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Wright v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

December 16, 2013

SHELLYE WRIGHT, individually and in her Capacity as heir and Representative of the Estate of RODNEY WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

REED C. O'CONNOR, District Judge.

In this lawsuit brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 794, against Defendants Texas Department of Criminal Justice ("TDCJ"), various TDCJ correctional employees and officers, and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center ("TTUHSC"), Plaintiff Shellye Wright, individually and in her capacity as the representative of the estate of her son Rodney Wright ("Wright"), alleges that Wright took his own life while incarcerated in the Allred Unit in Iowa Park, Texas, as a result of Defendants' failure to provide him with constitutionally required medical care and failure to properly accommodate his mental health disability. Defendant TTUHSC has moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. See Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center's Motion to Dismiss Under FRCP 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 18). Having considered the motion, response, [1] pleadings and the applicable law, the Court grants the motion in part and denies the motion in part.

I. Background Facts and Procedural History[2]

Plaintiff is the mother of Wright, who took his own life on September 23, 2011 by hanging himself from the ceiling grate in his single-inmate cell while he was incarcerated in the Allred Unit in Iowa Park, Texas. Plaintiff alleges that TTUHSC, the entity which provides medical care at the Allred Unit through its Correctional Managed Care program and instructs TDCJ how to safely house prisoners with disabilities, failed to accommodate Wright's mental disability by not requiring TDCJ to assign Wright to a shared cell, despite knowing Wright suffered from severe bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, was classified by TTUHSC doctors as "high risk suicide status, " and had made serious suicide attempts in the past, including cutting his own throat at the Allred Unit requiring 43 sutures in 2010. See generally Pl. Compl. ¶¶ 8, 14-16, 19-22, 24, 26, 30, 37. Plaintiff further alleges that it is well known that "housing prisoners with known suicidal tendencies by themselves is dangerous, as people are less likely to take their own lives when there are other people around them." Id. ¶ 19. Plaintiff also alleges that TTUHSC failed to ensure Wright was not imprisoned in a cell with "tie off points" from which a ligature could be secured, "such as the ceiling grate he hung his bedsheet from." Id. ¶ 20. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that two days before his death, Wright missed an appointment to receive injectable psychotropic drugs necessary to treat his mental illness and "[i]nstead of following up to ensure he received his medication, TTUHSC did nothing." Id. ¶ 22.

On September 19, 2013, Plaintiff sued TDCJ and various correctional officers for alleged constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking compensatory and punitive damages. Plaintiff also sued TTUHSC under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act seeking compensatory relief. TTUHSC moves to dismiss the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims for failure to state a claim.

II. Legal Standard

To defeat a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotation marks omitted).

In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Sonnier v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 509 F.3d 673, 675 (5th Cir. 2007). The Court is not bound to accept legal conclusions as true, and only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court assumes their veracity and then determines whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Id. However, the Court does "not accept as true conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions." Southland Sec. Corp. v. INSpire Ins. Solutions, Inc., 365 F.3d 353, 361 (5th Cir. 2004).

In ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court cannot look beyond the pleadings. Spivey v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 774 (5th Cir. 1999). The pleadings include the complaint and any documents attached to it. Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498-99 (5th Cir. 2000). Likewise, documents that a defendant attaches to a motion to dismiss are considered part of the pleadings if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to the plaintiff's claims. Id.

III. Analysis

Title II of the ADA provides that "no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." 42 U.S.C. § 12132. A "public entity" includes "any department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or States or local government." 42 U.S.C. § 12131(1)(B). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides that "[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability... shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, or be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...." 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). A "program or activity" includes "all of the operations of... a department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or of a local government...." 29 U.S.C. § 794(b)(1)(A). Congress intended that Title II of the ADA "work in the same manner as Section 504, " Hainze v. Richards, 207 F.3d 795, 799 (5th Cir.2000) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted), and jurisprudence interpreting either statute is generally applicable to both. See id. To prove a claim under Title II of the ADA or § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Plaintiffs must adequately allege that Wright (1) was a qualified individual with a disability, and (2) was excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of the Allred Unit, or was otherwise subjected to discrimination, (3) because of his disability. See id.

TTUHSC does not dispute that Wright was a qualified individual with a disability. Instead, TTUHSC argues that Plaintiff has "not plead any facts to claim to support the elements of a cause of action under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act, " specifically that he "was either excluded from participation in or denied benefits of a public entity's services, programs or activities, or otherwise discriminated against by the public entity; and [] such exclusion, denial of benefits, or discrimination was by reason of his disability. " Def. Mot. at 3 (original emphasis). In opposition to the motion to dismiss, Plaintiff cites case law in support of her ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims, argues that "TTUHSC's interpretation of the statute essentially makes the ADA and Rehabilitation Act meaningless[, ]" and states:

Denying Wright safe housing is no different than denying wheelchairs or crutches to inmates with mobility impairments. Without wheelchairs or crutches, inmates with mobility disabilities cannot safely move about the prison and are at risk of injury. Without a cell mate, or a cell free from dangerous tie-off points, prisoners whose mental ...

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