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Estate of Dixon v. Board of County Commissioners of Crowley County

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 18, 2017

The ESTATE OF TIMOTHY SCOTT DIXON, S.A.D., minor child, by and through his guardian and next friend Starla LeRoux, and CODY DIXON, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF CROWLEY COUNTY, CROWLEY COUNTY COLORADO SHERIFFS OFFICE, MILES CLARK, in his individual capacity, MARK MORLOCK, in his individual capacity, JAMES BUTLER, in his individual capacity, and ALACIA JACOBS, in her individual capacity, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          NINA Y. WANG, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on two related motions:

(1) Defendants Board of County Commissioners of Crowley County (“County”), Crowley County Sheriff's Office (“CCSO”), and Mark Morlock's (collectively, “County Defendants”) Motion and Brief in Support of Summary Judgment (the “Motion for Summary Judgment”) [#114, [1] filed Jan. 19, 2017]; and
(2) Defendants Miles Clark, James Butler, and Alacia Jacobs' (collectively, “Individual Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment [#116, filed Jan. 19, 2017].

         The Motions for Summary Judgment are before the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and the Order of Reference dated March 11, 2016 [#62]. The court concludes that oral argument will not materially assist in the resolution of this matter. Accordingly, after carefully considering the motions and associated briefing, the entire case file, the applicable case law, the Motions for Summary Judgment are GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART for the reasons set forth below.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The court has discussed in detail this action's procedural history in previous rulings, see, e.g., [#107], and discusses it here only as it pertains to the pending motions. On December 16, 2015, The Estate of Timothy Scott Dixon, S.A.D., a minor child, and Cody N. Dixon (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed their initial Complaint in this matter. [#1]. Then, on March 11, 2016, the court granted Plaintiffs' First Motion to Amend their Complaint, see [#63], and Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) became the operative complaint in this matter. See [#67]. The FAC alleged the following claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) Unlawful Arrest and Seizure against Defendants Clark, Morlock, and Butler (“Claim I”); (2) Failure to Provide Medical Care and Treatment against all Defendants (“Claim II”); (3) Monell Liability against Defendants County and CCSO (“Claim III”); (4) Monell Liability for Failure to Train and Supervise against Defendants County and CCSO (“Claim IV”); and (5) Supervisory Liability for Failure to Train and Supervise against Defendants Clark and Morlock (“Claim V”). [Id.]. In addition, the FAC alleged two state law claims against all Defendants pursuant to Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-202 for (6) Wrongful Death by Negligent Supervision (“Claim VI”) and (7) Wrongful Death by Negligence (“Claim VII”). [Id.].

         On April 5, 2016, Defendants Butler, Jacobs, and Clark each filed their own Motion to Dismiss, seeking dismissal of all claims against them for failure to state a claim or on qualified immunity grounds. See [#72; #73; #75]. Then, on April 25, 2016, the County Defendants filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss Claim I (Unlawful Arrest and Seizure) for failure to state a claim and because Defendant Morlock was entitled to qualified immunity. [#84]. The court held a Motions Hearing and took the four Motions to Dismiss under advisement. See [#99]. On November 15, 2016, the court issued an order dismissing without prejudice Claim I (Unlawful Arrest and Seizure), Claim II (Failure to Provide Medical Care) as to Defendant Jacobs only, Claim V (Supervisory Liability - Failure to Train) as to Defendant Clark only, and Claim VI (Wrongful Death by Negligent Supervision) as to Defendant Clark only. See [#107]. Thus, the remaining claims are Claim II (Failure to Provide Medical Care) against Defendants Morlock, Clark, and Butler; Claim III (Monell liability - Failure to Provide Medical Care); Claim IV (Monell liability - Failure to Train/Supervise); Claim V (Supervisory Liability - Failure to Train) against Defendant Morlock; Claim VI (Wrongful Death - Negligent Supervision) against the County Defendants and Defendants Butler and Jacobs; and Claim VII (Wrongful Death - Negligence).

