Ford v. Anderson Cnty., 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 506 (5th Cir. Jan. 8, 2024)
On June 15, 2018, pretrial detainee Rhonda Newsome died in Anderson County Jail due to complications [*2] from Addison's disease. Newsome's family members filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Anderson County, Sheriff Greg Taylor, Dr. Adam Corley, Nurse Timothy Green, and several jailers. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated Newsome's Fourteenth Amendment rights as a pretrial detainee by failing to treat her chronic illness, resulting in a preventable death. The district court granted summary judgment for all Defendants and dismissed Plaintiffs' lawsuit with prejudice. After reviewing the record, we find that Plaintiffs have established genuine disputes of material fact regarding whether several Defendants violated Newsome's clearly established constitutional rights. We accordingly REVERSE the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendants Timothy Green, Todd Choate, Jonathan Strong, Robin Jones, Matthew Wickersham, Jessica Carpenter, and Dakota Hughes, but we AFFIRM the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendants Alicia Wilson, Travis Wesson, and TAKET Holdings, L.L.C. We AFFIRM IN PART the district court's grant of summary judgment for Adam Corley as related to Plaintiffs' supervisory claim against him, but we REVERSE the district court's grant of summary judgment for Dr. Corley [*3] as related to Plaintiffs' nonsupervisory claim. We also AFFIRM IN PART the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendants Anderson County and Greg Taylor, but we VACATE the district court's denial of Plaintiffs' motion for leave to file a third amended complaint and REMAND with instructions to grant Plaintiffs leave to amend their pleadings to include additional supervisory and municipal liability claims. Finally, we AFFIRM the district court's denial of Plaintiffs' motion for sanctions.
This case involves the death of pretrial detainee Rhonda Newsome while in the custody of Anderson County Jail. Newsome had a history of several chronic conditions, including Addison's disease, an uncommon illness that occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough of certain hormones. If left untreated, Addison's disease can accelerate into an "Addisonian crisis," which requires immediate medical intervention. Early indicators of an Addisonian crisis may include severe weakness, pain in the lower back or legs, abdominal pain, vomiting, and low blood pressure. Addison's disease requires lifelong treatment, which is primarily accomplished through administering steroid medications. [*4] When Addison's disease patients are unmedicated for even brief periods of time, they can be at a high risk of experiencing an Addisonian crisis.
During Newsome's detainment, Anderson County contracted with Dr. Adam Corley, a private physician who provided medical care for detainees. Dr. Corley held the title of medical director of the jail. The County also employed Timothy Green, a registered nurse who worked at the jail part-time.
Anderson County Jail's health services plan states that medical care is to be provided to detainees twenty-four hours a day, and detainees are to be medically screened upon admission. Detainees with chronic illnesses are to undergo a medical assessment, and the jail physician is tasked with instituting a treatment regimen.
Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed. Rhonda Newsome, age fifty, was arrested on March 9, 2018, following a domestic disturbance in which she allegedly chased her adult daughter with a pair of scissors. Newsome was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. After being treated at Palestine Regional Medical Center for back issues, Newsome was taken to Anderson County Jail on March 10, 2018, for pretrial detention. [*5]
According to her jail intake form, Newsome suffered from several medical conditions, including Addison's disease, fibromyalgia, seizures, joint or disc disease, spinal stenosis, and osteoarthritis. The form also indicates that Newsome was taking ten prescription medications at the time.
On March 11, Nurse Green examined Newsome. According to Green's deposition testimony, Green and Newsome discussed her medical history and medications, and Green instituted a verbal treatment plan to "continue the medications that [Newsome] was on." Green stated that this verbal treatment plan involved asking the jail staff to monitor Newsome and notifying Dr. Corley of any changes in her condition.
During the months of March, April, and May, Newsome had periodic medical issues. On April 4, Newsome accidentally took an extra dose of blood pressure medication. Nurse Green treated her with a liter of saline solution, placed her on medical observation with repeated blood pressure readings, and reexamined her the next day. Green noted in Newsome's medical activity log on April 5 that he would "attempt to obtain medical records."
On April 16 and April 18, Newsome complained of acid reflux, and jailers provided [*6] her with over-the-counter medication. On April 20, Nurse Green personally examined Newsome again and noted low blood pressure and bilateral leg swelling. Newsome was placed on medical observation, in which jailers logged her actions every fifteen minutes. Nurse Green further indicated that he would draw blood and report lab results to Dr. Corley, but it is disputed whether this blood draw occurred.
On May 11, about two months into Newsome's detention, Dr. Corley personally examined Newsome for the first and only time at the jail. Dr. Corley's notes indicate that Newsome was in "no distress" during the examination, and that her "chief complaint" was gas. Dr. Corley acknowledged that Newsome suffered from Addison's disease, and he made a note to follow up on medical records requests.
Plaintiffs allege that Newsome was never prescribed or systematically provided with steroids—the primary treatment for Addison's disease—during her ninety-seven-day detention. They also allege that Newsome did not have her blood drawn for monitoring until June 15, the day of her death.
