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Oquendo v. Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 27, 2018



          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         This lawsuit stems from the tragic death of Sonny Rivera, who died while in custody at the Northern Correctional Institution (NCI), in Somers, Connecticut. His mother, Vilma Oquendo, brings this action against the Department of Correction (DOC) and several of its employees, alleging constitutional violations and wrongful death, as administratrix of Rivera's estate and individually. (ECF No. 32.) Oquendo alleges that officers at NCI, as well as their supervisors and members of NCI's administration, were responsible for her son's death because of their actions, or their failures to act, while he was being held on suicide watch at NCI. The defendants have moved to dismiss several of the claims in Oquendo's Second Amended Complaint on multiple grounds. (ECF No. 33.) For the reasons that follow, I GRANT in part and DENY in part their motion.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         Oquendo alleges the following facts in her Second Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 32.) Sonny Rivera was incarcerated at NCI in October 2014. (Id. at ¶ 82.) He was serving a three-year sentence, and he was scheduled to be released in March 2015. (Id. at ¶¶ 78-79.) DOC transferred him to NCI in September 2014 “from a previous correction facility [soon] after he [was] believed to have interceded on behalf of an inmate who he believed had been wrongfully targeted by a corrections officer.” (Id. at ¶¶ 88-90.) In October 2014, Rivera was being “held in solitary/suicide confinement in a cell at [NCI's] medical unit.” (Id. at ¶ 5.) Rivera had told a family friend that “he believed his life was in danger” because of his intercession on behalf of the inmate and that “when the Corrections Department wishes to injury [sic] or ‘off' and [sic] inmate, they send him to Northern . . . where the facility's official report was that the inmate had committed suicide.” (Id. at ¶¶ 90-92.) “There has [sic] been other inmates who had been reportedly killed at [NCI]” and NCI's “official report was that the inmate had committed suicide.” (Id. at ¶ 92.)

         Oquendo alleges that, on October 17, 2014, the DOC informed Oquendo that Rivera had died. (ECF No. 32 at ¶ 82.) DOC also “informed the decease[sic]'s family that the decease [sic] had committed suicide[] and [that] he had attempted to hang himself the day before.” (Id. at ¶ 83.) Oquendo called NCI and spoke to a female correctional officer, who informed Oquendo that “no one had died at that prison, because she would have known.” (Id. at ¶ 84.) Oquendo then called and spoke to the Warden or Deputy Warden of NCI, who “confirmed that the deceased had died.” (Id. at ¶ 85.) Oquendo went to view her son's body, and she noted that he had “fresh ligature marks around his neck, a deep laceration on his left forearm, lumps in his head, and on his body.” (Id. at ¶ 86.) She “also noted that her son's [sic] had a large sutured laceration on his left arm running from his wrist upwards on the inside of his forearm running towards the elbow.” (Id. at ¶ 87.) “DOC personnel” stated that Rivera “committed suicide by stuffing gauze, paper napkin, and Styrofoam (contraband) down his air passage.” (ECF No. 32 at ¶ 93.) DOC personnel assigned to watch Rivera over video surveillance while he was in suicide confinement reported that they “thought he was eating presumably [sic] at the time he was actually stuffing [the materials] down his passage.” (Id. at ¶ 94.) The DOC informed the medical examiner that Rivera committed suicide, and, in the autopsy report, the medical examiner also concluded that Rivera's death was a suicide. (Id. at ¶ 105.)

         Oquendo's complaint alternatively suggests that DOC personnel murdered Rivera and that they intentionally failed to intervene in his suicide attempt. She alleges that when the medical examiner performed the autopsy, the “toxicology examination reveal [sic] that his blood contained levels exceeding ten Benadryl tablets (contraband).” (ECF No. 32 at ¶ 98.) Oquendo alleges that Rivera's “blood level of Benadryl . . . by itself would have killed the deceased[] and at least rendered him unable to commit suicide” and “would not have enabled him to stuff gauze, paper napkin, and Styrofoam . . . down his air passage.” (Id. at ¶¶ 100-01.) She claims that “the ligature marks that were evidenced around the decease [sic]'s throat appears [sic] as if someone attempted to strangle him from behind and was [sic] therefore not self inflicted [sic].” (Id. at ¶ 97.) She also alleges, though, that the defendants intentionally “failed to take or relieve the deceased of physical articles (contraband) he subsequently used to affect [sic] his suicide” while they monitored Rivera by video, in violation of DOC regulations. (Id. at ¶¶ 106-111.)