         On January 19, 2017, the County Defendants and Individual Defendants (collectively, “Defendants”) filed their respective Motions for Summary Judgment. See [#114; #116]. Plaintiffs filed a joint response [#123], and Defendants each filed a reply [#131; #132]. On March 7, 2017, the undersigned held a Final Pretrial Conference at which the court set the matter for a seven-day jury trial to begin on September 25, 2017. [#127]. The motions being ripe for resolution, the court considers the Parties' arguments below.[2]

         MATERIAL FACTS

         Timothy Scott Dixon (“Mr. Dixon”) passed away at the age of forty-four on January 31, 2014, while in the custody of the CCSO. See [#123 at Statement of Facts (“SOF”) ¶ 1]. The following facts, leading up to Mr. Dixon's death, are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         Employment in Nebraska and JR's Country Store and Restaurant

         On the morning of January 31, 2014, Mr. Dixon left his temporary employment position in Nebraska because he was feeling ill, and began his drive home to Pueblo, Colorado. [Id. at SOF ¶¶ 2, 3; #123-10 at 73:17-19; #123-13 at 3, 25-26]. Unbeknownst to him, Mr. Dixon suffered from a serious medical condition called bacterial pneumonia that affected his physical and mental functioning. See generally [id. at SOF ¶¶ 4; #123-14 at ¶ 5]. Because of his illness, Mr. Dixon defecated in his pants, vomited, and experienced respiratory issues. [#123 at SOF ¶¶ 4-5].

         While in Ordway, Colorado, Mr. Dixon stopped for gas at JR's Country Store and Restaurant (“JR's”). [Id. at SOF ¶ 6]. Upon entering JR's premises, Mr. Dixon crashed his car into concrete blocks at the end of the parking lot and had difficulty pulling up to the gas pump. [Id. at SOF ¶ 7]. A witness, Donald Ferritto, observed Mr. Dixon struggling to stand and pump his gas. [Id.; #114 at Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“SOUMF”) ¶ 1]. Because of this, Mr. Dixon entered JR's convenient store to request help with pumping his gas; however, while seeking assistance, Mr. Dixon fell backwards into a food shelf. [#123 at SOF ¶ 7]. Eventually, a JR's employee assisted Mr. Dixon with pumping his gas. [Id.]. Soon thereafter, Mr. Ferritto placed an anonymous call to the CCSO to report that a JR's patron (Mr. Dixon) had crashed his car into concrete barriers at JR's, had difficulty standing and pumping his gas, and who had exited JR's traveling east on County Road G. [Id. at SOF ¶ 8; #114 at SOUMF ¶ 1; #116 at Statement of Facts (“SOF”) ¶ 1].

         Traffic Stop, Field Sobriety Test, and Arrest

         Defendant Morlock, responding to Mr. Ferritto's report, observed Mr. Dixon's vehicle travelling at a slow rate of speed on Road G, and stopped Mr. Dixon's vehicle after Mr. Dixon had twice drifted off the road. [#114 at SOUMF ¶¶ 2-3; #116 at SOF ¶ 2; #123 at SOF ¶ 9]. Upon approaching Mr. Dixon's vehicle, Defendant Morlock observed Mr. Dixon smoking a cigarette (that he later disposed of), asked Mr. Dixon for his driver's information, and asked Mr. Dixon where he was going. [#114 at SOUMF ¶¶ 4-5; #116 at SOF ¶ 2; #123 at SOF ¶ 10]. Mr. Dixon responded that he was on his way to Pueblo (the opposite direction from where Defendant Morlock stopped him), and that he was sick and had defecated in his pants.[3] [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 2, 6; #116 at SOF ¶¶ 2-3; #123 at SOF ¶ 13]. Defendant Morlock observed that Mr. Dixon was confused, that his eyes were watery and bloodshot, that his speech was slurred, that a “strong smell of alcohol” emanated from Mr. Dixon's person, and that Mr. Dixon admitted to consuming beer. [#114 at SOUMF ¶¶ 5-7; #116 at SOF ¶ 4; #123 at SOF ¶¶ 11-12; #123-12 at 81:19-21]. Plaintiffs dispute that Mr. Dixon admitted to drinking beer, as his toxicology reports were negative for alcohol. See [#123 at SOF ¶¶ 12, 22]. Suspecting Mr. Dixon of driving under the influence, Defendant Morlock requested that Defendant Butler, certified in Standard Field Sobriety Training (“SFST”), administer a field sobriety test. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 9; #116 at SOF ¶ 5; #123 at SOF ¶ 14].

