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Estate of Miller v. Stewart

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

June 14, 2018

ANTHONY STEWART, et al., Defendants.



         This lawsuit arises from the death of Kayla Renea Miller (“Ms. Miller”) while an inmate at the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility under the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). Plaintiff Estate of Kayla Renea Miller, Mary Sanders, as Personal Representative (“Plaintiff”), filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments and pursuant to the Michigan Wrongful Death Act, § 600.2922(6) (“MWDA”). Plaintiff names eighteen Defendants in the Complaint filed August 2, 2017: (1) MDOC; (2) Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility; (3) Anthony Stewart, Warden; (4) Heidi E. Washington, Director; (5) Bruce Curtis, Assistant Deputy Director; (6) Sonal Patel, Deputy Warden-Housing; (7) David Johnson, Deputy Warden-Custody; (8) Dr. Theodore Suh, Past Medical Director; (9) Pam Friess, Health Unit Manager; (10) MDOC Officer Brittany Lorraine Shanks; (11) MDOC Officer Tiffany Iris Heath; (12) MDOC Officer Dominique Linette Reeber-Romero; (13) MDOC Officer Linda Sue Tackett; (14) Kelly McDonell, LPN; (15) Courtney Paquette, LPN; (16) Michelle Geyman, LPN; (17) Wanda Miles, LPN; and (18) Debbysue Detloff, LPN (collectively “Individual Defendants”) in their individual and official capacities. (ECF No. 1.)

         Presently before the Court are MDOC Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, filed on October 24, 2017 (ECF No. 12) and Defendants' Duncan (Friess), Heath, Reeber-Romero, and Paquette's Motion to Dismiss, filed on January 11, 2018. (ECF No. 27.) Defendant Geyman filed a Notice of Joinder/Concurrence to the latter motion to dismiss on February 6, 2018. (ECF No. 37.) Plaintiff has not filed a response to either motion[1]. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendants' motions.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On August 11, 2014, Ms. Miller was sentenced to two concurrent sentences:15-168 months for uttering and publishing and 12-48 months for larceny in building. (ECF No. 1 at Pg ID 9.) Upon sentencing, Ms. Miller was immediately committed to the authority of MDOC. Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Miller had a history of substance abuse, which Defendants should have known because of Ms. Miller's previous convictions for possession of narcotics and marijuana, one of which was as recent as August 11, 2014. Also, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants should have been aware of Ms. Miller's drug abuse because she was participating in a drug treatment program until she was removed from said program. Plaintiff asserts that when Defendants removed Ms. Miller from the program they interfered with her serious medical need for medical care in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments when they removed her from the drug treatment program. (Id. at Pg ID 9.)

         Plaintiff asserts that it is well-known that visitors, guards, and inmates smuggle drugs into the facility. (Id. at Pg ID 10.) Specifically, Plaintiff stated if Defendants had been monitoring Plaintiff's calls, a recorded phone call between John Lingle and Ms. Miller would have revealed that Mr. Lingle planned to bring Ms. Miller drugs to his next visit. Although cameras and several officers are in the visitation area, visitors and inmates are subject to pat downs, and inmates are further subjected to body searches, Mr. Lingle managed to deliver heroin to Ms. Miller on July 9, 2015 and heroin and other drugs on July 16, 2015. (Id.)

         Shortly after Mr. Lingle's visit on July 16, 2015, Ms. Miller retired to her cell and either injected heroin with a medical syringe or ingested the heroin through her nostrils. (Id. at Pg ID 11.) Plaintiff alleges that despite scheduled cell counts at 5am, 11am, 4pm, 9pm, and 1am, the officer or officers responsible for the cell counts failed to confirm Ms. Miller's whereabouts between the time she retired to her cell and when her body was discovered on July 16, 2015 sometime after 6pm. (Id.)

         Around 6pm on July 16, 2015, fellow inmate Amanda Marie Bennett went to check on Ms. Miller, but there was no response from her cell, and the door and shutters were closed. (Id.) When Ms. Bennett received no response, she sought the assistance of Officer Shanks but was unsuccessful. (Id.) Ms. Bennett later returned to Ms. Miller's cell and after, again, hearing no response and receiving no assistance from Officer Shanks, Ms. Bennett let herself into Ms. Miller's cell, where she discovered Ms. Miller in what appeared to be a drug-induced state. (Id.) Ms. Bennett then called to Officer Shanks for assistance, at which point she called for backup. (Id. at Pg ID 12.)

         When Officer Shanks observed Ms. Miller's state, she immediately had a panic attack and was unable to provide any assistance. (Id.) Officer Heath arrived and began to give Ms. Miller chest compressions. (Id.) Defendants McDonnell, Paquette, Geyman, Miles, and Detloff were also present. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, Ms. Miller was never given Naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of opioids during overdose, which works within two to five minutes. (Id. n.2.) On July 16, 2015, Ms. Miller was pronounced dead.

         Mary Sanders mother and Personal Representative of the Estate of Kayla Renea Miller brought this § 1983 action on August 2, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) In response to Plaintiff's Complaint, Defendants filed two motions to dismiss based on Eleventh Amendment immunity, qualified immunity, and state law immunity. Plaintiff did not file a response to either motion. (See ECF Nos. 12 & 27.) On November 7, 2017, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed Dr. Suh. (ECF No. 14.)

         II. Standard of Review

         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).

         III. Applicable Law & Analysis

         Defendants (1) MDOC, (2) Stewart, (3) Washington, (4) Curtis, (5) Patel, (6) Johnson, (7) Shanks, (8) Tackett, (9) McDonnell, and (10) Miles filed a motion to dismiss on October 24, 2017. (ECF No. 12.) Defendants argue that they are entitled to dismissal pursuant to Eleventh Amendment immunity, qualified immunity, and state law immunity. On January 11, 2018, Defendants (1) Friess, (2) Heath, (3) Reeber-Romero, and (4) Paquette filed a motion to dismiss on the same grounds. (ECF No. 27.) Defendant Geyman joined and concurred in the January 11, 2018 motion. (See ECF No. 37.)

         A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         The Eleventh Amendment provides:

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

U.S. Const. amend. XI. Although on its face the Eleventh Amendment prohibits only suits brought against a state by “Citizens of another State” or “Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State, ” the Supreme Court has long construed the Amendment to protect states from suits filed by their own citizens in federal court. See Seminole ...

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