         Oquendo further alleges that the defendants who held supervisory roles failed to “assign[] a ‘specially posted' Correction Officer to account for, and collect all containers, . . . utensils, gauzes, paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper[, ] . . . despite the fact all defendants were trained in suicide prevention.” (Id. at ¶ 62.) She alleges that this amounted to the defendants “personally, consciously, and intentionally fail[ing] to supervise personnel whose job [it was] to secure [DOC's] medications from the deceased, causing him to personally steal medication from the medical unit” (id. at ¶ 66), “creat[ing] and enforc[ing] rules, regulations, customs, policies[, ] and procedures under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such policies or custom, ” and being “personally involved in the decease[sic]'s alleged constitutional deprivations.” (Id. at ¶ 71.)

         B. Procedural History

         Oquendo filed her original complaint on October 14, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) She filed an amended complaint on November 18, 2016. (ECF No. 11.) She filed a motion to file a supplemental amended complaint on December 9, 2016, which I granted on December 14, 2016. (ECF No. 12, 13.) Oquendo filed her First Amended Complaint on December 21, 2016. (ECF No. 16.) On March 10, 2017, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 26.) I ordered Oquendo either to file an amended complaint, addressing the defects the defendants identified, or to respond to the motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 27.) Oquendo filed her Second Amended Complaint on April 10, 2017. (ECF No. 32.) In the Second Amended Complaint, she brings claims under “42 United States Codes [sic] §[ ]1983, §[ ]1985(3), §[ ]1986, §[ ]1988(b) and (c) et seq.,, [sic] supervisory liability, Monell [sic], U.S. Const. amend. XIV, [and] U.S. Const. amend. VIII” as well as a claim for “wrongful death claim pursuant to and as set forth in Connecticut General Statute §[ ]52-555, and the common law of the State of Connecticut” against Weiner, Romano, and Pilon (the “Individual Defendants”) and Emmelmann, Perez, Guimond, Saylor, Mulligan, Cyr, Maranelli, and John/Jane Does (the “Supervisory Defendants”). (ECF No. 32 at 1.)

         On April 27, 2017, the defendants renewed their motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 33.) They partially incorporated their previous briefing where relevant. (Id.)

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         “A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it. . . . A plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists.” Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6)

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must determine whether a plaintiff has alleged “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Under Twombly, the Court accepts as true all of the complaint's factual allegations-but not conclusory allegations-when evaluating a motion to dismiss. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 572. The Court must “draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.” Vietnam Ass'n for Victims of Agent Orange v. Dow Chem. Co., 517 F.3d 104, 115 (2d Cir. 2008). “When a complaint is based solely on wholly conclusory allegations and provides no factual support for such claims, it is appropriate to grant defendants['] motion to dismiss.” Scott v. Town of Monroe, 306 F.Supp.2d 191, 198 (D. Conn. 2004). For a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, “[a]fter the court strips away conclusory allegations, there must remain sufficient well-pleaded factual allegations to nudge plaintiff's claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” In re Fosamax Products Liab. Litig., No. 09-cv-1412 (JFK), 2010 WL 1654156, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 9, 2010).

         III. Analysis

         A. Oquendo's Individual Claims

         The defendants have moved to dismiss any claims that Oquendo brought in her individual capacity. Oquendo argues that she has an individual claim only for wrongful death, not for the other counts of her complaint. (See ECF No. 42 at 11-12.) She argues that because she is the “Connecticut Court's designee as the administratrix of the estate of her son, whose love[, ] society, and affect she has now lost, ” she ...

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