         At approximately 3:03 p.m., Defendant Clark arrived at the scene. [#116 at SOF ¶ 5; #123 at SOF ¶ 14]. Defendant Morlock informed Defendant Clark of his general observations of Mr. Dixon, and Mr. Dixon informed Defendant Clark that he was sick and heading home to Pueblo for this reason. [#116 at SOF ¶¶ 6-7; #123 at SOF ¶ 14]. Defendant Clark observed that Mr. Dixon “appeared like he had the flu or a bad cold. He was congested.” [#123 at SOF ¶ 14; #123-4 at 51:10-19].

         Defendant Butler arrived at the scene at approximately 3:16 p.m. [#116 at SOF ¶ 8; #123 at SOF ¶ 16]. Prior to turning over the investigation to Defendant Butler and leaving the scene, Defendant Morlock provided Defendant Butler with all of his observations and relevant information regarding Mr. Dixon, including that he was sick and had defecated in his paints- Defendant Butler does not recall having this conversation. [#114 at SOUMF ¶¶ 9-10; #116 at SOF ¶ 8; #123 at SOF ¶ 17; #123-12 at 90:1-11, 92:11-15, 95:1-7, 101:23-102:3]. Defendant Butler then administered three field sobriety tests-the horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk and turn, and one-leg stand; however, Mr. Dixon was unable to complete any of these tests. [#116 at SOF ¶¶ 9, 11; #123 at SOF ¶ 19]. In fact, Defendant Butler ceased the walk and turn and one-leg stand tests for safety reasons, as Mr. Dixon was unstable and, at one point, Defendants Clark and Butler had to stabilize Mr. Dixon. [#123 at SOF ¶ 19; #123-3 at 18:5-18, 20:3-8]. Then, Defendant Butler requested that Mr. Dixon submit to a preliminary breathalyzer test and Mr. Dixon complied; however, he was also unable to perform this test properly. [#116 at SOF ¶ 12; #123 at SOF ¶ 19]. At this point, Defendant Butler allegedly noticed an odor of alcohol emanating from Mr. Dixon's person, believed Mr. Dixon to be highly intoxicated, and was allegedly informed by Mr. Dixon that he had consumed six sixteen-ounce beers that day. See [#116 at SOF ¶¶ 11-12; #123 at SOF ¶¶ 19, 21, 25; #123-3 at 84:7-9]. Again, Plaintiffs dispute that Mr. Dixon admitted to consuming alcohol the day of the traffic stop. [#123 at SOF ¶¶ 21, 22]. Subsequently, Defendant Butler placed Mr. Dixon under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 12; #116 at SOF ¶ 13; #123 at SOF ¶ 20].

         Search of Mr. Dixon's Car and Blood Draw

         Following his arrest, Defendant Clark informed Mr. Dixon of Colorado's Express Consent law, and Mr. Dixon opted for a blood draw at Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center (“AVRMC”). [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 13; #116 at SOF ¶ 19; #123 at SOF ¶ 27]. However, while handcuffed in the backseat of Defendant Butler's vehicle, Defendant Clark asked Mr. Dixon if he needed any personal items or medications from his vehicle. [#116 at SOF ¶ 14]. Mr. Dixon requested a specific bag from his car, but no medications; however, Defendant Clark, with Mr. Dixon's assistance, was unable to locate the bag. See [id.; #123-4 at 49:4-50:1]. Though not entirely clear, Defendants Butler and Clark both allege that they discovered an unopened six-pack of beer in Mr. Dixon's car. See [#116 at SOF ¶ 15; #123 at ¶ 21]; see also [#116-3 at 61:9- 62:23 (Defendant Clark testifying that he saw the beer, but “never handled it at any time.”); #123-3 at 40:8-11, 42:3-5 (Defendant Butler testifying that Defendant Clark collected the six-pack of beer, but not recalling what happened after that)]. Plaintiffs dispute that Defendants Clark and Butler found beer in Mr. Dixon's car, as it was not reported as inventory until March 2014. [#123 at SOF ¶¶ 21-22].[4]

