Roberts
v.
Orleans Parish Medical Staff

This case is not covered by Casetext's citator
United States District Court, E.D. LouisianaMay 20, 2002
Civil Action No. 99-2266 Section "T"(4) (E.D. La. May. 20, 2002)

Civil Action No. 99-2266 Section "T"(4)

May 20, 2002


ORDER AND REASONS


This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge upon consent of the parties pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 636 (c). The Court heard oral arguments from the parties on April 3, 2002 on the Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. No. 60) filed by the defendants, Sheriff Charles C. Foti, Jr., Dr. Emile Riley, Dr. J. Gautreaux, Nurse Martha Davis, and Ms. Tracy Williams.

Rec. Doc. Nos. 30, 31.

At the Motion Hearing, the Court deferred its ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment as it relates to the liability of Sheriff Foti in his individual and official capacities. A ruling was deferred to allow the plaintiff an opportunity to conduct discovery related to the Sheriff's knowledge of the medical policies and practices in the Orleans Parish Prison system. The Motion for Summary Judgment is addressed in this Order and Reasons on the issue of the statute of limitations as it applies to the claims against the defendants, Dr. Riley, Dr. Gautreaux, Ms. Williams, and Nurse Davis.

Rec. Doc. No. 68.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

On July 26, 1999, the plaintiff Barbara Jean Roberts a/k/a Barbara Jean King, filed a pro se and in forma pauperis complaint against Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Charles C. Foti, Jr., the Orleans Parish Prison Medical Staff, and Ms. Walker, a nurse at the Conchita Women's Facility within the Orleans Parish Prison System ("OPP"). Roberts alleged that she had been denied adequate medical care for back pain, sinus trouble, and persistent vaginal bleeding. Roberts further alleged that she complained on a regular basis, orally and in writing, to the medical personnel but her complaints went unaddressed.

The claims against the Orleans Parish Medical Staff were dismissed by the District Judge on April 25, 2000, upon recommendation of the undersigned Magistrate Judge. Rec. Doc. Nos. 20, 24.

Rec. Doc. No. 1.

On November 3, 1999, the Court held a Preliminary Conference which was converted to a Status Conference. Roberts testified that she was not receiving adequate medication or treatment for her chronic back pain for which she was under treatment prior to her incarceration. The Court issued an order to have plaintiff taken for an MRI at the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans ("MCLNO").

Rec. Doc. No. 9.

On December 19, 1999, the Court received a letter from the plaintiff in which she indicated that she was taken for testing at MCLNO. She indicated further that she was given pain medication but the MRI was not taken. She alleged that when her pain medication prescription ended, Dr. Gautreaux, a prison physician, refused to renew the medication. This letter was the topic of a status conference between the Court and counsel for the defendants on January 14, 2000, at which the parties discussed the plaintiffs disagreement with Dr. Gautreaux's treatment plan and his decision to prescribe only Motrin and Naprosin for pain.

Rec. Doc. No. 11.

Rec. Doe. Nos. 12, 13.

Thereafter, on February 16, 2000, the Court ordered the plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint specifying the names of the medical staff members who allegedly harmed her and the legal basis for her claims. Roberts responded to the Court's order on February 25, 2000. In her response, she named the following defendants: Ms. Walker, who denied the plaintiff medical attention; "Dr. Gautier," who refused to give the plaintiff pain medication; Ms. Penton, who refused to give the plaintiff prescribed medication because she disagreed with the dosage; and Ms. Williams, who cursed at the plaintiff and belittled her for requesting medical care. The Clerk of Court did not docket the pleading as an Amended Complaint, add the additional parties, or cause the Amended Complaint to be served on the named parties.

Rec. Doe. No. 14.

Rec. Doe. No. 16.

On October 2, 2000, Roberts also filed a second letter addressed to her appointed counsel in which she details additional facts about her claims. Rec. Doe. No. 32

After filing her response, the plaintiff wrote another letter to the Court updating her medical status. Roberts alleged in her letter that, after her transfer to the St. Tammany Parish Jail on May 1, 2000, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She contends that the cancer contributed to her pain and vaginal bleeding which was ignored by medical personnel at OPP.

Rec. Doe. No. 32.

Id.

