Batton v. Sandusky Cnty.

Decision Date24 January 2023
Docket Number3:21-cv-1771
PartiesSara Batton, as administrator of the estate of Tyler Witbeck Plaintiff, v. Sandusky County, Ohio, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Jeffrey J. Helmick, United States District Judge

I. Introduction

On September 13, 2021, Plaintiff Sara Batton, as administrator of the estate of Tyler Witbeck, filed a complaint alleging four claims for relief related to the arrest, detention, and death of Tyler Witbeck. (Doc. No. 1). Batton sued numerous Sandusky County entities and employees, as well as the City of Clyde (“City”) and Clyde police officer Aaron Hossler (“Hossler”) (collectively, Clyde Defendants). (Id.). On March 25, 2022, the Clyde Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). (Doc. No. 44). Plaintiff opposed the motion, (Doc. No. 47), and the Clyde Defendants filed a reply. (Doc. No. 48).

II. Background

This case involves the tragic suicide of Mr. Witbeck while in custody at the Sandusky County Jail. In general, Plaintiff alleged all Defendants were deliberately indifferent to the mental health and suicide risk presented by Mr. Witbeck. (See Doc. No. 1). As the pending motion only addresses the liability of the Clyde Defendants, I will restrict the below summary to those facts relevant to determining the Clyde Defendants' entitlement to dismissal.

On September 26, 2019, Mr. Witbeck called the Clyde Police Department to open his vehicle after locking his keys in his car. (Doc. No. 1 at 16). Officer Hossler responded to the call and opened the vehicle. (Id.). But it was also determined Mr. Witbeck was the subject of an arrest warrant from Cuyahoga County, Ohio, so Hossler arrested him. (Id.). During the arrest, Hossler found prescriptions for Seroquel and Depakote. (Id.). Hossler placed the Depakote prescription back with Mr. Witbeck for later use. (Id.). During Mr. Witbeck's transport to the Jail,[1] he was crying and made multiple comments, such as “I'm done” and “F- my life.” (Id.). Hossler was present at Mr. Witbeck's intake assessment at the Jail but he allegedly failed to inform the Jail of Mr. Witbeck's medications. (Id. at 17, 19).

Plaintiff alleged Clyde's policies and training of Hossler regarding Mr. Witbeck's serious medical needs were not constitutionally adequate. (Id. at 17). And as such, both the City and Hossler acted with deliberate indifference to Mr. Witbeck's serious medical needs. (Id.).[2]

At the Jail, Mr. Witbeck's medications “were apparently brought to the Jail with Mr. Witbeck” but were not listed in his property. (Id. at 18). Mr. Witbeck then underwent an intake assessment with two Jail employees where it was noted he took daily psychiatric medications. (Id. at 17). Mr. Witbeck also had direct contact with two nurses at the Jail who allegedly failed to properly assess and treat Mr. Witbeck, including by ensuring he has access to his medications and psychiatric care. (Id. at 18). After being placed in a cell, numerous Jail guards allegedly left Mr. Witbeck unattended for several hours and failed to regularly check on him. (Id. at 19). Unfortunately, Mr. Witbeck was found hanging in his cell on September 26, 2019, and was pronounced dead shortly afterwards. (Id. at 23). Plaintiff alleged all Defendants demonstrated a deliberate indifference to Mr. Witbeck's serious medical needs and all Defendants failed to train or had a policy or custom of failing to train, on constitutionally adequate medical care. (Id. at 19-23).

III. Standard

A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) generally follows the same rules as a motion to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). Bates v. Green Farms Condo. Ass'n., 958 F.3d 470, 480 (6th Cir. 2020). Courts must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, but they need not accept legal conclusions.” Id. (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)). These allegations must “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “Plausibility is a context-specific inquiry, and the allegations in the complaint must permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct[.] Ctr. for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. v. Napolitano, 648 F.3d 365 (6th Cir. 2011). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.' Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557). Dismissal is warranted if the complaint lacks an allegation as to a necessary element of the claim raised. See Craighead v. E.F. Hutton & Co., 899 F.2d 485, 494-95 (6th Cir. 1990).

