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Elliott v. Management & Training Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

July 19, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court on defendant Management & Training Corporation's (“MTC”) Motion for Summary Judgment [78] and plaintiff Shontena K. Elliott's (“Elliott”) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [82]. The motions have been fully briefed by the parties, and the Court, having reviewed the parties' submissions and relevant authorities, is now prepared to rule.

         Factual Background

         This case involves the tragic death of Jonathan Scott Keen. After a jury in Madison County, Mississippi, found Keen guilty of capital murder, he was sentenced to serve a life sentence in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) without the possibility of parole or probation. Keen was initially processed into the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. He was thereafter transferred to Walnut Grove Correctional Facility and then Parchman before being moved to the Marshall County Correctional Facility (“MCCF”) on October 14, 2014. Just over eight months later, Keen committed suicide. He was found in his cell at MCCF on June 16, 2015, shortly before 7:00 pm, having hung himself with his prison jumpsuit. Efforts by staff members to resuscitate him were unsuccessful, and Keen was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

         Management & Training Corporation (“MTC”) is a national for-profit prison operator that operates and oversees multiple prisons across the country. At the time of Keen's death, MTC was under contract with MDOC to provide management and oversight of the daily operations at MCCF. Health Assurance, LLC (“HALLC”) is a for-profit company that operated and staffed the medical department at MCCF at the time of Keen's death.

         During the several months preceding his death, Keen engaged in extremely abnormal behavior. On March 3, 2015, Keen was brought to the facility's medical department, where he was seen by medical assistant Lisa Davis. Davis' report from that examination states:

Offender brought to medical due to erratic behavior. States he was high on ICE. Had razor blade threatening to cut himself and also had bedding and some clothing tied in knots. Offender barricaded himself in his cell. Security was finally able to get inmate to come out of cell. Offender states “I'm not trying to kill myself I'm in fear for my life”. Inmate states “I'm in fear for my life, that's why I had the blame on me”. No visible injuries noted upon visual assessment. No c/o voiced at this time. Security escorted to Ad-Seg.

         A few days later, on March 13, 2015, Keen actually did cut himself on the neck with a razor and was again brought to the medical department, where he was seen by a nurse and then by Steven Vance-a mental health technician-and Wayne Lancaster-a psychologist. The medical records indicate that when Keen arrived at the medical department, his hands were covered with blood and he had large lacerations on his neck. During this examination, Keen told Vance that he was not trying to kill himself but that he was trying to get attention and wanted to be moved to the long term segregation unit because a prison gang-the Vice Lords-had a KOS (kill on sight) on him.

         On March 24, 2015, Keen again cut himself on the neck and was brought to the medical department. The nurse's report from her examination that day states that Keen told her “I cut myself on the back of the neck to draw some blood so I could get somebody's attention. The Vice Lords are after me.” Thereafter, on April 15, 2015, Keen requested to be taken to the medical department, where he was again seen by Vance. Vance's notes from that visit provide that Keen requested “to speak with [an] officer regarding security related matters.” After this visit, Vance completed a “Suicide Potential Screening”, wherein he made several notations indicating that he did not believe Keen was a suicide risk at the time.

         Just two days later, on April 17, 2015, at approximately 11:30 am, Keen began complaining of chest pains and was taken to the medical department, where he was first seen by Natasha Gibbs-a licensed practical nurse. In part, Gibbs' notes for that examination state that “[u]pon arrival inmated [sic] stated ‘[I] wasn't having chest pain, [I] just said that to get up here to talk to Mr. Vance.' Inmate denied chest pain at this time.” Keen was then seen again by Vance, who noted that Keen informed him that he did not want to kill himself but that he was not going to let anybody else kill him. Moreover, Keen “reported not being suicidal and made such statement in front of internal affairs officer as well as [Vance]. [Keen] admitted to recently smoking THC.” Vance's notes also reflect that he recommended that Keen be placed on property restriction at that time.

         Less than two hours later, at approximately 12:55 pm on April 17, 2015, Keen was brought back to the medical department after utilizing a razor to cut himself again. Phyllis Mason, the nurse who examined Keen at this time, noted that Keen made the following statement to her: “I cut myself cause, I just don't care no more. Them folk gonna kill me.” In another visit to the medical department four days later, on April 21, 2015, Vance noted that Keen appeared to be suffering from paranoia.

         Over the following approximately two months-until June 15, 2016, Keen visited the medical department at least two other times and reported different physical issues. However, the issues Keen complained of during these visits do not appear to have been based upon his own harmful conduct to himself, like many of his previous visits had been.

         In contrast, on the night of June 15, 2015, shortly before 9:00 pm, Keen was brought to the medical department after again making superficial cuts to his neck. Elizabeth Mason, the nurse who saw Keen when he first arrived at the medical department, noted that Keen informed her “I'm gonna keep on doing this to myself until somebody listens to me. I need to be off this zone.” Keen was then examined again by Vance, who noted that:

Subjective: “I'm not suicidal but I feel like my life is in danger.” “I want PC [protective custody].” “I eat five benadrayl [sic] last night and I did 3 grams of ice Thursday night and Friday.” “They have been threatening me, I can't deal with the threats.” “The doctor said he was going to give me some medicine and I am ready for it.” “They says the chief wants me off the compound.” “I cut myself to get off the zone.” “I've been sleeping with my door tied down for over a week.” “The police will not help me!” [Keen] provided written statement confirming he is not suicidal. [Vance] meet [sic] with Lt. Blake and recommended [Keen] be place [sic] on security level property restriction. No [suicidal ideation/homicidal ideation] observed or stated.

