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Matthew v. Yellowstone County

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

January 26, 2018

YELLOWSTONE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.



         At issue are Plaintiff David Matthew's motion for leave to file a second amended complaint (Doc. 42), Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 55), Mr. Matthew's motion to continue (Doc. 79), and the issue of service on Defendants Amanda, Pinkerton, and Scott.

         By way of background, this Court issued an Order on February 15, 2017 directing the service of Plaintiff David Matthew's Amended Complaint (Doc. 15) on Defendants Prindle (Justin Prindle), Dunker (Jake Dunker), Crockett (Heather Crockett), Metzger (Steve Metzger), Pluhar (Carolyn Pluhar), Deegle (Brian Degele), Moyra (Chris Myrup), Neiter (Timothy Neiter), Nurse Amanda, Nurse Pinkerton, and Nurse Scott on Counts II and III of the Amended Complaint.[1] (Doc. 21.) On April 5, 2017, District Court Judge Morris adopted the Findings and Recommendations in full, dismissed Counts I, IV, and V of the Amended Complaint (Doc. 15), and dismissed Defendants Iron, Singh, Aramark, Caruso, Jessee, Shirley, Langford, Grosslock, Washington, Vanessa, Yellowstone County, Yellowstone County Sheriff, Riverstone Health, the U.S. Marshal Service, and all Does Defendants. (Doc. 37 at 5.)

         After the adoption of the Findings and Recommendations, the following claims remained: (1) a supervisory liability claim against Timothy Neiter; (2) excessive force claims against Justin Prindle, Chris Myrup, Brian Degele, Steve Metzger, Jake Dunker, Carolyn Pluhar, and Heather Crockett, and (3) deliberate indifference to medical need claims against Chris Myrup, Brian Degele, Steve Metzger, Jake Dunker, Heather Crockett, and Nurses Amanda, Pinkerton, and Scott.

         Defendants Crockett, Degele, Dunker, Metzger, Myrup, Neiter, Pluhar and Prindle filed Answers to the Amended Complaint on April 3, 2017. (Docs. 29-36.) Nurses Amanda, Pinkerton and Scott did not respond to the Court's request for waiver of service and have not been served.

         On April 10, 2017, the Court issued a Scheduling Order directing Mr. Matthew to provide the necessary information to effectuate service on Defendants Amanda, Pinkerton, and Scott on or before July 7, 2017. (Doc. 39 at 2.) On May 22, 2017, Mr. Matthew filed a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint in which he indicated that these nurses were employed by Riverstone Health in Billings, Montana. (Doc. 42.)

         Defendants Crockett, Deegle, Dunker, Moyra, Prindle, Metzger, Neiter, and Pluhar filed a motion for summary judgment on July 6, 2017. (Doc. 55.) Instead of filing a response to the motion, Mr. Matthew filed a motion to continue (Doc. 79) seeking to stay ruling on Defendants' motion for summary until after resolution of the motion for leave to amend.

         I. Motion for Leave to Amend

         On May 22, 2017, Mr. Matthew filed a motion for leave to amend his complaint. (Doc. 42.) The proposed Amended Complaint added new failure to protect claims against individuals with the United States Marshals Office (Count I) and renewed his excessive force and denial of medical claims against Defendants Prindle, Dunker, Degele, Myrup, Metzger, Neiter, Pluhar, Nurses Scott, Amanda, and Pinkerton, Riverstone Health, Yellowstone County, and Sheriff Linder (Counts II and III).

         Defendants responded to the motion arguing that Mr. Matthew was attempting to circumvent the Court's screening process by amending his complaint to re-allege already dismissed claims and include already dismissed defendants. They argue (without citation to authority) that he is violating the law of the case by attempting to re-litigate already dismissed claims.

         “Under the law of the case doctrine, a court is generally precluded from reconsidering an issue that has already been decided by the same court, or a higher court in the identical case.” United States v. Almazan-Becerra, 537 F.3d 1094, 1096-97 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting United States v. Alexander, 106 F.3d 874, 876 (9th Cir. 1997)). However, “[t]he [law-of-the-case] doctrine simply does not impinge upon a district court's power to reconsider its own interlocutory order provided that the district court has not been divested of jurisdiction over the order.” City of Los Angeles, Harbor Division v. Santa Monica Baykeeper, 254 F.3d 882, 888 (9th Cir. 2001).

         As far as the Court can discern, the new claims in the Second Amended Complaint are only against United States Marshals Daq, Patrick, an unknown U.S. Marshal supervisor, and Nurse Jessica. Mr. Matthew is also attempting to correct deficiencies with his claims against Defendants Riverstone Health Clinic, Yellowstone County, and Sheriff Linder.

         Leave to amend should be “freely given” where there is no “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, . . . undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment . . . ” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) (listing the Foman factors as those to be considered when deciding whether to grant leave to amend). Not all of these factors merit equal weight. Rather, “the consideration of prejudice to the opposing party . . . carries the greatest weight.” Id. (citing DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton, 833 F.2d 183, 185 (9th Cir. 1987)).

