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Jaramillo v. Crain

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 29, 2019

Rodney Jaramillo, as personal representative of the estate of Joseph Jaramillo deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
Deputy Christian Crain, Deputy Nicholas Cardinal, and Sherry Baca, Defendants.

          ORDER

          RAYMOND P. MOORE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This survival action-brought by the brother of deceased inmate Joseph Jaramillo- alleges violations of the Eighth Amendment bar against cruel and unusual punishment. As alleged, on February 23, 2016, Defendants Crain and Cardinal, correctional officers at the Pueblo County Detention Facility, assaulted Jaramillo in the shower until he became unconscious. Jaramillo regained consciousness and requested medical assistance for “unrelenting head pain.” On February 24, 2016, Defendant Sherry Baca, an EMT, examined him and noted symptoms consistent with a medical emergency, but she limited treatment to ibuprofen. Later that day, Jaramillo screamed for help, collapsed in his cell, and was taken to the hospital. He never awoke and later died on February 29, 2016. Jaramillo's estate filed on February 27, 2018, alleging excessive force and deliberate indifference, and Defendants have moved to dismiss on statute of limitation grounds. The only question for the Court is when Jaramillo's causes of action accrued.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Allegations

         On February 23, 2016, inmate Joseph Jaramillo took a shower despite several orders to return to his bunk. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-11, ECF No. 1.) In fact, he flipped off prison guard Crain, causing guards Crain and Cardinal to “take [ ] Jaramillo out . . . for his original refusal of the first order to return to his bunk, and in retaliation for flipping Deputy Crain off.” (Id. ¶¶ 11-12.) Even though Jaramillo had “stopped the shower and began putting his clothes back on to comply, ” and had “begun to walk back to his bunk as instructed, ” the guards “stormed the shower area[, ] . . . grabbed [ ] Jaramillo aggressively and both took him to the ceramic floor.” (Id. ¶¶ 11, 13.) Jaramillo's head hit the floor and the concrete area of a nearby stall, and he lost consciousness. (Id.) The guards then handcuffed Jaramillo and, ignoring his complaints of head pain, escorted him out of the dorm to an attorney room with no cameras. (Id. ¶ 14.) Four hours later, Jaramillo “requested assistance from medical for his unrelenting head pain. . . . Jaramillo was adamant about the pain in his head and informed the nurse it was affecting his vision.” (Id. ¶ 15.)

         Twelve hours after that, “[d]espite [Jaramillo's] complaint of severe head pain that had [by then] persisted over 16 hours . . ., Defendant Baca did a cursory and generally indifferent assessment.” (Id. ¶ 16.) Jaramillo described his head pain as “throbbing” and “not similar to any headache [he had] ever had before.” (Id.) He was not able to touch his chin to his chest-a common symptom of a medical emergency such as swelling or bleeding in the brain. (Id.) But Baca did nothing except give Jaramillo ibuprofen and end the visit. (Id.)

         Over the next six hours, Jaramillo “continued complaining to anyone who would listen.” (Id. ¶ 17.) “He told his cell mate he worried he was dying and that he couldn't see. At 4:45 am on February 24, he began banging on his cell window screaming for help.” (Id.) Baca and Crain were present but initially did nothing. (Id.) “Ten minutes later, Jaramillo collapsed in his cell. Ten minutes after that, Defendant Baca entered the cell ‘to check his blood sugar.' Jaramillo was unconscious, suffering respiratory failure, and nonresponsive. He never regained consciousness.” (Id.) On February 29, 2016, doctors removed Jaramillo from life support, and he died of a subdural hematoma and associated extensive untreated brain bleeding and swelling. (Id. ¶ 18.)

         B. Procedural Posture and the Parties' Positions

         Jaramillo's estate filed this suit for relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. (See generally id.) In Claim One, he alleges excessive force by Crain and Cardinal flowing from the shower takedown. (Id. ¶¶ 19-24.) Claim Two squares against Crain and Baca for their alleged deliberate indifference to “critical and time-sensitive life-saving medical treatment [that Jaramillo's] symptoms clearly required.” (Id. ¶ 30.) Defendants filed motions to dismiss solely on statute of limitation grounds (ECF Nos. 26, 29, 41, 42), to which Jaramillo responded (ECF Nos. 39, 40). Magistrate Judge Tafoya recommended that the motions be granted. (ECF No. 59.) Jaramillo timely objected (ECF No. 60), and Defendants responded (ECF No. 61).

