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Green v. Management & Training Corp.

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

August 5, 2019




         This cause comes before the court on the motion of defendant Management and Training Corp. (MTC) et al for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Plaintiffs Brenda Green et al have responded in opposition to the motion, and the court, having considered the memoranda and submissions of the parties, concludes that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

         This is a wrongful death case, based on both federal claims asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims of negligence, arising out of the death of John Robert Green, III. Green died of a heart attack on January 1, 2017 while incarcerated at the Marshall County Correctional Facility (MCCF) operated by defendant. In its brief, defendant describes the facts surrounding Green's death as follows:

In the early morning hours of January 1, 2017, Green began having chest pains. At or about 6:40 a.m., an unidentified offender signaled towards the watch tower that another offender was having some sort of trouble. At 6:47 a.m., a Code Blue (a call for medical help) was called for Bravo Dorm 2 where Green was housed. At about 6:51 a.m., MTC employees responded to Green's dorm where he was found sitting upright against his bed. Ultimately, Green was carried out of the dorm on a stretcher, and taken to the medical dorm. At roughly 6:57 a.m., a Code Green was called, and CPR and other life saving measures were undertaken. By 7:10 a.m., MCCF officials called for an ambulance. The Med Stat ambulance arrived on the unit at 7:33 a.m. Green was deceased when the ambulance arrived.

         [Defendant's brief at 2].

         For their part, plaintiffs dispute many of defendants' assertions regarding the response times of prison employees, but, as discussed below, their evidence regarding the response time issue has been rather heavily impeached by summary judgment evidence in this case. Perhaps as a result of this impeachment evidence, plaintiffs assert in their brief that their “primary” claim now relates to their allegation that MTC failed to adequately staff its prison at the time of Green's death. Plaintiffs assert that deliberate indifference and/or negligence by MTC in staffing the prison resulted in employees discovering Green's distress later than they otherwise would have. Defendant has presently moved for summary judgment, arguing that no genuine issue of fact exists regarding its liability in this case and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         This court will first address plaintiffs' federal Eighth Amendment claims, as to which they face a much more daunting burden of proof than with their state law negligence claims. It is well settled that “[a]n inmate's right to medical care is abridged if a prison official acts with deliberate indifference to his medical needs, as deliberate indifference to an inmate's serious medical needs violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.” Miller v. Hall, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134135 at *10 (N.D. Miss 2018) (holding that the prison guard's actions did not amount to deliberate indifference because the guard did not know of the inmate's need for medical attention.) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103-04, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1978)). In the Eighth Amendment context, the test for establishing deliberate indifference is one of “subjective recklessness as used in the criminal law.” Id. (citation omitted).

         Under the subjective recklessness standard, there is no liability under § 1983 unless the plaintiff alleges facts which, if true, would demonstrate that a prison official (1) knew that the inmate faced a substantial risk of serious harm; and (2) disregarded that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it. Id. (citation omitted). Where a plaintiff complains of a delay in medical treatment, he must show deliberate indifference to serious medical needs that resulted in substantial harm. Id. (citing Alderson v. Concordia Par. Corr. Facility, 848 F.3d 415, 422 (5th Cir. 2017) and Easter v. Powell, 467 F.3d 459, 464 (5th Cir. 2006)). “Evidence of efforts by prison staff to attend to the medical need will negate a finding of deliberate indifference.” Jackson v. Cain, 864 F.2d 1235, 1246 (5th Cir. 1989). “Not all failure to provide care is actionable, however, as negligent conduct by a prison official does not give rise to a constitutional violation.” Id. (citing Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 106 S.Ct. 662, 88 L.Ed.2d 662 (1986); Oliver v. Collins, 914 F.2d 56, 60 (5th Cir. 1990)).

         While the Eighth Amendment standard is thus a stringent one, that is not the only, or even the primary, obstacle to plaintiff's federal claims in this case. As noted in the decisions above, the typical Eighth Amendment claim deals with claims against specific state officers who, the plaintiffs typically allege, were subjectively indifferent to the medical needs of a prisoner. In this case, however, plaintiffs assert Eighth Amendment claims against MTC itself, and this places an additional, and very heavy burden, upon them in this case. In their brief, plaintiffs acknowledge that MTC is considered a “municipality” in the § 1983 context, which permits it to take advantage of the highly rigorous “policy or custom” standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).

         A municipality may only be held liable under § 1983 for violating a citizen's constitutional rights if “the governmental body itself ‘subjects' [that] person to a deprivation of rights or ‘causes' a person ‘to be subjected' to such deprivation.” Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359 (2011). Governmental entities are “responsible only for [their] own illegal acts” and are “not vicariously liable under § 1983 for [their] employees' actions.” Id. Thus, there is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983; rather, the key to municipal liability is demonstrating that a deprivation of a constitutional right was inflicted pursuant to an official policy or custom of the municipality in question. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). The alleged unconstitutional conduct asserted “must be directly attributable to the municipality through some sort of official action or imprimatur.” Piotrowski v. City of R.H., 237 F.3d 567, 578 (5th Cir. 2001).

         To establish constitutional liability against MTC, plaintiffs must establish (1) an official policy or custom, of which (2) a policymaker can be charged with actual or constructive knowledge, and (3) a constitutional violation whose “moving force” is that policy or custom. Rivera v. R.H. Indep. Sch. Dist., 349 F.3d 244, 247-249 (5th Cir. 2003). A “policy or custom” can be either (1) a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision that is officially adopted and promulgated by the municipality's lawmaking officers or by an official to whom the lawmakers have delegated policy-making authority; or (2) a persistent, widespread practice of city officials or employees, which, although not authorized by officially adopted and promulgated policy, is so common and well settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents municipal policy. McGregory v. City of Jackson, 335 Fed. App'x. 446, 448-449 (5th Cir. 2009).

         Plaintiffs must also demonstrate a link between the policy and the constitutional violation, and the policy must be maintained with “objective deliberate indifference” to a constitutionally protected right. Lawson v. Dallas County, 286 F.3d 257, 263 (5th Cir. 2002). A municipality acts with objective deliberate indifference if it promulgates a policy or custom despite the “known or obvious consequences that constitutional violations would result.” Piotrowski, 237 F.3d at 567. Deliberate indifference of this sort is a stringent test, and “a showing of simple or even heightened negligence will not suffice” to prove municipal culpability. Id. at 579.

         It is thus clear that plaintiffs face an exceedingly difficult legal burden in seeking to establish Eighth Amendment liability against MTC, and this court does not believe that their summary judgment briefing even comes close to meeting that burden. Indeed, in contending that an MTC policy or custom resulted in the death of Green, plaintiffs' entire argument is as follows:

         Robyn Williams was deposed as the representative of MTC under Rule 30(b)(6). She was asked to respond to the following question:

         “What-what can you say about our paragraph 6, here, ‘Describe backup measures, if any, which MTC employs routinely or otherwise to compensate for no-show correctional officers' since that seems to be a problem?

         She answered:

A. So it's a matter of trying to get people to stay over from the previous shift and or have other people come in if it's-if it's their day off and you can get ahold of them and have them-have them come in.
Plaintiffs'Exh. “7”, Williams depo.Excerpts p.55, line 18-p, 56, line 2.
That reply led to the following
Q and
A exchange:
Q. Okay. So that would be the shift supervisors trying to arrange all of that?
A. Yes.
Q. Okay. What-what is your perception of the extent to which the staff was effective or-or-what's the word I'm looking for-whether the-the dorm was ...

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