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Noisette v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 19, 2017

MARIE NOISETTE ON BEHALF OF THE ESTATE OF CARL DAVID NOISETTE Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          GENE E.K. PRATTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Liability under § 1983 is limited, intended to hold accountable those who deprive others of their constitutional rights. No one in the present case disputes that those who allegedly deprived Mr. Noisette of his constitutional rights, ultimately ending in his death, can be haled to court. This Memorandum focuses on those who were not personally involved in the alleged constitutional deprivation, but who the plaintiff seeks to hold liable along with the direct actors. For the reasons discussed below, the claims against these defendants cannot stand as presently constituted, but the plaintiff may amend the complaint in the event discovery reveals evidence consonant with the § 1983 liability of others.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Marie Noisette brings this lawsuit on behalf of her brother, decedent Carl Noisette, who was detained at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (CFCF) when he hanged himself with a bedsheet on May 31, 2016. He reportedly had a long history of mental illness and had been prescribed Haldol, an anti-psychotic medication that he was supposed to take daily to treat his schizophrenia. Mr. Noisette's condition was severe in the spring of 2016. He was hospitalized for suicidal ideations just two months before he was detained in CFCF.

         On May 8, 2016, Mr. Noisette was arrested and detained at Philadelphia's CFCF facility. While detained, Mr. Noisette allegedly informed unnamed corrections officers and health care providers that he was experiencing symptoms of mental illness, lacked access to his prescription medication, and was suicidal. He expressed psychotic thoughts and a desire to harm himself. The complaint further alleges that Mr. Noisette received inadequate treatment for his mental illness while being held at CFCF. He hanged himself with a bedsheet three weeks after arrival at CFCF.

         Ms. Noisette sets out four causes of action regarding this suicide on behalf of Mr. Noisette's estate. Count I alleges that individual health care providers and corrections officers were deliberately indifferent to Mr. Noisette's serious medical needs, resulting in his suicide. In Count II, Ms. Noisette alleges that multiple defendants were liable in a supervisory role for the inadequate medical care her brother received. Specifically, Ms. Noisette sued MHM Services Inc.[1], and the "City Defendants, " namely, Blanche Carney (Philadelphia Department of Prisons Commissioner), Bruce Herdman (Chief of Medical Operations, Philadelphia Department of Prisons), Gerald May (Warden, CFCF), the City of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Department of Prisons. Count III alleged that the City of Philadelphia was liable for maintaining inadequate policies and customs, and inadequately training its employees to stop suicides. Count IV alleged medical negligence, and Count V alleged wrongful death against all defendants.

         Relevant to the motions at hand, these causes of action break down into suits against three groups. First, Ms. Noisette sues the unnamed parties (the "John Doe" defendants) who directly denied Mr. Noisette his medicine and treatment. Second, she sues the supervisors of these individuals for supervisory liability. This includes the City Defendants and MHM. Finally, Ms Noisette sued Philadelphia for municipal liability under § 1983. No one disputes the viability of suit against the first group of "John Doe" defendants. Rather, the dispute in both pending motions revolves around supervisory liability for the remaining defendants and municipal liability for the City of Philadelphia.

         LEGAL BACKGROUND

         I. Standard of Review

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), "to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted) (alteration in original). However, the plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id.

         To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Specifically, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The question is not whether the claimant "will ultimately prevail. . . but whether his complaint [is] sufficient to cross the federal court's threshold." Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 530 (2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, assessment of the sufficiency of a complaint is "a context-dependent exercise" because "[s]ome claims require more factual explication than others to state a plausible claim for relief." W. Penn Allegheny Health Sys., Inc. v. UPMC, 627 F.3d 85, 98(3dCir. 2010).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court adheres to certain well-recognized parameters. For one, the Court "must consider only those facts alleged in the complaint and accept all of the allegations as true." ALA, Inc. v. CCAIR, Inc., 29 F.3d 855, 859 (3d Cir. 1994); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (stating that courts must "assum[e] that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)"); Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) ("[A] court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents"). Also, the Court must accept as true all reasonable inferences emanating from the allegations, and view those facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Rocks v. City of Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989); see also Revell v. Port Autk, 598 F.3d 128, 134 (3d Cir. 2010).

         That admonition does not demand that the Court ignore reality or even discount it. The Court "need not accept as true unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, " Doug Grant, Inc. v. Create Bay Casino Corp., 232 F.3d 173, 183-84 (3d Cir. 2000) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted), and "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (explaining that a court need not accept a plaintiffs "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" (citations omitted)). If a claim "is vulnerable to 12(b)(6) dismissal, a district court must permit a curative amendment, unless an amendment would be inequitable or futile." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 236 (3d Cir. 2008).

         II. ...


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