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Vannortwick v. Stewart

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

May 14, 2018

SHERYL L. VANNORTWICK, as the Personal Representative of the Estate of CLAUDE STEVENS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTHONY H. STEWART, WILLIS CHAPMAN, VINDHYA S. JAYAWARDENA, ROBERT HILLYER, FRANCIS K. AWOSIKA, RUTH C. ROULEAU, CHRISTINE E. WHITE, LANA MCCARTHY, CORRECTIONS OFFICER CAROTON, CORRECTIONS OFFICERS JAMES, KEITH BARBER, ERIC MATTSON, LARRY MARSHALL, BARBARA BOLES[1], and CORIZON HEALTH, INC.,

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          LINDA V. PARKER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This lawsuit arises from the August 4, 2014 death of Claude Stevens, while serving a three-year prison sentence in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). Plaintiff is the personal representative of Mr. Stevens' estate. Defendants fall within the following three categories:

(1) MDOC officers who interacted with Mr. Stevens prior to his death: Assistant Residential Unit Supervisor (“ARUS”) Christine White; Health Unit Manager Lana McCarthy; and Corrections Officers Caroton and James;
(2) The entity with which MDOC contracted to provide medical care to inmates, Corizon Health, Inc. (“Corizon”), and health care doctors and nurses working for Corizon or the subcontractor Corizon hired to provide dialysis treatment: licensed physicians Vindhya S. Jayawardena and Robert Hillyer; licensed nurse practitioner Francis K. Awosika; registered nurse Ruth C. Rouleau; dialysis nurse Larry Marshall; and dialysis technician Barbara Boles; and,
(3) Individuals who investigated the medical care provided Mr. Stevens during his incarceration or the circumstances surrounding his death: Warden of the Detroit Reentry Center, Anthony H. Stewart; Deputy Warden of the Detroit Reentry Center, Willis Chapman; Administrative Assistant to the Warden, Francis Konieczki; and Ombudsmen Keith Barber and Eric Mattson.

         In an Amended Complaint filed September 11, 2017, Plaintiff asserts the following claims against these defendants:

(I) An Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the “Nurse Defendants” (Awosika, Rouleau, McCarthy, Marshall, and Boles);
(II) An Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim under § 1983 against the “Physician Defendants” (Jayawardena and Hillyer);
(III) An Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim under § 1983 against the “Corrections Defendants” (White, Caroton, and James);
(IV) An Eighth Amendment failure to intervene claim under § 1983 against the “Ombudsmen Defendants” (Barber and Mattson);
(V) An Eighth Amendment Conspiracy Claim under § 1983 against all individual defendants;
(VI) Wrongful death under Michigan law, Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.2922; and,
(VII) Breach of contract against Corizon.

(Am. Compl., ECF No. 16.) The Honorable John Corbett O'Meara, to whom this case previously was assigned, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law breach of contract and wrongful death claims and therefore sua sponte dismissed without prejudice Counts VI and VII of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on September 19, 2017.[2] (Order, ECF No. 18.)

         On September 22, 2017, Defendants Jayawardena, Awosika, and Corizon filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 23.) Defendants Marshall and Boles filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on November 4, 2017. (ECF No. 41.) The motions have been fully briefed. On February 16, 2018, Judge O'Meara recused himself from this matter and it was assigned to the undersigned. (ECF No. 62.) Finding the facts and legal arguments sufficiently presented in the parties' briefs in regard to the pending motions to dismiss, this Court is dispensing with oral argument with respect to the motions pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(h). For the reasons that follows, the Court is granting in part and denying in part the pending motions to dismiss.

         I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” but it must contain more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action . . ..” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint does not “suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         As the Supreme Court provided in Iqbal and Twombly, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility standard “does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal [conduct].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         In deciding whether the plaintiff has set forth a “plausible” claim, the court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). This presumption, however, is not applicable to legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 668. Therefore, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         II. Factual Background

         In August 2013, Mr. Stevens began serving his three-year prison sentence in MDOC custody. Mr. Stevens' physical evaluation during intake uncovered nothing remarkable. He had undergone open heart surgery in November 2008; however, the assessment of his cardiovascular system at intake revealed “regular rhythm. No murmurs, gallops or rubs.”

         In mid-November 2013, Mr. Stevens began suffering flu-like symptoms and approximately a week later experienced decreased urine output and increased pain in his lower abdomen. According to Plaintiff, prison medical staff failed to treat Mr. Stevens' symptoms or perform any diagnostic tests to determine their medical origins. In mid-December 2013, however, MDOC medical staff referred Mr. Stevens to McLaren Greater Lansing Hospital (“McLaren”) for medical treatment. There, Mr. Stevens was diagnosed with acute renal failure and acute diverticulitis of the large intestine, which caused significant colonic perforations resulting in sepsis and air in his abdomen. McLaren physicians also diagnosed Mr. Stevens with toxic metabolic encephalopathy attributed to his renal failure, which caused him to suffer from delirium, periodic hallucinations, benign tremors, and diminished speech capabilities.

         In mid-January 2014, Mr. Stevens was returned to the prison population with the recommendation by McLaren physicians that he receive hemodialysis three times a week and a follow-up colonoscopy to determine the nature and extent of his intestinal perforations. MDOC transferred Mr. Stevens to the Detroit Reentry Center (hereafter “RRF”) in late January 2014, so he could receive onsite dialysis. Throughout February and March 2014, Drs. Jayawardena and Hillyer declined to refer Mr. Stevens for a colonoscopy.

         In late March 2014, Mr. Stevens began experiencing abdominal cramping and observed blood in this stool. At that time, Dr. Jayawardena referred him for a colonoscopy, which occurred at McLaren on April 10, 2014. The colonoscopy revealed ulcerative colitis throughout Mr. ...


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