On July 2, 2001, plaintiff, through appointed counsel, filed an Amended Complaint adding additional claims against the original defendants. The Amended Complaint also names several new defendants, Dr. Emile Riley as the Medical Director of OPP, Dr. J. Gautreaux, Dr. Blue, Nurse Carla Johnson, Nurse M. Davis, Ms. Walker, Ms. Tracy Williams, Ms. Penton, and four John/Jane Doe defendants. Roberts alleges that these defendants were also responsible for the denial of medical care during her incarceration in OPP from January 26, 1999, to May 1, 2000, when she was transferred to St. Tammany Parish Jail.

Rec. Doc. No. 49.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the standard for considering a motion for summary judgment:

The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of any material fact that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.

Because the defendants support their motion with documents outside of the complaint, the motion to dismiss must be considered under the Rule 56 summary judgment standard. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b).

The Court must therefore determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists.

In Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986), the United States Supreme Court indicated that the party seeking summary judgment must point out the absence of evidence showing a genuine issue of material fact. See Slaughter v. Allstate Ins. Co., 803 F.2d 857, 860 (5th Cir. 1986). "Material facts are those "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'" Morrissey v. Boston Five Cents Savings Bank, 54 F.3d 27, 31 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "A dispute as to a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Id.

Further, the party opposing summary judgment and who bears the burden of proof at trial must then "go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by "depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admission on file, `designate' specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. On motion for summary judgment, the Court must view all evidence and related inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Springfield Terminal Ry. Co. v. Canadian Pac. Ltd., 133 F.3d 103, 106 (1st Cir. 1997). However, "conclusory allegations, speculation, and unsubstantiated assertions are inadequate to satisfy the nonmovant's burden." Douglass v. United Services Automobile Assoc., 79 F.3d 1415, 1429 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1533 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 871 (1994)).

III. Analysis

The defendants, Dr. Riley, Dr. Gautreaux, Tracy Williams, and Martha Davis, have filed the subject Motion seeking dismissal of the claims against them which were first raised in the Amended Complaint on the grounds that the claims are prescribed. The defendants contend that the plaintiff's § 1983 claims against them are subject to the one year prescriptive period provided for in La. Civ. Code Art. 3492. Jacobsen v. Osborne, 133 F.3d 315, 319 (5th Cir. 1998); Moore v. McDonald, 30 F.3d 616, 620 (5th Cir. 1994). They argue that because the amended complaint naming them as defendants was filed on July 2, 2001, the claims were filed more than one year after the plaintiff was transferred out of their care and custody at OPP.

The defendants argue that, although a plaintiff may amend claims against unknown defendants to identify the proper party, the amendment must be made within the applicable time period or must relate back to the date of the original complaint; otherwise the amendment will be time barred. Taylor v. Winnfield, 191 F.R.D. 511, 513 (W.D. La. 2000). They further argue that Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c) only allows relation back to prevent a time bar in the case of a misidentified defendant and not for "John Doe" defendants. Jacobsen, 133 F.3d at 321-322.

The defendants conclude that the plaintiff named new defendants, Riley, Gautreaux, Davis and Williams, in the Amended Complaint. They also allege that this amendment was not filed to merely correct the identity of a previously named party, but rather, it was to identify parties not named in the Original Complaint. The defendants therefore contend that the claims against Riley, Gautreaux, Davis and Williams should be dismissed as prescribed.

The plaintiff opposes the Motion for Summary Judgment on the basis that, under state and federal law, the doctrine of relating back is to be liberally applied. Under this doctrine, she argues, the question is whether the additional party will be prejudiced or disadvantaged by the amended pleading.

She contends that under the doctrine as set forth in Ray v. Alexandria Mall, 434 So.2d 1083 (La. 1983), the plaintiff's amended complaint relates back to the original filing date for the following reasons: 1) the claims arise out of the same facts, conducts and occurrences; 2) the new parties are closely connected to the original defendants; 3) the original complaint was filed pro se and without the assistance of trained legal counsel; 4) the plaintiffs Motion for Leave to File the Amended Complaint (Rec. Doc. No. 48) was unopposed and granted by the Court; 5) the Amended Complaint was filed within the scheduling deadlines ordered by the Court; 6) the newly added parties are all represented by the same counsel representing the original defendants; and 7) the defendants have not alleged any prejudice arising out of the filing of the Amended Complaint.

Having reviewed the positions of the parties, the Court will proceed with an analysis of the Motion.

A. Statute of Limitations

The plaintiffs complaints arise out her incarceration in OPP which began on January 26, 1999, until she was transferred to another prison on May 1, 2000. The original complaint in this action was filed by the plaintiff pro se and in forma pauperis on July 26, 1999, only six months into her incarceration at OPP. The Amended Complaint, the subject of the Motion, however, was not filed until July 2, 2001.

