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Nowlin v. Board of County Commissioners of County of Arapahoe

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 5, 2018

NICOL NOWLIN, as personal representative of the Estate of Michael Craven, Plaintiff,
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE COUNTY OF ARAPAHOE, COLORADO, DAVID C. WALCHER, Sheriff of Arapahoe County, in his official capacity, LOUIE PEREA, Undersheriff of Arapahoe County, in his official capacity, VINCE LINE, Bureau Chief, Detention Administration, in his individual and official capacities, LAURIE HALABA, Captain, Detention Administration, in her individual capacity, JARED ROWLISON, Captain, Detention Operations, in his individual capacity, DAVID AXELROD, Detention Operation Technician, in his individual capacity, WILLIAM RIVAS, Deputy, in his individual capacity, B.J. BEATTY, Deputy, in his individual capacity, MOLLY NILL, Deputy, in her individual capacity, GEOFFREY MAISCH, Sergeant, in his individual capacity, and TRENT STEFFA, Sergeant, in his individual capacity, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [#7][1] (the “Motion”).[2] Plaintiff filed a Response [#13] in opposition to the Motion, and Defendants filed a Reply [#21]. The Court has reviewed the Motion, the Response, the Reply, the entire case file, and the applicable law, and is sufficiently advised in the premises. Based on the following, the Motion [#7] is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff's claims are based on the following allegations.[3] In September 2015, Eric Stewart (“Stewart”) was incarcerated at the Arapahoe County Detention Facility in Arapahoe County, Colorado, awaiting trial on multiple offenses, including attempted murder, a charge which stemmed from a domestic dispute in which Mr. Stewart fired a gun at his girlfriend. Compl. [#1] ¶ 13. Mr. Stewart's trial was scheduled to begin on September 14, 2015, in the District Court for the County of Arapahoe. Id. ¶ 14. However, when Mr. Stewart appeared for trial, he displayed signs of a severe emotional or cognitive disturbance, including stating that he was hearing voices, which prevented him from participating meaningfully in the judicial process. Id. ¶ 15. Based on this behavior, the presiding judge vacated the trial and remanded Mr. Stewart into custody for a mental health and competency evaluation at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, Colorado. Id.

         Mr. Stewart was returned to the general population of the Arapahoe County Detention Facility, a situation which was expected to continue until space opened up in the overcrowded Pueblo facility. Id. ¶ 16. Mr. Stewart was not isolated from other inmates and was not supervised intensively, despite the concerns about his mental health. Id. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Vince Line (“Line”) (Bureau Chief, Detention Administration), Defendant Laurie Halaba (“Halaba”) (Captain, Detention Administration), and/or Defendant Jared Rowlison (“Rowlison”) (Captain, Detention Operations) knew of Mr. Stewart's condition, asserted mental instability and purported violent propensity, but that these Defendants, and/or personnel acting at the direction of these Defendants, allowed Mr. Stewart to remain among the general jail population. Id. ¶ 17.

         On the afternoon of October 2, 2015, there were approximately thirty-eight inmates present, unsupervised and unrestrained, in Dayroom A of Pod 3 of the Detention Facility. Id. ¶ 18. No Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office personnel were present in Dayroom A at the time.[4] Id. The Dayroom was equipped with surveillance cameras, but no personnel were actively monitoring the live feed. Id. This particular Dayroom had been the scene of multiple prior physical altercations and fights between inmates, at least some of which resulted in injuries to inmates. Id. ¶ 19. Despite these incidents, no steps had been taken prior to October 2, 2015, to increase monitoring or security in the Dayroom or to reduce the number of inmates who could occupy the day room at one time. Id.

         One of the inmates present in Dayroom A of Pod 3 that afternoon was Michael Craven (“Craven”), who was serving a jail sentence for second degree assault and other offenses. Id. ¶ 12. At approximately 2:30 p.m., Mr. Stewart claimed a pot of hot water which allegedly should have been Mr. Craven's, and the two argued. Id. ¶ 20. Shortly after, Mr. Craven went upstairs to Mr. Stewart's cell to further discuss the issue. Id. ¶ 21. Although Mr. Craven's movements were not violent, Mr. Stewart viciously attacked Mr. Craven in response. Id. ¶ 22. Mr. Craven attempted to escape into the hallway, but Mr. Stewart chased him there, tackled him, slammed him into the ground, and began to beat him about the head, face, and neck. Id. After approximately forty-six seconds, Mr. Steward stopped beating Mr. Craven and got off of him. Id. ¶ 23. Mr. Stewart went back downstairs to the table at which he had been previously seated. Id. ¶ 24. Two inmates then emerged from the area of Cell 3A5 and pulled Mr. Craven into his cell, cell 3A2, and other inmates went upstairs to check on his condition. Id.

