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Jones v. Virginia Department of Corrections

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

May 9, 2019

GEORGIA JONES, Administrator of the Estate of ARLENE DUKE, THE DECEDENT, deceased, Plaintiff,

          OPINION & ORDER


         This matter comes to the Court on a Motion to Dismiss under rule 12(b)(6), filed by several Defendants. Doc. 17. The parties have agreed that a hearing is not necessary as to the Motions to Dismiss. See Doc. 40. The Court agrees that no hearing is necessary; accordingly, the Court will decide this motion on the papers.

         The instant motion to dismiss raised numerous issues, most of which have been disposed of by agreement or Order. The motion requested dismissal of claims against the VDOC and FCC W as they are not section 1983 "persons." Doc. 18 at 2. The claims against those two (2) defendants were voluntarily dismissed. Doc. 34. The motion requested dismissal of official capacity claims against Defendants Clarke, Schilling, and Brown Williams as they are not section 1983 "persons." Doc. 18 at 5. That request was addressed by an Order granting a motion for voluntary dismiss such claims, Mot. to Vol. Dismiss doc. 35. Order, doc. 50. All that is left for this Court to decide is whether it should dismiss the individual-capacity claims against Clarke, Schilling, and Brown Williams on grounds that the Complaint fails to state a claim that they acted with "deliberate indifference." Doc. 18 at 2-5.

         For reasons discussed herein, the Court DENIES the balance of the motion.

         L BACKGROUND[1]

         This case concerns the incarceration and death of Arlene Duke ("Decedent"). Decedent's mother, Georgia Jones, brings this action as Decedent's estate representative. Compl.¶ 4. Decedent was incarcerated in 2014 at the FCCW, which is a facility of the VDOC. Id. ¶¶ 1, 6. Decedent died due to serious medical complications while in custody on September 30, 2016. Id. 6.

         Defendant Harold Clarke ("Clarke") is the Director of the VDOC, Defendant Frederick Schilling ("Schilling") is the Director of Health Services of the VDOC, and Defendant Tammy Brown Williams ("Brown Williams")[2] was the Warden of FCCW at the relevant times of this action. Id. ¶¶ 10-12. These Defendants move to dismiss the section 1983 claims against them.

         Defendant Armor ("Armor") is a private corporation which contracts with VDOC to provide medical services and treatment to inmates. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Prior to this lawsuit, the VDOC was a defendant in a lawsuit concerning its allegedly inadequate medical care of FCCW inmates. Id. 14; Scott v. Clarke. Civ. Action No. 3:12-CV-36 (W.D. Va. 2014), before the Honorable Judge Norman Moon. The adequacy of Armor's services has been the subject of much litigation. On November 1, 2015, the VDOC executed a renewed with Armor for its services. Compl. ¶ 44. The Scott v. Clarke litigation ended in Settlement Agreement under which the defendants promised to improve the medical care. Id. ¶ 29. In the months leading to Decedent's death, two (2) years after that Settlement Agreement, one doctor noted "I see no evidence of progress in the critical areas of clinical and administrative leadership and staffing." Id. 34.

         On June 18, 2014, Decedent was incarcerated at FCCW. Id. ¶ 75. At her initial medical assessment, Decedent informed the FCCW nurse that she had numerous health problems, including congestive heart failure, diabetes, and hypertension. Id. ¶ 76. The Complaint outlines a long list of allegations of inadequate attention and treatment of Decedent's growing health problems while in custody, including months-long delays in drawing labs, ignoring results indicating kidney disease, refusal to allow Decedent to see emergency medical staff and specialists, delay in attention to symptoms allegedly resulting in infection of Decedent's dialysis port catheter, and alleged denials of Decedent's request to clean herself and her laundry causing Decedent to live in unsanitary conditions. Id. ¶¶ 79-119.

         The Complaint alleges several instances of Decedent submitting complaints and notarized letters to prison staff including "Medical Director at FCCW." Id. ¶¶ 119-134. The Complaint alleges that in the months leading to, and the day of, Decedent's death, Decedent's complaints and those her roommate, as well as observed symptoms, went either unaddressed or inadequately addressed. Id. ¶¶ 136-165. The personnel who responded to Decedent's coding were allegedly inadequately trained. Id. ¶ 166.

         The Complaint further alleges that from January 2016 to the date of Decedent's death a staff doctor submitted quarterly reports to "VDOC officials" cataloguing the "systemic deficiencies in healthcare at FCCW in great detail." Id. ¶ 32.

         On September 28, 2018, Plaintiff filed this action against numerous defendants, including VDOC; FCCW; and Clarke, Schilling, and Brown Williams in their individual and official capacities.


         In a prison conditions, section 1983 case, a defendant is liable for the plaintiffs injuries when he acts with "deliberate indifference," which requires that a defendant be subjectively aware of a risk and disregards it, similar to criminal recklessness. Farmer v. Brennan. 511 U.S. 825, 837, 839-40 (1994). The dispute here boils down to the breadth of the word "risk" and whether Plaintiff adequately pleaded such facts. Defendants argue that "deliberate indifference" requires that the official be specifically aware of the plaintiff and her medical needs. Doc. 18 at 3. Plaintiff argues that the law only requires that she plead that the official was aware of a substantial risk of harm, not necessarily that the official knew of her and her specific medical needs. Doc. 28 at 5.


         i. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint; it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses. Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin. 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). "To 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."' Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly. 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Venkatraman v. REI Svs.. Inc.. 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir. 2005) ("In considering a motion to dismiss, we accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and view the complaint [or counterclaim] in the light most favorable to the plaintiff [or counterclaim plaintiff].") (citing Mylan Labs.. Inc. v. Matkari. 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). A complaint establishes facial plausibility "once the factual content of a complaint allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Nemet Chevrolet. Ltd. v. Inc.. 591 F.3d 250, 256 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 678). Therefore, the complaint need not include "detailed factual allegations" as long as it pleads "sufficient facts to allow a court, drawing on judicial experience and common sense, to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Id. Although a court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, the same is not true for legal conclusions. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal 556 U.S. at 678.

         In deciding the motion, a court may consider the facts alleged on the face of the complaint as well as "'matters of public record, orders, items appearing in the record of the case, and exhibits attached to the complaint.'" Moore v. Flaestar Bank. 6 F.Supp.2d 496, 500 (E.D. Va. 1997) (quoting 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1357 (1990)). The court may look to documents attached to the complaint and those incorporated by reference without converting a Rule 12(b)(6) motion into a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment. See Pueschel v. United States. 369 F.3d 345, 353 n.3 (4th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted); see also Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd.. 822 F.3d 159, 166 (4th Cir. 2016) (observing that the court may consider a document attached to a motion to dismiss "that was not attached to or expressly incorporated in a complaint, so long as the document was integral to the complaint and there is no dispute about the document's authenticity.").

         ii. Supervisory and Prison Conditions Cases

         Plaintiff brings claims against these Defendants under a section 1983, supervisory liability theory under the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause. Compl. ¶ 3. In order to succeed on such a claim, a plaintiff must show:

(1) that the supervisor had actual or constructive knowledge that h[er] subordinate was engaged in conduct that posed a pervasive and unreasonable risk of constitutional injury to citizens like the plaintiff;
(2) that the supervisor's response to that knowledge was so inadequate as to show deliberate indifference to or tacit authorization of the alleged offensive practices; and
(3) that there was an affirmative causal link between the supervisor's inaction and the particular constitutional ...

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