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Zeigler v. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

United States District Court, D. Nevada

January 27, 2015

Susanne Zeigler and Alexander M. Mazzola, Plaintiffs,
v.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; Carl Guilford; Naphcare, Inc.; Doe Officers I-X; and Doe Health Care Providers I-X, Defendants.

ORDER [Doc. 45]

JENNIFER A. DORSEY, District Judge.

This civil-rights action arises out of Francisco Sanfilippo's death at the hands of his cellmate Carl Guilford while they were pretrial detainees at the Clark County Detention Center (CCDC). Sanfilippo's representatives[1] sue NaphCare, Inc.-the detention center's contracted medical provider-asserting a variety of constitutional and tort claims all premised on the theory that NaphCare personnel were somehow responsible for non-violent Sanfilippo being housed with Guilford, a bi-polar individual who was refusing to take his prescribed mental-health medication, had killed his six-year-old nephew, and claimed he was hearing voices.[2] NaphCare now moves to dismiss all claims against it under FRCP 12(b)(6). Because I find that the factual allegations against Naphcare are too lacking for me to find plausible claims, I grant the motion to dismiss and give plaintiffs until February 17, 2015, to file a second amended complaint.

Background

Sanfilippo was choked and stabbed to death by Guilford in their shared CCDC cell. Sanfilippo was detained in the CCDC on DUI and child-pornography possession charges;[3] Guilford was held on a murder charge for killing his six-year-old nephew.[4]

Plaintiffs allege that Guilford was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was known to hear voices, speak to spirits, and communicate with the devil, [5] and that he refused to take medication while detained at CCDC.[6] They further allege that the CCDC and NaphCare personnel knew Guilford was violent and mentally ill, and that the CCDC has designated cells for isolating mentallyill detainees from the general population.[7] Plaintiffs allege, therefore, that the decision to place Sanfilippo-a non-violent offender-in the same cell as Guilford violated Sanfilippo's civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Nevada state tort law.

Plaintiffs sue the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department ("Metro, " which allegedly runs the CCDC), NaphCare, Inc. (which provides medical services to CCDC detainees under a contract with Clark County); Guilford; and a score of Doe defendants.[8] Against NaphCare they allege: (1) a § 1983 claim for violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) that these constitutional violations were the result of "a policy, practice[, ] and custom" of "NaphCare to tolerate and ratify... medical personnel in disregarding known risks to inmate health and safety"; (3) that Sanfilippo's death was caused by NaphCare's failure to properly train and supervise its employees; (4) that NaphCare was negligent and grossly negligent; and (5) that NaphCare "brought about" Sanfilippo's wrongful death by allowing him to be housed with a violent and mentally unstable cellmate.

Naphcare now moves to dismiss all of the claims against it. It argues that plaintiffs' § 1983 claim must be dismissed because pretrial detainees do not enjoy Eighth Amendment protections, and the rest of the claim fails because plaintiffs have not alleged that Sanfilippo's death resulted from a constitutional violation arising from a NaphCare policy, practice, or custom. NaphCare seeks to dismiss plaintiffs' claims for failure to properly train and supervise its employees because these claims do not target NaphCare. And finally, medical-care contractor NaphCare moves to dismiss all the state-law tort claims against it because plaintiffs failed to attach the affidavit required by NRS §41A.071 for medical-malpractice actions; NaphCare enjoys immunity from suit under Nevada's discretionary-act-immunity statute, NRS § 41.032; and plaintiffs simply have not pled enough facts to state plausible claims under these theories. Plaintiffs filed a cursory opposition and NaphCare replied. Docs. 52, 53. I heard oral argument in January 2014. I now grant the motion to dismiss with leave to amend for the reasons below.

Discussion

A. A federal plaintiff's pleading obligations

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."[9] The purpose of the rule is to afford defendants fair notice "of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests."[10] As the United States Supreme Court clarified in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly [11] and Ashcroft v. Iqbal , [12] defending a complaint against a Rule 12(b)(6) attack "requires more than labels and conclusions"; it calls on plaintiffs to identify factual allegations that are "enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level."[13] This requires a plaintiff to state claims raising a plausible likelihood that the defendant engaged in misconduct for which the law-and courts-can offer relief. Pleading facts "merely consistent with a defendant's liability" may suggest a cognizable claim, but does not rise to the requisite level of plausibility.[14] Bare and unsubstantiated allegations will not suffice, and courts need not accept merely conclusory claims, unwarranted factual deductions, or unreasonable inferences.[15]

B. Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims

Plaintiffs' first through third claims allege violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.[16] Plaintiffs contend that NaphCare and its co-defendants, "while acting under color of law, were deliberately indifferent to Sanfilippo's personal safety by housing Sanfilippo with a self-admitted killer and person of mental instability."[17] Plaintiffs further allege that the defendants' "failure to create and maintain a safe environment in which Sanfilippo could await trial was the moving force behind Guilford's ability to kill Sanfilippo."[18]

An entity like NaphCare may not be held liable under § 1983 for the acts of its employees on a respondeat superior theory.[19] As the United States Supreme Court recognized in Monell v. Department of Social Services, plaintiffs must instead plausibly allege that "a deliberate policy, custom, or practice" of NaphCare "was the moving force' behind the constitutional violation" Sanfilippo suffered.[20] Plaintiffs inexplicably break the constitutional-violation component and the policy, practice, and custom component of their § 1983 claim into two separate counts that comprise their first and second causes of action.[21] Because no plausible § 1983 claim against NaphCare can be pled without ...


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