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Scott v. Montoya

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 15, 2019

JOE A. MONTOYA, Denver Police, JODI BLAIR, Denver Sheriff, DENNIS MCCORMICK, OIM Deputy, and DR. CRUM, Primary Care Physician at Jail, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss [#115][1] (“Denver Motion”), filed by Defendants Joseph Montoya (“Montoya”), Jodi Blair (“Blair”), and Denis McCormick (“McCormick”)[2] (collectively the “Denver Defendants”); and on the Motion to Dismiss the Complaint Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) [#117] (“Crum's Motion”), filed by Defendant Peter B. Crum, M.D. (“Crum”) (collectively, the “Motions”).[3] Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, [4] filed Responses [#126, #141], and Defendants filed Replies [#128, #144]. The Court has reviewed the Motions, Responses, Replies, the entire case file, and the applicable law and is sufficiently advised in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, the Motions [#115, #117] are GRANTED.

         I. Summary of the Case

          Plaintiff is currently an inmate with the Colorado Department of Corrections, but throughout the period relevant to this lawsuit he was a pretrial detainee at Van Cise-Simonet Denver Detention Center (“DDC”) in the custody of the Denver County Sheriff's Department (“DSD”). See Notice of Pl.'s Address Change [#149]; Am. Compl. [#83] at 3; Denver Motion [#115] at 6. Plaintiff brings this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendants[5] failed to properly investigate an assault he experienced while at DDC and that they failed to provide him adequate medical care following the assault. Am. Compl. [#83] at 2-6.

         On March 5, 2017, while a pretrial detainee at DDC, Plaintiff alleges he was assaulted.[6] Id. at 4. As a result, Plaintiff alleges he “openly requested [an] invest[i]gation of [the] [a]ssault” and “filed several [g]rievance and [i]nternal [a]ffairs” complaints. Id. at 3. Although Plaintiff is not exceedingly clear on this point, Plaintiff alleges the assault was ignored or overlooked by either “[Denver] [p]olice or [Denver] [s]heriff due to the lack of investigation into it.” Id. After exhausting his “[r]emed[ies] with [g]rievance[]s” asking DSD to investigate the assault, Plaintiff alleges he received a follow up investigation from Denver Police Sgt. Ryan McGinty (“McGinty”) on May 12, 2017. Id. at 4. During the follow up with Sgt. McGinty, Plaintiff was shown a video of the assault depicting his attacker as an unidentified inmate. Id. Plaintiff alleges the purpose of the meeting with Sgt. McGinty was to show that the department “did not violate [internal] pol[icy] [b]y not p[u]rsu[]ing charges.” Id.

         Defendant Montoya, a Denver Police Department (“DPD”) Internal affairs Commander, was allegedly alerted to the assault by Plaintiff in May 19, 2017 correspondence. Id. at 3. Defendant Montoya instructed Plaintiff to follow up with the Office of the Independent Monitor (“OIM”). Id. at 4. Plaintiff further alleges he alerted Defendant McCormick, a Deputy at OIM, of the assault on May 31, 2017. Id. As of November 22, 2017, the date Plaintiff signed his Amended Complaint [#83], Plaintiff alleges the assault was still “not charged or invest[i]gated.” Id.

         On July 6, 2017, Plaintiff alleges he received a letter from Defendant Blair, a DSD Internal Affairs Major, responding to Plaintiff's assault inquiries. Id. at 5. The letter, according to Plaintiff, concluded that DSD “supported all action[s] [that] w[]ere taken to provide [him] with [the] standard of care to address [his] concerns.” Id. Plaintiff alleges the standard of care followed by DSD was improper, because they failed to “invest[i]gate, charge, or [d]o [m]edical.” Id. Further, Plaintiff alleges the letter is evidence of a “cover up” or “under cover [p]olice or [s]heriff[s]” at work because he “tried to address [this] issue via [g]rievance[]s and complaint, and [he] was still not [e]ver [q]uestion[ed].” Id.

         Regarding his medical care, Plaintiff alleges Defendant Crum of DSD Primary Care lied about “follow up at [the] [h]ospital [that was] not [d]one, [a]nd [there was] [n]o MRI [done] for [his] spine.” Id. at 6. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges Defendant Crum overcharged him by “$14.00 for follow-up for [h]earing [l]oss and [b]ack [p]ain.” Id. at 6. Plaintiff also asserts he filed a “ton of [g]rievances to try to get proper medical care for [b]ack [p]ain.” Id.

         Plaintiff asserts three claims against the remaining Defendants for “[f]ailure to [i]nvest[i]gate [the] [a]ssault, ” “[f]ailure to [r]elease [i]nfo to [the] courts, ” and “[l]ack of [m]edical.” Id. at 4-6. Liberally construed, Plaintiff claims, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that each of the Denver Defendants, in their individual and official capacities, [7] were deliberately indifferent to his health and safety in violation of Plaintiff's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.[8] See Id. at 3-6. Additionally, Plaintiff claims that each of the Denver Defendants violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment in failing to investigate his grievances regarding his assault and denying him access to court. See Id. at 4-5. Plaintiff also claims that Defendant Crum acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs, violating his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 6. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief for an “MRI & [m]edical, ” and “PTSD therapy.”[9] Id. at 8. Additionally, Plaintiff seeks $310, 433.40 in compensatory damages for “[l]ife long hearing loss [a]nd new[ly] increased [s]tress.” Id.

