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Estate of Majors v. Gerlach

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 18, 2017

ROGER A. GERLACH, et al., Defendant.


          MARK A. GOLDSMITH United States District Judge.

         In this civil rights case, Defendants are alleged to have violated Plaintiff's decedent's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by being deliberately indifferent to his medical needs while he was under their care in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”).[1] Before the Court is a motion to dismiss filed by three of the twelve named defendants (Dkt. 29) and joined by one other (Dkt. 30). A hearing on the motion was held on May 25, 2017. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Defendant Roger A. Gerlach is dismissed from the case.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In March 2010, Plaintiff's decedent, Richie Majors, began his prison sentence with MDOC in Ionia, Michigan. Am. Compl. ¶ 20 (Dkt. 24). During intake, Majors told staff that he had multiple sclerosis, or “MS.” Id. ¶ 21. He also told them of his treatment regimen, which he had received when incarcerated by the Minnesota Department of Corrections (“MNDOC”) for a prior term of imprisonment. Id. At the time of intake with MDOC, staff determined that he was asymptomatic and stable. Id. ¶ 23.

         Gerlach was a licensed physician who was employed by MDOC as the medical director and site physician at the prison located in Ionia, Michigan. Id. ¶ 3. In July 2010, Gerlach evaluated Majors's MNDOC records, learning about his MS diagnosis and treatment regimen. Gerlach declined to prescribe this treatment and “questioned” Majors's diagnosis. Id. ¶ 24.

         Majors suffered relapses in October 2010 and August 2011 and reported them; but Gerlach refused to order tests or prescribe Majors's stated treatment regimen. Id. ¶¶ 25-27. Plaintiff alleges that Majors “kited, ” or complained to, the Ionia staff about their refusal to prescribe his medication. Id. ¶ 29.

         In December 2012, MDOC transferred Majors to a prison in Adrian, Michigan. Id. ¶ 28. There, Defendant Savithri Kakani, who was a physician assistant employed by MDOC at the Adrian prison, id. ¶ 8, reviewed Majors's history from MNDOC, including his diagnosis and treatment, as well as his subsequent history of relapses. Like Gerlach, Kakani refused to prescribe the treatment regimen and to conduct diagnostics to confirm the MS diagnosis. Id. ¶ 30.

         In July 2014, MDOC transferred Majors from Adrian to a prison in Muskegon Heights, Michigan. Id. ¶ 31. In August 2014, Majors suffered steady deterioration, resulting in problems with his speech, facial muscles, and walking. Id. ¶ 33. By September 2014, he was in a wheelchair, but still no doctors sought to confirm Majors's MS diagnosis and no one recommended that he be given his treatment. Id. ¶ 34.

         From January 2013 to September 2014, Majors “kited or complained” to Kakani, as well as Defendants Renee Vives and Heidi Herman (nurse practitioners at the Adrian prison, id. ¶¶ 6-7); John Solomonson (a registered nurse at the Adrian prison, id. ¶ 9); Karen Rich, Joel Evertsen, and Dorinda Blohm (registered nurses at the Muskegon Heights prison, id. ¶¶ 10-12); Thomas LaNore (a physician assistant at the Muskegon Heights prison, id. ¶ 13); and Susan Howard (a medical doctor at the Muskegon Heights prison, id. ¶ 14) at least 17 times, seeking to obtain his treatment. Id. ¶ 32.

         In September 2014, a nonparty physician sent Majors for an MRI, confirming his diagnosis. Id. ¶ 35. In October 2014, LaNore prescribed Majors's treatment that he received in MNDOC. Id. ¶ 36. Nonetheless, extensive deterioration followed. In April 2015, MDOC transferred Majors to the Saint Louis, Michigan prison. Id. ¶ 38. On June 19, 2016, Majors died due to complications from MS. Id. ¶ 42.

         There are eight “nurse” defendants and four “physician” defendants. The instant motion was filed by Gerlach, Kakani, and LaNore (all physician defendants) and joined by Vives (a nurse defendant).


         When evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), “[c]ourts must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, accept all well-pled factual allegations as true, and determine whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief.” Albrecht v. Treon, 617 F.3d 890, 893 (6th Cir. 2010). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must plead specific factual allegations, and not just legal conclusions, in support of each claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-679 (2009). A court may consider exhibits attached to the complaint without converting the motion to one for summary judgment. Rondigo, L.L.C. v. Twp. of Richmond, 641 F.3d 673, 680-681 (6th Cir. 2011).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Statute of Limitations

         It is well settled that § 1983 claims, such as those brought by Plaintiff in Counts I and II, borrow the analogous state-law statute of limitations for personal injuries. See Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 240 (1989). Defendants argue that, by operation of Michigan's applicable three-year (and thirty-day) statute of limitations, Plaintiff's complaint was untimely as to any conduct occurring before May 20, 2013, which is three years and thirty days prior to Majors's death.[2]Defs. Br. at 6-7. All of Gerlach's alleged wrongful conduct, and some of Kakani's and LaNore's alleged wrongful conduct, occurred before this date.[3]

         The parties agree that a federal-law “discovery rule” governs when a limitations period begins to run. See Pl. Resp. at 8-9; Defs. Reply at 2.[4] They disagree, however, as to whose discovery of the claim is relevant: is it the decedent's discovery, or his representative's? It is often stated that, under federal law, the limitations period begins to run “when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know that the act providing the basis of his or her injury has occurred.” Cooey v. Strickland, 479 F.3d 412, 416 (6th ...

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