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Partridge v. Pelle

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 5, 2019

RYAN PARTRIDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
JOE PELLE, BRUCE HAAS, JEFF GOETZ, SHANE MCGURK, T. SMITH, KARMEN KOGER, THOMAS GROFF, PAMELA LEVETT, AMANDA TAYLOR, ERIK CONTRERAS, CHRISTOPHER MECCA, DEBBIE STEVENS, ROBERT HICKS, DAN NEWCOMB, CHUCK SISNEROS, GREGORY CLEM, CHRISTIAN BERRINGER, DALE GREENE, VILI MAUMAU, ANTHONY HOLLONDS, MERGEN MITTLEIDER, and LYDIA MITCHELL, Defendants.

          ORDER AFFIRMING IN PART AND REJECTING IN PART THE SEPTEMBER 18, 2018 RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          CHRISTIN M. ARGUELLO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court upon the September 18, 2018 Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Scott T. Varholak that this Court grant in part and deny in part two Motions to Dismiss (Doc. ## 48, 66) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. # 88.) The Sheriff's Defendants and Defendant Amanda Taylor (collectively, “Defendants”) object to Magistrate Judge Varholak's Recommendation on several grounds. (Doc. ## 91, 96.) For the reasons described herein, the Court affirms in part and rejects in part the Recommendation.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Magistrate Judge's Recommendation provides a recitation of the factual and procedural background of this dispute and is incorporated herein by reference. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Accordingly, this Order will reiterate only what is necessary to address Defendants' Objections.

         A. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         Plaintiff Ryan Partridge is a thirty-two-year-old resident of Boulder, Colorado. (Doc. # 1 at 5.) He suffers from schizophrenia and experiences episodes of psychosis, auditory and visual hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. (Id.) Early symptoms of his mental illness presented while Plaintiff was in college. (Id.) In 2014 and 2015, Plaintiff's parents observed symptoms, including ticks, speaking irrationally, and serious paranoia. (Id.) Plaintiff's symptoms worsened in 2015 and 2016; his mental illness caused violent outbursts, for which Plaintiff's parents required assistance from law enforcement. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff was arrested on various minor charges during this time period, resulting in numerous detentions at the Boulder County Jail (“BCJ”). (Id.)

         This action arises out of Plaintiff's time in the BCJ in 2016: from February 2016 through June 7, 2016, and again from September 2016 through December 17, 2016. See generally (id.) Plaintiff alleges that BCJ's administrators and employees were “well aware of his long and tragic history of mental illness” and of his “repeated efforts to inflict grievous harm upon himself, ” but that they nonetheless were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs and used excessive force against him. (Id. at 2-4.) Plaintiff contends that jail employees' actions “directly led to his self-mutilation, head and vertebrate injury, broken teeth, and ultimately, to his permanent blindness.” (Id. at 3.) Magistrate Judge Varholak detailed Plaintiff's allegations of his jailors' deliberate indifference and excessive force in chronological order in the Recommendation, see (Doc. # 88 at 2-13), and the Court need not repeat the abhorrent details of the alleged incidents here.

         However, Defendants' Objections concern two specific events among the many alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint. First, Plaintiff alleges that on November 1, 2016:

[W]hile his psychosis remained completely untreated by [Defendants], [he] attempted suicide by jumping off the tier of the second-floor railing, hurtling head first toward a metal table below, striking his head on the metal table and landing on the cement floor below. He fractured his lumbar spine and ribs. Defendant Deputies Erik Contreras, Christopher Mecca, and Debbie Stevens were working the housing unit where [Plaintiff] was living on November 1. . . . Despite knowing [Plaintiff] was schizophrenic, delusional, unmedicated, and suicidal, the deputies released [Plaintiff] to walk on the second tier of the jail. It was there that [Plaintiff] climbed onto the top railing and . . . jumped ‘head first.'

(Doc. # 1 at 12.)