IV. Analysis
A. Hossler
1. First Count - § 1983 claim for failure to supervise or train on the provision of adequate medical care in violation of 8th and 14th Amendments

Plaintiff's first claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 asserts liability against all Defendants in their individual capacity for a failure to supervise, train, and take corrective measures. (Doc. No. 1 at 23). “A failure to train, screen or supervise is a mechanism for plaintiffs to establish liability on the part of a municipal employer.” Lipian v. Univ. of Mich., 453 F.Supp.3d 937, 963 (E.D. Mich. 2020) (citing Ellis ex rel. Pendergrass v. Cleveland Mun. Sch. Dist., 455 F.3d 690, 700 (6th Cir. 2006) (further citation omitted)). Plaintiff concedes her first count is not directed at Hossler, but only his employer, the City. (Doc. No. 47 at 6 & 9). Thus, Hossler is entitled to judgment on the pleadings for the First Count.

2. Second Count - Monell claim of custom, policy, or practice of failing to train on the provision of adequate medical care in violation of 8th and 14th Amendments

Plaintiff's second claim for relief asserts liability under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), against all Defendants in their official and individual capacities. (Doc. No. 1 at 30). Yet, Monell claims impose liability on municipalities, not individuals. Phillips v. City of Cincinnati, No. 1:18-cv-541, 2019 WL 2289277, at *6 (S.D. Ohio May 29, 2019). Moreover, claims against individuals in their official capacities, “are properly construed as [claims] against the City.” Id. Plaintiff concedes the second claim for relief was not directed at Hossler. (Doc. No. 47 at 6). Therefore, and to the extent made, Plaintiff's Monell claim cannot stand and Hossler is entitled to judgment on the pleadings at Plaintiff s Second Count. See Moderwell v. Cuyahoga Cnty., No. 1:19CV613, 2020 WL 4726458, at *2-3 (N.D. Ohio Aug. 14, 2020).

3. Third Count - § 1983 claim for failure to provide adequate medical care in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments

Preliminarily, the 8th Amendment protects prisoners and ensures they receive adequate medical care while in custody. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extends these same protections to pre-trial detainees. Moderwell, 2020 WL 4726456, at *2 (citing Thompson v. Cnty. of Medina, Ohio, 29 F.3d 238, 242 (6th Cir. 1994)). And although analyzed largely the same legally, the proper avenue for relief is under the 14th Amendment and not the 8th Amendment. Moderwell, 2020 WL 4726456, at *2; see also Colson v. City of Alcoa, Tenn., 37 F.4th 1182, 1187-89 (6th Cir. 2022) (discussing basis for applying 14th Amendment jurisprudence for claims of lack of medical care while in police custody).

“A cause of action under § 1983 for failure to provide adequate medical treatment requires a showing that ‘the defendants acted with deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs' of the pre-trial detainee.” Estate of Cater v. City of Detroit, 408 F.3d 305, 311 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Watkins v. City of Battle Creek, 273 F.3d 682, 686 (6th Cir. 2001) (further citation and quotation marks omitted)). In a case of suicide, “the proper inquiry . . . is [] whether the decedent showed a strong likelihood that he would attempt to take his own life in such a manner that failure to take adequate precautions amounted to deliberate indifference to the decedent's serious medical needs.” Barber v. City of Salem, 953 F.2d 232, 239-40 (6th Cir. 1992).

Deliberate indifference has both an objective and subjective component. Troutman v. Louisville Metro Dept. of Corr., 979 F.3d 472, 482 (6th Cir. 2020). “A plaintiff meets the objective prong of the [ ] analysis by showing that the inmate showed suicidal tendencies during the period of detention or that he posed a strong likelihood of another suicide attempt.”[3] Id. at 482-83 (citations and internal quotations omitted). The subjective standard requires that it was “obvious that there was a ‘strong likelihood' that a[] [detainee] would attempt suicide.” Downard for Estate of Downard v. Martin, 968 F.3d 594, 600 (6th Cir. 2020). Demonstrating a “strong likelihood” is a ‘high bar' and typically requires evidence that the [detainee] was already on suicide watch, previously attempted suicide under similar conditions, or recently expressed a desire to self-harm.” Troutman, 979 F.3d at 483 (citing Downard, 968 F.3d at 601).

Importantly “deliberate indifference to some possibility of suicide or even a likelihood of suicide” is insufficient. Galloway v. Anuszkiewicz, 518 Fed.Appx. 330, 336 (6th Cir. 2013) (emphasis in original). This is because mere negligence is insufficient; instead, plaintiff must show defendant acted “deliberately (not accidentally), [and] also recklessly in the face of an unjustifiably high risk of harm that is either known or so obvious that it should be known.” Greene v. Crawford Cnty., Mich., 22 F.4th 593, 606 (6th Cir. 2022) (quoting...

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