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Martinez v. Foster

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

March 31, 2017

MARIA GUADALUPE MARTINEZ, Individually, as a Legal Representative of the Estate of DELFINO GARCIA, and Next Friend of GEMMA GARCIA, a Minor, GRETCHELL GARCIA, a Minor, DELFINO GARCIA, JR., a Minor, and DELIA MACEDO, Next Friend of EMELY PARTICIA GARCIA, Plaintiffs,
v.
DONNIE FOSTER, COMMUNITY EDUCATION CENTERS, INC., JAGDISH A. SHAH, and JOHN DOES #1 THROUGH #35, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          RICHARD A. SCHELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Came on for consideration the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge (the “Report”) in this action (Dkt. 140), this matter having been heretofore referred to the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636, containing proposed findings of fact and recommendations that Defendant Community Education Centers, Inc.'s (“CEC”) Amended Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 126) be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         On March 24, 2017, Defendant CEC filed objections to the Report (see Dkt. 145). The court has made a de novo review of the objections raised by Defendant CEC and is of the opinion that the findings and conclusions of the Magistrate Judge are correct, and the objections are without merit as to the ultimate findings of the Magistrate Judge. The court hereby adopts the findings and conclusions of the Magistrate Judge as the findings and conclusions of this court.

         Plaintiffs brought this civil rights lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting the rights of Delfino Garcia (“Garcia”), deceased, a former pretrial detainee at the Fannin County Jail (“Fannin County”). Plaintiffs' claims against CEC rest on allegations that in 2008, CEC contracted with Fannin County to operate the Fannin County Jail for three (3) years, including providing necessary medical care to detainees during that period. Plaintiffs allege that CEC failed to fulfill its duties under the agreement with Fannin County. Specifically, Plaintiffs contend CEC and its agents had a “widespread practice and pattern of its employees refusing to treat its inmate/detainees' serious medical conditions.” Dkt. 88 at 13. Plaintiffs further allege CEC provided inadequate training and supervision to its employees related to providing medical care to inmates and detainees.

         I. PLAINTIFFS' 14TH AMENDMENT CLAIMS

         CEC objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment claims should proceed. See Dkt. 140. First, CEC contends it is not subject to suit in this action because CEC was a private entity acting under color of federal law when it detained Garcia, a federal prisoner. See Dkt. 145 at 12. However, Garcia's status as a federal prisoner is neither disputed nor dispositive of the issue. The relevant inquiry is whether Garcia was solely a federal prisoner during his detention at Fannin County Jail. The Magistrate Judge considered this argument and properly concluded that, viewing Plaintiffs allegations in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, dismissal of the lawsuit for failure to name a state actor was not appropriate at this stage of the litigation. See Dkt. 140 at 10.

         Citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009), CEC invites the court to “draw on its judicial experience and common sense” in making this determination. See Dkt. 140 at 10. In the court's experience, however, inmates and detainees are frequently held simultaneously on both federal and state charges, pursuant to federal and state law. CEC also contends its contracts and agreements to house federal detainees at the Fannin County Jail, which are matters of public record, somehow prove that Garcia was solely in federal custody at the time of the allegations in this case. See Dkt. 145 at 14-15. However, CEC concedes that both federal and state prisoners were housed at the Fannin County Jail during Garcia's detention. See Dkt. 145 at 24.Thus, the existence of these contracts and agreements fail to support CEC's argument.

         As the Magistrate Judge noted, “Plaintiffs plead simply that Garcia ‘was arrested at his house on charges that were later dismissed' and, thereafter, “was admitted to the [Fannin County Jail].'” Dkt. 140 at 10 (quoting Dkt. 88 ¶¶ 14, 17). While the court's dockets and the parties' admissions definitively establish Garcia's status as a federal prisoner during his detention at Fannin County Jail, they do not address whether he was simultaneously held on state charges. Accordingly, the court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment claims should not be subject to Rule 12 dismissal for failure to name a state actor. Accordingly, this objection is overruled.

         CEC also renews its argument that Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment claims fail to comport with federal pleading requirements and, accordingly, should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). See Dkt. 145 at 16-28. CEC argues Plaintiffs' claims do not warrant relief insofar as they are based on a theory of vicarious liability and objects to the Magistrate Judge's purported failure to address the issue of vicarious liability in the Report. See Dkt. 145 at 16. However, CEC's basis for this objection is unclear as the Magistrate Judge expressly noted CEC cannot be found liable on the basis of vicarious liability. See Dkt. 140 at 11. Moreover, it is implicit from the Report that the Magistrate Judge found only that Plaintiffs' direct liability Fourteenth Amendment claims against CEC should proceed.

