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Hockensmith v. Minor

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 11, 2018

JEFFREY W. HOCKENSMITH, as personal representative of the ESTATE OF JACQUELINE MARIE BICKFORD, Plaintiff,


          Scott T. Varholak United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Danielle Wood's Motion to Dismiss [#14] (the “Wood Motion”) and Defendant Sheriff John Minor's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [#32] (the “Minor Motion”). The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings, including entry of a final judgment. [#25, 26] This Court has carefully considered the motions and related briefing, the entire case file, and the applicable case law, and has determined that oral argument would not materially assist in the disposition of the motions. For the following reasons, IT IS ORDERED that the Wood Motion is DENIED and the Minor Motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         A. Ms. Bickford's Suicide

         This lawsuit arises out of the April 11, 2016 suicide of Jacqueline Marie Bickford while she was a pretrial detainee at the Summit County Jail. [#1 at 1-2] On April 6, 2016, Ms. Bickford was arrested when Summit County Deputy Sheriff Eric Sipes found Ms. Bickford semi-conscious in her apartment with her infant son nearby. [Id. at ¶ 12] Deputy Sipes concluded that Ms. Bickford was severely intoxicated and thus charged her with child abuse/neglect under Colorado law. [Id. at ¶ 13] Upon her arrest, Ms. Bickford was taken to the Summit County Medical Center, where her blood alcohol content registered 0.351. [Id. at ¶ 14] Ms. Bickford was subsequently taken to the Summit County Jail and held on a bond of $1, 000. [Id.]

         During the booking process at the Summit County Jail on April 6, 2016, at 6:40 p.m., Ms. Bickford told medical staff, “If you take my kid away, I will kill myself.” [Id. at ¶ 15] Despite this statement, Defendant Danielle Wood, a mental health worker contracted to provide mental health services at the Summit County Jail, noted on a mental health form that Ms. Bickford “does not meet criteria for an M1 hold currently.” [Id. at ¶¶ 10, 15] The Complaint defines an M1 hold as a “72-hour mental health evaluation if a person is deemed a danger to herself or others.” [Id. at ¶ 15] Ms. Wood further noted that Ms. Bickford “is cleared for general population” and that “Crisis [mental health counseling organization] needs to be contacted before [Ms. Bickford] is released to general public.” [Id.] Just over two weeks earlier, on March 20, 2016, Ms. Wood had seen Ms. Bickford at Summit Safe Haven Detox Facility and signed an M1 hold for Ms. Bickford after determining that she was suicidal. [Id.]

         On April 7, 2016, at 2:10 a.m., Defendant Deputy Gilbert assisted Ms. Bickford in filling out her intake questionnaire. [Id. at ¶ 16] Ms. Bickford indicated in the questionnaire that she had previously suffered severe withdrawal symptoms from alcohol. [Id.] Ms. Bickford also told Deputy Gilbert that she suffered from depression and anxiety and that she was taking prescribed medications for anxiety and depression. [Id. at ¶¶ 16, 17] When asked if she currently felt suicidal, Ms. Bickford responded by saying “Yes, ” and Deputy Gilbert added a note that Ms. Bickford “wants to kill herself.” [Id. at ¶ 17] Ms. Bickford was then admitted into the jail. [Id.]

         On April 8, 2016, Deputy Hochmuth noted that Mind Springs-a mental health counseling group-asked to be notified if Ms. Bickford was being released. [Id. at ¶ 18] On Saturday, April 9, 2016, Ms. Bickford reported to a nurse at the Summit County Jail that she was feeling “stress from being in here” and told the nurse she had been prescribed anti-depressants but was not receiving any medication at the jail. [Id.] The nurse told Ms. Bickford that the jail would make an appointment for her at Summit County Medical Center on Monday, April 11, 2016. [Id.]

         On April 10, 2016, Ms. Bickford sent a kite to jail staff asking, “WHEN CAN I SEE A DOCTOR REGARDING PRESCRIPTIONS?” [Id.] Within an hour, Defendant Staff Sergeant Cheryl Giordano responded to the kite in writing, asking Ms. Bickford, “What scripts? Are these meds you are currently on? Is someone able to drop them off? Who is the prescribing doctor? Where they out of? Do you have a phone number?” [Id.] As of this time, Ms. Bickford still was not receiving any of her prescribed medications. [Id.] The only medication Ms. Bickford received from her admission on April 6, 2016 through April 10, 2016 was Ibuprofen and Pepto Bismol. [Id. at ¶ 19] Sergeant Giordano also informed Ms. Bickford on April 10, 2016 that a restraining order had been entered against Ms. Bickford regarding her son. [Id. at 20]

         On April 10, 2016, at 9:10 p.m., Deputy J. Moore reported seeing Ms. Bickford vomiting, sweating, and shaking-all common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. [Id. at ¶ 21] Ms. Bickford told Deputy Moore that she was not feeling well, and he took her to the booking desk. [Id.] Ms. Bickford was crying and stated multiple times that “she didn't want to be [there] and did not want to go back to A pod.” [Id. at ¶ 22] Ms. Bickford exhibited an elevated blood pressure and a racing pulse-additional symptoms of alcohol withdrawal-but she denied that she wanted to hurt herself. [Id.] Ms. Bickford was asked to sit in a holding cell so that deputies could monitor her medical status. [Id.]

