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Phelps v. Tuscarawas County

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

May 16, 2018

THOMAS PHELPS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TUSCARAWAS COUNTY, OHIO/TUSCARAWAS COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, et al., DEFENDANTS.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HONORABLE SARA LIOI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are two motions for summary judgment. The first is the motion of defendant Jeremy Everett (“Everett”). (Doc. No. 46. [“Everett Mot.”].) Plaintiff Thomas Phelps (“Phelps”) opposed the motion (Doc. No. 54 [“Opp'n Everett Mot.”]), and Everett filed a reply (Doc. No. 55 [“Reply Everett Mot.”]). The second is the motion of defendants Tuscarawas County (Tuscarawas County Commissioners) (“Tuscarawas County”), Sheriff Walter Wilson (“Wilson”), and Officer Vonda Hamilton (“Hamilton”) (collectively “Tuscarawas County defendants”). (Doc. No. 47 [“Tusc. Cty. Mot.”].) Phelps opposed the motion (Doc. No. 53 [“Opp'n Tusc. Cty. Mot.”]), and the Tuscarawas County defendants filed a reply (Doc. No. 56 [“Reply Tusc. Cty. Mot.”]).

         For the reasons that follow, defendants' motions are granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Many of the background facts of this case are not in dispute. Wilson was the Tuscarawas County Sheriff at the time of the events at issue, [1] and Everett was the administrator of the Tuscarawas County Jail.[2] (Doc. No. 46-1 (Affidavit of Jeremy Everett [“Everett Aff.”]) ¶ 1.) As administrator, Everett directed the day-to-day operations of the jail, including responding to emergency situations. (Id.) Hamilton was an employee of the Tuscarawas County Sheriff's Department at all relevant times. (Doc. No. 47-4 (Deposition of Vonda Hamilton [“Hamilton Dep.”]) at 316 (5).) The specific events at issue in this case occurred on August 19, 2014, but defendants' interactions with Phelps prior to that date are relevant.

         June 2014 - August 18, 2014

         In the summer of 2014, Phelps was incarcerated at the jail as a pretrial detainee because of domestic violence allegations. (See Doc. No. 61 (Deposition of Thomas Phelps [“Phelps Dep.”]) at 896; Doc. No. 54-1 at 485; Doc. No. 60 (Deposition of Nicole Peters[3] [“Peters Dep.”]) at 751.) The parties do not dispute that, at the jail on June 20, 2014, Phelps deliberately banged his head so hard that he cut it and was transported to Union Hospital to repair the cut. Nor do they dispute that, while being transported back to the jail from the hospital, Phelps banged his head against the window of the cruiser so hard that he reopened the repaired cut and broke the window. Phelps was returned to the hospital and thereafter admitted to Heartland Behavioral Health Care Center (“Heartland”). (Opp'n Everett Mot. at 464; Everett Mot. at 234; Doc. No. 54-1 at 484; Doc. No. 54-5 at 581.) A nursing note from that day states that Phelps “[w]ill probably be placed on suicide watch here unless we can get Rx's that are current for inmate.'” (Opp'n Everett Mot. at 464-65, citing exhibits 1 and 5[4]; Doc. No. 54-1 at 490.)

         On July 14, 2014, Phelps harmed himself again at the jail by banging his head, and was transported to the hospital and then to Heartland. (See Phelps Dep. at 940; Opp'n Everett Mot. at 465.) On July 17, 2014, Phelps was discharged from Heartland and transported back to the jail. (Everett Aff. ¶ 3; Opp'n Everett Mot. at 465.) When Phelps was discharged, he reported as not being suicidal and ready to return to jail. Heartland found him to be stabilized and ready for discharge with “regular checks” and prescribed medication. (Doc. No. 55-1 at 592.)

