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Warren v. Sheriff of Cook County

November 24, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge

Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Before the Court is Defendants' Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss [34] Plaintiffs' first amended complaint [32],*fn1 which alleges federal and state law claims relating to the death in custody of Jeannetta McDowell ("decedent" or "McDowell").*fn2 Also before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion to strike [65] non-nurse Defendants' and nurse Defendants' reply briefs to the motion to dismiss [61, 63]. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion to dismiss [34] is granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiffs' motion to strike [65] is denied.

I. Background*fn3

On June 6, 2008, McDowell, a 25-year-old mother of two, was arrested for allegedly shoplifting diapers from a local store. She was charged with retail theft, and the Cook County Sheriff's Office held her as a pretrial detainee at Cook County Jail.

During McDowell's initial intake at the jail, one or more Defendants took items that were in McDowell's possession, including two asthma inhalers that McDowell had been carrying inside her purse. Defendants became aware during McDowell's initial intake that McDowell had a history of cardiac thrombosis and suffered from asthma, for which she needed medication. Defendants did not return McDowell's asthma inhalers to her after her intake, nor did they issue McDowell a replacement inhaler. For the next several days, McDowell complained repeatedly of shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and chest pains. She vomited several times and was visibly in need of urgent medical attention. On June 9, 2008, McDowell died in her jail cell from bronchial asthma. She did not have her inhalers or a jail-issued inhaler at the time of her death. About six weeks later, McDowell's fiancé (the father of infant Plaintiff Gabrielle Warren) committed suicide in connection with his grief following McDowell's death.

On March 2, 2010, Plaintiff Darlene Warren filed a first amended complaint [32], as next friend and special administrator of McDowell and as next friend of McDowell's infant daughter, Gabrielle Warren. The complaint names one municipal Defendant: Cook County. The complaint also names 32 individual Defendants: Sheriff of Cook County Thomas Dart ("Dart" or "the Sheriff") and 18 other supervisory correctional officers;*fn4 four correctional officers;*fn5 and nine nurses employed by Cook County through the Cermak Health Services of Cook County (the "nurse Defendants").*fn6 Defendant Dart is sued in his individual and official capacities; all other individual defendants have been sued in their individual capacities only.

In the seven-count complaint, Plaintiffs assert a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants, alleging that while McDowell was a pre-trial detainee at Cook County Jail, Defendants caused her death by denying her adequate medical care in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count I). Plaintiffs also assert wrongful death (Count II), survival action (Count III), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IV), and negligence (Count V) state law tort claims arising out of the alleged denial of adequate medical care against all Defendants. Finally, Plaintiffs assert claims under the theory of respondeat superior (Count VI) against Sheriff Dart and Cook County and for indemnification (Count VII) against Cook County. The Court has federal question subject-matter jurisdiction over the § 1983 claims (28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(a)(3)) and supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims (28 U.S.C. § 1367(a)).

Defendants moved to dismiss [34] Counts I-V of Plaintiffs' first amended complaint [32] as to all named individual Defendants and Count VI of the complaint as to Defendant Cook County. Defendants do not move to dismiss Count VI as it pertains to Sheriff Dart, nor does they move to dismiss Count VII of the complaint.

II. Legal Standard on a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case. See Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint must provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 (2007). The factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level," assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569 n.14). In other words, the pleading must allege facts that plausibly suggest the claim asserted. Twombly, 550 570. "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement need only give the defendant fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007)(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (omission in original).

The Court accepts as true all of the well-pleaded facts alleged by the plaintiff and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. See Barnes v. Briley, 420 F.3d 673, 677 (7th Cir. 2005).

III. Plaintiffs' Section 1983 Claims

Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated McDowell's Fourteenth Amendment rights by denying McDowell access to adequate medical care, a form of cruel and unusual punishment.*fn7

The complaint invokes 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which creates a cause of action against "[e]very person, who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws." The statute is not "itself a source of substantive rights, but merely provides a means for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred," Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144, n.3 (1979)), such as in the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Under § 1983, there are two ways in which a party may sue an individual government actor: in the actor's official capacity or in his individual, or personal, capacity. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985).Here, Plaintiffs have asserted § 1983 claims against both types of defendants. Plaintiffs have sued all individual Defendants in their individual capacities, and have sued Defendant Dart in both his individual and official capacities.*fn8

In support of their claim of unconstitutional denial of adequate medical care pursuant to § 1983, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants, acting in their individual and/or official capacities, were "deliberately indifferent" to the consequences of their alleged conduct. See Gable v. City of Chicago, 296 F.3d 531, 537 (7th Cir. 2002). Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims as to all individual capacity and official capacity § 1983 claims on the ground that the complaint pleads only legal conclusions as to deliberate indifference without sufficient facts to support the conclusions, and thus does not satisfy the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a) under Twombly and Iqbal. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 563; Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. The Court addresses the adequacy of the pleading with respect to the individual capacity claims and official capacity claims separately.

A. Individual Capacity Claims

Plaintiffs' complaint alleges § 1983 individual capacity claims against Sheriff Dart and 16 other supervisory officers as well as against four correctional officers and nine nurses at the jail. Defendants move to dismiss these claims under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that Plaintiffs' complaint does not meet Rule 8(a) pleading requirements because it states merely "legal conclusions" and fails to allege plausibly that the individual Defendants knowingly engaged in misconduct.

To establish a ยง 1983 claim for the denial of medical care in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, a plaintiff must make two showings: first, that the medical need was objectively serious; and second, that the defendants acted knowingly or with deliberate, reckless indifference to the risk posed by the serious medical need. See Thomas v. Cook County Sheriff's Dep't, 604 F.3d 293, 301 (7th Cir. 2010). With respect to the first inquiry, an objectively serious medical need is "one that has been diagnosed by a physician ...

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