United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
MICHELLE MCDONALD-WITHERSPOON, Individually and as Administratrix of the ESTATE OF KENYADA JONES
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al.
Michelle McDonald-Witherspoon brings this action on her own
behalf and on behalf of her son, who died while in custody at
the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (CFCF). She brings
claims against CFCF, the City of Philadelphia, the
Philadelphia Adult Parole and Probation Department (PAPP),
two parole officers, Amber E. Browne and Jeanette Palmer and
two private corporations that allegedly contracted with the
City to provide mental health services to inmates at
CFCF-Corizon Health, Inc. and MHM Services, Inc. All
defendants except Corizon and CFCF move to dismiss either in
part or in full. I will deny in part and grant in part the
motion of defendants City of Philadelphia, Browne and Palmer.
I will grant MHM's and PAPP's motions, but I will
allow leave to amend some of plaintiff s dismissed claims.
28, 2016, Kenyada Jones, who was on parole or probation for a
DUI charge, met with his parole officer, defendant Browne,
and with defendant parole officer Palmer. Compl. ¶ 12.
Plaintiff, Jones's mother, was contacted in the course of
this meeting, spoke with Browne, and decided to go pick up
Jones from the meeting. Id. Plaintiff does not
explain what occurred during the gathering, but she states
that "by the time she got there, [her son] had already
been taken away"-i.e., arrested. Id. She
alleges that he was "unlawfully searched, . . . arrested
and . . . imprisoned" because he "was mentally
disabled and African-American, " the defendants
"having animus against [Jones] by reason of what he
was." Id. ¶¶ 13, 14.
suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and
other similar conditions. The week before his parole meeting,
he had admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital, where he
had remained for treatment from June 16 until June 22.
Id. ¶¶ 9-11.
his arrest, plaintiff was incarcerated at CFCF, "a state
correctional facility, owned and operated by [the City of
Philadelphia]." Id. ¶ 3. On July 2, after
four days in prison, Jones was found on the floor of his jail
cell, unresponsive and taking slow breaths. Id.
¶ 19. After medical personnel arrived, he was pronounced
dead. Id. An autopsy revealed that the cause of
death was an excessive intake of Amlodipine, a prescription
medication used to control high blood pressure. Id.
¶¶ 20, 21. Jones's stomach had a concentration
of Amlodipine at more than eleven times the maximum
therapeutic level. Id. ¶ 20. A note in CFCF
medical records on Amlodipine states, "no KOP [keep on
person]." Id. ¶¶ 18.
brings this case on behalf of herself and Jones, as the
administratrix of his estate. Id. ¶ 1. She
alleges defendants "gave misinformation and/or
inadequate information to the staff at CFCF regarding
[Jones's] mental/psychiatric condition and needs, causing
[Jones] to be deprived of needed treatment and
medication." Id. ¶ 15. She alleges
defendants failed to "place him in a jail cell that was
appropriate for his mental state, " failed "to give
him needed psychiatric and medical treatment, " and gave
him "an entire month to three months' worth of the
medication Amlodipine to keep on his person (30 to 90 pills
at a time), " despite its known risks. Id.
¶ 18. She contends defendants "acted pursuant to
policies, procedures and customs of [d]efendants City of
Philadelphia, PAPP and CFCF." Id. ¶ 24.
initiated litigation in the Philadelphia County Court of
Common Pleas on behalf of herself and decedent Jones. The
City, Browne and Palmer removed the action to federal court.
Thereafter, the City, Browne and Palmer filed a motion to
dismiss, Dkt. No. 14; defendant PAPP filed a motion to
dismiss, Dkt. No. 15; and defendant MHM filed a partial
motion to dismiss, Dkt. No. 13. Plaintiff filed responses to
all three motions and defendant PAPP filed a reply.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a court to dismiss
all or part of an action for "failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted." Typically, "a
complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does
not need detailed factual allegations, " though
plaintiffs obligation to state the grounds of entitlement to
relief "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "Factual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level... on the assumption that all of the allegations in the
complaint are true." Id. (citations omitted).
