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Estates of Brian Lee Mills v. Knox County

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

March 14, 2014

THE ESTATES OF BRIAN LEE MILLS, and OF CHRISTAL MILLS, Betty Reynolds, Administratrix, Plaintiff,
KNOX COUNTY, et al., Defendants.



This matter is before the Court upon the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Knox County; Knox County Jail (a/k/a Knox County Detention Center); J.M. Hall, individually and in his official capacity as Knox County Judge Executive; and Mary Hammons, individually and in her official capacity as Knox County Jailer. This case involves multiple defendants, but because these four defendants filed the instant motion separately from the other defendants, the Court will address it separately from the other defendants' motions. For the reasons explained below, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to these four defendants.



This litigation is the result of an arrest and detention that occurred on the evening of July 30, 2010, in Barbourville, Kentucky. On that evening, Brian Mills and Jessica Hubbard were involved in a minor car accident. [R. 31 at 1.] When the other driver called the police, Mills and Hubbard swallowed a number of Roxicet tablets that they had obtained illegally, hoping to avoid drug charges. [ Id. ; R. 66 (Hubbard Depo.) at 42-50.][1] Barbourville Police Officers Jake Knuckles and Pat Clouse arrived on the scene of the accident, in response to the call by the other driver. [R. 31-1.] Mills admitted to the officers that he had recently smoked marijuana but did not tell them about the other drugs he had ingested. [R. 31 at 2; R. 31-1.] The officers administered field sobriety tests, which Mills failed. [R. 31-1.] Officer Knuckles arrested Mills and took him to the hospital for a blood test, which Mills refused to take, and then took Mills to the Knox County Detention Center. [R. 31 at 2; R. 31-1.]

A second-shift deputy jailer, Shelby Johnson, booked Mills upon his arrival at the Detention Center. [R. 31 at 2.] The third shift deputy jailers relieved Deputy Johnson at 11:00 p.m., and at least two of them continued working until the first shift came on duty at 7:00 a.m. on July 31. [ Id. ; R. 53 (Johnson Depo.) at 13-14; R. 51 (Levering Depo.) at 51.] At about 7:45 a.m. on July 31, an inmate trustee told the deputy jailers on duty at the booking desk that Mills was unresponsive.[2] [R. 31 at 2; R. 65 (Foley Depo.) at 9-10.] Upon receiving that information, Deputy Jailers Bill Mills and Michael Potter went to Mills' cell and found him unresponsive, not breathing, and without a pulse. [R. 31 at 2] They called EMS and attempted to perform CPR until the ambulance arrived. [ Id. ] The ambulance transported Mills to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. [ Id. ] The cause of death was declared to be multiple drug overdose from alprazolam, marijuana, and oxycodone, all found in Mills' system. [ Id. ; R. 31-3.] Betty Reynolds is the Administratrix of the Estates of both Brian Mills and his wife Christal Mills, and in that capacity, Reynolds has filed the instant suit on their behalf.[3]

The parties do not dispute the facts related above, but the Estate's responsive brief contains additional facts related below, which Defendants do not dispute. The Knox County Jail has a Policy and Procedures Manual ("the Manual") that instructs deputy jailers to take inmates in physical distress to the hospital, and also instructs deputy jailers to check on each inmate once every hour and keep a log of such checks. [R. 52 at 2; R. 49 (Hammons Depo.) at 16-22.] This Manual was apparently in effect when Brian Mills died. [R. 49 at 7.] According to Mills' Estate, the Manual also requires checks of inmates in detoxification cells every twenty minutes.[4] [R. 52 at 3.]

Deputy jailers in Knox County must take a sixteen-hour training course every year [R. 49 (Hammons Depo.) at 18], but Thomas Levering, a deputy jailer who was on duty during the third shift when Mills died, testified that he does not remember the training course covering how often deputy jailers should check on inmates, nor did he remember being instructed to read the Manual. [R. 52 at 2; R. 51 (Levering Depo.) at 15-17, 20.] Levering also testified that it was common practice to check on inmates in the detoxification cell once every hour unless they were "unsteady on their feet" or "staggering, " in which case the deputies were supposed to check every fifteen minutes. [R. 51 (Levering Depo.) at 30, 50-51.]

Joey Adler, another deputy jailer, testified that the Jail was typically overcrowded, and that on the night Mills died, there were between fifty and sixty inmates in the Jail, despite the fact that the Jail's capacity was only thirty-eight beds. [R. 50 (Adler Depo.) at 24-25.] Adler testified that on the morning Mills died, Adler left work early at 3:00 a.m. and was not replaced, leaving Levering as the only male guard on duty to check on over fifty inmates. [ Id. at 18-19.] Adler also testified that the Jail has a copy of the Manual, parts of which he has read at work when he is bored, but that no one ever told him he needed to read through it. [ Id. at 16-17.] Adler agreed that the Manual states inmates in detoxification areas should be checked every fifteen minutes, and he testified that inmates who were "extremely intoxicated, " such as those who failed field sobriety tests should also be checked every fifteen minutes like the inmates on suicide watch.[5] [ Id. at 47-49.]

