United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Northern Division
DARREN FINDLING as Personal Representative for the Estate of JEREMY ALAN GARZA, Plaintiff,
MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.
Gordon J. Quist, U.S. District Judge.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
MAARTEN VERMAAT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
2014, Jeremy Alan Garza tragically took his own life while he
was incarcerated at the Marquette Branch Prison (MBP).
Plaintiff Darren Findling, a personal representative for
Garza's estate, filed this lawsuit against the Michigan
Department of Corrections (MDOC) and several of its
employees: Warden Napel, Deputy Warden Alexander, Deputy
Warden Place, Corrections Officer Wagner, Corrections Officer
Kessler, Corrections Officer Viitala, Corrections Officer
Whitney, Corrections Officer LaForest, Corrections Officer
Kutchie, and Sergeant Bush. Findling asserts that
Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Garza's
medical needs, in violation of the Fourth, Eighth, and
Fourteenth Amendments. He also asserts gross negligence
state-law claims against Defendants.
filed a “Motion for Summary Judgment and Qualified
Immunity.” (ECF No. 27.) For the reasons stated below,
the undersigned respectfully recommends that the Court grant
in part and deny in part Defendants' motion. If the Court
adopts this Report and Recommendation, the remaining claims
in this case will be deliberate indifference and gross
negligence claims against Defendants Kutchie and LaForest.
to committing suicide, Garza had a history of mental health
problems. Medical records show that Garza had been diagnosed
with a mood disorder, polysubstance dependence,
post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, substance related
disorder, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial
personally disorder. (ECF No. 31-2, PageID.348.) Garza's
“Treatment Plan/Review” from April 4, 2014 shows
that he had a difficult upbringing. (ECF No. 31-4.
PageID.366-374.) As a child, he was physically abused,
sexually abused, and struggled with a learning disability in
school. (ECF No. 31-4. PageID.366.)
August 14, 2013, Garza was transferred from the Kinross
Correctional Facility to the Level V section of MBP. (ECF No.
31-2, PageID.350.) He spent the next eight months in
administrative segregation at MBP. For approximately four to
six of those months, Garza's cell was located next to the
cell of another inmate, Michael Delaney. (ECF No. 31-5,
April 10, 2014, at around 8:15 A.M., Garza was escorted to a
visit with his mother, Barbara Garza. (ECF No. 28-2,
PageID.152.) The officers on duty in Garza's unit at this
time included Defendants Kutchie, LaForest, and Viitala, as
well as Corrections Officer Royea. (ECF No. 31-7,
PageID.414.) While Garza was visiting with his mother,
Defendants Kutchie and LaForest shook down Garza's cell
and removed various magazines and letters. (ECF No. 31-7,
Garza returned to his cell at around 10:30 A.M., he became
irate because of the missing items. (ECF No. 31-5,
PageID.380.) According to Inmate Delaney, Garza asked for his
property back and, when the officers refused, he asked to
see the shift commander, Defendant Viitala. (ECF No.
31-5, PageID.380.) Both of Garza's requests were denied,
and he began to scream that he needed to see his
psychologist. (ECF No. 31-5, PageID.380.) Someone then told
Garza to “sit [his] faggot ass down.” (ECF No.
31-5, PageID.380.) Garza began screaming that he was going to
kill himself if a psychologist or shift commander did not
come to see him. (ECF No. 31-5, PageID.381.) The
officers then walked away from Garza's cell. (ECF No.
time, Delaney and another inmate attempted to calm Garza
down, which appeared to work until the officers made their
rounds and walked past Garza's cell. (ECF No. 31-5,
PageID.381-382.) Similarly, Garza calmed down briefly when
Nurse Gluesing came to his cell to give him his daily
medication at approximately 10:41 A.M. (ECF No. 31-5,
PageID.381-382 and ECF No28-2, PageID.155.) But when the
officers conducted security rounds past Garza's cell, he
started screaming again that he was going to kill himself if
he did not get to see his psychologist. (ECF No.
31-5, PageID.382.) One of the guards allegedly told Garza to
“quit playing games” and “go ahead.”
(ECF No. 31-5, PageID.382.) Garza responded that he was going
to hang himself. (ECF No. 31-5, PageID.382.) The officer
allegedly replied: “well, go ahead and do it. You are
not going to do it. You just had a visit. You are not a
lifer. You are close to going home.” (ECF No. 31-5,
the officers walked away from Garza's cell, Delaney and
another inmate again attempted to talk to Garza. (ECF No.
