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Ostler v. Harris

United States District Court, D. Utah

April 26, 2019

CALVIN DONALD OSTLER, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Lisa Marie Ostler, KIM OSTLER, and the minor children of Lisa Marie Ostler, C.K., E.L.K., and L.M.O., through their adoptive parents and next friends, CALVIN DONALD OSTLER and KIM OSTLER, Plaintiffs,
v.
HOLLY PATRICE HARRIS, ZACHARY PAUL FREDERICKSON, TODD ALLAN BOOTH, TODD RANDALL WILCOX, M.D., RONALD PAUL SEEWER, JR., BRENT LEE TUCKER, JAMES M. WINDER, PAM LOFGREEN, RICHARD BELL, JOFTN DOE, whose true name is unknown, and SALT LAKE COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Utah, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS

          Bruce S. Jenkins, Judge

         Judge: Bruce S. Jenkins Lisa Ostler died in the Salt Lake County Metro Jail in early 2016 while awaiting pretrial, On March 22, 2018, her estate, parents, and minor children (Plaintiffs) sued guards, nurses, supervisory officials, and Salt Lake County (Defendants) for allegedly causing her death. Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 59) on January 31, 2019, asserting three causes of action, each with several sub-claims:

1. For survival and wrongful death based on constitutional deprivations, pursuant to 42U.S.C. §1983
2. For violations of due process and unnecessary rigor under the Utah Constitution
3. For declaratory judgment that certain Utah bond and undertaking statutes are unconstitutional

         In response, Defendants filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 74), seeking to pare the parties and claims to simply Lisa's estate v. the guards, nurses, and County for a § 1983 survival action. Defendants' Motion came before the court for oral argument on April 12, 2019. Ross Anderson appeared for Plaintiffs; Jacque Ramos and Tajha Ferrara appeared for Defendants. After hearing arguments from counsel, the court reserved ruling on the Motion.

         To assert a personal capacity claim against a government official, a plaintiff must show an "affirmative link" between the official and the constitutional violation. Schneider v. City of Grand Junction Police Dep't, 717 F.3d 760, 767 (10th Cir. 2013). An affirmative link arises if there is, inter alia, "personal involvement" by the official, either through direct participation or promulgation of a policy. Id.\Pahls v. Thomas, 718 F.3d 1210, 1228 (10th Cir. 2013). To show "personal involvement," a plaintiff must (1) identify specific actions or policies and (2) tie those to specific defendants. Pahls, 718 F.3d at 1228. Referring to '"defendants' as a collective and undifferentiated whole" is inadequate, id., and tying specifics to each defendant is particularly important where the officials have "different powers and duties." Id. at 1226.

         Having considered the briefs, oral arguments, and relevant law, the court now determines that Defendants' Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The court hereby dismisses the following parties and claims.

         I. Dismissed Defendants

         In the Motion, Defendants seek to dismiss Supervisor Defendants Winder, Lofgreen, Bell, and Wilcox. Plaintiffs concede they are not suing these Defendants in their official capacities. They are being sued only in their personal capacities for their alleged personal involvement in Lisa's death.

         Here, Plaintiffs identified specific actions[1] and specific policies or customs, [2] but they do not tie those to specific defendants, instead referring repeatedly to "Defendants Winder, Lofgreen, Bell, and Wilcox" or "Defendants" as a collective, undifferentiated whole. Pis.' Am. Compl. ¶ 55-60, ECF No. 59. Yet Defendants Winder, Lofgreen, Bell, and Wilcox have different duties and powers over policies and personnel. For example, Dr. Wilcox, as Medical Director, does not have the same power over personnel as does Sheriff Winder; conversely, Sheriff Winder does not have the same duty to manage medical care as intimately as does Dr. Wilcox. Grouping these Supervisor Defendants imputes one Defendant's actions to another, which fails to show that each Defendant's "own individual actions" were unconstitutional. Ashcroft v. Igbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009). Grouping also does not give each Supervisor Defendant "fair notice as to the basis of the claims against him or her." Brown v. Montoya, 662 F.3d 1152, 1163 (10th Cir. 2011) ("In a § 1983 action it is particularly important that a complaint make clear exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom .. ..") (internal marks omitted). Because the Amended Complaint does not tie the alleged actions or policies to each discrete Supervisor Defendant, Plaintiffs fail to show an affirmative link between the officials and a constitutional violation. Accordingly, the claims against the Supervisor Defendants are dismissed without prejudice, See Brown, 662 F.3d at 1165-66 (10th Cir. 2011) (disposing of an individual capacity claim where "[t]he Complaint refers to actions of 'Defendants,' but that is not sufficient to show how Secretary Williams might be individually liable for deprivations of Mr. Brown's constitutional rights") (internal marks omitted).

         II. Dismissed Plaintiffs

         Defendants seek to dismiss Lisa's parents and children as improper plaintiffs, to the extent they are suing for their own injuries. Plaintiffs counter that Lisa's parents and children have indeed been injured by Lisa's death, and § 1983 should provide them a remedy.

         By its express language, § 1983 provides remedies "to the party injured" for violations of that party's constitutional rights. 42 U.S.C. §1983. In the Tenth Circuit, when the injured party is deceased, "[t]he estate of a deceased victim must be the one to bring suit." Harold v. Univ. of Colorado Hosp., 680 Fed.Appx. 666, 673 (10th Cir. 2017) (relying on Berry v. City of Muskogee,900 F.2d 1489, 1506-07 (10th Cir. 1990)). This is because the decedent's estate "is the only real party in interest in a ยง 1983 action." ...


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