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Avitia v. Dart

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 13, 2017

Areli Yasmin Hernandez Avitia, Independent Administrator of the Estate of Jairo Avitia, Plaintiff,
v.
Thomas Dart, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Manish S. Shah United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Areli Yasmin Hernandez Avitia's brother committed suicide while a pretrial detainee at the Cook County Jail. Plaintiff believes that her brother's death was the result of inadequate medical care provided by those working at the jail, and brings claims under both federal and state law. Defendants Thomas Dart, the Sheriff of Cook County, and employees of the sheriff's office move to dismiss for failure to state a claim, [45], and defendants Cook County and employees of the County's Cermak Health Services department filed a partial motion to dismiss. [46]. For the following reasons, those motions are granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Legal Standards

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain factual allegations that plausibly suggest a right to relief. Virnich v. Vorwald, 664 F.3d 206, 212 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 558 (2009)). “The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not to decide the merits.” Triad Assocs., Inc. v. Chicago Hous. Authority, 892 F.2d 583, 586 (7th Cir. 1989). When analyzing a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must construe all factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, but a court need not accept legal conclusions or conclusory allegations. Virnich, 664 F.3d at 212 (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 680-82 (2009)).

         II. Background

         Plaintiff Areli Yasmin Hernandez Avitia serves as independent administrator of the estate of her brother, Jairo Avitia. [38] ¶ 3.[1] On January 24, 2015, Mr. Avitia was placed in the Cook County Department of Corrections as a pretrial detainee. [38] ¶ 8. As part of the intake process, Mr. Avitia underwent a physical and mental health evaluation conducted by defendants Lena Colon and Anita Johnson, employees of Cermak Health Services of Cook County. [38] ¶¶ 7, 10. According to the complaint, Colon and Johnson either failed to identify or deliberately disregarded Mr. Avitia's unstable mental health and risk of suicide, even though he had been referred for a psychological evaluation. [38] ¶ 10. Nevertheless, a medical alert for Mr. Avitia was entered that afternoon (by whom is unknown), signaling a need for additional monitoring. [38] ¶ 11.

         Despite his need for mental health treatment and supervision, Mr. Avitia was placed in the general population section of the jail. [38] ¶ 12. Defendants Fay Flemister, Gerard Meyer, and Katie Harrison, supervisors at the jail who were responsible for scheduling shifts for the guards, assigned correctional officers Laura Pliego and Anthony Garner to watch multiple tiers of cells at once. [38] ¶¶ 6, 29, 31. As a result, none of the officers or supervisors checked up on Mr. Avitia closely or regularly. [38] ¶ 32. The next day, Mr. Avitia hanged himself, and he died four days later. [38] ¶¶ 16-17.

         This is plaintiff's second amended complaint, after her first was dismissed for failure to state a claim. See [34]. Plaintiff amended the complaint to provide more details concerning each defendant's role with respect to claims against the individual defendants, and some additional facts related to the policies and practices in place at the jail. Like the first amended complaint, the second alleges multiple facts in the alternative, and multiple defendants are lumped together under the same claims without distinction, though some of them might have nothing to do with the culpable acts alleged. Plaintiff claims that the complaint is necessarily vague, because she does not know the internal processes of the jail, and there is some merit to that explanation. While plaintiff has a ways to go before proving any claims against defendants, the amended complaint does, as explained below, give the individual defendants sufficient notice of the nature of the claims alleged.

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the correctional officers, their supervisors, and Cook County (Count I), against Colon and Johnson (Count II), and against Sheriff Dart and Cook County (Count III) for deliberate indifference to Mr. Avitia's medical needs.[2] She also brings claims for willful and wanton conduct under Illinois law against the correctional officers, their supervisors, and Cook County (Counts IV and V) and against Colon, Johnson, and Cook County (Counts VI and VII).

         A. Count I

         To state a claim for inadequate medical care under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, plaintiff must allege (1) an objectively serious medical need, and (2) a prison official's deliberate indifference to that condition. Thomas v. Cook Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, 604 F.3d 293, 301 (7th Cir. 2010). The sheriff's office defendants do not dispute whether Mr. Avitia alleged an objectively serious medical need, but they do question whether the complaint plausibly alleges deliberate indifference with respect to the correctional officers, Pliego and Garner (and other “Unknown Correctional Officers”), or their supervisors, Flemister, Meyer, and Harrison. “Deliberate indifference occurs when a defendant realizes that a substantial risk of serious harm to a prisoner exists, but then disregards that risk.” Perez v. Fenoglio, 792 F.3d 768, 776 (7th Cir. 2015). The sheriff's office defendants argue that the complaint does not allege the requisite mental state-that they knew that Mr. Avitia had a serious medical need-or that they disregarded the risk posed by that need.

         While the complaint is not a model of clarity, it does allege that the individual sheriff's office defendants were aware of Mr. Avitia's medical needs and ignored them. Plaintiff alleges, at least in the alternative, that they knew of the risk to Mr. Avitia's health because of the medical alert “related to [his] monitoring.” [38] ¶ 11. Beyond a connection to the monitoring of Mr. Avitia, the precise meaning of the medical alert is not alleged. Mr. Avitia was also referred for a psychological evaluation on the same day, (see [38] ¶¶ 10, 28), but the complaint does not make clear whether that referral is related to the medical alert. However, it can be reasonably inferred from the complaint that the medical alert indicated the existence of a medical condition that called for a particular monitoring protocol- one that differed from the protocol actually instituted. It can also be inferred that the medical alert was communicated to the individual sheriff's office defendants, establishing their subjective knowledge of Mr. Avitia's medical need. Plaintiff also argues that those defendants' subjective knowledge can be inferred based on their observation of Mr. Avitia's erratic behavior, but the complaint's vague allegation of erratic behavior does not plausibly suggest that the correctional officers or supervisors would have identified a risk of suicide merely by watching him.

         Plaintiff also alleges that the individual sheriff's office defendants disregarded the risk of harm to Mr. Avitia by failing to monitor him closely, send him for further evaluation, or provide him with appropriate medical attention. The supervisors, Flemister, Meyer, and Harrison, assigned the correctional officers to “cross-watch” the tiers of cells-to monitor multiple tiers at once-which was presumably inadequate to address Mr. Avitia's needs. And neither the supervisors nor the correctional officers referred him for the mental health treatment he needed, or treated him any differently than others at the jail who did not face a risk of suicide. The complaint need not allege any more to provide defendants with fair notice of the nature of the claims against them. After inferring that the medical alert was communicated to the individual sheriff's office defendants, that the alert conveyed information regarding Mr. Avitia's serious medical need, and that the defendants ignored that need, I conclude that the complaint states a claim under § 1983 ...


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