         Second, Plaintiff alleges that one day after a state court issued an emergency order to the Boulder County Sheriff to transport Plaintiff to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (“CMHIP”) and just hours after his parents phoned the BCJ and “begged for help for their son”:

[A]round 9 p.m. on December 17, 2016, . . . Defendant Deputy Christian Berringer passed by [Plaintiff's] door and noticed he had dried blood on the side of his face that appeared to come from the corner of his eye. Defendant Deputy Berringer spoke with Deputy Smith, and Deputy Smith told him it had been like that before. The deputies did nothing.
In fact, Deputy Smith had noticed at 7:45 p.m. that [Plaintiff] had blood on his cheek. Deputy Smith was with Nurse Dale Green, who also saw the blood. Nurse Green determined that he didn't believe it required immediate attention. Nothing was done.
An hour later, Defendant Deputy Berringer again passed by [Plaintiff's] cell and now noticed a significant amount of blood and fluid from his left eye and his eye was swollen . . . Other deputies noted [Plaintiff] had blood on his hands. At this point, [Plaintiff's] eyes were swollen shut. He could not see. He had blood on his hands. According to officers, [Plaintiff] was not compliant when they attempted to place handcuffs on him. Even though he was covered in blood, with eyes swollen shut and blind, Deputy Smith slammed [Plaintiff] to the ground. Defendant Sgt. Maumau tased him. . . .
All of these deputies knew [Plaintiff] suffered from serious mental illness and was known to self-mutilate.

(Id. at 17-18.) BCJ officials eventually took Plaintiff to the Boulder County Hospital Emergency Room, which referred him to the Level 1 Trauma Center at Denver Health Medical Center. (Id. at 19.) At 7:30 a.m. the following day, Plaintiff went into surgery. (Id.) Doctors at Denver Health Medical Center diagnosed Plaintiff with “self-inflicted ruptured globe and retinal detachment” and opined that Plaintiff is consequently permanently blind. (Id.) With respect to Plaintiff's time at BCJ on the evening of December 17, 2016, the Complaint further alleges:

Since [Plaintiff's] eyes were swollen and some of the blood noted was dry and clotted [upon his admission to the county hospital], clearly it had been some time that [Plaintiff] sat in excruciating physical pain from using his six-week long nails to reach into his eye sockets and pluck out his own eyeballs in response to the delusions and voices that commanded him to do so.

(Id.)

         B. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff initiated the instant action on December 7, 2017, against 22 individuals who were “acting under color of state law in their capacity as the Boulder County Sheriff, administrators of the jail, deputies and sergeants of the jail, or other jail staff” during Plaintiff's detentions at BCJ. (Id. at 4.) Defendant Joe Pelle was the Sheriff of Boulder County, and Defendant Bruce Haas and Defendant Jeff Goetz were division chiefs in the Sheriff's Office. (Id. at 4.) Defendant Shane McGurk was the Corrections Program Coordinator for the Boulder County Jail Mental Health Program. (Id. at 15.) Defendants Pamela Levett, Amanda Taylor, [1] and Mergen Mittleider[2] were mental health workers at BCJ. (Id. at 7, 11.) All other Defendants-T. Smith; Karmen Koger; Thomas Groff; Erik Contreras; Christopher Mecca; Debbie Stevens; Robert Hicks; Dan Newcomb; Chuck Sisneros; Gregory Clem; Christian Berringer; Dale Greene; Vili Maumau; Anothony Hollands; and Lydia Mitchell-were Sheriff's deputies at BCJ. (Doc. # 88 at 2 n.1.) Plaintiff asserts claims against all Defendants in their individual and official capacities, save for one exception; Plaintiff asserts claims against Defendant Pelle only in his official capacity as Sheriff. (Doc. # 1.)

         Plaintiff brings thirteen claims for relief:

1. A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the Fourteenth Amendment for deliberate indifference (“failure to provide medical care and treatment”) during the February or Mach 2016 “tooth-breaking incident, ” against Defendants Pelle, Haas, McGurk, Levett, and Taylor;
2. A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments for excessive force on March 3, 2016, against Defendants Hollonds and Groff;
3. A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments for excessive force on March 22, 2016, against Defendant Maumau;
4. A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments for excessive force on March 22, 2016, against Defendant Mitchell;
5. A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the Fourteenth Amendment for deliberate indifference (“failure to provide medical care and treatment”) on November 1, 2016, when Plaintiff jumped from the second tier of BCJ, against “Defendants Contreras, Mecca, Stevens, McGurk, Levett, [and] Taylor in their individual capacities and Defendants Pelle and Goetz in their official capacities;”
6. A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments for excessive force on December 2, 2016, against Defendants Groff, Kroger, Hicks, and Newcomb;
7. A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments for excessive force on December 8, 2016, against Defendants Sisneros, Palmer, Ubias, Gerhart, Koger, and Groff;[3]
8. A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments for excessive force on December 16, 2016, against Defendants Clem, Koger, and Groff;
9. A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments for excessive force on December 17, 2016, against Defendants T. Smith and Maumau;
10. A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments for deliberate indifference (“failure to provide medical care and treatment”) on December 17, 2016 (the “final eye gouging incident”), against all Defendants;
11. A claim for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132, et seq., for “unlawful discrimination and failure to reasonably accommodate” against Defendant Boulder County;[4]
12. A claim for violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701, et seq., for “unlawful discrimination” against Defendant Boulder County; and
13. A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under Fourteenth Amendment for “supervisory liability for failure to train and supervise” against Defendants Pelle, Goetz, and Haas.

