Adams v. NaphCare, Inc.

Decision Date31 March 2017
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 2:16cv229
Citation246 F.Supp.3d 1128
Parties Roxanne ADAMS, Administrator of the Estate of Jamycheal M. Mitchell, Plaintiff, v. NAPHCARE, INC., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia

Mark J. Krudys, The Krudys Law Firm, PLC, Richmond, VA, John Frederick Preis, Henrico, VA, for Plaintiff.

Edward Joseph McNelis, III, Christopher Fitzjames Quirk, Grace Morse–McNelis, Rawls McNelis & Mitchell PC, Nicholas Foris Simopoulos, Adam John Yost, Alexander Kenneth Page, Office of the Attorney General, Mark Richard Colombell, William Woodul Tunner, Michael Gordon Matheson, William Daniel Prince, IV, Thompson McMullan PC, David P. Corrigan, Jeremy David Capps, Maurice Scott Fisher, Jr, Harman Claytor Corrigan & Wellman, Richmond, VA, Jeffrey A. Hunn, Jeff Wayne Rosen, Pender & Coward PC, Virginia Beach, VA, Ryan Fitzgerald Furgurson, Gregory Franklin Holland, Setliff & Holland PC, Glen Allen, VA, for Defendants.



This matter comes before the court on the Motion to Dismiss ("Motion") and Memorandum in Support filed by Defendant Debra K. Ferguson ("Ferguson") on August 1, 2016. ECF Nos. 84, 85. The Plaintiff filed a Response on September 1, 2016, ECF No. 123, and on September 13, 2016, Ferguson filed a Reply. ECF No. 130. On September 20, 2016, Ferguson also filed a Request for Hearing. ECF No. 133.

On September 21, 2016, this court referred the Motion to a United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), to conduct hearings, including evidentiary hearings, if necessary, and to submit to the undersigned District Judge proposed findings of fact, if applicable, and recommendations for the disposition of the Motion. ECF No. 134.

Having conducted a hearing regarding the Motion on October 19, 2016, ECF No. 139, the Magistrate Judge filed the Report and Recommendation ("R & R") on February 21, 2017. ECF No. 162. The Magistrate Judge recommended granting the Motion. R & R at 1. By copy of the R & R, the parties were advised of their right to file written objections to the findings and recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. See id. at 21–22. On March 7, 2017, the Plaintiff filed Objections to the R & R. ECF No. 167. On March 21, 2017, Ferguson filed a Response to the Objections. ECF No. 171. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.


This action was brought by the Plaintiff in her capacity as the administrator of the estate of Jamycheal Mitchell ("Mitchell"), who died as a pretrial detainee in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail ("HRRJ"). Compl. ¶¶ 1, 20. During Mitchell's period of pretrial detention, Defendant Ferguson was the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services ("DBHDS"), a department which, through an Office of Forensic Services, provides services to individuals with disabilities who are involved in Virginia's legal system. Id. ¶ 41. The Complaint alleges the following claims against Defendant Ferguson: negligence, gross negligence, and willful and wanton negligence under Virginia law (Count One), id. ¶¶ 202–203, 205–211; deprivation of civil rights through the denial, delay, and withholding of medical care, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count Two), id. ¶¶ 212–223; deprivation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count Five), id. ¶¶ 252–258; and deprivation of civil rights, with the heading "Deliberate Indifference—Supervisory Liability," under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count Six), id. ¶¶ 259–266.

In the instant Motion, filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Ferguson seeks dismissal of the aforementioned claims due to the Plaintiff's failure to show plausible factual allegations for each of these counts. Mot. at 1. Ferguson also claims the protection of qualified immunity for Counts Two, Five, and Six, and absolute immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for Counts Two, Five, and Six. Id. at 2.

The Magistrate Judge, accepting the facts as alleged in the Plaintiff's Complaint as true, found that the Plaintiff failed to state claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in Counts Two, Five, and Six, because the Plaintiff failed to allege facts showing that Ferguson knew of a substantial risk of harm to the Plaintiff and others like him, in terms of their treatment by the DBHDS. See R & R at 9–14. The Magistrate Judge also found that Ferguson is entitled to the protection of qualified immunity for these § 1983 claims, seeid. at 14–16, and to absolute immunity for all of the Plaintiff's claims, under the Eleventh Amendment. See id. at 16–20. Finally, the Magistrate Judge found that the Plaintiff failed to state claims of negligence, gross negligence, and willful and wanton negligence under Virginia law, because the Plaintiff failed to assert that Ferguson owed Mitchell a duty of care. See id. at 20–21.