31-5, PageID.383.) But Garza went silent two to three minutes
after the officers left. (ECF No. 31-5, PageID.383.) Both
Defendants Kutchie and Viitala, who were talking in Defendant
Viitala's office nearby, also noticed that Garza became
silent. (ECF No. 28-2, PageID.154.)
noticing the silence, Defendant Kutchie went to Garza's
cell to check on his temperament before making his rounds to
serve lunch trays. (ECF No. 31-7, PageID.426.) When he
arrived at the cell, Defendant Kutchie saw Garza with a
bedsheet around his neck that was tied to the sprinkler pipe
and one of his knees on a footlocker. (ECF No. 31-7,
PageID.426.) Because Defendant Kutchie was concerned that
Garza was faking, he summoned help and dispersed a chemical
agent into the cell. (ECF No. 31-7, PageID.426.) When Garza
did not respond, Defendant Kutchie and Officer Royea entered
the cell, untied the bedsheet, and laid Garza on the ground.
(ECF No. 31-10, PageID.464.) They attempted to perform CPR,
which was difficult because of the chemical agent. (ECF No.
31-10, PageID.464.) Shortly thereafter, additional staff
arrived to help. (ECF No. 28-2, PageID.154-155.) At 11:24
A.M., an ambulance arrived at MBP to transport Garza to the
hospital. (ECF No. 28-2, PageID.155.) At 11:58 A.M., Garza
was pronounced dead. (ECF No. 28-2, PageID.155.)
next day, Inmate Delaney sent a letter to Garza's mother
detailing the incident. (ECF No. 31-11, PageID.470.) Delaney
explained that Garza returned to his cell and noticed that
the officers took some of his property. (ECF No. 31-11,
PageID.470.) Delaney further explained that Garza said he was
going to kill himself and “they all started laughing at
him saying go ahead at which time he hung himself[.]”
(ECF No. 31-11, PageID.470.)
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment is appropriate when the record reveals that there
are no genuine issues as to any material fact in dispute and
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Kocak v. Comty. Health Partners of Ohio,
Inc., 400 F.3d 466, 468 (6th Cir. 2005). The standard
for determining whether summary judgment is appropriate is
“whether the evidence presents a sufficient
disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is
so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of
law.” State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v.
McGowan, 421 F.3d 433, 436 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
251-52 (1986)). The court must consider all pleadings,
depositions, affidavits, and admissions on file, and draw all
justifiable inferences in favor of the party opposing the
motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Twin City Fire Ins.
Co. v. Adkins, 400 F.3d 293, 296 (6th Cir. 2005).
asserts deliberate indifference and gross negligence claims
against the MDOC and each individual Defendant. The
undersigned will analyze these claims in three separate
groups. First, the undersigned respectfully recommends that
the Court grant summary judgment in favor of the MDOC based
on Eleventh Amendment immunity. Second, the undersigned
respectfully recommends that the Court grant summary judgment
in favor of Defendants Napel, Alexander, Place, Wagner,
Kessler, Whitney, and Bush because they were not personally
involved in any of the allegations in this case. Third, as
further described below, the undersigned respectfully
recommends that the Court grant summary judgment in favor of
Defendant Viitala, but deny the motion for summary judgment
as to Defendants Kutchie and LaForest. If the Court adopts
these recommendations, only Defendants Kutchie and LaForest
will remain in the case.
Michigan Department of Corrections
well-established that a plaintiff may not maintain a §
1983 action against the MDOC. Regardless of the form of
relief requested, the states and their departments are immune
under the Eleventh Amendment from suit in the federal courts,
unless the state has waived immunity or Congress has
expressly abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity by statute.
See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman,465 U.S. 89, 98-101 (1984); Alabama v. Pugh, 438
U.S. 781, 782 (1978); O'Hara v. Wigginton, 24
F.3d 823, 826 (6th Cir. 1993). Congress has not expressly
abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity by statute, Quern
v. Jordan,440 U.S. 332, 341 (1979), and the State of
Michigan has not consented to civil rights suits in federal
court. Abick v. Michigan,803 F.2d 874, 877 (6th
Cir. 1986). In numerous unpublished opinions, the Sixth
Circuit has specifically held that the MDOC is absolutely
immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. See, e.g.,
McCoy v. Michigan,369 Fed.Appx. 646, 653-54 (6th Cir.
2010); Turnboe v. Stegall, 2000 WL1679478, at *2
(6th Cir. Nov. 1, 2000). In addition, the State of Michigan
(acting through the Michigan Department of Corrections) is
not a “person” who may be sued under ...