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Judd v. Watkins

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

October 21, 2019

BILLY WATKINS, et al., Defendants.


          Frank D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of Plaintiff's Fourth Amended Complaint, (Doc. No. 45).[1] Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, (Doc. No. 9).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 while a pretrial detainee at the Buncombe County Detention Facility (“BCDF”).[2] He names as Defendants: John Doe Sheriff of the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office, Buncombe County, the State of North Carolina, Deputy Billy Watkins, Dr. Daniel Hayes, Jane Doe Mental Healthcare Provider, and John Doe Deputy Sheriff. Plaintiff alleges that the incidents at issue occurred at BCDF on November 11, 2016 at 4:00 PM and 5:30 AM, on November 13, 2016 at 10:30 AM and in March, April, May, June, and July 2016.

         Construing the Fourth Amended Complaint liberally and accepting the allegations as true, John Doe Deputy Sheriff arrested Plaintiff as a result of a domestic disturbance. He observed Plaintiff's psychological distress and heard Plaintiff threaten suicide and was deliberately indifferent by failing to communicate the circumstances of his arrest and strong likelihood that Plaintiff would attempt suicide to BCDF.

         Deputy Hayes and Jane Doe conducted only cursory interview after Plaintiff's arrest during intake. Despite their specific knowledge of Plaintiff's suicidal tendencies and serious psychological needs, including the need for anxiety and insomnia medication, they failed to respond reasonably by placing him on suicide watch or implementing any plan for his supervision. As a result, Plaintiff hung himself using a sheet and nearly died.

         On the morning of November 11, 2016 during medical intake, Plaintiff signed a form stating he would release BCDF from liability for medical costs incurred as a result of self-injurious behavior. Plaintiff does not believe the form has any legitimate governmental purpose and that the form's existence encouraged BCDF deputies to ignore the risk of substantial injury that was posed by Plaintiff's known suicidal tendencies. This municipal policy is deliberately indifferent to the health and safety of others and may be intended to deceive people who sign the form into believing that they have forfeited their right to recover damages, which infringes on their right of access to the courts.

         Sometime after midnight on November 13, 2016, Plaintiff informed Deputy Watkins of his need to be seen by medical for serious withdrawal symptoms and chest pain. He asked if Plaintiff had informed medical on intake and Plaintiff said he did not know. Watkins said he was not calling medical. Plaintiff began kicking the door, screaming obscenities, and asking for medical attention for several hours. Plaintiff was refused medical attention and was placed on lockdown. Plaintiff told Watkins “it's gonna be on you when I do something stupid and you find me dead in here.” (Doc. No. 45 at 8). Plaintiff was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's suicide threat and failed to take any actions to protect him and subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment by witnessing Plaintiff's distress and failed to respond reasonably.

         Plaintiff repeatedly attempted to obtain mental health treatment throughout 2016 for anxiety, insomnia, paranoid thoughts, and other serious mental health issues. Nurse Jane Doe knew that Plaintiff had been prescribed medications and had suicidal tendencies but she intentionally and recklessly disregarded a risk of serious harm by intentionally withholding his medications and refusing him access to a psychiatrist. Plaintiff did not receive adequate mental healthcare in the form of medication or counseling at any time during his confinement in 2016. This resulted in worsening psychological symptoms, extreme loss of vital signs requiring emergency transport, acute respiratory failure, neurological critical condition, damage to his neck, rib fracture, and general distress. This resulted in a 10-day stay in the Neurotrauma ICU, nearly three months of pain, and hypoxic brain injury. He now has acutely impaired memory function, permanent psychological damage, and PTSD.

         Buncombe County failed to provide adequate healthcare and is deliberately indifferent to the safety of others through its policy of understaffing mental health professionals. Nurse Jane Doe was the only mental health counselor available from 2010 to 2016. Buncombe County also failed to exercise necessary oversight to ensure the provision of adequate mental healthcare where Jane Doe was refusing minimally adequate treatment. Buncombe County failed to adequately train and supervise its employees to communicate suicide risks, follow suicide prevention policies, and recognize and respond to mental health crises. Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan[3] was aware of these deliberately indifferent policies and nevertheless failed to respond reasonably to prevent serious harm and pain and suffering.

         Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, and compensatory and punitive damages.


         Because Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the Complaint to determine whether it is subject to dismissal on the grounds that it is “(i) frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In its frivolity review, a court must determine whether the Complaint raises an indisputably meritless legal theory or is founded upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such as fantastic or delusional scenarios. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989). A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim “unless ‘after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief.'” Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999)).

         A pro se complaint must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); see also Smith v. Smith, 589 F.3d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 2009) (“Liberal construction of the pleadings is particularly appropriate where … there is a pro se complaint raising civil rights issues.”). However, the liberal construction requirement will not permit a district court to ignore a clear failure to allege facts in his complaint which set forth a claim that is cognizable under federal law. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990). A pro se complaint must still contain sufficient facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (the Twombly plausibility standard applies to all federal civil complaints including those filed under § 1983). This “plausibility standard requires a plaintiff to demonstrate more than a ...

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