Pursuant to Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court, having reviewed the record in its entirety, shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the R & R to which a party has specifically objected. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge, or recommit the matter to him with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must be dismissed when a plaintiff's allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin , 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ " Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). Facial plausibility means that a "plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). It is, therefore, not enough for a plaintiff to allege facts demonstrating a "sheer possibility" or "mere[ ] consist [ency]" with unlawful conduct. Id. (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

The Supreme Court has offered the following guidance to courts evaluating a motion to dismiss:

[A] court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well–pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Id. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937. That is, the court accepts facts alleged in the complaint as true and views those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See, e.g. , Venkatraman v. REI Sys., Inc. , 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir. 2005). After doing so, the court should not grant the defendant's motion if the plaintiff "demonstrate[s] more than ‘a sheer possibility’ " that the defendant has violated his rights, by "articulat[ing] facts, when accepted as true, that ‘show’ that the plaintiff has stated a claim entitling him to relief ...." Francis v. Giacomelli , 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 ) (as only quoting "a sheer possibility").


The Plaintiff has submitted four (4) objections to the R & R. ECF No. 167. Specifically, the Plaintiff has objected to the Magistrate Judge's finding that (1) the suit against Ferguson is an official capacity suit that is protected by Eleventh Amendment immunity; (2) the Plaintiff has failed to state claims against Ferguson under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ; (3) Ferguson is entitled to qualified immunity from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ; and (4) the Plaintiff has failed to state claims of negligence, gross negligence, and willful and wanton negligence against Ferguson under Virginia law. Having reviewed the record in its entirety, the court herein makes a de novo determination of these portions of the R & R to which the Plaintiff has specifically objected. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). The court will address each of the objections in turn.

A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

The Plaintiff asserts that the Magistrate Judge incorrectly found that Ferguson is entitled to absolute immunity from the § 1983 claims under the Eleventh Amendment. Objs. at 3. In the R & R, the Magistrate Judge stated, "despite the nomenclature used by Plaintiff, [Ferguson] has been sued in her official capacity, and therefore the absolute immunity defense is also applicable here." R & R at 17. In particular, the Magistrate Judge found that the state was "the real, substantial party in interest," id. at 18 (quoting Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman , 465 U.S. 89, 101, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984) ), because "the [DBHDS]'s ‘policy or custom’ is what played the role in preventing Mitchell's transfer" to Eastern State Hospital. R & R at 18 (quoting Hafer v. Melo , 502 U.S. 21, 25, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991) ). The Magistrate Judge also found the "Plaintiff's claim that, because she seeks money damages from [Ferguson] personally and not from the Virginia treasury, this must be considered a personal capacity suit," to be an immaterial distinction, and that the Plaintiff's "reliance on Edelman v. Jordan , 415 U.S. 651, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974) for that point is entirely misplaced." R & R at 19. The Magistrate Judge stated that "it matters not...

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3 cases
  • Gamrat v. Allard
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Michigan
    • March 15, 2018
    ...claim, and district courts within the Fourth Circuit have declined to extend Martin to the § 1983 context. See Adams v. NaphCare, Inc. , 246 F.Supp.3d 1128, 1138 (E.D. Va. 2017) (stating that "the Fourth Circuit has never extended Martin to § 1983 claims, likely because it would ‘absolutely......
  • Amisi v. Riverside Reg'l Jail Auth.
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    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
    • June 30, 2020
    ...owes a common law duty of ordinary care to the class of individuals subject to their control. See Adams v. NaphCare, Inc. , 246 F. Supp. 3d 1128, 1154-55 (E.D. Va. 2017) (Smith, C.J.) (finding that commissioner of state behavioral health agency with control over the movement of inmates in n......
  • Davis v. Bryson
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia
    • November 7, 2017
    ...Davis. Elliott, 292 Va. at 622, 791 S.E.2d at 732. Therefore, the court will not dismiss Counts One and Four. Cf. Adams v. Naphcare, Inc., 246 F. Supp. 3d 1128 (E.D. Va. 2017) ("At this stage of the proceeding, before discovery has even begun, reasonable minds can differ over whether [defen......

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