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Fletcher v. Connecticut Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 6, 2016

LAMAR FLETCHER acting as Administrator of THE ESTATE of DERANNA FLETCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT of CORRECTIONS; HARTFORD COMMUNITY CORRECTION CENTER; JAMES E. DZURENDA, DOC Commissioner in his official and individual capacities; WALTER FORD, HCC Warden, in his official and individual capacities Defendants.

          RULING AND ORDER

          MICHAEL P. SHEA, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         The plaintiff, Lamar Fletcher (“Mr. Fletcher”), is acting as Administrator of the Estate of Deranna Fletcher (“Decedent”). (ECF No. 23 at ¶ 5.) He brings this case against the Connecticut Department of Corrections (“DOC”); Hartford Correctional Center (“HCC”); James E. Dzurenda, DOC Commissioner (“Commissioner”) during the Decedent's incarceration, in his official and personal capacities; and Walter Ford, HCC Warden (“Warden”) during the Decedent's incarceration, in his official and personal capacities. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-9.) The Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), and Mr. Fletcher has filed an unopposed motion to amend the complaint to plead the additional fact that he is the administrator of the Decedent's Estate. I hereby GRANT the Motion to Amend (ECF No. 22) and treat Defendants' motion to dismiss as addressed to the Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 23).

         According to the complaint, this case is about a man who made several suicide attempts while in the custody of the DOC, the last of which caused 21 months of hospitalization and his death. (ECF No. 23 at ¶¶ 21-22.) Before his final suicide attempt, the Decedent continuously threatened and exhibited self-harm behaviors, causing mental health assessors to put him on a suicide watch and recommend transfer to an inpatient mental health facility. Id. at ¶¶ 16-17. Despite these recommendations, the DOC, HCC, Commissioner, and Warden failed to act. Id. at ¶¶ 2-3, 19-20. Mr. Fletcher alleges that the defendants (1) violated the Decedent's civil rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and violated Article 1, §§ 7, 8, and 9 of the Connecticut Constitution; (2) caused the Decedent's fatal injuries, under C.G.S. § 52-555; (3) intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the Decedent in violation of Connecticut common law; and (4) negligently inflicted emotional distress on the Decedent in violation of Connecticut common law. Id. at ¶¶ 1, 26. Mr. Fletcher specifically seeks actual and compensatory damages, damages for emotional suffering, statutory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees and costs. Id. at ¶ 9.

         For reasons discussed below, the defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 17) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Counts One, Two, Three, and Four are dismissed as to the DOC, HCC, and individual defendants in their official capacities, and Count Four is dismissed as to the individual defendants in their personal capacities. Counts One, Two, and Three against the individual defendants in their personal capacities remain.

         II. Factual Allegations

         A. The Decedent's Arrest and Unsuccessful Suicide Attempts

         On January 17, 2014, Hartford Police arrested the Decedent and charged him with two counts of murder and one count of possession of a firearm. (ECF No. 23 at ¶ 13.) Later that day, while in custody at HCC, the Decedent unsuccessfully attempted suicide by wrapping a telephone cord around his neck. Id. at ¶ 14. As a result, a HCC mental health professional performed an assessment on the Decedent, during which the Decedent described his life as unbearable and expressed that his life was over. Id. at ¶ 16. The HCC staff member placed him on a suicide watch. Id.

         During a break in interrogation on January 30, 2014, while detectives stepped out of the interrogation area, the Decedent unsuccessfully attempted to hang himself again by fashioning a makeshift noose out of a computer cable and placing it around his neck. Id. at ¶ 15. HCC conducted a Suicide Risk Assessment on January 31, 2014, at which point personnel concluded that the Decedent suffered serious mental health issues. Id. at ¶ 17. During that assessment, the Decedent threatened self-injury and expressed his belief that it was unlikely he would ever be reunited with his daughter. Id. In the words of the Decedent's examiner, “this inmate is at a high imminent risk for a potentially lethal suicide attempt and should be transferred to an inpatient facility.” Id.

         B. The Decedent's Final Suicide Attempt and Fatal Injuries

         February 2, 2014 was the Decedent's twenty-sixth birthday and was the day before his scheduled appearance in Hartford Superior Court. Id. at ¶ 19. DOC personnel conducted a psychiatric evaluation of the Decedent on February 2, during which he stated that he felt worse because of his birthday and that he tried to kill himself. Id. at ¶¶ 19, 30. Later that day, the Decedent again attempted to hang himself, resulting in serious injuries, including anoxic encephalopathy caused by a left cerebral infarct, aphasia, and a stroke. Id. at ¶¶ 21, 31. The Decedent was transported to the University of Connecticut Health Center, where he remained until his death on November 18, 2015. Id. at ¶ 22.

         Throughout his suicidal behavior and threats, the Decedent was in the exclusive custody and control of the defendants. Id. at ¶ 23. The Warden, who was responsible for the Decedent's care and safety at all times during his incarceration, was aware of the Decedent's suicidal behavior and threats, but failed to intervene by requesting antidepressants or transferring him to an inpatient facility. Id. at ¶¶ 18-19, 23-24, 30. Mr. Fletcher alleges the Decedent's fatal injuries were a result of the defendants' deliberate indifference to the very high likelihood that the Decedent would attempt to take his own life. Id. at ¶ 2. Mr. Fletcher further contends that the individual defendants, in their personal capacities, tolerated, condoned, encouraged, authorized, and/or ratified the deliberate indifference toward the Decedent's high likelihood of suicide. Id. at ¶¶ 2-3, 18.

         III. Legal Standard

         In considering a motion to dismiss, I take Mr. Fletcher's “factual allegations to be true and [draw] all reasonable inferences in” his favor. Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 71 (2d Cir. 2009). “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 (2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “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. The plausibility standard “does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” supporting the claim for relief. Bell Atl. Corp. ...


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