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Chaney v. Cradduck

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

May 1, 2017

JAMES W. CHANEY, JR. PLAINTIFF
v.
SHERIFF KELLEY CRADDUCK; SERGEANT COGDILL; LIEUTENANT J. MARTINEZ; LIEUTENANT DEVORE; DR. ROBERTO SAEZ, Southern Health Partners; NURSE AMBER GOFF, Southern Health Partners; JOHN DOE DEPUTY;CATERING BY MARLINS d/b/a CBM MANAGED SERVICES; and NURSE TYRANNY RAY DEFENDANTS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Currently before the Court is a Motion for Reconsideration and Clarification (Doc. 91) filed by Plaintiff James W. Chaney, Jr. on April 21, 2017. The Motion asks the Court to reconsider its Order (Doc. 85) sua sponte vacating its previous August 17, 2016 Order (Doc. 62) adopting the Summary Judgment Report and Recommendation (Doc. 61) ("Summary Judgment R&R") filed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark E. Ford. Alternatively, Chaney's Motion asks the Court to clarify that its prior dismissal of certain of his claims was without prejudice, and to allow him leave to file an amended complaint reasserting those claims. The Court held a pre-trial conference in this matter on April 26, 2017, during which it took oral argument on the pending Motion. At the conclusion of oral argument, the Court announced its intent to grant the Motion, in the sense that it would reconsider its ruling, not in the sense that it would necessarily grant the relief requested in the Motion. The Court has now reconsidered its Order (Doc. 85), and finds for the reasons discussed below that the most appropriate course of action is to allow Chaney leave to file an amended complaint.

         I. DISCUSSION

         This suit began when Chaney filed his Original Complaint (Doc. 1) on November 14, 2014, and then filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 9) on January 27, 2015. The Amended Complaint brings claims against several employees of Benton County, including jail guards at the Benton County Detention Center ("BCDC") and County Sheriff Kelley Cradduck, in their individual and official capacities (the "Benton County Defendants"). It also named a John Doe doctor-later identified as Roberto Saez-along with Nurses Amber Goff and Tyranny Ray, all of whom are employees of Southern Health Partners ("SHP"). SHP contracts with Benton County to provide medical services at BCDC. Chaney named these Defendants (the "Medical Defendants") in their official and individual capacities as well. Finally, the Amended Complaint names Catering by Marlins ("CBM"), a catering company that contracts with Benton County to provide food services at BCDC.

         The claims listed in Chaney's Amended Complaint are wide ranging, spanning from allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement, to physical and verbal abuse, to constitutionally deficient medical care. On March 23, 2015, the Medical Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 15), arguing that Chaney's official-capacity claims against them were subject to Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal. On September 1, 2015, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark E. Ford entered a Report and Recommendation (Doc. 41) (the "Dismissal R&R") advising the Court that the Medical Defendants' Motion should be granted, and the official-capacity claims against them dismissed. Chaney did not object to the Dismissal R&R, and the Court accordingly entered an Order (Doc. 43) adopting it on October 9, 2015. See Thomas v. Am, 474 U.S. 140, 149-153 (1985) (suggesting several times that a district court judge need not review a magistrate's R&R when it is not objected to).[1]

         The case progressed until January of 2016, when all three groups of Defendants- CBM, the Medical Defendants, and the Benton County Defendants-filed Motions for Summary Judgment (Docs. 50, 53, 56). On July 19, 2016, Magistrate Judge Ford issued the Summary Judgment R&R (Doc. 61). The Summary Judgment R&R advised that the Benton County Defendants' Motion should be granted, and the claims against them should be dismissed with prejudice; that CBM's Motion should be granted, and the claims against it should be dismissed with prejudice; and that the Medical Defendants' Motion should be denied.

         In discussing the Medical Defendants' Motion, the Summary Judgment R&R first found that genuine issues of material fact prevented summary judgment on Chaney's individual-capacity claims against them. Issues of fact existed, Magistrate Judge Ford explained, as to whether the Medical Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to Chaney's serious medical needs when they refused to provide him with narcotic pain medication following his hernia surgery, despite the surgeon's prescription for such medication, and to treat Chaney's TMJ. See Doc. 61, pp. 23-26. Then, the Summary Judgment R&R went on to address Chaney's official-capacity claims against the Medical Defendants, despite having previously discharged these claims in the Dismissal R&R.

I also believe there is a question of fact as to whether the policy is unconstitutional. Official-capacity liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 occurs when a constitutional injury is caused by a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy. Plaintiff may prevail on his official capacity claims by identifying a policy that constitutes deliberate indifference. I believe there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether the across-the-board policy of not providing narcotic pain medication evidences deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of the Plaintiff.

Id. at 26 (quotations and alteration omitted). Neither party objected to the Summary Judgment R&R, so the Court entered an Order (Doc. 62) adopting it on August 17, 2016.

