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Davis v. Buchanan County Missouri

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, St. Joseph Division

December 23, 2019

BRENDA DAVIS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BUCHANAN COUNTY MISSOURI, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Dr. Covillo's Motion to Dismiss Based on Qualified Immunity. Doc. 360. In it, he seeks to dismiss Count IV of Plaintiffs' Complaint, [1] which asserts a civil-rights claim against him, specifically deliberate indifference to a known serious medical need. After careful review of the record, the Court denies Dr. Covillo's motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs pleaded sufficient facts to state a plausible constitutional violation against Dr. Covillo.

         I. Background

         On October 26, 2015, Justin Stufflebean, son of plaintiffs Brenda Davis and Frederick Stufflebean, was sentenced for a sex crime. Immediately following his sentencing, Stufflebean was held at the Buchanan County Jail until he was transferred on October 29, 2017 to the Western Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center (“WRDCC”). Prior to and during his incarceration, he suffered from two endocrine disorders: Addison's disease and hypoparathyroidism. Addison's disease is a disorder that occurs when the adrenal glands fail to produce sufficient amounts of cortisol, an essential hormone that helps the body cope with stress and is critical to maintaining blood pressure and cardiovascular function. Without his medication for the disease, Stufflebean was at risk of dying in a short time.

         Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, Doc. 78, alleges in Count IV that Dr. Covillo was an employee of Corizon and that his job was to provide medical services to prisoners at WRDCC. It also alleges that Dr. Covillo was deliberately indifferent to Stufflebean's known medical need for daily medication to treat his chronic diseases and that, as a result, Stufflebean died. Dr. Covillo now contends that these allegations are not enough to state a plausible claim against him because there are insufficient facts pointing to specific acts he did or did not do, and therefore, Dr. Covillo contends, he is entitled to qualified immunity.

         Dr. Covillo did not file this motion to dismiss until trial was imminent, after discovery was completed, and after extensive briefing on numerous other issues. Indeed, he filed the motion to dismiss, raising qualified immunity for the first time, contemporaneously with the filing of his motion for summary judgment.

         The Court now has denied summary judgment to Dr. Covillo, finding that there is a contested issue of fact about whether he knew Justin Stufflebean had a serious medical need and with that knowledge intentionally failed to reasonably address the need. Doc. 633.

         II. Applicable Law

         Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” which places defendants on “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007). Rule 8 does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” but it “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555 (citations omitted).

         In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court found that, absent a plausible constitutional claim, a public official entitled to qualified immunity should not be subjected to discovery. The Supreme Court recognized that “in [the] pleading context, . . . we are impelled to give real content to the concept of qualified immunity for high-level officials who must be neither deterred nor detracted from the vigorous performance of their duties. Id. at 686.

         However, “Twombly and Iqbal did not abrogate the notice pleading standard of Rule 8(a)(2).” Hamilton v. Palm, 621 F.3d 816, 817 (8th Cir. 2010). A claim is sufficiently plausible when it sets forth “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Gomez v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 676 F.3d 655, 660 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678).

         Public officials “are protected from §1983 suits by the affirmative defense of qualified immunity.” Water v. Madson, 921 F.3d 725, 734 (8th Cir. 2019) (internal citations omitted).[2]Qualified immunity shields public officials from liability for civil damages if “their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). There are two factors a court must consider in analyzing the issue of qualified immunity pursuant to § 1983: (1) whether the facts alleged show that the public official's conduct violated a constitutional right; and (2) whether the constitutional right was clearly established at the time of the alleged misconduct. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). “Qualified immunity is appropriate only if no reasonable factfinder could answer yes to both of these questions.” Hess v. Ables, 714 F.3d 1048, 1051 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting Nelson v. Corr. Med. Servs., 583 F.3d 522, 528 (8th Cir. 2009)).

         At the dismissal stage, defendants “must show that they are entitled to qualified immunity on the face of the complaint.” Dadd v. Anoka Cty., 827 F.3d 749, 754. (8th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Bradford v. Huckabee, 394 F.3d 1012, 1015 (8th Cir. 2005)). Courts addressing qualified immunity in a motion to dismiss “must consider ‘whether the plaintiff has stated a plausible claim for violation of a constitutional or statutory right and whether the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged infraction.'” Id. at 754-55 (quoting Hager v. Ark. Dep't of Health, 735 F.3d 1009, 1013 (8th Cir. 2013)). “On the merits, to defeat a qualified immunity defense, plaintiff has the burden of proving that defendant's conduct violated a clearly established constitutional right, ” but at the dismissal stage, “the issue is whether plaintiff ‘pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Stanley v. Finnegan, 899 F.3d 623, 626 n.2 (8th Cir. 2018) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678) (citing Hess v. Ables, 714 F.3d 1048, 1051 (8th Cir. 2013)).

         To state a claim for deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must show that he was suffering from an objectively serious medical need, and that prison officials knew of the need but deliberately disregarded it. Saylor v. Nebraska, 812 F.3d 637, 637-44 (8th Cir. 2016). An objectively serious medical need is “one that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment, or one that is so obvious that even a layperson would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's ...


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