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Eatate of Manuel v. Schroetlin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 22, 2018

THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL SCOT MANUEL, Deceased, by and through Julie Christine Skaggs-Manuel, Personal Representative, JULIE CHRISTINE SKAGGS-MANUEL, individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
BRETT SCHROETLIN, individually and in his capacity as the Sheriff for the Grand County Sheriff's Department, HEATHER GISH, individually and in her capacity as a Deputy for the Grand County Sheriff's Department, MARLAN ANDERSON, individually and in his capacity as a Deputy for the Grand County Sheriff's Department, SUSAN JAMES, individually and in her capacity as a Deputy for the Grand County Sheriff's Department, JACOB FISHER, individually and in his capacity as a Corporal for the Grand County Sheriff's Department, WAYNE SCHAFER, individually and in his capacity as Undersheriff for the Grand County Sheriff's Department, KYNDRA GORE, individually and in her capacity as a Lieutenant for the Grand County Sheriff's Department, and COLORADO WEST REGIONAL MENTAL HEALTH, INCORPORATED, d/b/a MIND SPRINGS HEALTH, INC., a Colorado corporation, Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Nina Y. Wang United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter comes before the court on Defendants Brett Schroetlin, Heather Gish, Marlan Anderson, Susan James, Jacob Fisher, Wayne Schafer, and Kyndra Gore's (collectively, “Grand County Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss (or “Motion”). [#49, filed December 18, 2017]. The undersigned considers the Motion to Dismiss pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), the Order Referring Case dated August 23, 2017 [#25], and the Memorandum dated December 19, 2017 [#50]. This court concludes that oral argument will not materially assist in the resolution of this matter. Therefore, upon careful review of the Motion and related briefing, applicable case law, and the entire docket, this court respectfully RECOMMENDS that the Motion to Dismiss be DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are drawn from the Complaint and are taken as true for the purposes of this Motion. On July 5, 2016, Michael Scot Manuel (“Mr. Manuel”), a fifty-year-old engineer, was arrested on domestic violence charges and detained at the Grand County Jail. See [#1 at ¶¶ 1, 26]. At the time of his booking Mr. Manuel allegedly informed jail personnel that he was suicidal; jail personnel then allegedly placed Mr. Manuel on suicide watch. See [id. at ¶¶ 1, 30-34]. Rather than place Mr. Manuel in one of the two unoccupied cells designated for suicidal detainees, jail personnel placed Mr. Manuel in cell V1-“a visiting cell with a kiosk for video telephone conferencing.” [Id. at ¶¶ 1, 35-40]. The kiosk in cell V1 comes equipped with a “43-inch steel cable connecting the receiver to the video phone[, ]” and the light in the cell was not operating properly the night Mr. Manuel was placed in the cell. See [id. at ¶¶ 44-45]. Cell V2, the unoccupied, adjoining cell, did not contain a similar video kiosk, nor was it having issues with its lighting. [Id. at ¶¶ 43, 46-47].

         The following morning, at approximately 8:00 a.m., jail personnel checked Mr. Manuel's blood alcohol level, but did not move Mr. Manuel to a suicide prevention cell despite the continued suicide watch. See [id. at ¶¶ 55-57]. Though Jail personnel allegedly contacted Defendant Colorado West Regional Mental Health, Incorporated, d/b/a Mind Springs Health, Inc. (“Mind Springs Health”) at approximately 8:30 a.m., no Mind Springs Health employee “had yet arrived to evaluate, counsel, or treat Mr. Manuel” as of 10:50 a.m. [Id. at ¶¶ 59-60]. It was at this time, 10:50 a.m., that Defendant Jacob Fisher conducted a suicide check on Mr. Manuel only to find Mr. Manuel “sitting oddly on the floor by the kiosk” with the steel phone cord tied around his neck. [Id. at ¶¶ 69-71]. Mr. Manuel was nonresponsive, and was flown on life support to St. Anthony's North Hospital in Denver, Colorado. [Id. at ¶¶ 72, 85]. Mr. Manuel's life support was later removed; he passed away on July 10, 2016, from anoxic brain injury, asphyxiation, and ligature hanging. [Id. at ¶ 86].