Actions brought under Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are subject to the forum state's personal injury limitations period. See Jacobsen, 133 F.3d at 319. In Louisiana, personal injury claims are governed by La. Civ. Code Art. 3492, which provides for a prescriptive period of one year from the date of injury or damage. See Jacobsen, 133 F.3d at 319. For purposes of calculating the limitations period, a § 1983 cause of action accrues when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which forms the basis of her claim. See Gonzales v. Wyatt 157 F.3d 1016, 1020 (5th Cir. 1998).

Art. 3492 provides:

Delictual actions are subject to a liberative prescription of one year. This prescription commences to run from the day injury or damage is sustained. It does not run against minors or interdicts in actions involving permanent disability and brought pursuant to the Louisiana Products Liability Act or state law governing product liability actions in effect at the time of the injury or damage.

According to the record, Roberts should have known no later that May 1, 2000, when she was transferred out of OPP that she had a medical indifference claim against Riley, Gautreaux, Davis and Williams. However, the Amended Complaint was not filed until July 2, 2001, more than one year after the cause of action accrued. Therefore, unless the July 2001, amendment relates back to the Original Complaint filed on July 26, 1999, the claims against these defendants have prescribed.

The Court notes that the plaintiff relies upon Ray v. Alexandria Mall, 434 So.2d 1083 (La. 1983) for the proposition that the July 2001, amendment relates back to the July 1999 complaint. However, Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c), and not state law, controls in determining whether an amendment in a § 1983 action relates back to the timely filing of a prior complaint. Welch v. La. Power Light Co., 466 F.2d 1344 (5th Cir. 1972); Campbell v. Bergeron, 486 F. Supp. 1246 (M.D. La. 1980). Therefore, the plaintiff's reliance on Ray is misplaced and the proper consideration is under federal law.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) provides that a plaintiff may benefit from the filing date of an original complaint when an amended complaint changes or adds a defendant after the statute of limitations has run. Rule 15(c) sets forth the requirements of the relation back doctrine:

An amendment of a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when
(1) relation back is permitted by the law that provides the statute of limitations applicable to the action, or
(2) the claim or defense asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading, or
(3) the amendment changes the party or the naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted if the foregoing provision (2) is satisfied and, within the period provided by Rule 4(m) for service of the summons and complaint, the party to be brought in by amendment (A) has received such notice of the institution of the action that the party will not be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits, and (B) knew or should have known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party, the action would have been brought against the party.

The parties, through argument, concede that the plaintiff qualifies under the first two prongs of Rule 15(c). The law allows for the relation back and the facts in both complaints are clearly arising out of common events.

1. The Naming of Additional Defendants

The plaintiff identified additional defendants long before her appointed counsel filed the Amended Complaint on July 2, 2001. The record reflects that, on February 25, 2000, while the plaintiff was incarcerated in OPP, she filed a response to the Court's order to identify the medical personnel she intended to sue.

In that response, Roberts specifically named Ms. Walker, "Dr. Gautier," Ms. Penton, and Ms. Williams. Her response was clearly the First Amended Complaint which had been ordered by the Court.

The Clerk of Court, however, docketed the pleading only as a "response by plaintiff' to the Court's Order. The Clerk failed to recognize the pleading to be a First Amended Complaint, failed to include the new parties as additional defendants, and failed to cause service of the pleading as a First Amended Complaint.

See Docket Entry No. 16.

The Court must recognize that the plaintiff amended her complaint as ordered to name Ms. Walker, "Dr. Gautier," Ms. Penton and Ms. Williams. This First Amended Complaint was filed well within the prescriptive period over two months before she left OPP. The Court can not allow the Clerk's docketing errors to alter the rights of the pro se plaintiff. In addition, because the factual issues against the newly named defendants are the same as, or arising from the facts raised in the original complaint, counsel for defendants can not show and has not demonstrated any prejudice in the defendants' ability to litigate the claims or raise appropriate defenses.

Furthermore, the Fifth Circuit has held that "a plaintiff proceeding in forma pauperis is entitled to rely upon service by the U.S. Marshals and should not be penalized for failure of process where such failure is through no fault of the litigant." Rochon v. Dawson, 828 F.2d 1107, 1110 (5th Cir. 1987). Furthermore, pro se litigants are allowed more latitude than litigants represented by counsel to correct defects in service of process and pleadings. Moore v. Agency for Intern. Development, 994 F.2d 874, 876 (D.C. Cir. 1993).