         At approximately 3:52 p.m., Defendant Clark left the scene and went off-duty. [#116 at SOF ¶ 20]. Around this same time, Defendant Butler transported Mr. Dixon to AVRMC in La Junta, Colorado for the sole purpose of conducting a blood draw to test Mr. Dixon's blood for alcohol and controlled substances-the two arrived at AVRMC at approximately 4:19 p.m. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 15; #116 at SOF ¶ 19; #123 at SOF ¶¶ 12, 27]. It is undisputed that at some point during the drive to AVRMC, Mr. Dixon asked Defendant Butler to roll down the back window, because Mr. Dixon stated that he was “burning up.” [#116 at SOF ¶ 21; #123 at SOF ¶ 27]. However, the Parties dispute whether Mr. Dixon's overheating was the result of his attire (coat, boots, and hat) or his illness. Compare [#116 at SOF ¶¶ 21-22] with [#123 at ¶ 27]. A phlebotomist completed Mr. Dixon's blood draw at approximately 4:49 p.m. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 15; #116 at SOF ¶ 23; #123 at SOF ¶ 29]. At no time between the traffic stop and the completion of the blood draw did Mr. Dixon request medical attention, nor did Defendants Morlock, Clark, or Butler seek medical evaluation of Mr. Dixon. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 16; #116 at SOF ¶ 23; #123 at SOF ¶ 29].

         The Booking Process

         Following the blood draw, Defendant Butler transported Mr. Dixon to the Crowley County Jail (the “jail”) for booking. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 17; #116 at SOF ¶ 25; #123 at SOF ¶ 29]. Prior to their arrival, Defendant Jacobs (a relatively new employee) began her shift as one of two jail dispatchers/booking deputies on duty the evening of January 31, 2014. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 18; #116 at SOF ¶ 24; #123 at SOF ¶ 30]. Defendant Jacobs' supervisor, Richelle Atchison, informed Defendant Jacobs that she would need to book an adult male who Defendant Butler arrested for driving under the influence and who was being transported from the AVRMC. [#116 at SOF ¶ 24; #123 at SOF ¶ 30]. Both Defendant Jacobs and Ms. Atchison believed that Mr. Dixon was being medically cleared prior to his booking. [#116 at SOF ¶ 24; #123 at SOF ¶ 30].

         About 5:19 p.m., [5] Defendant Jacobs received a phone call from Defendant Morlock wherein Defendant Morlock advised Defendant Jacobs that Mr. Dixon needed to be “locked down, ” i.e., isolated from other inmates or jail staff, because he possibly had “bronchitis or pneumonia.” [#114 at SOUMF ¶¶ 25-26; #116 at SOF ¶ 34; #123 at SOF ¶ 31]. Defendant Morlock then consulted with Defendant Clark regarding Mr. Dixon's isolation, and Defendant Clark decided that Mr. Dixon did not need to be “locked down” but, rather, Mr. Dixon should be placed in a single-cell to limit exposure to other inmates. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 29; #116 at SOF ¶ 35; #123 at SOF ¶ 31; #123-4 at 79:15-80:20 (Defendant Clark testifying that he wanted to limit Mr. Dixon's exposure to other inmates because he knew Mr. Dixon was “ill and wasn't feeling good, ” but stating he would not take such measures if an inmate had “a common cold”)]. Defendant Morlock then informed Defendant Jacobs of Defendant Clark's directive, and Defendant Jacobs and Ms. Atchison assigned Mr. Dixon to Cell 3 because it had video surveillance. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 30; #116 at SOF ¶¶ 34, 36; #123 at SOF ¶ 31; #123-1 at 43:11- 18 (Ms. Atchison testifying that, because Defendant Morlock stated that Mr. Dixon was sick, they thought, ‘Maybe we need to keep an eye on him.'”)].

         Around 5:29 p.m., Defendant Butler and Mr. Dixon arrived at the jail. [#116 at SOF ¶ 25; #123 at SOF ¶ 32]. At some point, Defendant Butler allegedly asked Mr. Dixon if he needed medical assistance to which Mr. Dixon responded “no.” [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 20; #114-5 at 186:20-187:20; #116 at SOF ¶ 31]. However, prior to formal booking procedures, Defendant Butler instructed Mr. Dixon to take a shower given that he had defecated in his pants. [#116 at SOF ¶ 25; #123 at SOF ¶ 32]. Deputy Jon Miller and Defendant Butler assisted Mr. Dixon with showering. [#116 at SOF ¶ 26; #123 at SOF ¶ 32]. Based on his interaction with Mr. Dixon, Deputy Miller believed that Mr. Dixon had “crackling lungs, ” commonly associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”) or pneumonia. [#114 at SOF ¶ 26; #116 at SOF ¶ 26; #123 at SOF ¶ 34]. Deputy Miller asked Mr. Dixon if he had either, and Mr. Dixon responded that he did not know and was on his way to see a doctor at the time Defendant Morlock stopped him. [#123 at SOF ¶ 34]. Deputy Miller did not smell alcohol on Mr. Dixon's person. [Id.]. Deputy Miller allegedly informed both Defendants Morlock and Butler of his observations and Mr. Dixon's answer; however, Defendant Butler testified that, while in the same room, he did not hear the conversation between Deputy Miller and Defendant Morlock. [#116 at SOF ¶¶ 26, 28; #123 at SOF ¶ 34]. Deputy Miller asked Defendant Morlock whether Mr. Dixon needed to be taken to the hospital, and Defendant Morlock responded that Mr. Dixon had already received a blood draw at AVRMC and if Mr. Dixon was not requesting medical attention, they should proceed with his booking. [#114 at SOUMF ¶¶ 27-28; #116 at SOF ¶ 26; #123 at SOF ¶ 34].