         II. Standard of Review

          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) To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “[t]he complaint must plead sufficient facts, taken as true, to provide ‘plausible grounds' that discovery will reveal evidence to support the plaintiff's allegations.” Shero v.City of Grove, Okla., 510 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2007). “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). “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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (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 assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         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 shown that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendants violated his rights under what the Court construes to be the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Am. Compl. [#83] at 3-6. Defendant Crum argues the Court should analyze Plaintiff's claims under the Eighth Amendment. Crum's Motion [#117] at 4. However, as stated by the Denver Defendants, Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee at the time of the events underlying this lawsuit, and pretrial detainees are protected under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause rather than the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. Berry v. City of Muskogee, 900 F.2d 1489, 1493 (10th Cir. 1990); see also Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466 (2015); Denver's Motion [#115] at 6. “In determining whether [a pretrial detainee's] rights were violated, however, we apply an analysis identical to that applied in Eighth Amendment cases brought pursuant to § 1983.” Perry v. Durborow, 892 F.3d 1116, 1121 (10th Cir. 2018) (quoting Lopez v. LeMaster, 172 F.3d 756, 759 n.2 (10th Cir. 1999) (citing Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 n.16 (1979)).[10]

         A. Individual Capacity: Denver Defendants

         The Denver Defendants assert an entitlement to qualified immunity in their Motion, and thus the Court first examines Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [#83] pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). [#115] at 4; Butler v. Rio Rancho Pub. Sch. Bd. of Educ., 341 F.3d 1197, 1200 (10th Cir. 2003) (“Since the [Defendant] raised the defense of qualified immunity in its motion to dismiss, we first examine whether [Plaintiff] asserted a violation of federal law in their complaint.”). Qualified immunity, in certain circumstances, protects government officials from litigation when they are sued in their individual capacities. See, e.g., Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 814-18 (1982). “[G]overnment officials . . . generally are shielded 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.” Id. at 818. In their Motion, the Denver Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged a plausible violation of his constitutional rights. See [#115] at 6.

         A government official is entitled to qualified immunity from liability for civil damages in his or her individual capacity when his or her allegedly unlawful conduct did not violate any of the plaintiff's statutory or constitutional rights that (1) were “clearly established” at the time of the conduct, and (2) would have been known to a reasonable person in the official's position. Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818 (stating that “government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded 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”); see also Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009) (holding that although qualified immunity determination involves a two-part inquiry, if the plaintiff fails either inquiry reviewed in any order, no further analysis need be undertaken and qualified immunity is appropriate). The Supreme Court has stated that “[f]or executive officials in general . . . our cases make plain that qualified immunity represents the norm.” Id. at 807. Thus, a government official is entitled to qualified immunity in “[a]ll but the most exceptional cases.” Harris v. Bd. of Educ. of Atlanta, 105 F.3d 591, 595 (11th Cir. 1997).

         As further explained below, the Court concludes that Plaintiff fails to state a cognizable constitutional violation against Defendants Blair, Montoya, or McCormick. Therefore, they are entitled to qualified immunity.

         1. Deliberate Indifference

         Pretrial detainees are protected under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause. Berry, 900 F.2d at 1493. The Court liberally construes Plaintiff's Amended Complaint to assert deliberate indifference claims against the Denver Defendants. [#83] at 4-5. Prison officials must provide “humane conditions of confinement, including adequate food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and reasonable safety from serious bodily harm.” Tafoya v. Salazar, 516 F.3d 912, 916 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994)). Prison officials also have a duty “to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833. However, this standard “does not impose constitutional liability on prison officials for every injury suffered by an inmate.” Id. Plaintiffs must allege facts demonstrating both the objective and subjective prongs of deliberate indifference to bring a valid deliberate indifference. Callahan v. Poppell, 471 F.3d 1155, 1159 (10th Cir. 2006).

         Under the objective prong, a prisoner must establish that the alleged injury or deprivation is, objectively, “sufficiently serious.” Tafoya, 516 F.3d at 916 (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). The prison official's act or omission must result in the denial of “the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. A medical need is sufficiently serious if “it is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.” Sealock v. Colorado, 218 F.3d 1205, 1209 (10th Cir. 2000). “[I]t is the harm claimed by the prisoner that must be sufficiently serious to satisfy the objective component, and not solely ‘the symptoms presented at the time the prison employee had contact with the prisoner.'” Martinez v. Beggs, 563 F.3d 1082, 1088 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting Mata v. Saiz, 427 F.3d 745, 752-53 (10th Cir. 2005)).

         Turning to the subjective prong, a prisoner must establish that the defendant prison official acted with a “sufficiently culpable state of mind” to violate the constitutional standard. Tafoya, 516 F.3d at 916. The prison official must “know[ ] of and disregard[ ] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety . . . .” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. The standard is subjective in that it requires that the prison official actually 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. This prong is equivalent to “criminal recklessness, which makes ...

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