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Knouse v. Primecare Medical of West Virginia

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

January 17, 2019

HANNAH KNOUSE, et al., Plaintiffs,



         Pending before the court is Defendants Michael Toney and Jaburs Terry's Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 110]. For the following reasons, the Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background

         While awaiting trial, Dr. Charles Knouse was detained at South Central Regional Jail (“SCRJ”) in Kanawha County, West Virginia, for various violations of the Controlled Substances Act. At his detention hearing, Dr. Knouse explained to Magistrate Judge Omar J. Aboulhosn his belief that the jail authorities at South Central Regional Jail were not meeting his serious medical needs. Dr. Knouse was apparently concerned that his heart would become arrhythmic if he did not receive his heart medication. He also explained that withdrawal from a second medication would render the first medication unable to control his heart rhythm, and he detailed the great pain he was in because the Jail Authorities did not allow him to self- catheterize the first few days of his detainment.

         Perceiving a potential life-threatening situation, and choosing to err on the side of caution until Dr. Knouse's medical conditions could be verified, Magistrate Judge Aboulhosn ordered the authorities at SCRJ “to immediately place and hold [Dr. Knouse] in the medical unit . . . and to immediately resume [Dr. Knouse] on all of his prescribed medications.” Order 2, United States v. Knouse, No. 1:17-mj-00046 (Aug. 4, 2017), [ECF No. 6]. A few days later, however, Dr. Knouse died while in custody. Hannah Knouse, administrator of his estate, filed this lawsuit.

         The plaintiff's initial Complaint alleged, inter alia, that certain prison personnel and medical provides at SCRJ were deliberately indifferent to Dr. Knouse's serious medical needs. On a Motion [ECF No. 32], the court dismissed most of the Complaint for failure to state a claim but allowed the plaintiff's § 1983 claim for deliberate indifference in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to move forward. The court noted the plaintiff's lack of factual matter, conclusory statements, and inapposite legal theories. On October 23, 2018, by leave of court, the plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint [ECF No. 71], largely ignoring the court's guidance on pleading. The Amended Complaint continues to include irrelevant state constitutional claims with no factual basis, contains even more conclusory statements, and entails 275 pages of appended exhibits.

         Against Defendants Toney and Terry, the Amended Complaint sounds in negligence and state and federal constitutional claims. On November 27, 2018, Defendants Toney and Terry moved to dismiss the claims against them [ECF No. 110]. On December 11, 2018, the plaintiff responded [ECF No. 118]. The Motion is now ripe for review.

         II. Legal Standard

         A motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint or pleading. Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). Rule 8 requires that a pleading contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). As the Supreme Court stated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, that standard “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of [her] ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[.]” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A court cannot accept as true legal conclusions in a complaint that merely recite the elements of a cause of action supported by conclusory statements. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677-78.

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, 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). To achieve facial plausibility, the plaintiff must plead facts that allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable, and those facts must be more than merely consistent with the defendant's liability to raise the claim from possible to plausible. Id.

         III. Discussion

         1. Section 1983 Qualified Immunity

         The plaintiff alleges that Defendants Toney and Terry were deliberately indifferent to Dr. Knouse's serious medical needs in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. The defendants assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity and that the § 1983 claim therefore should be dismissed.

         Officers are entitled to qualified immunity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unless (1) they violated a federal statutory or constitutional right, and (2) the unlawfulness of their conduct was “clearly established at the time.” Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. 658, 664 (2012). “Clearly established” means that, at the time of the officer's conduct, the law was “‘sufficiently clear' that every ‘reasonable official would understand that what he is doing'” is unlawful. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)). In other words, existing law must have placed the constitutionality of the officer's conduct “beyond debate.” Id. at 741. This demanding standard protects “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). The court's “first task is to identify the specific right that [the plaintiff] asserts was infringed by the challenged conduct, recognizing that the right must be defined at the appropriate level of particularity.” Winfield v. Bass, 106 F.3d 525, 530 (4th Cir. 1997) (en banc). As discussed previously by this court in this case, “[t]he right to be free from deliberate ...

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