         CEC also objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that Plaintiffs direct liability claims should proceed based on the finding that Plaintiffs' allegations establish an actionable corporate policy. See Dkt. 145 at 17. As explained in the Report, “a corporation performing a government function, such as managing a jail, is liable under § 1983 if the claimant demonstrates three elements: (1) a policymaker who can be held responsible; (2) an official policy or custom; and (3) a violation of constitutional rights whose ‘moving force' is the policy or custom.” Dkt.140 at 11 (citing Olivas v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 408 F.Supp.2d 251, 255 (N.D. Tex. 2006), affd, 215 F.App'x 332 (5th Cir. 2007) (internal citations omitted). Furthermore, a § 1983 claimant must plead the description of a policy or custom and its relationship to the underlying constitutional violation with specificity; conclusory allegations are not enough to withstand a motion to dismiss. See Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 237 F.3d 567, 579-80 (5th Cir. 2001).

         CEC challenges the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Plaintiffs described CEC's alleged policies with sufficient factual specificity to satisfy the pleading requirements. See Dkt. 145 at 17-22. However, the Report specifically takes note of Plaintiffs' allegations that “CEC and/or CEC's Medical Supervisor promulgated twelve (12) ‘formal written explicit policies' aimed at denying or delaying medical treatment to detainees.” Dkt. 140 at 11 (quoting Dkt. 88 at 27). Far from stating merely conclusory allegations, Plaintiffs allege their policy-related allegations with substantial specificity. See Dkt. 88 at 27-29. In pleading these allegations, Plaintiffs also cite several exhibits that provide evidentiary support for their factual assertions. Taken as true, these allegations of specific policies adopted by CEC establish the existence of corporate policies, for which CEC can be held liable in this § 1983 action.

         CEC also contends that, even if Plaintiffs successfully pled the existence of actionable policies, they failed to plead allegations that any such a policy caused or was the “moving force behind” the alleged violations of Garcia's Fourteenth Amendment rights. This argument lacks merit. Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint plainly alleges that the policy or custom was adopted or maintained by CEC's policymakers with deliberate indifference as to its known or obvious consequences. See Dkt. 88 at 27-29. Plaintiffs have asserted specific allegations that: (1) CEC adopted policies related to delaying and denying medical care to inmates and detainees; (2) CEC disregarded a known or obvious risk to inmate health and safety when they adopted these policies; and (3) Garcia's injuries were the direct and proximate result of CEC's policies. See id. These allegations comport with federal pleading requirements and are, therefore, sufficient to withstand CEC's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

         CEC also objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Plaintiffs' allegations regarding a corporate custom satisfies Fifth Circuit pleading requirements. See Dkt. 145 at 22-25. When the actions of employees are used to prove a custom for which a municipality or other corporation is liable, random acts and incidents are not enough; the “actions must have occurred for so long or so frequently that the course of conduct warrants the attribution to the governing body of knowledge that the objectionable conduct is the expected, accepted practice of [ ] employees.” Holland v. City of Houston, 41 F.Supp.2d 678, 698 (S.D. Tex. 1999) (quoting Webster v. City of Houston, 735 F.2d 838, 842 (5th Cir. 1984)). In other words, the corporation must have, at a minimum, constructive knowledge of the custom. To establish constructive knowledge, plaintiffs must demonstrate a true pattern of abuses. Piotrowski, 237 F.3d at 582. A pattern requires sufficiently numerous prior incidents, not just isolated instances. McConney v. City of Houston, 863 F.2d 1180, 1184 (5th Cir. 1989).

         Here, the Magistrate Judge evaluated Plaintiffs' corporate custom allegations and noted Plaintiffs' allegations that “four (4) prior lawsuits against CEC and its subsidiaries evince a widespread custom of denying or delaying medical care to detainees.” Dkt. 140 at 11. CEC contends the lawsuits are inapposite because, “[t]his suit addresses operations in Fannin County and is limited to policies concerning treatment of diabetics.” Dkt. 145 at 22. The court finds this argument disingenuous. As discussed previously, Plaintiffs have alleged CEC adopted corporate policies and/or customs of delaying or denying adequate medical care in general. See Dkt. 88 at 27-29. On the face of the Third Amended Complaint, these alleged policies and/or customs included, but were by no means exclusive to, diabetes-related care. See, e.g., Dkt. 88 at 27-29. Furthermore, Plaintiffs do not assert such policies or customs existed only within the Fannin County Jail. To the contrary, they contend the policies and customs existed outside the Fannin County Jail in at least those facilities involved in the four (4) extraneous lawsuits. To the extent that CEC argues the four (4) lawsuits cited by ...


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