United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS
CRAIG B. SHAFFER, Magistrate Judge.
This case is before this court pursuant to the Order of Reference entered on July 17, 2014 (Doc. # 45), and the parties' unanimous consent to disposition of this action by a United States Magistrate Judge. Defendant Renee D. Grimes-Boorman filed her Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 46) on August 11, 2014. David McDermid filed a response (Doc. # 54) on January 5, 2015, and Defendant Grimes-Boorman submitted her reply (Doc. # 55) on January 15, 2015. This court has carefully considered these filings, the court file, and the applicable case law.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
On November 22, 2013, Mr. McDermid initiated this action with the filing of a pro se Prisoner Complaint, pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Mr. McDermid filed an amended complaint on December 23, 2013. On January 1, 2014, Magistrate Judge Boyd Boland directed Mr. McDermid to file a second amended complaint. Judge Boland concluded that the amended complaint did not comply with the pleading requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because - despite naming seven individual defendants - the allegations in Mr. McDermid's amended complaint only implicated one of those defendants. Thereafter, Mr. McDermid filed a second amended complaint alleging claims against three defendants: Heriberto Garza, Renee D. Grimes-Boorman, and Michael Hudson. Defendants Grimes-Boorman and Hudson filed a motion to dismiss on June 9, 2014, asserting that Mr. McDermid had failed to state a claim for relief against either of them. Rather than responding to the motion to dismiss, Mr. McDermid sought, and was granted, permission to file another amended complaint.
In his Third Amended Complaint, filed on July 16, 2014, Mr. McDermid asserts violations of his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment against Defendant Garza and Defendant Grimes-Boorman. (Doc. # 43). Specifically, in his first claim for relief, Mr. McDermid asserts that he is diabetic and requires prescription insulin shots in order for his body to convert food into energy. On September 27, 2012, Defendant Garza allegedly reduced Mr. McDermid's insulin prescription "to the point that [he] started starving." Mr. McDermid alleges that he informed Defendant Garza that he was losing weight and that "the reduced insulin [would] cause [him] to lose weight faster." Mr. McDermid contends that, as a result of Defendant Garza's actions, he developed a perforated ulcer. Defendant Garza, however, has not been served with a copy of this complaint or any of the previous complaints. Consequently, he is not a party to the action.
In his second claim for relief, Mr. McDermid alleges that Defendant Grimes-Boorman denied giving him insulin on a number of occasions. He lists ten dates on which he allegedly did not receive insulin and states that "most of those times were due to Defendant Grimes-Boorman." He also alleges that when Defendant Grimes-Boorman administers his shots, she replaces the insulin with air. He asserts that when he does not "get insulin, [his] body produces ketones, which by information and belief is an acid that damages the body." Mr. McDermid further alleges that on one occasion, Defendant Grimes-Boorman accused him of hiding food and that "she seemed quite aggressive on the job." Mr. Mc Dermid seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages, and a declaration that the defendants' actions violated his rights under the Constitution.
Defendant Grimes-Boorman has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), arguing that Mr. McDermid has failed to state a claim under the Eighth Amendment and that his claims are barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A. Motions to Dismiss
Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court may dismiss a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations... and view these allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Casanova v. Ulibarri, 595 F.3d 1120, 1124-25 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009)). The court is not, however, "bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In addition, this court may consider exhibits attached to the complaint without converting the motion into one for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. See Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1112 (10th Cir. 1991).
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." Id. A claim is plausible 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. This standard requires more than the sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Id. Facts that are "merely consistent" with a defendant's liability are insufficient. Id. "[T]o state a claim in federal court, a complaint must explain what each defendant did to him or her; when the defendant did it; how the defendant's actions harmed him or her; and what specific legal right the plaintiff believes the defendant violated." Nasious v. Two Unknown B.I.C.E. Agents, 492 F.3d 1158, 1163 (10th Cir. 2007). The ultimate duty of the court is to "determine whether the complaint sufficiently alleges facts supporting all the elements necessary to establish an entitlement to relief under the legal theory proposed." Forest Guardians v. Forsgren, 478 F.3d 1149, 1160 (10th Cir. 2007).
Because Mr. McDermid is not an attorney, his pleadings and other papers have been construed liberally and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by a lawyer. See Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (19972)). Therefore, "if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so despite the plaintiff's failure to cite proper authority, his confusion of legal theories, his poor syntax and sentence construction, or his unfamiliarity with pleading requirements." Id. However, this court cannot act as a pro se litigant's advocate. Id. It is the responsibility of the pro se plaintiff to provide a simple and concise statement of his claims and the specific conduct that gives rise to each asserted claim. See Willis v. MCI Telecomms., 3 F.Supp.2d 673, 675 (E.D. N.C. 1998). This court may not "supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint." Whitney v. State of New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997). Nor may a plaintiff defeat a motion to dismiss by alluding to facts that have not been alleged, or by suggesting violations that have not been plead. Associated General Contractors of California Inc. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).
B. Qualified Immunity
Defendant Grimes-Boorman has raised the qualified immunity defense as to the single claim asserted against her. Qualified immunity shields "government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quotation omitted). Qualified immunity is "immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability [and] it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial." Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). Whether defendants are entitled to qualified immunity is a legal question. Wilder v. Turner, 490 F.3d 810, 813 (10th Cir. 2007).
