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Cousins v. Indiana Department of Corrections

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

October 6, 2016



          Joseph S. Van Bokkelen United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Indiana Department of Corrections, Indiana Attorney General, Bruce Lemmon, Stan Knight, and Ron Neal (sometimes hereinafter referred to as the “State Defendants”) (DE 38). They maintain that Plaintiffs have failed to state claims against them upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, their motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         A. Legal Standard

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim is to test the sufficiency of the pleadings, not to decide the merits of the case. See Gibson v. Chi., 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). Rule 8(a)(2) provides that a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” However, recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).[1] As the Supreme Court has stated, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Id. Rather, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A complaint is facially plausible if a court can reasonably infer from factual content in the pleading that the defendant is liable for the alleged wrongdoing. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The Seventh Circuit has synthesized the standard into three requirements. See Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). “First, a plaintiff must provide notice to defendants of her claims. Second, courts must accept a plaintiff's factual allegations as true, but some factual allegations will be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice to defendants of the plaintiff's claim. Third, in considering the plaintiff's factual allegations, courts should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id.

         B. Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint

         Plaintiffs allege that Cody Cousins was a mentally ill inmate in the Indiana prison system who committed suicide while in state custody because Defendants failed to properly place and supervise him and did not provide proper medical care and treatment to him. They also claim that Defendants had a policy or practice that caused the violation of Cousins's constitutional rights. Finally, they claim Defendants violated Cousins's rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

         According to the complaint, upon Cousins's arrest for an unspecified crime in January 2014, he was put on suicide watch and placed in solitary confinement. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced on September 19, 2014. Two court-appointed doctors testified at his sentencing that he was mentally ill, but he was not found to be mentally ill. Following his sentencing, he was sent to the Reception Diagnostic Center in Plainfield, Indiana, where he was seen by Defendant Dr. Charlotte Ray.[2] His mother, Plaintiff Dr. Wendy Melancon Psy.D., HSPP, [3] told Dr. Ray emphatically that Cody was a danger to himself and others. Nonetheless, Cody was sent to the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City[4] instead of to a facility for mentally ill inmates. There he was not given any special monitoring or treatment because he had not be labeled mentally ill. Two or three days after his move to the Indiana State Prison, he killed himself with razor blades provided by the IDOC.

         In their complaint, Plaintiffs state that Defendant Indiana Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) is a state agency. They describe Defendant Bruce Lemmon as the Commissioner of the IDOC, “acting through its agents and employees.” (DE 20 at 1.) They identify Defendant Stan Knight as the superintendent of the Plainfield Correctional Facility and Defendant Ron Neal as superintendent of the Indiana State Prison and allege that they both also acted through their agents and employees. They set out the address of the Indiana Attorney General. They claim that “[e]ach or one or more of the Defendants had knowledge of Cody's mental illness and thus had knowledge that Defendants' care and/or treatment of Cody was improper and inadequate.” (Id. at 5.) They further claim that Defendants knew of, and disregarded, the substantial risk of bodily harm Cousins presented, yet they did not provided proper medical care and treatment to him or properly supervise him.

         Plaintiffs assert that they have claims against the State Defendants in their individual and official capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating Cousins's rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments as well as claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.§ 1391.

         C. Discussion (1) § 1983 Claims

         Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . ..

         Only “persons” may be liable under § 1983. “Neither a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are ‘persons' under § 1983.” Will v. Mich. Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). Likewise, arms of the state, such as state agencies, are not persons. Lett v. Magnant, 965 F.2d 251, 255 (7th Cir. 1992). Accordingly, Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims against IDOC, an arm of the State of Indiana, and the official capacity claims against the remaining State Defendants must be dismissed. Plaintiffs' claims that Defendants had an unconstitutional policy or practice that resulted in Cousins's suicide are official capacity claims. Such claims may only be maintained against a municipality, not state officials. See Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 739-40 (7th Cir. 2001). These official capacity claims will be dismissed with prejudice because they are incurably deficient.

         Turning to the § 1983 individual capacity claims against Lemon, Knight, Neal, and the Attorney General, the Court determines that Plaintiffs have failed to state such claims against all but Neal, the superintendent of the ...

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