(Id. at 23-42.)

         The Sheriff's Defendants[5] moved to dismiss Claims One through Ten and Claim Thirteen on March 12, 2018. (Doc. # 48.) As to Claims One, Five, Ten, and Thirteen, the claims of deliberate indifference, the Sheriff's Defendants argued that the claims must be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because Plaintiff “failed to alleged facts to support” these claims. (Id. at 5-21.) The Sheriff's Defendants alternatively argued that the “individual [D]efendants are entitled to qualified immunity from [Plaintiff's] deliberate indifference claims.” (Id. at 21-28.) As to Claims Two, Three, Four, Sixth, Seven, Eight, and Nine, the excessive force claims, the Sheriff's Defendants assert qualified immunity. (Id. at 28-37.) Plaintiff responded to the Sheriff's Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on April 30, 2018 (Doc. # 72), to which the Sheriff's Defendants replied on May 22, 2018 (Doc. # 82).

         Defendants Taylor and Mittleider moved to dismiss all claims Plaintiff asserts against them-the deliberate indifference claims in Claims One, Five, and Ten- pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on April 23, 2018. (Doc. # 66.) Plaintiff filed his Response on May 29, 2018 (Doc. # 84), and Defendants Taylor and Mittleider replied on June 12, 2018 (Doc. # 86).

         Magistrate Judge Varholak issued his Recommendation on both Motions to Dismiss on September 18, 2018. (Doc. # 88.) He recommended that this Court grant in part and deny in part both Motions to Dismiss:

. . . (3) the Motions be [granted] to the extent they seek dismissal of Claim One and that Claim One be [dismissed];
(4) The Motions be [granted] to the extent they seek dismissal of Claim Ten with respect to Defendants Koger; Goff; Mitchell; Clem; Hicks; Newcomb; Sisneros; Contreras; Mecca; Stevens; Hollonds; Haas; Mittleider, and that Claim Ten against those Defendants be [dismissed];
(5) Defendant Mittleider be dismissed as a [d]efendant; and
(6) The Motions be [denied] with respect to all other claims and Defendants.

(Id. at 53-54) (emphasis added).

         The Sheriff's Defendants filed an Objection to the Recommendation on October 23, 2018, arguing that the Magistrate Judge erred by failing to recommend dismissal of certain Sheriff's Defendants on Claims Five, Ten, and Thirteen based on qualified immunity. (Doc. # 96.) Plaintiff responded to the Sheriff's Department Objection on November 20, 2018 (Doc. # 102), to which the Sheriff's Defendants replied on November 29, 2018 (Doc. # 104).

         Defendant Taylor filed her own Objection to the Recommendation on October 2, 2018, on the grounds that the Magistrate Judge should have recommended dismissal of Claims Five and Ten against her pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. # 91.) Plaintiff filed a Response on October 30, 2018. (Doc. # 97.) Defendant Taylor replied in support of her Objection on November 21, 2018. (Doc. # 103.)

         II. APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES

         A. REVIEW OF A RECOMMENDATION

         When a magistrate judge issues a recommendation on a dispositive matter, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(3) requires that the district judge “determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's [recommended] disposition that has been properly objected to.” An objection is properly made if it is both timely and specific. United States v. One Parcel of Real Property Known As 2121 East 30th Street, 73 F.3d 1057, 1059 (10th Cir. 1996). In conducting its review, “[t]he district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         B. DISMISSAL PURSUANT TO RULE 12(B)(6)

         The Court may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6). To withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘ state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The scope of the allegations may not be “so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent” or else the plaintiff has “‘not nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A plaintiff may not rely on mere labels or conclusions, “and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 ...


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