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Whitney v. City of St. Louis

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

April 6, 2017

THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI and SHELLEY SHARP, in her official capacity as a Corrections Officer and individually, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the defendants' separate motions to dismiss, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim for relief. Plaintiff has filed responses in opposition and the issues are fully briefed.

         Plaintiff Norman Whitney, Sr., alleges that St. Louis City “jailing personnel” failed to adequately monitor his son, Norman Whitney, Jr., who died of asphyxiation in a cell at the City of St. Louis Justice Center. He filed suit in state court against correctional officer Shelley Sharp, in her official and individual capacities, and the City of St. Louis, asserting claims of wrongful death under Missouri law (§ 537.080 RSMo) and civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The case was removed to this Court, with the defendant invoking federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. See 28 U.S.C. § 1443.

         I. Background[1]

         On August 4, 2014, Norman Whitney, Jr., was arrested in the City of St. Louis. At the time of his arrest, his medical conditions included congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and heroin use. He was admitted to Saint Louis University Hospital in the custody of the St. Louis Sheriff's Office. When a deputy sheriff searched his bed for syringes, Whitney caused an altercation and attempted to escape. According to an investigator's report, Whitney wanted to be killed by the deputy in lieu of returning to prison. Whitney was evaluated and treated by psychiatric staff for suicidal ideation and his condition improved with treatment.

         On August 8, 2014, Whitney was determined to be fit for confinement and was transported to the St. Louis City Justice Center. He was admitted to the medical unit because he was detoxing from heroin use, had underlying medical problems, and was a flight risk. The cell in which Whitney was placed had a small partition to ensure privacy for the occupant when using the toilet or shower. The bunk area was monitored by a video camera. Justice Center policy required a corrections officer to make a physical check whenever the cell's occupant was not visible on camera. Because there were no reports of suicidal ideation, depression or suicide attempts, Whitney was not on suicide watch and he was allowed to have bed sheets and clothing in his cell.

         Whitney was said to be tolerating detox well and denied physical complaints. He was checked frequently and, when he was not visible on camera, a corrections officer would make a physical check, walking to the cell and engaging Whitney in conversation. Most of the time when checked, Whitney was observed walking back and forth in his cell.

         On the morning of August 10, 2014, defendant Shelley Sharp observed Whitney at 8:49 and 9:05 and recorded that he was pacing. At 9:14, she found him hanging from the shower head with a ligature made from his hospital gown. Following his death, an unnamed medical practitioner at the Justice Center came forward to report that Whitney had mentioned having suicidal ideation and a history of psychiatric medication. This information contradicted the answers Whitney gave to corrections personnel when they questioned him. There are no allegations in the complaint or statements in the Medical Examiner's report that this information was included in any records or otherwise conveyed to defendant Sharp.

         II. Legal Standard

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The factual allegations of a complaint are assumed true and construed in favor of the plaintiff, “even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1 (2002)); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989) (“Rule 12(b)(6) does not countenance . . . dismissals based on a judge's disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations.”); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) (stating that a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it appears “that a recovery is very remote and unlikely”). The issue is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the plaintiff is entitled to present evidence in support of his claim. Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236. A viable complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see id. at 563 (stating that the “no set of facts” language in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), “has earned its retirement”); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-84 (2009) (holding that the pleading standard set forth in Twombly applies to all civil actions). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Ordinarily, if the parties present, and the Court considers, matters outside of the pleadings, the motion must be treated as a motion for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). However, the Court may consider materials that are necessarily embraced by the complaint, as well as any exhibits attached to the complaint, without converting the motion into one for summary judgment. Mattes v. ABC Plastics, Inc., 323 F.3d 695, 697 n. 4 (8th Cir. 2003). In addition, the Court may properly consider public records, including court records, on a motion to dismiss. Levy v. Ohl, 477 F.3d 988, 991 (8th Cir. 2007). Here, the Court has considered reports from the Office of the Medical Examiner which plaintiff attached to and incorporated in his complaint.

         III. Discussion

         A. Defendant Sharp

         In Count I, plaintiff alleges that defendant Sharp failed to adequately monitor Whitney, provide adequate medical care, and intervene to rescue him. This conduct, he claims, amounts to negligence under state law or, in the alternative, deliberate indifference under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Defendant Sharp contends that plaintiff's § 1983 claim fails to plead ...

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