         Plaintiffs the Estate of Michael Scot Manuel, Deceased, by and through, Julie Christine Skaggs-Manuel (the “Estate”) and Julie Christine Skaggs-Manuel (“Ms. Skaggs-Manuel”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) initiated this action on July 5, 2017. See [#1]. Plaintiffs asserted claims against the Grand County Defendants for violations of Mr. Manuel's Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Claims 1-7); state law negligence claims against the Grand County Defendants (Claims 8-14) and Mind Springs Health (Claim 15); and a Colorado wrongful death claim against the Grand County Defendants (Claim 16). See generally [id.]. Plaintiffs have since dismissed their negligence claims against the Grand County Defendants, see [#31], and the Grand County Defendants filed their Answer to Claims 1-7 and 16 on September 13, 2017. [#32].

         The Grand County Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss on December 18, 2017. [#49]. Plaintiffs have since filed their Response and the Grand County Defendants their Reply. [#52; #54]. The Motion to Dismiss is now ripe for Recommendation.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and, as such, “are duty bound to examine facts and law in every lawsuit before them to ensure that they possess subject matter jurisdiction.” The Wilderness Soc. v. Kane Cty., Utah, 632 F.3d 1162, 1179 n.3 (10th Cir. 2011) (Gorsuch, J., concurring); accord 1mage Software, Inc. v. Reynolds & Reynolds Co., 459 F.3d 1044, 1048 (10th Cir. 2006) (noting that courts have an independent obligation to satisfy themselves that subject matter jurisdiction exists, even in the absence of a challenge by either party). Under Article III of the United States Constitution, federal courts have jurisdiction to hear only certain “cases” and “controversies.” Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 134 S.Ct. 2334, 2341 (2014). To satisfy Article III's case or controversy requirement, Plaintiffs must establish: (1) an injury in fact; (2) a sufficient causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of; and (3) a likelihood of redressability by a favorable decision. New Mexico v. Dep't of Interior, 854 F.3d 1207, 1214-15 (10th Cir. 2017). Indeed, standing cannot be assumed “in order to proceed to the merits of the underlying claim, regardless of the claim's significance.” Colo. Outfitters Ass'n v. Hickenlooper, 823 F.3d 537, 543 (10th Cir. 2016).

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may either facially or factually attack the court's subject matter jurisdiction. See generally Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, 790 F.3d 1143, 1147 n.4 (10th Cir. 2015). When, as here, a party levies a factual attack the court may not presume the truthfulness of the complaint's factual allegations and may consider affidavits or other documents to resolve jurisdictional facts. Holt v. United States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1002-03 (10th Cir. 1995). Like standing, the burden of establishing jurisdiction rests with the party asserting it. Basso v. Utah Power & Light Co., 495 F.2d 906, 909 (10th Cir. 1974).

         ANALYSIS

         The Grand County Defendants argue for dismissal of Claims 1-7 because no Estate existed at the time the Complaint was filed, and Ms. Skaggs-Manuel, as Mr. Manuel's surviving spouse, lacks standing to sue on Mr. Manuel's behalf for violations of his constitutional rights. See [#49 at 6-7; #54 at 2-6]. The Grand County Defendants further contend that in the absence of a constitutional violation there can be no associated municipal liability claim and, without a federal cause of action, this court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims. [#49 at 8-9].[1]

         Plaintiffs respond that the constitutional claims are properly brought on behalf of the Estate through Ms. Skaggs-Manuel as personal representative, such that subject matter jurisdiction is proper over Claims 1-7. [#52 at 1-3]. Plaintiffs also indicate that, although Ms. Skaggs-Manuel was only recently appointed as personal representative of the Estate, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-12-701 relates that appointment back to the time Plaintiffs filed the Complaint; thus, all requirements of standing were satisfied at the time of filing. [Id.]; see also [#52-1]. I respectfully conclude that federal subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims is proper.

         To start, as both Parties acknowledge, any § 1983 wrongful death action must be brought as a survival action by the “estate of the deceased victim, in accord with § 1983's express statement that liability is to the injured party.” Berry v. City of Muskogee, Oklahoma, 900 F.2d 1489, 1506-07 (10th Cir. 1990) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added). As such, the Grand County Defendants are correct in their assertions that Ms. Skaggs-Manuel individually lacks standing to assert constitutional claims on behalf of Mr. Manuel. See A.B., by Ybarra v. City of Woodland Park, 174 F.Supp.3d 1238, 1246-47 (D. Colo. 2016) (concluding the plaintiffs, as individuals, lacked standing to assert claims alleging violations of the decedent's constitutional rights). But as Plaintiffs clarify, Claims 1-7 are brought by Ms. Skaggs-Manuel as personal representative of the Estate, not by Ms. Skaggs-Manuel individually. See [#52 at 3 (“To be clear, Mrs. Manuel brings ...


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