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Hankins v. Johnson County Adult

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

October 21, 2014




This civil action was filed by Jonathan Michael Hankins ("Mr. Hankins"), against the Johnson County Adult and Child Mental Care Agency ("the Agency"), and Joan Ryan ("Ms. Ryan"), a board certified mental health therapist or specialist employed by the Agency. Mr. Hankins alleges that the defendants denied him adequate mental health services in 2010 while he was incarcerated as a pre-trial detainee at the Johnson County Jail ("the Jail"). The Amended Complaint (Filing No. 16), alleges violations of Mr. Hankins' federal constitutional rights as well as state law claims.


District courts have an obligation under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) to screen complaints before service on the defendants, and must dismiss the complaint if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim for relief, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. In determining whether the complaint states a claim, the court applies the same standard as when addressing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Lagerstrom v. Kingston, 463 F.3d 621, 624 (7th Cir. 2006). To survive dismissal under federal pleading standards,

[the] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. 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). Thus, a "plaintiff must do better than putting a few words on paper that, in the hands of an imaginative reader, might suggest that something has happened to her that might be redressed by the law." Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 403 (7th Cir.2010) (emphasis in original).

Mr. Hankins' federal claims are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights; instead it is a means for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred. Ledford v. Sullivan, 105 F.3d 354, 356 (7th Cir. 1997) (citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). "[T]he first step in any [§ 1983] claim is to identify the specific constitutional right infringed." Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994). Constitutional claims are to be addressed under the most applicable provision. See Conyers v. Abitz, 416 F.3d 580, 586 (7th Cir. 2005). The Constitution imposes a duty on prison officials to provide medical care to inmates. See Vance v. Peters, 97 F.3d 987, 991 (7th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1230 (1997). Because Mr. Hankins was a pretrial detainee, it is the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment rather than the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment which is the source of this right. Estate of Miller, ex rel. Bertram v. Tobiasz, 680 F.3d 984, 989 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535-37 (1979)). However, courts still look to Eighth Amendment case law in addressing the claims of pretrial detainees, given that the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause are at least as broad as those that the Eighth Amendment affords to convicted prisoners. Rice ex rel. Rice v. Correctional Medical Services, 675 F.3d 650, 664 (7th Cir. 2012)(citing cases).

The Amended Complaint is now subject to this screening requirement. Applying the standards set forth above, certain claims against Ms. Ryan shall proceed while other claims are dismissed.

A. State Actors

As a preliminary matter, the Court recognizes that "The [] Fourteenth Amendment[] to the Constitution protect[s] citizens from conduct by the government, but not from conduct by private actors, no matter how egregious that conduct might be." Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 815 (7th Cir. 2009). It appears that the Defendants are private actors, because (according to its website) the Agency is a 501(c)(3) not for profit agency focused on providing mental health and child welfare services in Central Indiana. However, the "conduct of private actors, in some cases, can constitute state action." Id. For conduct of a private actor to be characterized as state action "the deprivation of constitutional rights must be caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State or by a person... who may fairly be said to be a state actor." Id. (internal quotations and alterations omitted) ( quoting Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., 457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982)). Thus, whether Mr. Hankins can state a claim depends entirely on whether Defendants' conduct can be characterized as a state or purely private action. Id. State action requires "such a close nexus between the State and the challenged action that seemingly private behavior may be fairly treated as that of the State itself." Brentwood Acad. v. Tenn. Secondary School Athletic Assn'n., 531 U.S. 288, 295 (2001) (internal quotations omitted) ( quoting Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 351 (1974). The Supreme Court has identified numerous situations where private action can become that of the state, such as: when private actors conspire or are jointly engaged with state actors; where the state compels the discriminatory action; when the state controls a nominally private entity or is entwined with its management or control; or when the state delegates a public function to a private entity. Hallinan, 570 F.3d at 815-16 (and cases cited therein).

Mr. Hankins effectively alleges in his Amended Complaint that the Jail contracted with the Agency to provide, oversee, and administer mental health care to its detainees. These allegations are sufficient to allege that the Sheriff delegated the public function of providing necessary medical care to a private entity. Whether this is true is a question for a later time.

B. Joan Ryan

Assuming that Ms. Ryan, an employee of the Agency, was acting under color of state law as alleged in the complaint, the claim that Ms. Ryan was deliberately indifferent to Mr. Hankins' serious mental health needs as required by the Fourteenth Amendment shall proceed. Specifically, Mr. Hankins alleges that Ms. Ryan knew that Mr. Hankins needed mental health care, she was solely responsible for providing Mr. Hankins with mental health care, and she failed to provide necessary treatment.

In allowing this federal claim to proceed, however, the Court notes that Ms. Ryan is only responsible for her actions (or inactions) and not the actions of others. Munson v. Gaetz, 673 F.3d 630, 637 (7th Cir. 2012) (§ 1983 liability requires a defendant's personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violation). In addition, the only plausible claim for relief is that Ms. Ryan failed to provide mental health services; there is no basis to conclude that she was responsible for Mr. Hankins' overall conditions of confinement as those conditions are necessarily the responsibility of custodial staff. If the Sheriff did delegate a public function ...

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