United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
JANA K. LANDRY, Individually, and as next of kin and personal representative of Matthew Conard Nelson Deceased, Plaintiff,
TEXAS DEPT. OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION
Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge
a prison suicide case. This motion to dismiss requires the
court to decide whether the plaintiff, Jana Landry, the
mother of the deceased, Matthew Conard Nelson, has stated
claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law against the
doctors who treated her son. The doctors, Dr. Pilar
Laborde-Lahoz, M.D. and Sunil Athavale, M.D., have jointly
moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A key issue as to the
§ 1983 claim is qualified immunity. After careful review
of the parties' briefs, responses, and replies, and the
applicable law, the court grants the defendants' motion
to dismiss, without leave to amend because amendment would be
futile. The reasons are explained below.
allegations and background are taken from the Second Amended
Complaint. (Docket Entry No. 41). In November 2014, Matthew
Nelson, then 36 years old and addicted to methamphetamine,
was convicted for possessing methamphetamine and sentenced to
63 years in prison. After his trial, Nelson was held at the
Harris County Jail, awaiting his assignment and transfer to a
Texas state prison. During inmate processing, Nelson tried to
commit suicide by climbing up on a counter and jumping
backwards. Nelson landed on his back, breaking one of his
vertebrae. Officers took him to the hospital for treatment
and returned him to the Harris County Jail. The next day,
officers placed Nelson on suicide watch, but removed him from
the watch less than two weeks later.
Athavale examined Nelson in the jail and prescribed
fluoxetine, an antidepressant known to cause side effects
that can include “inducing self-injury, causing
suicidal thoughts, and . . . induc[ing] suicidal
attempts.” (Docket Entry No. 41 at 8). Despite the
potential side effects and Nelson's suicide attempt, Dr.
Athavale did not recommend reimposing suicide watch. During
this period, Nelson began attending group psychotherapy, but
he stopped because his back pain “made sitting in the
group insufferable.” (Docket Entry No. 41 at 8). Twice
during the next three months, Nelson told his mother that he
wanted to kill himself. Landry alleges that she reported
these threats to the jail.
attempted suicide a second time by cutting his wrist with a
razor. Harris County Jail physicians treated Nelson in the
infirmary after the attempt and sent him back to his cell,
but there is no indication of Dr. Athavale's involvement.
Harris County Jail nurse Rosemary Ojih assessed Nelson's
mental health and reported that his response to incarceration
was “normal, ” while noting that he had twice
attempted suicide. (Docket Entry No. 41 at 9). The jail
medical staff did not put Nelson back on suicide watch.
March 2015, Nelson attempted suicide for the third time since
arriving at the jail by cutting his neck with a razor. Dr.
Laborde-Lahoz examined Nelson and told him that she thought
his suicide attempt was a “rehearsal.” (Docket
Entry No. 41 at 10). Dr. Laborde-Lahoz prescribed
mirtazapine, an antidepressant with side effects that can
include “depression, psychotic depression, suicidal
ideations, and suicidal behavior.” (Docket Entry No. 41
at 10-11). About a week later, Dr. Laborde-Lahoz also
prescribed lurasidone, a medication for bipolar disorder,
which has side effects that can include suicidal ideations.
After both appointments, Dr. Laborde-Lahoz approved Nelson to
return to the general jail population and did not recommend
week later, Nelson made a fourth suicide attempt by running
head-first into a cinderblock wall. Harris County Jail
physicians treated Nelson in the infirmary and again sent him
back to his cell. Once again, there is no indication that the
treating physicians at the jail involved Dr. Laborde-Lahoz or
Dr. Athavale or that they put Nelson on suicide watch.
following day, April 1, 2015, officers transferred Nelson to
the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Gurney Unit, where
he was placed in an “administration separation
cell.” That same day, a TDCJ employee found Nelson in
his prison cell, dead from asphyxiation. He had hanged
himself with a bed sheet tied to a light fixture.
February 2017, Landry filed suit against twelve defendants,
alleging six causes of action. Drs. Athavale and
Laborde-Lahoz jointly moved to dismiss Landry's complaint
under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim against
them. Landry's claims against the doctors are for: (1)
violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments under
§ 1983; (2) medical malpractice; (3) wrongful death; and
(4) a survival action.
The Legal Standard for Dismissal
12(b)(6) allows dismissal if a plaintiff fails “to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Rule 12(b)(6) must be read in
conjunction with Rule 8(a), which requires “a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) (2). A complaint
must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Rule 8 “does
not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it
demands more than an unadorned,
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “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. (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. (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 556).
withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a “complaint must
allege ‘more than labels and conclusions, '”
and “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause
of action will not do.” Norris v. Hearst
Trust, 500 F.3d 454, 464 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Nor does a
complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked
assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual
enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(alteration in original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 557). “[A] complaint does not need detailed factual
allegations, but must provide the plaintiff's grounds for
entitlement to relief-including factual allegations that when
assumed to be true ‘raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.'” Cuvillier v. Taylor,
503 F.3d 397, 401 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555). “Conversely, when the allegations in
a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of
entitlement to relief, this basic deficiency should be
exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money
by the parties and the court.” Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558) (internal quotation marks
and alteration omitted).
plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim, the court
should generally give the plaintiff a chance to amend the
complaint under Rule 15(a) before dismissing the action with
prejudice, unless it is clear that to do so would be
futile. See Carroll v. Fort James Corp., 470 F.3d
1171, 1175 (5th Cir. 2006) (Rule 15(a) “evinces a bias
in favor of granting leave to amend”); GreatPlains Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter &
Co., 313 F.3d 305, 329 (5th Cir. 2002)
(“[D]istrict courts often afford plaintiffs at least
one opportunity to cure pleading deficiencies before
dismissing a case, unless it is clear that the defects are
incurable or the plaintiffs advise the court that they are
unwilling or unable to amend in a manner that will avoid
dismissal.”). A court in its discretion may deny a
motion to amend for futility if the amended complaint would
fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.
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