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Deceased Michigan Prisoner's Estate States Eigth Amendment Claim

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan held
that the estate of a prisoner who allegedly died as a result of
indifference to his medical needs sufficiently stated an Eighth Amendment
claim and that individual defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity.

Plaintiff, the estate of Charles Smith, brought § 1983 action against the
state and individual defendants in association with his death. Plaintiff
alleged that Smith, a Michigan state prisoner, repeatedly notified prison
authorities that he needed follow up care related to a previous surgery and
that these notifications were ignored until Smith eventually contracted
pneumonia and died. Defendants moved for dismissal.

The district court held: 1) Plaintiff's allegation, that prison officials
were made aware of Smith's medical needs but took no action, was sufficient
to state an Eighth Amendment claim. 2) Defendants were not entitled to
qualified immunity as plaintiff's allegations, if true, showed that
defendants "consciously disregarded a risk of serious harm to Smith, and,
therefore, acted with deliberate indifference." See: Smith v. Michigan, 256
F.Supp.2d 704 (ED MI).

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Related legal case

Smith v. Michigan

SMITH v. MICHIGAN, 256 F.Supp.2d 704 (E.D.Mich. 02/07/2003)

[1] United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division

[2] No. 02-70121

[3] 256 F. Supp.2d 704, 2003

[4] February 7, 2003


[6] The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTORIA Roberts, District Judge.



[9] The Complaint in this case was brought by the estate of a prisoner who died allegedly as a result of a lack of medical attention from prison guards, despite notice to them of a serious medical condition. Defendants' have filed a Motion to Dismiss the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Claims, State Constitutional Claim, and any Joint and Several Liability Claim. Defendants also move for dismissal on the ground that they are entitled to qualified immunity. No discovery has been conducted. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part, Defendants' Motion.

[10] II. FACTS

[11] On November 26, 1999, decedent was an inmate at the Mound Correctional Facility in the City of Detroit. Plaintiff alleges that throughout his detainment, decedent notified the officers and supervisors at the facility that he was in need of medical attention, specifically that he needed his medication and follow-up treatment from a recent hospital visit. Comnpl. ¶ 13. Plaintiff notes further that despite decedent's notice to Defendants of his condition, it is believed he was placed in the "hole" prior to his death. Compl. ¶ 15.

[12] Plaintiff claims that decedent's requests for help were ignored until he was overcome by pneumonia. Id. Plaintiff was transported to a local hospital where he died on November 26, 1999.


[14] A motion for judgment on the pleadings by a defendant pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is equivalent to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Games Galore of Ohio, Inc. v. Masminster, 154 F. Supp.2d 1292, 1297 (S.D.Ohio 2001). Rule 12(c) provides, "[a]fter the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Like a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a Rule 12(c) motion tests the legal sufficiency of plaintiff's complaint. Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 436 n. 1 (6th Cir. 1988). To survive a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must allege facts that if proved would result in the requested relief. Helfrich v. PNC Bank, Kentucky, Inc., 267 F.3d 477, 480 (6th Cir. 2001). The court's inquiry is limited to whether the challenged pleadings set forth sufficient allegations to make out the elements of a right to relief. Scheid. 859 F.2d at 436. The complaint "must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory." Id. at 436. Where the plaintiff offers multiple factual scenarios for a particular claim, only one need be sufficient. Briggs v. Ohio Elections Comm'n, 61 F.3d 487, 494 (6th Cir. 1995).

[15] When considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the district court must construe the plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept the allegations as true. Ruffin-Steinback v. dePasse, 267 F.3d 457, 461 (6th Cir. 2001). "The complaint should not be dismissed unless it appears without doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Computer Leasco, Inc. v. Volvo White Truck Corp., 820 F. Supp. 326, 332 (E.D.Mich. 1993) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). Motions under Rule 12 raising matters outside the pleadings are to be decided under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 12(c).


