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Love v. Franklin County

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division

March 27, 2019

KELSEY LOVE, Plaintiff,
FRANKLIN COUNTY, KENTUCKY, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER


         This is one of two recent cases involving pre-trial detention at the Franklin County Regional Jail.[1] The Plaintiff in this matter, Kelsey Love, gave birth alone and unassisted while in custody at the jail. The Defendants seek to resolve this case by way of a Motion to Dismiss. [R. 10.][2] This requires the Court to consider, for a first time, the teachings of the Supreme Court in Kingsley v. Hendrickson, a Fourth Amendment case, in the context of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. 135 S.Ct. 2466 (2015). Ultimately, for the reasons set out below, the motion will be DENIED.


         On May 15, 2017, Plaintiff Kelsey Love was incarcerated in Franklin County Regional Jail (FCRJ). [R. 9 at 5.] Love, a pretrial detainee, was eight months pregnant at the time. Id. Because of her pregnancy, Defendants were under orders to observe Love every ten minutes. The Inmate Observation Record Love filed with Love's complaint, if believed, indicates the Defendants checked on her semi-regularly throughout May 15, 2017 and into the morning of May 16, 2017, though not every ten minutes, as instructed. [R. 1-1.] Love went into labor sometime during May 15, 2017. Somehow, despite frequent looking-ins, Love was allowed to give birth, unassisted and without medical care, in her jail cell. [R. 9 at 6.] When Defendant Phillips entered Love's cell at approximately 8:04 a.m. on May 16, 2017, Love's blood covered the floor. Love had completed labor and delivered a child. Only then was Love transported to Franklin Regional Medical Center. [R. 1-1.]

         Love filed this action on May 7, 2018 and amended her complaint on June 9, 2018. Love named Franklin County, Rick Rogers, Michael Phillips, Anthony Pullen, Sergeant Harrod and four John Doe deputy jailers (collectively “individual Defendants”) [R. 1; R. 9.] As amended, Love's complaint alleges various causes of action under both 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Kentucky common law. [R. 9.] Namely, deliberate indifference, supervisory liability, Monell liability, and common law negligence. In addition, Love puts forth a new theory of liability under the Fourteenth Amendment, which she calls “intentional decision.” [R. 9 at 8.] With this Count, she urges this Court to adopt a new standard for pretrial detainee medical care claims based on Kingsley. The Defendants have moved for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6). [R. 10.] Defendants argue that Love has not pleaded the elements of her claims specifically enough to survive dismissal, and that even if she had, they are protected by qualified immunity. Id. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is DENIED.



         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint. In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court “construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept[s] its allegations as true, and draw[s] all inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” DirecTV, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The Court, however, “need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences.” Id. (quoting Gregory v. Shelby County, 220 F.3d 433, 446 (6th Cir. 2000)). The Supreme Court explained that in order “[t]o 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). See also Courier v. Alcoa Wheel & Forged Products, 577 F.3d 625, 629 (6th Cir. 2009).

         Moreover, the facts that are pled must rise to the level of plausibility, not just possibility; “facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability . . . stop[ ] short of the line between possibility and plausibility.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). According to the Sixth Circuit, “[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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).


         Love alleges that the individual Defendants at FCRJ violated her constitutional rights by denying her medical care when she was in labor. [R. 1.] Such allegations are properly brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 does not create substantive rights but, rather, “provides a remedy for deprivations of rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States....” Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 924 (1982); Mertik v. Blalock, 983 F.2d 1353, 1359 (6th Cir.1993). “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). “The first step in any such claim is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed.” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989) (additional citations omitted)).

         The Constitution guarantees “a right to adequate medical treatment” for both convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees. Estelle v. Gamble, 424 U.S. 97 (1976). Until recently, the extent of this right has been the same for pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. To succeed on an action for deliberate indifference to medical needs, plaintiffs have been required to show: (i) an objectively substantial risk of serious harm, and (ii) that the jail or county officials were “subjectively aware of the risk.” Harbin v. City of Detroit, 147 Fed.Appx. 566, 570 (6th Cir.2005). The Supreme Court, however, signaled in Kingsley that this universal test for both pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners' claims was misguided. Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466 (2015). The Court's holding suggests that pretrial detainees no longer need to prove that the defendant had actual knowledge to succeed on the second prong of the deliberate indifference test. Instead, a pretrial detainee need only show that the defendants “recklessly failed to act with reasonable care to mitigate the risk that the condition posed to the pretrial detainee even though the defendant-official knew, or should have known, that the condition posed an excessive risk to health or safety.” Bruno v. City of Schenectady, 727 Fed.Appx. 717, 720 (2018). That is, a pretrial detainee-plaintiff can succeed by pointing only to objective facts and without proving the defendant's mindset.

         While Kingsley concerned only a pretrial detainee's Fourth Amendment excessive force claim, its holding has implications on all pretrial detainee's claims. In Kingsley, the Court only required the pretrial detainee show that “the force purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable.” Kingsley, 135 S.Ct. at 2473. To support a less stringent test, the Court cited: (i) precedent; (ii) workability; and (iii) the greater protections afforded by the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. These rationales extend to pretrial detainee claims for deliberate indifference. The court explains each in turn.

         First, precedent supports using an objective test for pretrial detainee's claim of deliberate indifference. Kingsley itself was not focused exclusively to excessive force precedent. Id. To the contrary, the Court looked at challenges by pretrial detainees generally-identifying a challenge to double-bunking. Id. Only one conclusion can be drawn from the wide-net cast by the Court: its reasoning was not meant to be constrained to excessive force claims. Indeed, a challenge to double-bunking provides a closer analogue to a deliberate indifference claim than it does to an excessive force claim. Id. Unlike an excessive force claim, which focuses on the direct infliction of punishment, a conditions of confinement claim highlights the failure to provide a necessity. Id. Likewise, deliberate indifference claims seek damages for a failure to provide something necessary: health care. Richmond v. Huq, 885 F.3d 929 (6th Cir. 2018). Therefore, the Court's use of a pretrial double-bunking case supports an objective test for deliberate indifference to medical need claims.

         Yet, this Court need not rely on simply reading the tea leaves of precedent. The Court in Kingsley used broad language to convey its holding. Focusing on pretrial detainees generally, the Court reported that, to succeed, a pretrial detainee only needs to show that the government's actions were not “rationally related to a legitimate nonpunitive government purpose” or that the actions “appear excessive in relation to that purpose.” Such language cannot be mistaken; Kingsley is meant to apply to all pretrial ...

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