         As this report makes clear, Vance recommended to Lieutenant Cathy Blake that Keen be placed on property restriction at this time. Keen was then returned to his cell. The following day-June 16, 2015, Keen again cut his neck at approximately 10:30 am and was seen by a nurse, Elizabeth Jackson, who noted that Keen stated “I cut my own self, I'd rather cut myself than have the ones that are trying to kill me do it.” As with the other visits to the medical department, Keen was then seen by Vance. Vance's notes from that visit provide that Keen again expressed that he did not want to kill himself but that he wanted to be moved. Shortly after being taken back to his cell, Keen was brought to the medical department after he cut his neck again. As with each of his other previous visits, Keen informed personnel that he was not suicidal but that he wanted to be placed in protective custody.

         Upon examining Keen at this time, Vance concluded that Lieutenant Blake did not issue and implement the property restriction, as he had recommended the previous day, based upon the fact that Keen obviously still had access to a razor.[1] As to this issue, the investigative report states that “Correctional Lieutenant Cathy Blake was interviewed and she stated on 6/15/15, she ensured all of Inmate Keens [sic] property was taken after she was ordered to remove it by Mr. Vance. Lt. Blake stated she did not complete the paperwork necessary to place an Inmate on property restriction on 6/15/15. Lt. Blake stated it was unusual however, Mr. Vance ordered her to remove Inmate Keens [sic] property and give him a paper gown without placing him on suicide watch.” (emphasis added). The investigative report further states that Correctional Sergeant Karsten Randall was assigned to work the cell block where Keen was located on June 16, 2015 (the following day), but she stated that “nobody from the off going shift informed her Inmate Keen was placed on property restriction.” Therefore, despite the fact that Keen was supposed to be placed on property restriction, he was permitted to keep his prison jumpsuit after each of his visits to the medical department on June 16, 2015, because the staff working at that time was unaware that he had been placed on property restriction. If the property restriction had been properly carried out in accordance with MTC policy, Keen would not have been permitted to retain his jumpsuit at that time, and the only items he would have been allowed to keep in his cell would have been a paper smock, underwear, and a mattress.

         Moreover, the investigative report also specifically states that after Vance's second session with Keen on June 16, 2015, “he spoke with Warden Doty and explained to her his rationale, and why he recommended property restriction. Mr. Vance stated Warden Doty told him security staff would take care of the situation and Inmate Keens [sic] numerous ‘cries' for help.” Shortly thereafter, Keen himself was brought to Deputy Warden Doty's office. When Keen arrived, he was still wearing his prison jumpsuit. Warden Doty spoke briefly with Keen and offered him “material related to the Alcohol and Drug program offered at the facility[]” and then ordered that he be taken back to his cell. Warden Doty avers that she ordered Captain Carlotta Jones to have Keen's property removed from his cell. This order was, of course, not carried out.

         Later that day, Keen broke the sprinkler head on the ceiling in his cell, causing it to flood. A Rule Violation Report (“RVR”) was prepared, which charged Keen with destructive behavior. When three officers-Correctional Sergeant Joy Cocke, Correctional Officer Barry Payne, and Correctional Officer Eddie Williams-brought the RVR to Keen to explain the charges to him, they found Keen hanging by his prison jumpsuit in his cell. Their efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. Keen was pronounced dead less than an hour later.

         A few days later, Sergeant Cocke, Lieutenant Blake, and Captain Jimmy Brooks each received a notice of caution based upon their conduct in connection with Keen's death. Sergeant Cocke was cited for failure to ensure proper security rounds were conducted at the time immediately before Keen's death. Lieutenant Blake's citation was for failure to properly complete the paperwork associated with instituting the property restriction. Finally, Captain Jimmy Brooks was cited for failure to comply with an order that he take the property restriction form to the unit where Keen's cell was located. Thus, each of their citations were based upon their failure to properly implement the property restriction.

         On May 12, 2016, Elliott, individually and as personal representative on behalf of Keen's wrongful death beneficiaries, filed the present action against HALLC and MTC.[2] On June 23, 2017, HALLC informed the Court that it had reached a settlement with Elliott as to her claims against it, leaving MTC as the sole remaining defendant.

         In her amended complaint, Elliott asserts against MTC a Section 1983 claim for violation of Keen's Eighth Amendment rights, alleging that MTC “acted with deliberate indifference” regarding Keen's conditions of confinement. She also alleges negligence/gross negligence and negligent hiring against MTC.

         On June 12, 2017, MTC filed its motion for summary judgment, averring that each of Elliott's claims against it should be dismissed. The following day, Elliott filed her motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that summary judgment should be granted in her favor on her negligence claim. Having reviewed those submissions, in addition to relevant evidence, case law, and other authorities, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that neither of the motions is well-taken. Accordingly, both motions will be denied.

         Summary ...

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