         Everett understood from Heartland that Phelps was self-injurious because of problems with his girlfriend and because he was incarcerated, not because he wanted to kill himself. (Everett Aff. ¶¶ 3, 6, 7; Doc. No. 55-1 at 592-93.) While Heartland did not find Phelps to be suicidal, he was diagnosed with a No. of mental disorders.[5] (See Doc. No. 54-2 at 534; Phelps Dep. at 946-47.)) Phelps has not provided any expert evidence disputing Heartland's assessment that Phelps was not suicidal when he was discharged from Heartland on July 17, 2014.

         Everett considered Heartland's assessment of Phelps' mental health and decided not to house Phelps in the general population or place him on suicide watch. Rather, Everett determined to house Phelps in the classification unit where he could be observed more closely than the general population and maximum security area because there is direct visual observation by the booking desk and by officers on regular rounds. (Everett Aff. ¶¶ 4-7; Hamilton Dep. at 318 (15)); Milburn Dep. at 682 (45) (The classification unit is “pretty much a place where you go and they can view you, make sure that you ain't going to hurt yourself.”).)

         After Phelps returned to the jail on July 17, 2014, the staff administered his daily medications, which were adjusted as necessary in consultation with the doctor. For example, Phelps visited the jail clinic on July 24, 2014 stating that he felt depressed, and his medication was adjusted. (See Doc. No. 46-2 (Affidavit of Nicole Peters [“Peters Aff.”]) ¶¶ 5-7; see also Everett Mot. at 235, 237 (dosage of Wellbutrin increased); Peters Dep. at 779.) During the time period from July 17, 2014 through August 18, 2014, Phelps received both medical and mental health care, was apparently doing well overall, and did not convey to the jail staff any thoughts of injuring himself or of suicidal ideation. (Peters Aff. ¶¶ 3-8; Everett Aff. ¶¶ 8-12.) Phelps does not contend that, during this time period, he conveyed to defendants or jail staff any thoughts of harming or killing himself. Indeed, Phelps described his mood as fair and that he was coping in the days leading up to August 19, 2014. (Phelps Dep. at 899-900.)

         August 19, 2014

         Everett visited with Phelps on August 18, 2014 concerning Phelps' complaints of pain possibly related to a hernia operation. Everett found Phelps to be lucid, and Phelps provided Everett with his medical history and signed an authorization so that Everett could obtain his medical records. Phelps made no mention to Everett of depression or thoughts of harming himself. (Everett Aff. ¶¶ 8-12.) Phelps does not dispute Everett's impression of Phelps' mental state on August 18, 2014, or dispute that he did not communicate any thoughts of self-harm to Everett during that visit.

         On August 19, 2014, Phelps was housed in the jail's classification unit where he had been since July 17, 2014. Hamilton was on duty at the booking desk. An intercom system connects the classification unit with booking. (Hamilton Dep. at 318 (16).)

         Phelps maintains that, on August 19, 2014, he pressed the intercom button and made multiple requests to Hamilton over the intercom to “see mental health.” (Phelps Dep. at 901-02, 909, 913-14.) According to Phelps, Hamilton told him to sit down and deal with it. (Id. at 910.) Phelps also contends that he spoke with the individual who distributed morning medications about seeing mental health, and was told to send a kite, which Phelps admittedly did not do. (Id. at 911-12.) Two individuals in the classification unit with Phelps that morning, Milburn[6] and Richard Jamerson, also maintain that Phelps requested to see mental health using the intercom, but Phelps did not say he wanted to kill himself (Milburn Dep. at 675 (15-17); Doc No. 58 (Deposition of Richard Jamerson [“Jamerson Dep.”]) at 629-31) or hurt himself. (Jamerson Dep. at 631 (28)). According to Milburn, when Everett walked by the classification unit, Phelps told Everett that he needed to talk with someone before he did “something stupid” but Everett told him it was “not my problem” and went to the booking area. (Milburn Dep. at 674 (11).)

