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Wright v. Southern Health Partners, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 12, 2019

JOY OWEN WRIGHT, Administratrix of the Estate of Odell Oliver Owen, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Joy Owen Wright filed this action as administratrix of the estate of Odell Oliver Owen (“Owen”), a former inmate at the Randolph County Jail. Plaintiff alleges that Owen was not provided proper medical care and that, as a result, Owen passed away following his release. (Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. 1) ¶¶ 145-54.) Defendants North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”) and Mandy Cohen, in her official capacity as Secretary of DHHS, have moved to dismiss the claims in Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), and 12(b)(6).[1] (Doc. 34.) Plaintiff has filed a response and the matter is now ripe. For the reasons described herein, this court finds Defendants' motion to dismiss should be granted.


         A brief summary of the key facts is set forth below, and additional facts will be addressed as necessary within this opinion.

         The Complaint alleges generally that Owen was convicted of driving with his license revoked in April 2013 and received a suspended sentence. (Compl. (Doc. 1) ¶ 71.) On February 6, 2015, Owen appeared in Randolph County District Court to respond to allegations that he had violated the conditions of his probation. (Id. ¶¶ 73, 75.) According to the Complaint, Owen's attorney presented a letter from Owen's doctor stating that Owen suffered from medical conditions and was not able to tolerate imprisonment. (Id. ¶¶ 76-78.) Nevertheless, according to Plaintiff, the presiding judge ignored that letter, revoked Owen's probation, and imposed a sentence of thirty days' confinement. (Id. ¶ 79.) Owen was taken into custody and sent to the Randolph County Jail where, according to Plaintiff, he was placed in solitary confinement. (Id. ¶ 80.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Owen received inadequate medical treatment for diabetes and other issues[2] at the jail and suffered a stroke. (See generally Id. ¶¶ 83-143.) Upon his release from the Randolph County Jail and within a “medically significant period, ” Owen collapsed, fell, and “suffered massive head injury” which resulted in Owen's death. (Id. ¶¶ 152-53.)

         Plaintiff brings a number of claims against DHHS and Cohen. The first claim for relief requests an injunction or prohibitory order:

[t]o eliminate systematic and structural defects in the system of delivery of medical care to prisoners and detainees in North Carolina's local confinement facilities . . .; [t]o provide for clear channels of responsibility . . . consistent with the mandates of the United States Constitution . . .; [t]o provide clear and direct avenues for recovery . . .; and [t]o eliminate, punish and discourage profiteering at the expense of prisoners' and detainees' constitutional rights.

(Id. ¶ 161.) Plaintiff's second claim for relief is entitled “Official Capacity Claims against State of North Carolina” and requests damages in excess of $75, 000.00 for “[t]he failure and refusal of the North Carolina State defendants to perform their oversight and policy-making duties . . . .” (Id. ¶¶ 165, 168.) Plaintiff's eighth claim for relief is entitled “Negligent Supervision” and alleges that DHHS and Cohen knew the system of providing medical care to prisoners at the Randolph County Jail was inept and that DHHS and Cohen “failed to take timely action to eliminate the perils and risks to confinees, ” causing damage to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 196-206.) The eleventh and twelfth claims for relief allege false imprisonment and torture and intentional infliction of emotional distress, respectively. (Id. ¶¶ 218-30.) The thirteenth claim for relief sets out a claim against DHHS and Cohen pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. ¶¶ 231-34.) Plaintiff further alleges claims for medical malpractice (sixteenth claim for relief), cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment (seventeenth claim for relief), and wrongful death (eighteenth claim for relief). (Id. ¶¶ 239-55.)

         Defendants DHHS and Cohen moved to dismiss the claims against them and filed a brief in support of their motion. (Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.' Mem.”) (Doc. 35).) Plaintiff responded opposing the motion. (See Docs. 43, 44.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         While Defendants DHHS and Cohen raise several possible grounds for dismissal, most of their briefing relates to two main arguments. First, Defendants contend that “the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution and the doctrine of sovereign immunity bar each of Plaintiff's claims against DHHS and Cohen.” (Defs.' Mem. (Doc. 35) at 6.) Second, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's statutory claim “under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 153A-216, et seq., is based upon a flawed and untenable interpretation of the statute, ” (id. at 9), because Defendants did not owe a duty of care to Owen and because the claims are barred by the public duty doctrine. (Id. at 10-12, 14-18.)

         Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss and a supporting memorandum. (See Docs. 43, 44.) Plaintiff, contrary to the allegations in the Complaint, now “disclaims prayers for monetary and retrospective injunctive relief against Movants.” (Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.'s Resp. Br.”) (Doc. 44) at 9.) As a result, this court finds that Plaintiff has conceded that all claims for monetary relief are subject to dismissal.

         Plaintiff fails to respond on the merits to the bulk of Defendants' arguments, instead relying upon inapplicable authority such as the United Nations General Assembly's Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners to suggest the presence of some international norm against placing prisoners in solitary confinement.[3] (See Id. at 4-8.) Plaintiff fails to explain how those rules are relevant to this case or to any claims in this court. Plaintiff also cites to two inapplicable cases relating to judicial review. (See Id. at 9.) As a result, this court finds that Plaintiff has generally failed to address the ...

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