[17] A. State Constitutional Claim(s)

[18] Plaintiff brings its state constitutional claim(s) against Defendants in their individual capacities.*fn1 Compl. ¶¶ 1, 2, 20, 24, and 26. The Court notes that Plaintiff's Complaint does not identify what state constitutional provisions were allegedly violated by Defendants. Regardless of the constitutional provision, these claims must be dismissed; no inferred damages remedy exists against individual government employees for violation of a state constitutional right. Jones v. Powell, 462 Mich. 329, 612 N.W.2d 423 (2000). See also Britton v. Mills, 248 Mich. App. 244, 250, 639 N.W.2d 261 (2001). No general statute provides for a damage remedy for violations of the Michigan Constitution. Under certain narrow circumstances such a remedy may be inferred, as the Supreme Court did in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971), where it authorized a suit for damages against federal officials whose actions violated an individual's constitutional rights, even though Congress had not expressly authorized such suits. The Court, in Bivens and its progeny, has expressly cautioned, however, that such a remedy will not be available when "special factors counseling hesitation" are present. Id., at 396, 91 S.Ct. 1999. See also Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14, 18, 100 S.Ct. 1468, 64 L.Ed.2d 15 (1980). Before a Bivens remedy may be fashioned, therefore, a court must take into account any "special factors counseling hesitation." See Bush v. Lucas, 462 U.S. 367, 103 S.Ct. 2404, 2411, 76 L.Ed.2d 648 (1983).

[19] In its opinion in Smith v. Dep't of Public Health, 428 Mich. 540, 410 N.W.2d 749 (1987), the Michigan Supreme Court "recognize[d] the propriety of an inferred damage remedy arising directly from violations of the Michigan Constitution in certain cases." However, the court later noted in its Jones decision that the Smith ruling "only recognized a narrow remedy against the state on the basis of the unavailability of any other remedy.*fn2" Jones, 462 Mich. at 336, 612 N.W.2d at 426. The court reasoned that these concerns are inapplicable in actions against an individual defendant where a plaintiff may find relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983*fn3 and common-law tort theories. Id. Hence, with regard to the alleged state constitutional violations by Defendants in their individual capacities, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Accordingly, the state constitutional claims are dismissed pursuant to Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

[20] B. Fourteenth Amendment Claim

[21] Defendant argues that any substantive due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment is subsumed by the Eighth Amendment and should be dismissed pursuant to 12(b)(6). The Court agrees.

[22] "Where a particular Amendment `provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection' against a particular sort of government behavior, `that Amendment, not the more generalized notion of substantive due process, must be the guide for analyzing these claims.'" Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 273, 114 S.Ct. 807, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994) (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989)). While analyzing a prisoner's Fourth Amendment claim in the context of an incident of police brutality, the Supreme Court noted that:


[a]fter [a defendant's] conviction, the Eighth Amendment `serves as the primary source of substantive protection . . . in cases . . . where the deliberate use of force is challenged as excessive and unjustified.' (Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. at 327, 106 S.Ct. 1078). Any protection that "substantive due process" affords convicted prisoners against excessive force is, we have held, at best redundant of that provided by the Eighth Amendment.

[24] Graham, 490 U.S. at 395, 109 S.Ct. 1865. See also Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 387-88 (6th Cir. 1999) (holding that the First Amendment was the proper analytical framework with which to guide a retaliation claim, not substantive due process standards).

[25] Likewise, in this case, the Eighth Amendment is the proper avenue for relief. The Supreme Court determined that the Eighth Amendment encompasses not only "physically barbarous punishments," but also the infliction of "unnecessary suffering [that] is inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 103, 97 S.Ct. 285. The Court concluded that "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the `unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain'" required to state a cause of action under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 104-05, 97 S.Ct. 285. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim is properly dismissed under 12(b)(6) as the Eighth Amendment properly addresses Plaintiff's claim.