         Hamilton states that she was not aware that anyone in the classification unit rang the intercom on August 19, and did not know that there was an issue with Phelps until another inmate in that unit began pounding on the windows.[7] At that time, Hamilton was at the booking counter talking to a probation officer from municipal court. When Hamilton heard the pounding, she walked over to the booking door and could see that Phelps had taken the TV off the wall, broken it, and had cut his arm with a piece of glass. Prior to hearing the pounding, Hamilton was not aware, and did not hear Phelps say, that he needed to talk with someone or that he was losing control. (Hamilton Dep. at 318-19 (16-21).) Jamerson estimates that about 10-15 minutes elapsed from the time Phelps first pressed the intercom button and when he removed the TV from the wall. (Jamerson Dep. at 630 (24-25).) Phelps is uncertain about the time frame of the events of August 19. (See Phelps Dep. at 912-13.)

         As it must on summary judgment, the Court will view the evidence on this disputed issue in favor of Phelps. But, even assuming that Phelps requested to see mental health that morning and Hamilton heard his request, Phelps concedes that he “didn't say [he] was going to kill [him]self.” (Id. at 949-50 (The [o]nly time I said that is when Everett escalated the situation where I told him I was going to cut my head off and he stated back . . . do what you gotta do. Do what you gotta do, you're nothing but paperwork.”); see also Milburn Dep. at 675 (17) (“He didn't say that he was going to kill himself. He just said he wanted to talk to somebody[.]”).)

         There is no dispute that an emergency presented itself when Phelps removed the TV from the wall and began cutting himself. When Hamilton saw that Phelps had cut his arm, she called for help. (Hamilton Dep. at 319 (20).) Jail personnel began arriving on the scene, and Peters was one of the first to arrive. When she arrived, Phelps was holding a piece of glass in his hand and had already cut his arm. (Peters Aff. ¶¶ 1, 9.) Peters tried to calm Phelps by talking with him through the open food pass chute in the cell door and asked him to put the glass down. (Peters Dep. at 724-28.) Peters believed Phelps to be suicidal at that time based on his conduct. (Id. at 757-58.) When Everett arrived, he kicked the food chute closed to protect Peters from Phelps cutting Peters with glass by reaching through the open chute. (Everett Aff. at ¶¶ 17-18.) While Everett's action agitated Phelps, Phelps has advanced no evidence raising a genuine dispute of fact that Everett closed the food chute to protect Peters.

         The parties dispute whether words were exchanged between Phelps and Everett at this time. According to Phelps, when Everett “escalated” the situation by kicking the chute closed Phelps told Everett “I'm going to cut my head off and [Everett] says, do what you gotta do.” (Phelps Dep. at 919.) Jamerson testified that at some point Everett asked Phelps what he was trying to do and Phelps replied that he was trying to kill himself, to which Everett responded “then do what you got to do[, ]” and Milburn provided similar testimony.[8] (Jamerson Dep. at 630 (23, 24); see Milburn Dep. at 674-75 (11-13).) Everett denies that he made any such statements. (Everett Aff. ¶ 24.) To the extent that this dispute is material, the Court concludes that a reasonable juror could find that Everett made the statements at issue.

         Phelps does not dispute that, after Everett kicked the food chute closed, which agitated Phelps, Peters kept talking to Phelps and succeeded in quickly calming him down again. (Peters Aff. ¶¶ 10-11.) The other inmates in the classification unit were ordered to lock down, and Everett ordered jail personnel to don their personal protective equipment. There is no dispute that Phelps was ordered to lay down on the floor and that he voluntarily complied. Phelps was handcuffed and removed from the classification unit. (Everett Aff. ¶¶ 19, 21-22; Phelps Dep. at 932-33; Peters Aff. ¶ 12.)

