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Davis v. Buchanan County Missouri

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri.

December 23, 2019

BRENDA DAVIS, et al., Plaintiffs,



         Pending before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss Based on Qualified Immunity. Doc. 372. In it, defendants Dr. Catherine Van Voorn, Ann Slagle, and April Helsel[1] seek to dismiss Count IV of Plaintiffs' Complaint[2] which asserts a civil-rights claim against them, specifically deliberate indifference to a known serious medical need.

         As for Dr. Catherine Van Voorn, the Court has already granted summary judgment to Dr. Van Voorn on Count IV. Doc. 632. Therefore, it denies Dr. Van Voorn's Motion to Dismiss as moot.

         As for defendants Slagle and Helsel, the Motion to Dismiss is denied because the law of the case controls Slagle's request, and in addition, Plaintiffs pleaded sufficient facts to state a plausible constitutional violation against Slagle and Helsel.

         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.

         Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, Doc. 78, alleged in Count IV that the defendants were employees of Advanced Correctional Health Care (ACH) and their job was to provide medical services to prisoners at the Buchanan County Jail. Justin Stufflebean was incarcerated there for four days and during that time, it is alleged that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to Stufflebean's known medical need for daily medication to treat his chronic diseases. Helsel and Slagle contend that Plaintiffs did not adequately plead a deliberate indifference claim against them because there are insufficient facts alleged and therefore Count IV should be dismissed as to them.

         Defendants did not raise the sufficiency of Plaintiffs' pleadings until trial was imminent, after discovery was completed, and after extensive briefing on numerous other issues including motions for summary judgment. Contemporaneously with the filing of their Motion for Summary Judgement, Slagle and Helsel filed this Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), claiming that Slagle and Helsel are entitled to qualified immunity and the case must be dismissed regardless of the evidence that was developed during the prelitigation phase of the case.

         The Court has now denied summary judgment to Slagle and Helsel finding that there was a contested issue of fact as to whether these defendants knew Justin Stufflebean had a serious medical need and with that knowledge intentionally failed to reasonably address the need. The Court now turns to Slagle's and Helsel's Motion to Dismiss Based on Qualified Immunity.[3]

         II. Applicable Law

         Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires only “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). 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 ...

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