[26] Plaintiff does not specifically mention the Eighth Amendment in its complaint. Nonetheless, the Court will review the complaint to determine if Plaintiff has sufficiently set forth an Eighth Amendment violation. The Supreme Court has described two general categories of Eighth Amendment claims in the prison setting: those involving "conditions of confinement," e.g., Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976), and those involving "excessive use of government force," e.g., Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 112 S.Ct. 995, 117 L.Ed.2d 156 (1992), Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 106 S.Ct. 1078, 89 L.Ed.2d 251 (1986). Here, Plaintiff's allegations that prison officials denied Smith access to medical care fall into the "conditions of confinement" category of Eighth Amendment claims. "To succeed on a conditions of confinement claim, a plaintiff must show: (1) the deprivation alleged is, objectively, `sufficiently serious,' and (2) the prison official had a sufficiently culpable state of mind." Flint ex rel. Flint v. Kentucky Dept. of Corrections, 270 F.3d 340 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970). A sufficiently culpable state of mind is one of `deliberate indifference' to inmate health and safety. Id. (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 302-03, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991)).

[27] 1. Sufficiently Serious Deprivation

[28] The denial of medical care, or the delayed access to such care when the need is apparent, can be sufficiently serious to constitute an Eighth Amendment violation:


Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, proscribed by the Eighth Amendment. This is true whether the indifference is manifested by prison doctors in their response to the prisoner's needs or by prison guards in intentionally denying or delaying access to medical care or intentionally interfering with the treatment once prescribed. Regardless of how evidenced, deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious illness or injury states a cause of action under section 1983.

[30] Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-5, 97 S.Ct. 285. Further, this Circuit has held that a prisoner has properly stated a cause of action under section 1983 where he alleges that his reasonable requests for medical treatment were denied where the need for the treatment was obvious and he was "thereby exposed to undue suffering or the threat of tangible residual injury." Westlake v. Lucas, 537 F.2d 857, 860 (6th Cir. 1976) (reversing district court's dismissal for failure to state a claim where plaintiff alleged jail officials denied medical treatment for his bleeding ulcer).

[31] Plaintiff has alleged that Smith made Defendants aware that he was in need of his medication and follow-up treatment from his recent hospital visit. Compl. ¶ 13. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants denied Smith access to prompt medical care and ignored his requests for medical attention. Compl. ¶ 15. Specifically, The Complaint notes that Smith was:


15. . . . left without medical assistance for days. It is believed that [decedent] (sic) was placed in the "hole" prior to his death despite his medical conditions and despite the conditions of the correctional facility. The defendants did not contact the EMS or otherwise provide medical assistance to plaintiff's deceased until after [decedent] (sic) was found non-responsive in his cell. Plaintiff's deceased was not checked on by defendants throughout his return from the hospital, and subsequent requests for help were ignored, and scorned until he was overcome by pneumonia that caused his death on November 26, 1999. It is believed that [decedent] (sic) was last seen alive several hours prior to his death.


16. Defendants . . . failed to provide Plaintiff's deceased any medical assistance or transportation to a medical facility, failed to call for medical transportation, and failed to document in the desk blotter any information of plaintiff's decedent's complaints that would give notice to oncoming supervisors of plaintiff's decedent's complaints.


17. Plaintiff's decedent was found unresponsive by officer Calvin Green at or about 5:45 p.m. on or about November 26, 1999. The deceased was not transported to a hospital until 6:31 p.m. He was pronounced dead at approximately 6:49 p.m. Plaintiff's deceased underwent many enduring hours of pain and suffering without care or support from any of the defendants.

[35] First Amended Complaint at ¶¶ 15, 17. At a minimum, under Westlake these allegations are sufficiently serious to establish an Eighth Amendment violation. See also Wallin v. Norman, 317 F.3d 558, 561 (6th Cir. 2003).

[36] 2. State of Mind

[37] The next issue is whether the defendants acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's need for medical treatment. Deliberate indifference exists if the officials "consciously disregarded a substantial risk of serious harm to [Smith]." Wallin, at 561 (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970). In defining deliberate indifference, the Farmer Court held:


[A] prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.

[39] Id. at 837, 114 S.Ct. 1970; see also Thaddeus-X, 175 F.3d at 402. In considering motions for dismissal, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). Furthermore, the court must read the complaint as a whole, viewing it broadly and liberally in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(f). Rule 8(f) provides, "All pleadings shall be so construed as to do substantial justice." Viewing the complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court finds that Plaintiff has alleged facts sufficient to prove the requisite deliberately indifferent state of mind.