         Phelps claims that he was maced and “dragged” to a holding cell, did not receive treatment, and was held down on the bed until a decision was made as to whether he would be transported to the hospital by jail personnel or by ambulance. (Phelps Dep. at 920-21; 932-34.) But the jail video provided by Everett as Attachment 3 to his reply in support of the motion (and Everett's explanatory supplemental affidavit) plainly shows Phelps calmly walking (not being dragged) from the classification unit and then seated on a bed and provided with medical attention. (Doc. No. 57; Doc. No. 55-2 (Supplemental Affidavit of Everett [“Supp. Everett Aff.”]) ¶¶ 9-16.) Thus, the Court does not credit Phelps' testimony in this regard.[9]

         Phelps' wounds were not life-threatening, and they were cleaned and bandaged at the jail before Phelps was transported to the hospital. (See Peters Aff. ¶ 14.) Phelps has provided no evidence that the cuts he inflicted upon himself were life threatening, and his injuries do not appear so on the video of those events. (See Doc. No. 57.) After Phelps was secured and receiving medical attention, but before he was transported to the hospital, he told Peters that he wanted to die. (Peters Dep. at 757.) After medical treatment, Phelps was again taken to Heartland. Heartland records from August 20, 2014 describe Phelps' chief complaint as “I broke the TV, took the glass and cut my neck and hand. I want to kill myself.” (Doc. No. 54-2 at 541.)

         Phelps' complaint and defendants' motions

         For his complaint, Phelps alleges that he was known by defendants to be self-injurious from the time he entered the jail in June 2014 through the events of August 19, 2014, and that defendants were deliberately indifferent and failed to provide him with adequate medical care, causing him injury. Phelps also alleges that defendants failed to have adequate policies, procedures, and training in place to protect Phelps from a substantial risk of harm. Phelps claims that, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, defendants' deliberate indifference and failures violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution to adequate medical care and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Everett and Hamilton are sued in their individual and official capacities, and Wilson is sued in his official capacity as Tuscarawas County Sheriff.

         On summary judgment, Everett argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Phelps' § 1983 claim that Everett violated his constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Tuscarawas County, Wilson, and Hamilton also move for summary judgment on Phelps' § 1983 claim, incorporate the evidence and arguments set forth in Everett's motion, and argue that Phelps' complaint should be dismissed for the additional reason that Phelps fails to state a claim. (Tusc. Cty. Mot. at 267-71.) Because the Court concludes that the defendants are entitled to summary judgment, the Court will not address defendants' arguments that the complaint fails to state a claim.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is material if its resolution affects the outcome of the lawsuit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. If a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, then summary judgment is not appropriate. Id.

         The moving party must provide evidence to the court that demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute as to any material fact. Once the moving party meets this initial burden, the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. It is the nonmoving party's duty to point out specific facts in the record that create a genuine issue of material fact; the trial court does not have a duty to search the record “to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material fact.” Street, 886 F.2d at 1479-80 (citing Frito-Lay, Inc. v. Willoughby, 863 F.2d 1029, 1034 (D.C. Cir. 1988)); Fulson v. City of Columbus, 801 F.Supp. 1, 4 (S.D. Ohio 1992) (citation omitted).

         The nonmoving party may oppose a summary judgment motion “by any of the kinds of evidentiary material listed in Rule 56(c), except the mere pleadings themselves[.]” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The Court must view all facts and evidence, and inferences that may be reasonably drawn therefrom, in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962). General averments or conclusory allegations of an affidavit do not create specific fact disputes for summary judgment purposes. See Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888-89, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990).

         “Summary judgment requires that a plaintiff present more than a scintilla of evidence to demonstrate each element of a prima facie case.” Garza v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 536 F. App'x. 517, 519 (6th Cir. 2013) (citing Van Gorder v. Grand Trunk W. R.R., 509 F.3d 265, 268 (6th Cir. 2007)). “‘The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmoving party].'” Street, 886 F.2d at 1477 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         The district court's review on summary judgment is a threshold inquiry to determine whether there is the need for a trial due to genuine factual issues that must be resolved by a finder of fact because those issues may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. That is, the Court must determine “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must ...


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