In resolving a motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity, this court must consider "whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged... make out a violation of a constitutional right, " and "whether the right at issue was clearly established at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct." Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232. The plaintiff bears the burden of showing, with particularity, facts and law establishing the inference that the defendant violated a clearly established federal constitutional or statutory right. Walter v. Morton, 33 F.3d 1240, 1242 (10th Cir. 1994). If the plaintiff fails to satisfy either prong, the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236. The court has the discretion to consider these prongs in any order it chooses. Leverington v. City of Colorado Springs, 643 F.3d 719, 732 (10th Cir. 2011).
As to the first prong, "[i]f no constitutional right would have been violated were the allegations established, " the inquiry is at an end. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). The second prong - whether the right was clearly established - must be considered "in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition." Id. An official's conduct "violates clearly established law when, at the time of the challenged conduct, the contours of a right are sufficiently clear' that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing is violating that right.'" Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2083 (2011) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)). To be clearly established, "existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate." Id.
A. Defendant Renee D. Grimes-Boorman
Careful review of Mr. McDermid's Third Amended Complaint and the attached exhibits demonstrates that he has failed to state a claim for relief against Defendant Grimes-Boorman. To state a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim for denial of medical care, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to show that jail officials were deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105 (1976); Mata v. Saiz, 427 F.3d 745, 75 (10th Cir. 2005). To establish that inadequate medical treatment rises to the level of a constitutional violation, a plaintiff must satisfy a two-pronged inquiry.
First, the plaintiff must "produce objective evidence that the deprivation at issue was in fact sufficiently serious.'" Mata, 427 F.3d at 751 (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994)). "[T]he question raised by the objective prong of the deliberate indifference test is whether the alleged harm... is sufficiently serious..., rather than whether the symptoms displayed to the prison employee are sufficiently serious." Id.
Second, the plaintiff must present evidence that the defendant had a "sufficiently culpable state of mind." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. As the Supreme Court, in Farmer, explained:
[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.
Id. at 837. See also Barrie v. Grand County, Utah, 119 F.3d 862, 869 (10th Cir. 1997). "To be guilty of deliberate indifference, the defendant must know that he is creating a substantial risk of bodily harm." Green v. Branson, 108 F.3d 1296, 1302 (10th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Under this second prong, an assertion of mere negligence or even medical malpractice does not give rise to a constitutional violation. Perkins v. Kansas Dept. of Corr., 165 F.3d 803, 811 (10th Cir. 1999). Further, a prisoner's disagreement with medical personnel over the course of his treatment does not make out a cause of action. Id.
Here, taking all of Mr. McDermid's allegations as true, it is apparent that he is not entitled to the relief that he seeks in this lawsuit. As a preliminary matter, Mr. McDermid's complaint lacks specific factual allegations to support his claim and, accordingly, is subject to dismissal under Twombly and Iqbal. In his complaint, he alleges that Defendant Grimes-Boorman denied giving him insulin "many times." He then lists ten days on which he allegedly did not get insulin, and states that "most" of those times were due to Defendant Grimes-Boorman. He further alleges that Defendant Grimes-Boorman "usually" holds the syringe in such a manner that she replaces the prescribed insulin with air. These generalized, vague allegations, standing alone, do not plausibly show that the defendant engaged in any specific conduct on any specific occasion. Therefore, Mr. McDermid's allegations fall short of the specificity required to plausibly support a claim of deliberate indifference to a medical need in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Moreover, even if this was not true, Mr. McDermid's allegations fail to satisfy either prong of the deliberate indifference inquiry. As to the first component of his Eighth Amendment claim, Mr. McDermid urges this court to focus on his diabetes diagnosis as the serious medical need. Although there is little doubt that diabetes can constitute a serious medical need, Mr. McDermid does not allege that he was generally denied treatment for his diabetes. Rather, his complaint challenges Defendant Grimes-Boorman's alleged failure to provide him with insulin on several, unspecified, occasions over the course of 18 months. Thus, this case is conceptually different from an ordinary denial of medical care case, because Mr. McDermid's claim is based on short-term interruptions or delays in the treatment that he was receiving for his underlying medical condition. See Bender v. Reiger, 385 F.3d 1133, 1137 (8th Cir. 2004) ("[T]he Eighth Amendment issue is not whether the infection itself is a "serious medical need, " but rather whether [plaintiff] had a serious medical need for prompt interferon treatment."); Smith v. Carpenter, 316 F.3d 178, 185-86 (2d Cir. 2003) (concluding that Plaintiff had alleged a delay in his treatment for HIV where his claim was based upon short-term interruptions in otherwise adequate treatment).
"When the basis for a prisoner's Eighth Amendment claim is a temporary delay or interruption in the provision of otherwise adequate medical treatment, it is appropriate to focus on the challenged delay or interruption in treatment rather than the prisoner's underlying medical condition alone" in determining whether the alleged deprivation was sufficiently serious. Smith, 316 F.3d at 185. A delay or interruption in medical care "only constitutes an Eighth Amendment violation where ...