). "[D]eliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain' proscribed by the Eighth Amendment." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976) (internal citation omitted). Two conditions must be met in order to show deliberate indifference: first, the deprivation must be "sufficiently serious" under an objective standard; second, the prison official must have had subjective knowledge of the risk of harm. See Howard v. Waide, 534 F.3d 1227, 1236 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 837). "A prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless 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, 511 U.S. at 837.

To support a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show that the defendant, acting under color of state law, deprived him of a right secured by the United States Constitution or its laws. Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999). "A defendant may not be held liable under § 1983 unless he or she subjected a citizen to the deprivation, or caused a citizen to be subjected to the deprivation." Lippoldt v. Cole, 468 F.3d 1204, 1219 (10th Cir. 2006) (alterations and citation omitted). "[T]o establish municipal liability, a plaintiff must show 1) the existence of a municipal policy or custom, and 2) that there is a direct causal link between the policy or custom and the injury alleged." Hinton v. City of Elwood, Kan., 997 F.2d 774, 782 (10th Cir. 1993) (citing City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989)).

A. Direct Causal Link.

The Court begins with the second prong, whether the plaintiff has established a triable issue of fact concerning a direct causal link between the policy or custom and the injury alleged. Mr. McGill frames Jefferson County as a "joint actor" and a "joint moving force" alongside CHC in the underlying alleged constitutional deprivation. However, when the plaintiff describes his theory of the case, the connection is not "direct" but once removed. According to Mr. McGill, Jefferson County entered into a contract with CHC that (allegedly) incentivized CHC to reduce the costs of medical care per inmate per year. Likewise, Jefferson County officials discussed the costs of medical care during monthly meetings and (allegedly) put financial pressure on CHC to keep those costs down by reducing emergent send outs. The connection that Mr. McGill perceives between Jefferson County and the harm he suffered is that the County created financial pressures that led to CHC's developing policies that led to its nurses failing to call a doctor or an ambulance for Mr. McGill on the night he suffered a stroke.

This connection is not direct. Perhaps if Jefferson County officials had instructed CHC in how to train their nurses, or if they had forbidden the number of emergent send outs to rise above a certain level, a direct causal link could be shown. But as the Court sees it, the plaintiff has merely alleged that the County incentivized certain behavior, and that CHC reacted to the incentives by inadequately training its nurses. While CHC's behavior could be said to be a direct cause of the failure to call ...

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