         At 1:15 a.m. on April 11, 2016, Ms. Bickford was escorted back to her cell in the A Pod. [Id.] According to Deputy Moore, she was no longer shaking, sweating, or crying at that time. [Id.] Later on April 11, 2016, Ms. Bickford hung herself with a bedsheet. [Id. at ¶ 23]

         B. Other Incidents at the Summit County Jail

         In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Summit County “has a shameful history of exhibiting deliberate indifference to the serious needs of inmates.” [Id. at ¶ 24] In support, Plaintiff offers several recent examples. Plaintiff contends that Summit County recently settled a Section 1983 case involving the death of an inmate at the Summit County Jail named Zackary Moffitt. [Id. at ¶ 25] According to the Complaint, Mr. Moffitt was booked into the jail with a blood alcohol level of almost 0.4 and, over the course of several days, displayed “classic signs of alcohol withdrawal.” [Id. at ¶ 26] Plaintiff alleges that the jail administrator at the time recognized that Mr. Moffitt needed help and called the doctor who was contracting with the county to provide medical care at the jail. [Id. at ¶ 27] When the administrator found out that the doctor was on vacation, however, he allegedly “did nothing whatsoever from that point to obtain emergency treatment for Mr. Moffitt who then died from alcohol withdrawal.” [Id.]

         Plaintiff alleges that Summit County also recently settled another Section 1983 case involving injuries sustained by an inmate named James Durkee. [Id. at ¶¶ 31-32] According to the Complaint, although an order had been issued to keep Mr. Durkee separated from an inmate who was threatening his life, staff at the Summit County Jail failed to protect Mr. Durkee and several bones in Mr. Durkee's face ultimately were fractured when he was attacked by the inmate from whom he was supposed to have been separated. [Id. at ¶¶ 30-31]

         The Complaint further contends that Sergeant Giordano testified at a deposition in the Moffitt case that she quit her job with the Summit County Jail “due to the number of health-related incidents at the jail, ” including Ms. Bickford's suicide, which she said was the last straw. [Id. at ¶ 33] Summit County Deputy Lambert allegedly testified during a deposition in the Moffitt case that an inmate had attempted suicide without her noticing, because she was watching a movie when she was supposed to be monitoring the cell block. [Id. at ¶ 34] Although Summit County was going to fire her for the incident, the county instead permitted her to resign and gave her a severance. [Id.]

         Based upon these incidents and testimony, Plaintiff alleges that the Summit County Sheriff's Department “has a custom, practice and policy of ignoring the serious medical needs/health and safety needs of inmates.” [Id. at ¶ 35]

         C. The Instant Lawsuit

         On March 21, 2018, Plaintiff Jeffrey W. Hockensmith, as the personal representative of the Estate of Ms. Bickford, filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 asserting two claims for relief. [#1] Plaintiff's First Claim for Relief alleges a violation of Ms. Bickford's right to necessary medical care pursuant to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment against Defendants Captain Erik J. Bourgerie, Sergeant Giordano, Deputy Gilbert, and Ms. Wood in their individual capacities and against Sheriff John Minor in his official capacity.[2] [Id. at 8-9] Plaintiff's Second Claim for Relief alleges supervisory liability for failure to train and supervise in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment against Sheriff Minor in his individual and official capacities. [Id. at 9-10]

         On May 17, 2018, Ms. Wood filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's First Claim for Relief against her-the only claim asserted against Ms. Wood. [#14] The Wood Motion argues that Plaintiff's claim against Ms. Wood fails as a matter of law, because the allegations “are insufficient to demonstrate state action on the part of Ms. Wood.” [Id. at 2] On June 7, 2018, Plaintiff filed a response to the Wood Motion [#18], and Ms. Wood then filed a reply in support of her motion [#22].

         On June 4, 2018, Sheriff Minor, Captain Bourgerie, and Deputy Gilbert answered the Complaint. [#17] On July 2, 2018, Sergeant Giordano answered the Complaint. [#29] On July 20, 2018, Plaintiff and Captain Bourgerie filed a Stipulation with the Court agreeing that “all claims asserted by Plaintiff against Defendant Bourgerie be dismissed without prejudice” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A), which allows for the dismissal of a plaintiff's claims without an order of the Court in certain circumstances. [#31] Plaintiff's claims against Caption Bourgerie thus were dismissed and terminated from the lawsuit as of the filing of the Stipulation. [#33]

         On July 20, 2018, Sheriff Minor filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that all the claims asserted against Sheriff Minor in his individual capacity should be dismissed pursuant to the doctrine of qualified immunity. [#32] On August 24, 2018, Plaintiff filed a response to the Minor Motion [#38], and Sheriff Minor then filed a reply in support of his motion [#44]. On October 23, 2018, Sheriff Minor filed a Notice of Supplemental Authority in further support of the Minor Motion. [#45]

         II. ...

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