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Cotton v. Douglas County Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

October 5, 2016

JAMES COTTON, Plaintiff,
DOUGLAS COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, DOUGLAS COUNTY, NEBRASKA and JACQUELINE ESCH, in her official capacity as a medical doctor of Defendant Douglas County, Corrections; Defendants.


          Robert F. Rossiter, Jr., United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss filed by defendants Douglas County Department of Corrections (“DCC”) and Douglas County (“County, ” or, collectively, “County defendants”) (Filing No. 13).[1] This is an action for deprivation of civil rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., as amended, and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794. Jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 1343.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In his Complaint, James Cotton, a pretrial detainee in the custody of defendant Douglas County Department of Corrections (“DCC”), alleges he is a person with disabilities, including nerve damage that require him to wear a back brace and knee problems that require him to wear a knee brace. He also alleges he requires, and has not been provided, pain medications and has been denied the reasonable accommodation of a wheelchair. Further, he alleges he (1) has physical impairments that substantially limit his major life activities; (2) is otherwise qualified to receive the benefits from and participate in DCC's services, programs, and activities; (3) has been denied access to those activities; and (4) “was generally discriminated against because of his disabilities.” He alleges he has been denied the accommodations that would enable him to participate. Dr. Esch, is identified as a doctor and agent of defendant DCC.[2] The plaintiff also contends defendants knew and ignored excessive risks to his health and safety and asserts the defendants' conduct amounts to deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

         Defendant DCC moves to dismiss asserting that it is not a “person” subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, but is merely a department within Douglas County. The County also contends it is not an entity subject to suit. It also seeks dismissal based on the plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e et seq.

         The County also contends the plaintiff's § 1983, ADA, and § 504 claims are subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. It argues, with respect to the plaintiff's § 1983 claim, that the plaintiff has failed to allege a custom or policy of the county, so as to subject it to municipal liability. It contends that the plaintiff's claims of discrimination in violation of Title II of the ADA and Section 504 are conclusory allegations insufficient to state plausible claims to relief. The County argues the plaintiff's Complaint is “devoid of factual enhancement describing how he was discriminated against” and fails to identify or describe the accommodations he needs.

         The County also argues that the plaintiff cannot maintain a § 1983 action because his “§ 1983 claims for alleged violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights are predicated on the same allegations underlying his ADA and Section 504 claims, warranting dismissal because violations of the ADA and Section 504 are not intended to also be cognizable under § 1983.”


         A. Standard of Review/Pleading Standards

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); accord Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 n.3 (2007). “Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Courts follow a “two-pronged approach” to evaluate Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). First, the Court divides the allegations between factual and legal allegations; factual allegations should be accepted as true, but legal conclusions should be disregarded. Id. Second, the Court reviews factual allegations for facial plausibility. Id. “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. at 677 (stating that the plausibility standard does not require a probability but asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully).

         There is no heightened pleading requirement in a § 1983 suit against a municipality. Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993). Thus, “[t]he failure of the [plaintiff] to specifically plead the existence of an unconstitutional policy or custom, in itself, is not fatal to [his] claim for relief.” Doe ex rel. Doe v. School Dist. of Norfolk, 340 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2003) (noting that when a complaint is filed, a plaintiff may not be privy to the facts necessary to accurately describe or identify any policies or customs that may have caused the deprivation of a constitutional right); see also Crumpley-Patterson v. Trinity Lutheran Hosp., 388 F.3d 588, 591 (8th Cir. 2004) (explaining the plaintiff “need not . . . specifically plead the existence of an unconstitutional policy or custom to survive a motion to dismiss”). Nevertheless, a plaintiff's complaint must contain “allegations, reference, or language by which one could begin to draw an inference that the conduct complained of . . . resulted from an unconstitutional policy or custom of [the defendant].” Doe, 340 F.3d at 614.

         Under the PLRA, “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under § 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PLRA, and inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaints. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007).

         B. ...

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