Crawford v. Tilley, 100821 FED6, 20-6391

Docket Nº20-6391
Opinion JudgeNALBANDIAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Party NameDawn Crawford, in her capacity as Administratrix of the Estate of Marc Crawford, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. John Tilley, individually and in his official capacity as Secretary of the Justice & Public Safety Cabinet, et al., Defendants, James Erwin, individually, Defendant-Appellant.
AttorneyBrett R. Nolan, OFFICE OF THE KENTUCKY ATTORNEY GENERAL, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellant. Jessica K. Winters, THE WINTERS LAW GROUP LLC, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellee. Brett R. Nolan, Heather L. Becker, OFFICE OF THE KENTUCKY ATTORNEY GENERAL, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellant. Jessica K....
Judge PanelBefore: GRIFFIN, LARSEN, and NALBANDIAN, Circuit Judges.
Case DateOctober 08, 2021
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)

Dawn Crawford, in her capacity as Administratrix of the Estate of Marc Crawford, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

John Tilley, individually and in his official capacity as Secretary of the Justice & Public Safety Cabinet, et al., Defendants,

James Erwin, individually, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 20-6391

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

October 8, 2021

Argued: July 29, 2021

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky at Lexington. No. 5:18-cv-00623-Claria Horn Boom, District Judge.

ARGUED:

Brett R. Nolan, OFFICE OF THE KENTUCKY ATTORNEY GENERAL, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellant.

Jessica K. Winters, THE WINTERS LAW GROUP LLC, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Brett R. Nolan, Heather L. Becker, OFFICE OF THE KENTUCKY ATTORNEY GENERAL, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellant.

Jessica K. Winters, THE WINTERS LAW GROUP LLC, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellee.

Before: GRIFFIN, LARSEN, and NALBANDIAN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

NALBANDIAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

Marc Crawford died in Kentucky's prisons less than a month after police arrested him. His widow, Dawn Crawford, sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on behalf of his estate. She claims multiple state officials and private companies failed to provide Marc with medical treatment while he was in their care.

This appeal is not about the state officials and private companies that directly rendered (or did not render) medical care for Marc while he was in state custody. Instead, it is about defendant James Erwin, then Kentucky's Acting Commissioner of the Department of Corrections. Dawn's complaint asserted, under a theory of supervisory liability, that Erwin violated Marc's Eighth Amendment[1] right to be free from "cruel and unusual punishments." Erwin moved to dismiss the claim, asserting qualified immunity. Dawn then amended her complaint, and Erwin filed an updated motion to dismiss. The district court rejected Erwin's qualified immunity defense and denied his motion. Erwin appealed. We REVERSE and REMAND the case with instructions that the district court dismiss the claims against Erwin.

I.

Kentucky police arrested Marc on May 25, 2017 and took him to the Madison County Detention Center ("MCDC"). Dawn witnessed his arrest. She told the police that her husband had lung cancer and would thus need immediate medical attention. Marc's medical records also stated that he had a blood clot in his left leg.

Kentucky contracts with private companies to provide its inmates with healthcare. Dawn names two of these companies, Southern Health Partners, Inc. and Correct Care Solutions LLC, as defendants. Both were responsible for Marc's medical care while he was in custody. According to Dawn, the companies offer constitutionally inadequate healthcare, in part because licensed practical nurses, rather than doctors or more experienced nurses, provide much of the care. She specifically alleges that Marc's intake screening and later assessments were inadequate.

The medical staff at MCDC provided Marc with minimal care. They removed his pain-medication patch, placed him on "inappropriate" psychoactive medications, and failed to provide him with his prescriptions. (R. 44, Am. Compl., PageID 417.) Correct Care refused to honor Marc's scheduled chemotherapy appointments while he was in custody. MCDC staff failed to treat Marc even on occasions when he was vomiting blood. One of the people taking care of Marc twice tried to get him further medical attention, but more senior staff refused.

Eventually, Marc was transferred to Kentucky State Reformatory ("KSR") on May 31, 2017. This was done to provide him with better healthcare. He arrived with an elevated heart rate, difficulty breathing, and swelling in his leg. A nurse practitioner prescribed him breathing treatments.

Marc's attorney called KSR after the transfer to check on him. A Correct Care employee assured the lawyer that Marc "would continue to receive all prescribed medications" and someone would alert Marc's family if his condition deteriorated. (Id. at PageID 421.) But despite Marc's complaints of pain, healthcare workers withheld his prescribed medication, breathing treatments, and chemotherapy.

