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Brown v. Coupe

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 27, 2017

NISHAY BROWN, as Administratrix of the Estate of Raequan Stevens, dec'd Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT M. COUPE Commissioner State of Delaware Dept. Of Corrections, WARDEN STEVEN WESLEY Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, CONNECTIONS COMMUNITY SUPPORT PROGRAMS, INC., MEDICAL JOHN DOES #1-10, CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS JOHN DOES #1-10, DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendants.

          Bruce W. McCullough, Bodell Bove, Wilmington, DE. Attorney for Plaintiff

          Joseph Clement Handlon and Roopa Sabesan, Department of Justice, Wilmington DE. Attorney for Defendants Coupe and Wesley

          Dana Spring Monzo, White & Williams, Wilmington, DE Attorney for Connections Community Support Programs, Inc.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK U.S. District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court is a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs Amended Complaint ("Complaint") for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), filed by the State Defendants ("State Defendants") Robert Coupe, Commissioner of the Delaware Department of Correction ("Coupe" or "Commissioner"), and Steven Wesley ("Wesley" or "Warden"), Warden of the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution ("HRYCI"). (D.I. 17) The Complaint was filed by Nishay Brown ("Brown" or "Plaintiff), administratrix of the estate of her son, Raequan Stevens ("Stevens"), who died while a pretrial detainee at HRYCI. Brown's claims arise under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as Delaware negligence law. (See D.I. 14 ¶ 1) For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant the State Defendants' motion to dismiss.[1]

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[2]

         Stevens was arrested and placed in the custody of HRYCI on September 4, 2015. (D.I. 14 ¶ 14) At or around the time of his arrest, Stevens sustained a gunshot wound to the shoulder; but he was observed to be in otherwise good health when the HRYCI medical staff screened Stevens upon his incarceration at HRYCI. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16) From the beginning of his incarceration up until the time of his death on November 28, 2015, Stevens was in "regular contact with medical personnel" at HRYCI. (Id. ¶ 17)

         On or about November 26, 2015, Stevens reported to "emergency sick call" with complaints of a severe, throbbing pain in his abdomen and chest, which he reported radiated to his stomach and thighs. (Id. ¶ 18) Stevens was "apparently suffering from appendicitis, " as indicated by these complaints. (Id.) After an examination by the HRYCI medical staff, Stevens was returned to the general population, with two non-prescription drugs: a 400 milligram Motrin pill and two tablets of Turns. (Id.)

         On the morning of November 28, 2015, the corrections staff received a complaint from Stevens' cellmate that a fluid issued from the upper bunk where Stevens slept. (Id. ¶ 20) When staff arrived at the cell, they found that Stevens had passed away. (Id. ¶ 21) An autopsy revealed that Stevens died from "Peritonitis due to [a] Ruptured Appendix." (Id. ¶ 22)

         Plaintiff alleges that appendicitis is "easily detectable" and "readily treatable" by those possessing "basic medical knowledge." (Id. ¶ 23) She contends that the medical staff at HRYCI should have reasonably been able to identity Stevens' appendicitis based on the symptoms he reported on November 26. (Id. ¶ 24) Plaintiff alleges that trained personnel should have been able to recognize Stevens' condition and that the "lack of medical monitoring or assessment" resulted from a failure of State Defendants Coupe and Wesley to "establish appropriate policies, practices, and procedures for the monitoring and assessment of inmates who develop severe and acute medical conditions." (Id. ¶¶ 28-30), According to the Complaint, State Defendants Coupe and Wesley are the direct and proximate cause of Stevens' death due to their awareness of his serious medical needs and inaction, namely their "deliberately indifferent and grossly negligent" failure to ensure Stevens received the evaluation and treatment he needed. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32) State Defendants are also accused of "gross negligence and deliberate indifference" in their failures: (1) to monitor the performance of the prison medical provider, Connections; and (2) to "put into place training, policies, practices, and customs that would safeguard the rights" of inmates at HRYCI to receive basic medical care. (Id. ¶ 33, see also Id. ¶¶ 46-49)

         The Complaint contains three claims for relief: (i) violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by Medical John Does and Correctional John Does; (ii) violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by State Defendants and Connections; and (iii) negligence by Medical John Does and Connections. (Id. ¶¶ 43-57)

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Evaluating a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) requires the Court to accept as true all material allegations of the complaint. See Spruill v. Gillis,372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2004). "The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig.,114 F.3d 1410, 1420 (3d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, the Court may grant such a motion to dismiss only if, after "accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, and viewing them in the light most favorable to ...


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