         On September 9, 2016, the Court entered a Case Management Order (Doc. 63) providing for a period of discovery and setting a trial date during the Court's May 1, 2017 term. On October 7, 2016, Magistrate Judge Ford entered an order appointing counsel to Chaney, who had been proceeding pro se. Thereafter, the parties proceeded with discovery, and on March 29, 2017, filed their required pre-trial disclosures. These filings prompted the Court to begin its trial preparation process, starting with a thorough review of the record. This, in turn, led the Court to discover the aforementioned inconsistency between the Dismissal R&R and the Summary Judgment R&R regarding Chaney's official-capacity claims against the Medical Defendants.

         On April 12, 2017, the Court reconciled this inconsistency by sua sponte vacating its previous Order (Doc. 62) adopting the Summary Judgment R&R, and instead declining to adopt the portion of the Summary Judgment R&R discussing Chaney's official-capacity claims against the Medical Defendants. This sua sponte Order (Doc. 85) had the effect of clarifying that only Chaney's individual-capacity claims, and not his official-capacity claims, would proceed to trial. However, believing that the parties had conducted discovery assuming that his official-capacity claims were still alive, and convinced that those claims were meritorious, Chaney filed the instant Motion for Reconsideration and Clarification (Doc. 91) on April 21, 2017.

         The Court's review of this Motion led it to discover two more glitches with the Dismissal R&R and the Summary Judgment R&R. Some explanation of law is necessary to contextualize these problems. Just as "[a] suit against a government officer in his official capacity is functionally equivalent to a suit against the employing governmental entity, " Veatch v. Bartels Lutheran Home, 627 F.3d 1254, 1257 (8th Cir. 2010), when a government contracts with a third-party to fulfill a constitutional duty, official-capacity claims against the third-party's employees are treated as claims against the third-party itself. See Cannady v. Cradduck, 2016 WL 4432704, at *1-*2 (W.D. Ark. Aug. 18, 2016) (finding that official-capacity claims against employees of SHP "are treated as claims against SHP" because "Benton County has contracted with SHP to provide healthcare to County prisoners"). To sustain an official-capacity claim against such an entity, a plaintiff "must show that there was a policy, custom, or official action that inflicted an actionable injury." Johnson v. Hamilton, 452 F.3d 967, 973 (8th Cir. 2006) (involving a § 1983 claim against a prison medical provider); Sanders v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 984 F.2d 972, 975-76 (8th Cir. 1993) ("[A] corporation acting under color of state law will only be held liable under § 1983 for its own unconstitutional policies."). Thus, Chaney's official-capacity claims against the Medical Defendants are "functionally equivalent" to alleging that their employer, SHP, had "a policy, custom, or [took an] official action" that deprived him of constitutionally adequate medical care. Veatch, 627 F.3d at 1257; Johnson, 452 F.3d at 973.

         The Dismissal R&R, however, errantly stated that Chaney's official-capacity claims against the Medical Defendants "are treated as claims against Benton County, " instead of SHP. (Doc. 41, p. 3 (emphasis added)). In one sense, this statement of law can generously be reconciled by noting that a governmental unit, such as Benton County, may also be held liable for its contractors' unconstitutional policies. See Crooks v. Nix, 872 F.2d 800, 803-04 (8th Cir. 1989) ("Even though defendants have contracted with CMS to furnish medical services this does not provide absolute immunity against a prisoner's claim where prison policies are alleged to contribute to the denial of proper medical and dental care."); Prosser v. Nagaldinne, 2011 WL 250999, at *9 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 26, 2011) ("The failure of medical contractors to provide adequate or proper pain medication can support a claim of deliberate indifference against prison supervisors.").[2]What is important for present purposes, though, is that the Dismissal R&R's reference to Benton County creates uncertainty about whether Magistrate Judge Ford determined that Chaney's claim failed by not plausibly alleging that SHP had an unconstitutional policy, or that Benton County had an unconstitutional policy. This uncertainty is further compounded by the Summary Judgment R&R. In discussing "the across-the-board policy of not providing narcotic pain medication, " Magistrate Judge Ford does not specify whose policy he is referring to-SHP's or Benton County's. (Doc. 61, p. 26).

         These uncertainties are highly relevant because Chaney's Amended Complaint, broadly construed, makes out an official-capacity claim against Sheriff Cradduck, a Benton County Defendant, for failing to provide constitutionally adequate medical care. See Doc. 9, p. 15 ("Sheriff Cradduck ... is responsible for the medical staff ensuring that it provides adequate medical care to inmates"). But this official-capacity claim against Sheriff Cradduck was not specifically addressed by the Summary Judgment R&R, creating the possibility that he was dismissed from this lawsuit without having all of the claims against him (or, in effect, against Benton County) substantively adjudicated. Because Benton County could be ...


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