         After his shower, Defendant Butler noticed that Mr. Dixon was “breathing like he had saliva in his throat and his throat needed to be cleared.” [#116 at SOF ¶ 30; #123 at SOF ¶ 35; #123-13 at 29]. Defendant Butler then asked Mr. Dixon if he “always breathed like that, ” to which Mr. Dixon responded, “No, it just started a couple of weeks ago.” [#123 at SOF ¶ 35; #123-13 at 29].

         At approximately 6:48 p.m., Defendant Jacobs booked Mr. Dixon into the jail. [#123 at SOF ¶ 36]. Pursuant to jail policies, Defendant Jacobs was required to (1) ask Mr. Dixon several screening questions, including whether Mr. Dixon needed medical assistance, and (2) determine independently whether Mr. Dixon needed medical evaluation due to being injured, ill, not fully conscious, or highly intoxicated. [#114 at SOUMF ¶¶ 21-22, 24; #116 at SOF ¶¶ 32-33; #123 at SOF ¶ 36]. It is undisputed that Defendant Jacobs determined that Mr. Dixon did not need medical evaluation. [#116 at SOF ¶ 24; #123 at SOF ¶ 30]. However, Defendant Jacobs did observe Mr. Dixon clearing his throat on several occasions during the booking process and Ms. Atchison observed Mr. Dixon coughing during the booking process, but neither detected an odor of alcohol on Mr. Dixon's person. [#123 at SOF ¶ 36].

         Defendants also assert that Defendant Jacobs followed jail policy by asking Mr. Dixon whether he required medical assistance, to which Mr. Dixon stated that he did not. However, Plaintiffs contend that jail policy required Defendant Jacobs to document Mr. Dixon's answers to several screening questions, but that no completed screening forms were included in his booking file; thus, it is uncertain whether Defendant Jacobs followed jail protocol. Compare [#114 at SOUMF ¶¶ 21-22; #116 at SOF ¶¶ 32-33] with [#123 at SOF ¶¶ 36, 40-45]. It is undisputed, however, that even if Mr. Dixon denied the need for medical assistance, he never signed the required medical waiver form. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 24; #123 at SOF ¶ 42]. Plaintiffs also argue that at no point was Mr. Dixon offered a phone call, another violation of jail policy. [#123 at SOF ¶ 37].

         Post-Booking Events and Mr. Dixon's Passing

         As mentioned, Defendants assigned Mr. Dixon to a single-cell with video surveillance (Cell 3) following his booking. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 34; #116 at SOF ¶ 37; #123 at SOF ¶ 38]. Mr. Dixon had access to the common room and interacted with two other detainees at the jail. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 37; #116 at SOF ¶ 37; #123 at SOF ¶ 46]. These detainees indicated that Mr. Dixon had the “shakes real bad, ” but they did not believe him to be drunk. [#123 at SOF ¶ 46].

         Not soon after, Mr. Dixon went into his cell to lie down. [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 39]. Then, at approximately 9:06 p.m., after observing Mr. Dixon “thrashing around on his bed trying to ‘catch air, ' hitting his head, and kicking his legs, ” a detainee “buzzed” Ms. Atchison and informed her that Mr. Dixon was not breathing well and “was turning purple.” [#114 at SOUMF ¶ 41; #116 at SOF ¶ 39; #123 at SOF ¶¶ 46-47]. Deputy Jon Hernandez responded to Mr. Dixon's cell, found him unconscious and struggling to breathe, and directed Ms. Atchison to call for medical assistance. [#114 at SOUMF ¶¶ 42-43; #116 at SOF ¶ 40; #123 ...


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