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Fluker v. Cuyahoga County

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

August 7, 2019



          SARA LIOI, JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim filed by defendants Cuyahoga County, Armond Budish (“Budish”), Clifford Pinkney (“Pinkney”), Eric J. Ivey (“Ivey”), and Kenneth Mills (“Mills”) (in his official capacity only)[1] (collectively, “the County”). (Doc. No. 9 [“Mot.”].) Plaintiff Cecil Fluker (“Fluker”) filed a memorandum in opposition (Doc. No. 16 [“Opp'n”][2]) and the County filed its reply (Doc. No. 20 [“Reply”]).[3] For the reasons set forth herein, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 11, 2019, Fluker filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that, on or about August 30, 2017, he was arrested for allegedly violating a protective order. (Doc. No. 1, Complaint [“Compl.”] ¶ 13.) He was detained in the Cuyahoga County Correctional Center (“CCCC”) as a pretrial detainee, but the charges against him were dismissed and he was ultimately released. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         Fluker alleges that, while he was detained in CCCC, he complained to a corrections officer that “he felt sick from drinking water provided in the jail to inmates and/or from black mold growing on the food trays, which he inadvertently ingested.” (Id. ¶ 15.) “The water was determined by on site jail staff and others to be discolored.” (Id. ¶ 16.) According to Fluker, “[d]efendants knew at all times pertinent herein that discolored county water would be consumed . . . by detainees and other inmates including [plaintiff].” (Id. ¶ 18.)

         Fluker claims that “he developed a rash on his body, severe nausea, and anxiety as a result of drinking the jail water[, ]” which he needed to do “to stay hydrated.” (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) The County “did not, as a matter of policy, practice, custom or habit provide alternative forms of water to pre-trial detainees, such as bottled water[, ]” even though county employees “knew to bring their own bottled water as an alternative to drinking the jails [sic] water[.]” (Id. ¶ 21.)

         At Fluker's request, he was “sent to the jail infirmary for vomiting and diarrhea after drinking the water and being exposed to black mold on food trays.” (Id. ¶ 22.) “He was appropriately examined by a nurse and treated with medication.” (Id.) Even so, “he felt as if he was going to die.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff claims he complained to corrections officers about the water, but that, “[b]y not offering adequate substitute hydration . . . [d]efendant's [sic] demonstrated their deliberate indifference, wantonness and recklessness to [plaintiff's] safety and health.” (Id. ¶ 23.)

         In addition, Fluker claims that, despite their knowledge of the black mold on the food trays, defendants kept the trays in service, and did not discard them until a year later. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.)

         Fluker alleges that each of the individual defendants were given “direct written notice . . . about these trays and the black mold” through written reports by staff members known as “CS 35s.” (Id. ¶ 33.) Fluker claims that defendants possess these reports but will not release them to the public. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 37.)

         Finally, Fluker alleges that the County was also placed on notice of these jail conditions by way of “[p]rior pro se lawsuits of inmates . . . contain[ing] allegations of black mold growing in the jail, ” as well as by the fact findings in a Quality Assurance Review contracted by the United States Marshal. (Id. ¶ 39.) Fluker has attached that report to his complaint (Doc. No. 1-2 (“QAR”)), and “[t]he facts and findings in the [QAR] . . . are also adopted as if fully rewritten [in his complaint].” (Compl. ¶ 41.) The QAR assigned the facility an overall rating of “Unsatisfactory/At-Risk.” (Doc. No. 1-2 [“QAR”] at 21.) Notably, the functional area of “Administration and Management” was given that same rating. (Id. at 44.)


         A. Standard on a Motion to Dismiss

         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). Although this pleading standard does not require great detail, the factual allegations in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citing authorities). In other words, “Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a ‘showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Id. at 555, n.3 (criticizing the Twombly dissent's assertion that the pleading standard of Rule 8 “does not require, or even invite, the pleading of facts”) (internal citation omitted).

         “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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Rule 8 does not “unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Id. at 678-79. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 679. “The court need not, however, accept unwarranted factual inferences.” Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987)).

         B. Analysis of Federal Claims

         Fluker sets forth two federal claims for relief: (1) a Section 1983 claim against all defendants alleging a deprivation of rights secured by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, including his rights to due process, to be free from cruel and unusual conduct, and to be free from deliberate indifference to his safety and health (Compl. ¶ 43); and (2) a Monell claim against the County and Budish alleging that the County's policies, practices, customs and habits (or lack thereof) relating to conditions of confinement, as well as its failure to train, supervise, investigate and discipline, were a moving force behind the constitutional violations (id. ¶¶ 45-49).

         1. Claims Against the County

         To the extent these two claims are pleaded against the County, as well as Budish, Pinkney, Ivey, and Mills in their official capacities, they are both Monell claims.[4] Leach v. Shelby Cty. Sheriff, 891 F.2d 1241, 1245 (6th Cir. 1989) (“[A]n official capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity.” (quoting Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985))).

         “[A] governmental entity is liable under § 1983 only when the entity itself is a moving force behind the deprivation; thus, in an official-capacity suit the entity's policy or custom must have played a part in the violation of federal law.” Graham, 473 U.S. at 166 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); Monell, 436 U.S. at 691 (“[The County can be sued under § 1983 where] the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers.”). The County “cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.” Monell, 436 U.S. at 691. “Official [County] policy includes the decisions of a government's ...

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