This "simply calls for enough fact[s] to raise a
reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of
the necessary element. Id. at 556. "To prevent
dismissal, all civil complaints must set out 'sufficient
factual matter' to show that the claim is facially
plausible." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d
203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009), quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The Court also set forth a two
part-analysis for reviewing motions to dismiss in light of
Twombly and Iqbal:
First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be
separated. The District Court must accept all of the
complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard
any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then
determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are
sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible
claim for relief."
Id. at 210-11, quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
679. The Court explained, "a complaint must do more than
allege the plaintiffs entitlement to relief. A complaint has
to 'show' such an entitlement with its facts."
Id., citing Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny,
515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2008). "[W]here the
well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than
the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has
alleged-but it has not 'show[n]'-'that the
pleader is entitled to relief" Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 679, quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).
dismissing a case for failure to state a claim in civil
rights cases, district courts must offer amendment
"unless doing so would be inequitable or futile."
Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contrs.,
Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007); Fed.R.Civ.P.
15(a)(2) ("The court should freely give leave [to amend]
when justice so requires.").
complaint sets forth the following causes of action on
Jones's behalf: (1) federal constitutional claims under
the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on behalf of
herself and Jones; (2) claims for violations of Titles II and
III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and § 504 of
the Rehabilitation Act on Jones's behalf; and (3) state
law claims including violations of the Pennsylvania Human
Relations Act and the Pennsylvania Constitution, negligence,
medical/psychiatric malpractice, intentional infliction of
emotional distress, false arrest, false imprisonment,
malicious prosecution and abuse of process and a claim under
the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death and Survival Acts, 42 Pa.
Cons. Stat. §§ 8301 & 8302. The complaint also
sets forth claims for both intentional and negligent
infliction of emotional distress on plaintiffs behalf.
dismiss all of the claims except the § 1983 claim
against the City of Philadelphia for violation of Jones's
rights. I will, however, allow leave to amend with respect to
several of the dismissed claims.
Section 1983 Claims
prisoner's right to adequate medical care derives from
the Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual
punishment. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103-105
(1976). In order to set forth a cognizable claim for
violation of this right under 28 U.S.C. § 1983, a
plaintiff must allege facts showing that the defendant was
deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need.
Id. at 104; Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d
192, 197 (3d Cir. 1999). A prison official is deliberately
indifferent if he knows that a prisoner faces a substantial
risk of serious harm and fails to take reasonable steps to
avoid the harm. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837
(1994). The standard requires showing "that the official
was subjectively aware of the risk" and that the
defendant was more than merely negligent. Id. at
829, 837. Similarly, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment entitles a detainee, rather than a convicted
prisoner, "no less a level of medical care than that
required for convicted prisoners by the Eighth
Amendment." Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838
F.2d 663, 668 (3d Cir. 1988) ("Colburn I").
Custodial officials who "know or should know of the
particular vulnerability to suicide of an inmate" have a
constitutional obligation "not to act with reckless
indifference to that vulnerability." Woloszyn v. Cty
of Lawrence, 396 F.3d 314, 319 (3d Cir. 2005),
quoting Colburn I, 838 F.2d at 669.
contends all defendants are liable under § 1983 for
their reckless indifference to Jones's vulnerability to
City of Philadelphia
allegations against the City are sufficient to state a claim
for violation of Jones's constitutional rights under
order to recover against a municipality under § 1983, a
plaintiff must allege that the City itself caused an injury
through the implementation of a policy, practice or custom.
Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of NY., 436 U.S.
658, 694 (1978); Natale v. Camden Cty Corr.
Facility, 318 F.3d 575 (3d Cir. 2003). Section 1983
imposes liability on a municipality where, "through its
deliberate conduct, the municipality was the
'moving force' behind the injury alleged."
Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cty. v. Brown. 520
U.S. 397, 404 (1997) (emphasis in original). The plaintiff
must offer "support that would suggest that [the things
that] happened to him . . . were not idiosyncratic actions of
individual public actors." Elias v. Twp. of
Cheltenham, No. 14-6117, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS, at *9
(E.D. Pa. Jan. 28, 2015) (citations and internal quotation
marks omitted). Usually, this standard requires showing
"a pattern of similar constitutional violations by
untrained employees." Thomas v. Cumberland
Cnty., 749 F.3d 217, 223 (3d Cir. 2014), quoting
Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 52 (2011). But
"in certain situations, the need for training can be
said to be so obvious, that failure to do so could properly
be characterized as deliberate indifference to constitutional
rights even without a pattern of constitutional
violations." Thomas, 749 F.3d at 223,
quoting Bryan Cnty., 520 U.S. at 390 n.10; see
also Natale, 318 F.3d at 584.
example, in Natale v. Camden County Correctional
Facility, a diabetic was not provided the insulin that
he needed upon incarceration. Id. The Court of
Appeals found that a prison with "no policy ensuring
that an inmate having need for medication for a serious
medical condition would be given that medication during the
first 72 hours of incarceration" was a
"particularly glaring omission in a program of medical
care" that a jury could conclude was "sufficiently
obvious to constitute deliberate indifference to those
inmates' medical needs." Id. at 584-85;
see also Berg v. Cty. of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261,
277 (3d Cir. 2000) (holding that a single incident could give
rise to Monell liability "where a failure to
protect against 'simple mistakes' was likely to lead
to constitutional violations").
regard to mental health care in prisons, a prison is
"deliberately indifferent" where it knows of an
inmate's "significant mental health issues but is
unprepared to take the steps necessary to address those
issues." A.M. ex rel. J.M.K. v. Luzerne Cnty
Juvenile Pet. Ctr., 372 F.3d 572, 585 (3d Cir. 2004). In
J.M.K. v. Luzerne County Juvenile Detention Center,
the plaintiff presented evidence that the detention facility
was aware of a child's serious mental health and
behavioral problems, which required medication and
psychiatric care, but did not consult mental health
professionals or refer him for treatment after he misbehaved.
Id. at 585. The Center also "had a seriously
flawed intake and assessment system, which failed to provide
for the sharing and dissemination of critical information
about [the child's] mental health history."
Id. These and other deficiencies may have led to the
child's abuse by other residents. Id. The Court
of Appeals held that Monell liability could be
predicated on these facts. Id.
plaintiff alleges the detention facility's awareness of
Jones's mental health needs and failure to respond to
them, suggesting deliberate indifference on its part.
Plaintiff avers that the City failed to diagnose, treat or
properly medicate Jones and failed to adequately communicate
his medical needs, which led to Jones obtaining a dangerous
quantity of a medication that enabled his overdose. Although
plaintiffs allegations regarding Jones's care during the
four days of his detention at CFCF are somewhat conclusory,
she provides two important specifics: first, she describes
his extended hospitalization prior to his arrest, from which
one could plausibly conclude that Jones's mental health
condition was severe and apparent. Second, she provides the
circumstances of his death, from which one could plausibly
conclude that the City, in its control of CFCF, employed a
seriously flawed assessment, treatment or care system.
Therefore, at this stage of the litigation, plaintiff has
alleged enough facts to open the doors of discovery into the
City's policies and practices regarding the care of
inmates with mental health issues.
Browne and Palmer
respect to Officers Browne and Palmer, however, plaintiff has
not pled a claim under § 1983 for violation of
Jones' Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights because she
does not allege facts that suggest deliberate indifference to
his vulnerability to suicide.
[A] plaintiff in a prison suicide case has the burden of
establishing three elements: (1) the detainee had a
particular vulnerability to suicide, (2) the custodial
officer or officers knew or should have known of that
vulnerability, and (3) those officers acted with reckless
indifference to the detainee's particular vulnerability.
Woloszyn, 396 F.3d at 319, quoting Colburn v.
Upper Darby Twp., 946 F.2d 1017, 1023 (3d Cir. 1991)
The detainee's condition must be such that a failure to
treat can be expected to lead to substantial and unnecessary
suffering, injury, or death. Moreover, the condition must be
one that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring
treatment or one that is so obvious that a lay ...