The parties also reference a cell check form with the names of the inmates in the jail on July 30 and July 31, 2010. The form apparently records check marks beside Mills' name for every hour between midnight and 7:00 a.m.[6] [R. 52 at 3.] Levering testified that the cell check form indicates that the guards checked on Mills every hour by looking through a small hole in the door. [R. 51 (Levering Depo.) at 39, 41.] Mills' Estate claims that the cell check form also includes unexplained check marks beside the name of another inmate, Bo McVey, for several hours before McVey was ever incarcerated in the jail. [R. 52 at 3.] Deputy Jailers Levering and Adler could not explain the check marks beside McVey's name, and Mills' Estate seems to imply that this indicates that the cell check sheets are sometimes filled out after the fact. [R. 51 at 43-46; R. 50 at 36-37.] Deputy Levering, however, denied any knowledge of such a practice. [R. 51 at 43-46.]

The Jail also had a video system with a camera trained on the hallway outside the detoxification cell where Mills was detained, and that camera captured video footage of two deputy jailers removing Mills' body from the cell and performing CPR on the morning in question. [R. 52 at 3-4.] Curiously, however, Mills' Estate alleges that all video footage of the previous eight hours from that camera, which would confirm whether the guards checked on Mills as required, is missing and cannot be located by Jail personnel. [R. 52 at 3-4.] The Estate has asserted that the missing video footage amounts to spoliation of evidence that would demonstrate that deputy jailers did not perform the cell checks as required by the Manual. [R. 52 at 8.] The factual recitation contained in the Estate's responsive brief also contains several other alleged facts which neither party incorporates into their arguments or ever refers to again, and the Court therefore deems them irrelevant to include here.


Betty Reynolds, on behalf of Brian Mills' Estate, filed suit in this Court on July 27, 2011. [R. 1.] The initial Complaint named the following defendants: Knox County; Knox County Jail (a/k/a Knox County Detention Center); J.M. Hall, individually and in his official capacity as Knox County Judge Executive; Mary Hammons, individually and in her official capacity as Knox County Jailer; Bill Mills, individually and in his official capacity as Knox County Deputy Jailer; and the "Yet Unknown or as Yet to be Identified employees or officers of Knox County Jail." [R. 1.] The initial Complaint contained four counts, including claims brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that Defendants had violated Mills' rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution; a related claim alleging a failure to properly train or supervise employees; and a state law claim for negligence. [R. 1.]

On March 27, 2013, Reynolds filed an Amended Complaint on behalf of Mills' Estate. The Amended Complaint added five new Defendants individually and in their official capacities as Deputy Jailers for Knox County, and six new defendants individually and in their official capacities as Magistrates of Knox County Fiscal Court. [R. 22-1.] Bill Mills was terminated as a party defendant and is no longer a party to this suit. The Amended Complaint included six counts. The counts relevant to the Defendants who have filed the instant motion for summary judgment are as follows: Counts One and Two allege violations of the Fourteenth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution by depriving Mills of his liberty, acting with deliberate indifference to his rights, and acting in a manner constituting cruel and unusual punishment. [R. 22-1 at ¶¶ 34-43.] Count Three alleges a failure to adequately train employees of Knox County Jail. [ Id. at ¶¶ 44-49.] Count Four asserts several causes of action under state law for wrongful death, negligence, false imprisonment, and arbitrary action. [ Id. at ¶¶ 50-54.] Count Five alleges that four of the new defendants were deliberately indifferent to Mills' constitutional rights, in violation of 42 U.S.C §1983. [ Id. at ¶¶ 55-58.] Count Six requests declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201. [ Id. at ¶¶ 59-61.]

The Amended Complaint excluded Hammons in her official capacity from the allegations in Counts One, Two, and Three, but particularly included Hammons in her official capacity in Count Six.

Defendants Hall, Hammons, Knox County, and Knox County Jail have filed the instant motion for summary judgment on all claims against them [R. 31], and thus only the claims pertaining to those Defendants will be addressed here. Those claims include the alleged violations of Mills' rights under the Fourteenth and Eighth Amendments, the alleged failure to train, and the causes of action brought under state law.



Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986). "A genuine dispute exists on a material fact, and thus summary judgment is improper, if the evidence shows that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Olinger v. Corporation of the President of the Church, 521 F.Supp.2d 577, 582 (E.D. Ky. 2007) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). Stated otherwise, "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

The moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that establish the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Chao v. Hall Holding Co., Inc., 285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). The movant may satisfy its burden by showing "that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325. Once the movant has satisfied this burden, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts demonstrating the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Hall Holding, 285 F.3d at 424 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324). Moreover, "the nonmoving party must do more than show there is some metaphysical doubt ...

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