Marc passed away on June 24, 2017, less than a month after his arrest and before prison staff could arrange for him to see an oncologist. Nobody contacted his family until June 26. The autopsy revealed that Marc effectively drowned with more than three liters of fluid accumulating in his lungs. Medical staff would have discovered this fluid if they had administered his prescribed breathing treatments.

More than two years after Marc's death, CNN published a report critical of Correct Care. The news outlet reviewed hundreds of lawsuits against the company and interviewed dozens of current and former employees. The lawsuits attributed more than seventy deaths to Correct Care. And doctors who studied a subset of those cases contended that "proper care" could have prevented about half of the deaths they examined. (Id. at PageID 415.) The amended complaint does not place any of those lawsuits in Kentucky, let alone at KSR.

During Marc's detention, James Erwin was the Acting Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Corrections. The Department manages Kentucky's penal, reform, and correctional institutions. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 196.030. It houses twenty-seven subdivisions, some of which are prisons, and each of which has its own internal hierarchy. See id. § 196.026. Beneath the Commissioner, a warden is directly responsible for the management of each institution, including KSR. Id. § 196.180.

Dawn's amended complaint alleges a theory of supervisory liability against Erwin for the deprivations of Marc's constitutional rights. But it attributes limited activity to Erwin. Dawn alleges only that Erwin "accepted" Marc's transfer into KSR and that Erwin "would have been made aware of [Marc's] medical conditions" at that time. (R. 44, Am. Compl., PageID 424.) This meant, per Dawn, that Erwin had "direct involvement in the constitutional violations at issue." (Id. at PageID 427.) Less directly, she alleges that he promulgated and maintained some of KSR's allegedly unconstitutional policies and customs.

At the same time, Dawn attributes significant knowledge to Erwin. She alleges that Erwin was "specifically aware that Correct Care" had a pattern of failing to "provide inmates with adequate medical and mental health care." (Id. at PageID 412.) And yet he did nothing in response to their "over-reliance on [licensed practical nurses]." (Id. at PageID 411; see id. at PageID 428.) Erwin's knowledge allegedly came from three sources: ongoing litigation against prisoners and the estates of deceased prisoners, "critical investigations," and "the obviousness of the problems." (Id. at PageID 411, 425, 428.)

This appeal is about Erwin's qualified immunity. That issue turns on whether Dawn "plead[ed] factual matter that, if taken as true, states a claim that [Erwin] deprived [Marc] of his clearly established constitutional rights." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 666 (2009). So we must decide whether the acts and omissions attributed to Erwin in the amended complaint show his supervisory liability under clearly established precedent.

But this case also arrives with a strange procedural history, which Dawn argues deprives us of our jurisdiction. We address this jurisdictional argument first.

II.

Erwin's argument in favor of our jurisdiction is straightforward. Dawn filed her amended complaint on June 22, 2020. Erwin moved to dismiss, in part, based on qualified immunity. On November 25, 2020, the district court granted that motion in part, but denied it as to the Eighth Amendment claim on appeal. Erwin timely filed his notice of appeal two weeks later, on December 9, 2020. So his appeal is timely, and we have jurisdiction to resolve it.

Dawn's argument to the contrary focuses on filings related to her original complaint, which she filed on November 26, 2018. Erwin moved to dismiss based on qualified immunity. But before the district court decided Erwin's motion, Dawn moved to amend her complaint. Her motion included a draft of her tendered amended complaint. Erwin opposed that motion, arguing that the tendered amended complaint would be futile and prejudicial because it was untimely. The district court rejected Erwin's argument and granted Dawn's motion for leave to amend. In that same order, however, it also raised and rejected the qualified immunity argument that Erwin had made in response to the original complaint as though Erwin made a qualified immunity argument in response to Dawn's tendered amended complaint. The district court ultimately granted Dawn's motion to amend her complaint and denied as moot Erwin's motion to dismiss Dawn's original complaint. That order came down on June 8, 2020. Erwin did not appeal within the 30-day window allowed by 28 U.S.C. § 2107; see also Fed. R. App. P. 4(a).

Compliance with § 2107 is "mandatory and jurisdictional." Bowles v. Russell, 551 U.S. 205, 208-10 (2007). Rule 4(a) carries § 2107 into practice and provides that, subject to exceptions not applicable here, the notice of appeal "must be filed . . . within 30 days after entry of the judgment or order appealed from." Fed. R. App. P. 4(a); see Bowles, 551 U.S. at 209. Generally, the appeal comes from a district court's final decision. See 28 U.S.C. § 1291. And "a district court's order rejecting qualified immunity at the motion-to-dismiss stage of a proceeding is a 'final decision' within the meaning of § 1291." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 672.

Dawn argues that Erwin's failure to appeal the district court's earlier order prevents him from appealing the later order denying his motion to dismiss...

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