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Balle v. Nueces County

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 15, 2017

ADAM A. BALLE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
NUECES COUNTY, TEXAS; DEBORAH CHARETTE; CHELSEA JOHNSON, Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas

          Before KING, JOLLY, and PRADO, Circuit Judges.

          EDWARD C. PRADO, Circuit Judge:

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case arises out of injuries Adam Balle allegedly sustained while he was detained at a facility operated by Nueces County and was under the care of the facility's medical professionals, Deborah Charette and Chelsea Johnson. The district court dismissed Balle's claims against Nueces County, Charette, and Johnson under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). We AFFIRM in part, REVERSE in part, and REMAND.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the amended complaint, on March 6, 2012, two Corpus Christi police officers responded to a domestic dispute at Balle's home and took Balle into custody. At the time, Balle was diabetic and suffered from a back disability, though he was able to stand and walk without assistance. While escorting Balle to the police car, one of the officers kicked Balle twice in the middle of his back, causing him to fall to the ground. Balle experienced a sharp pain in his back. Nonetheless, the officers pulled Balle into the police car and transported him to the Corpus Christi Detention Center, where he was held for several hours without medical attention.

         Balle was then transported to the Nueces County Jail. Balle alleges that, throughout his six-day detention at the jail, he was given little medical attention, even though he was experiencing excruciating pain and repeatedly requested help. On March 9, 2012, the jail's "Pass Logs"-which serve as a record of the jailers' observations from their daily rounds-indicated that Balle had "soiled himself" and was "unable to clean himself." In response, an "officer took him to 3R to shower, " and his "cell was clean[ed] and clothes were replaced." On March 10, Balle allegedly sent a communication to jail officials indicating that he needed medical attention, was unable to care for himself, had lost the ability to control his bodily functions, and was experiencing severe muscle spasms. The following day, the Pass Logs stated: "Inmate Adam Balle complaining of losing use of legs and in pain. Taken to medical. Checked [and] cleared by C. Johnson, nurse."

         On March 12, 2012, the Pass Logs indicated that Balle "did not go to diabetic check" because he said "he was paralyzed and could not walk." "Nurse Asher" and "PA Deborah" apparently spoke with Balle, but once again, Balle was "checked and cleared." In describing this evaluation, the Pass Logs stated, "PA [said] that he is refusing to move." Later that day, Balle was finally transported to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with various back injuries. Balle underwent surgery a few days later. Despite the surgery, however, Balle has stated that he remains unable to walk.

         On March 5, 2014, Balle brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Corpus Christi, the two police officers who arrested him, Nueces County, ten John Does, and ten Jane Does.[1] Neither Charette nor Johnson was named as a defendant in Balle's original complaint. Through subsequent discovery, Balle was able to identify Charette and Johnson as the medical professionals purportedly responsible for his care while at the jail. Thus, in October 2014, Balle filed an amended complaint substituting Charette and Johnson for two of the Jane Does.

         Nueces County, Charette, and Johnson then filed motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). The magistrate judge recommended granting Johnson's and Charette's motions to dismiss because they were added as named defendants after the statute of limitations period had run. The district court adopted this recommendation and dismissed Balle's claims against Charette and Johnson. Separately, the magistrate judge recommended denying Nueces County's motion to dismiss. The district court declined to adopt this recommendation and granted the county's motion, holding that Balle had inadequately pleaded his municipal liability claim. This appeal followed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Balle argues that the district court erred in holding that (A) his claims against Charette and Johnson were untimely and (B) he inadequately pleaded municipal liability. We review "motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) de novo, 'accepting all well-pleaded facts as true and viewing those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'" Ibe v. Jones, 836 F.3d 516, 524 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Toy v. Holder, 714 F.3d 881, 883 (5th Cir. 2013)). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting 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." Id. Moreover, a complaint will not be dismissed merely because it contains an "imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted." Johnson v. City of Shelby, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014).

         A. Timeliness of the Claims Against Charette and Johnson

         The parties appear to agree that the cause of action accrued on March 12, 2012. However, the length of the limitations period for a § 1983 claim "is determined by the general statute of limitations governing personal injuries in the forum state." Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 237 F.3d 567, 576 (5th Cir. 2001). As we have previously noted, "Texas has a two year statute of limitations for personal injury claims." Id.; see Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. ยง 16.003(a). Although Balle brought suit within two years of March 12, 2012, he did not name Charette and Johnson as defendants until he filed his amended complaint in October 2014. Nevertheless, ...


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