Turner v. Palmer

Decision Date04 February 2015
Docket NumberNo. 1:14–cv–00024–JEG.,1:14–cv–00024–JEG.
PartiesJessica TURNER, Plaintiff, v. Charles M. PALMER; Richard Shults; Deborah Hanus; Ilona Avery; Dr. Joan Gerbo; Revae Gabriel; and Deb Wilkens, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa

Gretchen Witte Kraemer, Attorney General of Iowa, Des Moines, IA, for Defendants.

John Mandel Sandy, Sandy Law Firm, P.C., Spirit Lake, IA, Matthew Sease, Kemp & Sease, Des Moines, IA, for Plaintiff.

ORDER

JAMES E. GRITZNER, Chief Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim by Defendants Charles Palmer, Richard Shults, Deborah Hanus, Ilona Avery, Dr. Joan Gerbo, Revae Gabriel, and Deb Wilkens. Plaintiff Jessica Turner resists. A hearing on the Motion was held on January 15, 2015. Plaintiff was represented by attorney Matthew Sease. Defendants were represented by Assistant Iowa Attorney General Gretchen Kraemer. The matter is fully submitted and ready for disposition.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Jessica Turner filed this action against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment violations arising from her confinement at the Iowa Juvenile Home. For purposes of this Order, the following factual allegations are taken from the Amended Complaint, ECF No. 11, and are assumed to be true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 681, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

The Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff is a citizen of Iowa and a resident of Pottawattamie County. Plaintiff was born on August 30, 1994. On March 16, 2011, Plaintiff, at age 16, was found to be a juvenile delinquent and a Child in Need of Assistance. Plaintiff was ordered to be placed at the Iowa Juvenile Home, located in Toledo, Iowa. Upon placement, Plaintiff was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

with possible Conduct Disorder, Mood Disorder, possible Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Mild Mental Retardation. Prior to her placement at the Iowa Juvenile Home, Plaintiff had multiple other placements, including several psychiatric hospitalizations.

Plaintiff's cause of action stems from her placement in small cement isolation cells, labeled Quiet Rooms, Safety Rooms, Comfort Rooms, and the Special Unit. Plaintiff alleges she spent numerous consecutive weeks locked in isolation cells, spending 289 out of the 528 days she was at the facility in isolation. Plaintiff complains that she was only given one thin mat to sleep on; she was locked in the cell and only permitted to exit to use the restroom; and during many of these stays, she was not allowed any homework, classroom instruction, reading material, or outside communication. Plaintiff alleges that she would repeatedly cry and inform the staff that she was in pain and wanted out. Plaintiff would violently bang her head against the cement walls of the cells in attempts to garner the staff's attention. Plaintiff was released from the Iowa Juvenile Home on August 24, 2012—six days before her eighteenth birthday.

The Iowa Juvenile Home is a state institution governed and controlled by the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) pursuant to Iowa Code § 218.1.1 The DHS is responsible for the control, management, direction, and operation of the Iowa Juvenile Home. Defendant Charles Palmer was at all relevant times the appointed Director of the DHS. Defendant Richard Shults was at all relevant times employed as the Mental Health and Disability Services Division Administrator by the DHS. Defendant Deborah Hanus was at all relevant times employed by the DHS as the Superintendent of the Iowa Juvenile Home. Defendant Ilona Avery was at all relevant times employed by the DHS as the Clinical Director of the Iowa Juvenile Home. Defendant Dr. Joan Gerbo was at all relevant times employed by the DHS as the Director of Education at the Iowa Juvenile Home. Defendant Revae Gabriel was at all relevant times employed by the DHS as the Youth Counselor Supervisor at the Iowa Juvenile Home. Defendant Deb Wilkins was at all relevant times employed by the DHS as the Youth Counselor at the Iowa Juvenile Home. Plaintiff alleges each of the individually named Defendants had a supervisory role at the Iowa Juvenile Home and oversaw the use of the isolation cells in which Plaintiff was confined.

II. DISCUSSION

Defendants move to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).2 Defendants argue they are entitled to qualified immunity and the claim falls outside of the statute of limitations.3 “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.’ Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The Court must “accept [ ] as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw[ ] all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Simes v. Ark. Judicial Discipline & Disability Comm'n, 734 F.3d 830, 834 (8th Cir.2013) (quoting Richter v. Advance Auto Parts, Inc., 686 F.3d 847, 850 (8th Cir.2012) (per curium)).

A. Qualified Immunity

“Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, a court must dismiss a complaint against a government official in his individual capacity that fails to state a claim for violation of ‘clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’ Hager v. Ark. Dep't of Health, 735 F.3d 1009, 1013 (8th Cir.2013) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982) ). “To prevail at this stage of the proceedings, defendants must show that they are entitled to qualified immunity on the face of the complaint.” Bradford v. Huckabee, 394 F.3d 1012, 1015 (8th Cir.2005).