         A. Yellowstone County, Sheriff Linder, and Riverstone Health Clinic

         Early on in this litigation Mr. Matthew was given specific standards for establishing County/entity liability and he failed to present any facts to suggest that Yellowstone County, Sheriff Linder, or Riverstone Health had a custom, policy or practice amounting to deliberate indifference to his constitutional rights. (Doc. 10 at 27-29 citing Monell v. Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989).) He filed an amended complaint which failed to meet these standards and all claims against Yellowstone County, the Yellowstone County Sheriff, and Riverstone Health were dismissed on April 5, 2017. (Doc. 37.)

         In his second amended complaint, Mr. Matthew makes a third attempt to state a municipal/entity liability claim by making the conclusory claim that “Riverstone Health Clinic, Yellowstone County, and Yellowstone County Sheriff were aware of their employees numerous unlawful human and civil rights violations. The County, Sheriff, and Clinic, have lost many law suits for their employees causing injury to detainees, yet they do nothing to correct the problems, injuries, and harm done by their employees, officers, and agents.” (Second Amended Complaint, Doc. 42-1 at 22.) These conclusory allegations are still insufficient.

         Mr. Matthew failed to allege any facts which “might plausibly suggest” that he was subject to a constitutional deprivation pursuant to any municipal custom, policy, or practice implemented or promulgated with deliberate indifference to his constitutional rights, or that such a policy was the “moving force” or cause of his injury. See Hernandez v. Cnty. of Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 637 (9th Cir. 2012) (applying Iqbal's pleading standards to Monell claims). After Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), “[a]llegations of Monell liability will be sufficient for purposes of Rule 12(b)(6) where they: (1) identify the challenged policy/custom; (2) explain how the policy/custom is deficient; (3) explain how the policy/custom caused the plaintiff harm; and (4) reflect how the policy/custom amounted to deliberate indifference, i.e., show how the deficiency involved was obvious and the constitutional injury was likely to occur.” Young v. City of Visalia, 687 F.Supp.2d 1155, 1163 (E.D. Cal. 2010). Following Iqbal and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), Monell claims must contain sufficient allegations to give fair notice to the opposing party and “must plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation.” AE ex rel. Hernandez v. Cnty. of Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 637 (9th Cir. 2012)(quoting Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011)).

         Even assuming that a violation of Mr. Matthew's constitutional rights occurred, the bald and conclusory allegation that Defendants had been previously sued does not demonstrate the existence of a municipal policy or custom. See McDade v. West, 223 F.3d 1135, 1141 (9th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted) (“[o]nly if a plaintiff shows that his injury resulted from a permanent and well settled practice may liability attach for injury resulting from a local government custom). Mr. Matthew simply failed to provide sufficient factual allegations regarding the nature of those alleged lawsuits and/or the results of those lawsuits to plausibly state a Monell claim against these Defendants.

         Similarly, his boilerplate assertion that Defendants failed to provide their employees training against the use of excessive force is also insufficient. As to failure to train, the United States Supreme Court has held that “the inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for § 1983 liability only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact.” City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989) (“Only where a municipality's failure to train its employees in a relevant respect evidences a ‘deliberate indifference' to the rights of its inhabitants can such a shortcoming be properly thought of as a city ‘policy or custom' that is actionable under § 1983.”).

         A section 1983 plaintiff alleging a policy of failure to train peace officers must show: (1) he/she was deprived of a constitutional right; (2) the local government entity had a training policy that amounts to deliberate indifference to constitutional rights of persons with whom its peace officers are likely to come into contact; and (3) his/her constitutional injury would have been avoided had the local government unit properly trained those officers. Blankenhorn v. City of Orange, 485 F.3d 463, 484 (9th Cir. 2007).

         Mr. Matthew has not alleged sufficient facts to support the proposition that Defendants were deliberately indifferent with respect to the training or that known or obvious consequences were disregarded. See, e.g., Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 62 (2011) (“Deliberate indifference is a stringent standard of fault requiring proof that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action.”).

         For both claims, Mr. Matthew merely presents a recitation of the elements of Monell causes of action based on policy, practice or custom, and failure to train and supervise and does not provide sufficient supporting facts. See Dougherty v. City of Covina, 654 F.3d 892, 901 (9th Cir. 2011)(complaint was a “formulaic recitation of a cause of actions's elements” and no facts alleged concerning key elements of the Monell claims).

         As such, Mr. Matthew's motion to amend to include newly added/revised claims against Defendants Yellowstone County Commissioner(s) unknown, Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder, and Riverstone Health Clinic CEO unknown should be denied as being futile.

         B. New Defendants and Remaining Claims

         The motion to amend will be granted as to the United States Marshal individual defendants Patrick and Daq and Nurse Jessica and ...

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