2. Mistaken Identity

By its plain language, Rule 15(c)(3) contemplates that the plaintiff made a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party. Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 15(c)(3). A mistaken identification exists when the plaintiff knows who the correct party is but identifies the party using for example a misspelled or incomplete name. See Jacobsen v. Osborne, 133 F.3d 315 (5th Cir. 1998).

The plaintiff in this case had several general references to nurses and doctors in her original complaint, but she did not attempt to identify those persons in any specific way. After conducting a Spears Hearing to clarify the nature of her claims, the Court ordered Roberts to file an Amended Complaint in which she specifically named Ms. Walker, "Dr. Gautier," Ms. Penton, and Ms. Williams. The plaintiff made no mention of Ms. Davis or Dr. Riley, later included in the Amended Complaint filed July 2, 2001.

It appears from the record that "Dr. Gautier" named in Robert's pro se First Amended Complaint was a misnomer for Dr. Gautreaux. Roberts had previously complained to the Court about the actions of Dr. Gautreaux and his refusal to provide her with prescribed pain medication. See Rec. Doe. Nos. 11, 12. These complaints were also the subject of a status conference held with defense counsel and the plaintiff on January 14, 2000, and March 9, 2000. The records shows that defense counsel, and perhaps Dr. Gautreaux himself, were on notice of the potential claims against him.

Thus, the naming of Dr. Gautreaux in the Amended Complaint filed July 2, 2001, related back to the filing of the plaintiff's First Amended Complaint in which Dr. Gautreaux was erroneously identified as "Dr. Gautier".

3. Notice of Suit

Rule 15(c)(3) also requires that the newly named parties receive some notice of the suit within the time period provided in Rule 4(m). A plaintiff is required to serve the defendant with summons and complaint within 120 days of the filing of the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m). If service of the summons and complaint is not made upon a defendant within 120 days after the filing of the complaint, the court shall sua sponte dismiss the action without prejudice or direct that service be effected within a specified time, provided that, if the plaintiff shows good cause for the failure, the court shall extend the time for service for an appropriate period. Bann v. Ingram Micro, Inc., 108 F.3d 625, 626 (5th Cir. 1997).

With respect to the Amended Complaint filed on July 2, 2001, the record indicates that service was apparently timely made on Riley, Dr. Gautreaux, Davis, and Williams. The record does not contain service returns of the Amended Complaint. However, the newly added defendants, Riley, Dr. Gautreaux, Davis, and Williams, answered the lawsuit on July 19, 2001, only 17 days after the Amended Complaint was actually filed. Notice was therefore apparently given to them within the time period provided for by Rule 4(m).

The Court also notes that the record contains no indication that the Amended Complaint filed July 2, 2001, was served on Dr. Blue, Nurse Carla Johnson, or Ms. Penton. This issue will be addressed by a separate order.

In addition, as outlined and discussed above, the record contains other evidence in the record that should have placed defense counsel on notice that Roberts intended to urge her claims against Dr. Gautreaux and Ms. Williams. Furthermore, the newly added parties are represented by the same counsel who has been involved in the suit on behalf of Sheriff Foti and Ms. Walker, the original defendants. In addition, defense counsel did not oppose the plaintiff's timely Motion to Amend the Complaint.

The Motion to Amend the Complaint was timely filed by the June 29, 2001, deadline for filing amended complaints which had been previously imposed by the Court.

For the foregoing reasons, Roberts' Amended Complaint filed July 2, 2001, relates back to the timely filing of her Original Complaint and her pro se First Amended Complaint with respect to Dr. Gautreaux and Ms. Williams. Because the plaintiff failed to identify Dr. Riley or Ms. Davis prior to the Amended Complaint filed July 2, 2001, there is no basis for allowing the naming of these defendants to relate back to her prior Complaints. Accordingly,

IT IS ORDERED that the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by defendants, Sheriff Charles C. Foti, Jr., Dr. Emile Riley, Dr. J. Gautreaux, Nurse Martha Davis and Tracy Williams, is hereby

1) DENIED in part as to the claims against Dr. J. Gautreaux and Tracy Williams;
2) GRANTED in part as to the claims against Dr. Riley and Nurse Martha Davis; and
3) DEFERRED in part as to the Court's ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment as it relates to the liability of Sheriff Charles C. Foti, Jr. in his individual and official capacity.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the plaintiff's claims against Dr. Riley and Nurse Martha Davis are hereby DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE as prescribed.