Plaintiff's constitutional claims arise under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments for Defendants' alleged continuous and systematic use of isolation cells at the Iowa Juvenile Home. In support of her claim, Plaintiff primarily relies on R.G. v. Koller, 415 F.Supp.2d 1129 (D.Haw.2006). In Koller, three juveniles detained at a state-run juvenile correction facility brought claims under § 1983 for violations of their constitutional rights after being placed in isolation cells for extended periods of time. Id. at 1133. The state officials used isolation cells to separate plaintiffs from harassment by other juveniles in the facility because plaintiffs were identified as or perceived to be gay. Id. After examining expert opinions on the effect of isolation cells on juveniles, the court held that the defendants' conduct was not within the range of acceptable professional practices and constituted punishment in violation of the plaintiffs' due process rights. Id. at 1154–55. The court stated, [t]he expert evidence before the court uniformly indicates that long-term segregation or isolation of youth is inherently punitive and is well outside the range of accepted professional practices.” Id. at 1155. The court went on to cite a number of other courts that also found the use of isolation cells on juveniles to be in violation of due process. Id. (citing H.C. by Hewett v. Jarrard, 786 F.2d 1080, 1088 (11th Cir.1986) ; Santana v. Collazo, 714 F.2d 1172 (1st Cir.1983) ; Milonas v. Williams, 691 F.2d 931, 942–43 (10th Cir.1982) ; D.B. v. Tewksbury, 545 F.Supp. 896, 905 (D.Or.1982) ; Feliciano v. Barcelo, 497 F.Supp. 14, 35 (D.P.R.1979) ; Lollis v. N.Y. State Dep't of Soc. Servs., 322 F.Supp. 473, 480 (S.D.N.Y.1970) ).

In addition to Koller, other district courts have found placing juveniles in isolation cells violates due process and the Eighth Amendment. See Nelson v. Heyne, 355 F.Supp. 451, 456 (N.D.Ind.1972) (holding extended periods of solitary confinement of juveniles at the Indiana Boys School was cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of procedural due process); Inmates of Boys' Training Sch. v. Affleck, 346 F.Supp. 1354, 1372 (D.R.I.1972) (finding the isolation of juveniles in cold, dark isolation cells containing only a toilet and a mattress constituted cruel and unusual punishment and violated the Due Process Clause).

Defendants argue that under the Due Process Clause, a regulation or policy may infringe on a juvenile's constitutional right as long as it is reasonably related to a legitimate institutional interest, citing Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). In Bell, the Supreme Court noted that placing an inmate in an isolation cell violates the inmate's due process rights when it is done with either an express intent to punish or without a legitimate purpose. 441 U.S. at 538–39, 99 S.Ct. 1861. Defendants argue Plaintiff was placed in isolation for the legitimate purpose of containing Plain-tiff's violent behavior. The complaint, however, alleges Plaintiff banged her head on the cement walls after being placed in isolation in an attempt to receive attention from the staff. Whether the alleged actions herein were “reasonably related to a legitimate institutional interest,” or were for the “legitimate purpose” of containing Plaintiff's violent behavior, requires a factual inquiry that cannot be accomplished at this stage of the proceedings, so long as Plaintiff has alleged facts that generate a plausible claim. Taking the complaint in its entirety, Defendants' current legal arguments do not render implausible the allegations in the complaint. Additionally, Bell noted that even if a legitimate purpose for isolating a detainee is provided, a due process violation may still occur if the conditions imposed are excessive in relation to the nonpunitive purpose, id. at 538, 99 S.Ct. 1861, a further factual inquiry. Bell is also distinguishable from...

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7 cases
  • Reed v. Palmer
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • October 9, 2018
    ...Accordingly, Defendants have not shown that they are entitled to qualified immunity on the face of the compliant. Turner v. Palmer , 84 F.Supp.3d 880, 883–84 (S.D. Iowa 2015) (emphasis added) (citation omitted). The same reasoning applies here. Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged their consti......
  • J.H. v. Williamson Cnty.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • February 27, 2020
    ...among the scientific and professional community that juveniles are psychologically more vulnerable than adults"); Turner v. Palmer , 84 F. Supp. 3d 880, 884 (S.D. Iowa 2015) (denying qualified immunity to officials who placed a juvenile with psychiatric issues in solitary confinement and no......
  • Ivester v. Sweeny
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • December 16, 2022
    ... ... and unconstitutional restrictions on his liberty of ... movement”); Turner v. Palmer , 84 F.Supp.3d ... 880, ... 886 (S.D. Iowa, 2015) (applying continuing violations ... doctrine where the Plaintiff ... ...
  • Reed v. Palmer
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • October 9, 2018
    ...Accordingly, Defendants have not shown that they are entitled to qualified immunity on the face of the compliant.Turner v. Palmer, 84 F. Supp. 3d 880, 883-84 (S.D. Iowa 2015) (emphasis added) (citation omitted). The same reasoning applies here. Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged their consti......
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