         The attack was caught on camera and caused a substantial audible disturbance, but despite the event's broadcast to the control room, no Arapahoe County Detention Facility personnel responded for nearly ten minutes after the attack. Id. Defendant William Rivas (“Rivas”), Defendant B.J. Beatty (“Beatty”), Defendant Molly Nill (“Nill”), Defendant Geoffrey Maisch (“Maisch”), and Defendant Trent Steffa (“Steffa”) were on-duty in Pod 3 and were responsible for responding to any disturbances that occurred in Dayroom A. Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff asserts that “these Defendants were deliberately indifferent to the risk that failure to provide visible security or actively monitor a Dayroom with more than 35 inmates, including violent and unstable inmates like Mr. Stewart, would result in a violent incident.” Id. They did not see or hear the attack on Mr. Craven as it was occurring and did not respond to break up the altercation or ensure the rapid deployment of medical personnel. Id. Defendant David Axelrod (“Axelrod”) was responsible for monitoring security cameras depicting events taking place in Dayroom A of Pod 3, and Plaintiff asserts that “Defendant Axelrod was deliberately indifferent to the risk [of] failing to monitor the security cameras depicting events in Dayroom A, even though Dayroom A contained more than 35 inmates, including violent and unstable inmates like Mr. Stewart.” Id. ¶ 26. Defendant Axelrod did not see the attack on Mr. Craven as it was happening, did not act to deploy deputies to stop the altercation, and did not summon medical attention promptly. Id.

         About ten minutes after the attack, Mr. Craven's cell mate Samson Pacheco entered Cell 3A2 and utilized the intercom to summon assistance. Id. ¶ 27. Defendant Axelrod received the alert and asked Defendant Rivas to enter Dayroom A in response to the alarm. Id. ¶ 28. Defendant Rivas found an unresponsive Mr. Craven lying on his back in cell 3A2 with visible, severe injuries to his face and head and with glazed-over and dark eyes. Id. ¶ 29. Multiple additional deputies responded to the scene and began performing CPR on Mr. Craven. Id. ¶ 30. He was thereafter transported by ambulance to Sky Ridge Medical Center and placed on life support. Id. ¶ 31. He was pronounced dead on October 3, 2015, at approximately 5:07 a.m., having died of multiple traumatic blunt force injuries. Id. ¶¶ 32-33. During the subsequent investigation, Mr. Stewart indicated to the investigators that voices in his head had told him to attack Mr. Craven. Id. ¶ 34.

         Plaintiff is the Estate of Michael Craven, by and through its personal representative Nicol Nowlin. Id. ¶ 4. Plaintiff asserts two claims here: (1) an Eighth Amendment Claim for deliberate indifference against all Defendants, and (2) a Monell claim against Defendant Line, Defendant David C. Walcher (“Walcher”) (Sheriff of Arapahoe County), Defendant Louie Perea (“Perea”) (Undersheriff of Arapahoe County), and Defendant Board of County Commissioners of the County of Arapahoe, Colorado (“BOCC”). Id. ¶¶ 35-48. Plaintiff seeks only damages. Id. at 11. In the present Motion [#7], Defendants seek dismissal of all claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         II. Standard

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test “the sufficiency of the allegations within the four corners of the complaint after taking those allegations as true.” Mobley v. McCormick, 40 F.3d 337, 340 (10th Cir. 1994); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (stating that a complaint may be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted”). “The court's function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.” Sutton v. Utah State Sch. for the Deaf & Blind, 173 F.3d 1226, 1236 (10th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). To withstand a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain enough allegations of fact to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Shero v. City of Grove, Okla., 510 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2007) (“The complaint must plead sufficient facts, taken as true, to provide ‘plausible grounds' that discovery will reveal evidence to support the plaintiff's allegations.” (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570)).

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement.” Id. (brackets in original; internal quotation marks omitted).

         To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the factual allegations in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Christy Sports, LLC v. Deer Valley Resort Co., 555 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2009). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, ” a factual allegation has been stated, “but it has not show[n] [ ] that the pleader is entitled to relief, ...

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