         In their briefing on the motions and objection, the parties vehemently disagree on the date Jaramillo's causes of action accrued. Defendants' positions are straightforward: Because “Jaramillo had imputed knowledge sufficient to trigger accrual at the time his physical injury became more severe between February 23 and 24, 2016” and “deliberate indifference to his requests for critical medical assistance” occurred during the same timeframe (ECF No. 26, at 8; ECF No. 42, at 5), Defendants maintain that the very latest timely day for filing would have been February 26, 2018.[1] Jaramillo's theories are more complicated. On Claim One, despite his allegations that he consciously and repeatedly requested medical attention for the extraordinary symptoms he endured following the shower assault, Jaramillo stresses that he lost consciousness, was disoriented, and-until the moment of his death-was not “aware that the guards had caused him a [non-de minimis] head injury.” (ECF No. 60, at 6-7.) On Claim Two, Jaramillo asserts that no one knew the cause of his death-or that Baca and Crain's denial of care contributed to it- until his autopsy. (Id. at 9-10.)[2] Put another way, before he fell unconscious for the final time, he alleges that he had no information that brought into focus the constitutional inadequacy of Baca's and Crain's lack of treatment. (Id. at 11-16.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         The Court reviews timely objections to a magistrate judge's recommendation de novo. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The legal standard applicable here is established. “To survive a 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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plausibility means that the plaintiff pled facts which allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. When considering whether an action is time-barred, “[i]f the answer is apparent on the face of the complaint, this issue may be resolved on a motion to dismiss.” Dummar v. Lummis, 543 F.3d 614, 619 (10th Cir. 2008); see also Aldrich v. McCulloch Properties, Inc., 627 F.2d 1036, 1041 n.4 (10th Cir. 1980) (“While the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense, when the dates given in the complaint make clear that the right sued upon has been extinguished, the plaintiff has the burden of establishing a factual basis for tolling the statute.”).

         This survival[3] action alleges constitutional violations and seeks redress under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which includes no limitations period. Therefore, while the characterization of the type of claim at issue for limitations purposes remains a federal question, state law governs the relevant suit-barring deadline. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 268-69 (1985). Colorado has filled in this gap: “All actions upon liability created by a federal statute where no period of limitation is provided in said federal statute . . . must be commenced within two years after the cause of action accrues, and not thereafter.” Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-80-102(1)(g) (language rearranged). “Section 1983 claims accrue, for the purpose of the statute of limitations, when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis for the action.” Hunt v. Bennett, 17 F.3d 1263, 1266 (10th Cir. 1994); see also Johnson v. Johnson County Comm'n Bd., 925 F.2d 1299, 1301 (10th Cir. 1991) (identical language). Under this test, “a plaintiff need not understand the legal basis of his claim before the statute of limitations will begin to run.” Coleman v. Morall, 64 Fed.Appx. 116, 119 (10th Cir. 2003) Nor must he “know the full extent of his injuries.” Indus Constructors Corp. v. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, 15 F.3d 963, 969 (10th Cir. 1994). Rather, “a civil rights action accrues when facts that would support a cause of action are or should be apparent.” Fratus v. DeLand, 49 F.3d 673, 675 (10th Cir. 1995) (emphasis supplied; internal quotations omitted). In survival actions, courts test accrual as if the deceased had survived. See Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-20-101(2); see also, e.g., Sager v. City of Woodland Park, 543 F.Supp. 282, 288 (D. Colo. 1982) (“[A] § 1983 survival action, relying on the incorporation of state survival law through [42 U.S.C.] § 1988, is essentially the assertion of the cause of action the deceased would have had if he lived, requesting damages for violation of the decedent's rights.”). The claims at issue here sound in two separate Eighth Amendment theories-excessive force and deliberate indifference-and the Court addresses whether Jaramillo knew or had reason to know of the facts that form the basis for each.

         A. Claim One (for the shower ...


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