On the evening of June 14, Newsome began vomiting and experiencing pain in her stomach and right flank area. After she complained [*7] to jail staff, Nurse Green visited the jail around midnight to personally examine her.1 Green claims that he consulted with Dr. Corley by phone, and that per Dr. Corley's instructions he administered one liter of saline and fifty milligrams of Phenergan for nausea treatment. Green testified that Newsome complained of "some mild nausea and some vomiting," but that she had stable vital signs and appeared alert and oriented. Green also claims that he asked Newsome if she wanted to go to the hospital, but Newsome declined.
After Green purportedly treated Newsome late on June 14, Newsome was placed on medical observation and jail staff were instructed to move her into a holding cell where she could be observed through the night. Video footage indicates that jail staff checked on Newsome thirty-one times during the seventeen-hour period between midnight on June 14 and her death in the afternoon of June 15.
Plaintiffs have presented affidavit evidence from other detainees in nearby cells on the night of June 14 through June 15 indicating that during this seventeen-hour period, Newsome was in grave distress from a severe Addisonian crisis. Detainee Edward Jimenez, who was in a cell adjacent to [*8] Newsome's cell, testified that Newsome repeatedly cried and screamed during the night, repeating phrases such as "help-help," "I'm hurting bad," "please help," "Lord help me," "take me to the hospital," and "I need a doctor." Jimenez reports being unable to sleep due to the noise. He also claims that nearby jailers appeared to be ignoring Newsome's cries and pleas for help.
Detainee Ashley Lyons, who was in a cell adjacent to Newsome's cell on June 15, testified that she repeatedly heard Newsome groaning and saying that she needed to go to the hospital. Lyons reports that Newsome's cries for help were loud enough to wake her up on several occasions.
Detainee Charles Patrick Sweet, who was near Newsome's holding cell, testified that during the middle of the night he heard "a female voice coming from the processing area repeatedly crying out loudly that she needed [a] doctor and that she needed to go to the hospital."
Around 1:30 a.m. on June 15, A'rhonda Kelli Schuckers, an inmate and trustee at Anderson County Jail, assisted in removing Newsome from her cell for a shower. Newsome was unable to walk on her own; she had to be supported on both sides by a trustee and a jailer. While cleaning [*9] Newsome's cell during the shower, Schuckers noticed that Newsome had vomited a black substance into a cup. After Newsome returned to her cell, Jailer-Defendant Robin Jones took Newsome's blood pressure and yelled out that it was 80/40.
At approximately 7:40 a.m. on June 15, Nurse Green examined Newsome. Newsome's medical activity log indicates that she was nauseated, "had thrown up brown colored fluid but was still able to tolerate water," and was complaining of "right flank area pain." Green drew a blood sample and gave Newsome Phenergan and Tylenol #4. Green claims that he asked Newsome if she wanted to go to the hospital, and that she declined. Green's notes indicate that upon receiving the results of Newsome's blood work, Dr. Corley might order a CT scan and send Newsome to the hospital for further evaluation. Following this visit, Green took Newsome's blood sample to Palestine Regional Medical Center for testing.
The parties dispute whether Nurse Green learned of Newsome's blood test results that morning, or later that afternoon when Newsome was found unresponsive. The test results indicate that Newsome's blood urea nitrogen level was critically high, and her potassium level was [*10] critically low. The blood work report's notation indicates that lab technician Wesley Wood called Nurse Green at approximately 10:40 a.m. on June 15 and reported a "critical value," which indicates a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. The report further indicates that Nurse Green "read back" the critical value to confirm understanding. However, Wood could not recall in his deposition—taken over two years later—what values he read to Green. Green, on the other hand, has repeatedly testified that he does not recall being informed of any critical values on the morning of June 15. He states that had he received the critical values that morning, he would have immediately called Dr. Corley.
Plaintiffs highlight that shortly after this call discussing lab results, Nurse Green called Jail Captain Todd Choate. Throughout the day on June 15, Choate undertook efforts to call the district attorney's office and obtain a personal recognizance bond ("PR bond") for Newsome. Choate explained in his deposition that he requests PR bonds "[a]nytime that [jail staff] believe someone is going to go to the hospital." He also acknowledged that this practice exists because of staffing issues; [*11] when a detainee is admitted to the hospital under a PR bond, the jail does not need staff to sit at the hospital with the detainee. This plan to secure a PR bond for Newsome had been discussed with Sheriff Greg Taylor, the undisputed policymaker at Anderson County Jail during Newsome's detainment. Furthermore, in an affidavit, former jailer Jacob P. Mobley testified that Nurse Green confided to him that Sheriff Taylor had limited Green's ability to send people to the hospital due to cost concerns. The request for a PR bond was canceled when Newsome was finally taken to the hospital in the afternoon.
At approximately 4:20 p.m. on June 15, Jailer-Defendants Jessica Carpenter, Matthew Wickersham, and Dakota Hughes assisted Newsome to the toilet. On the way to the toilet, Newsome grabbed the wall, fell, and vomited, and Carpenter retrieved a wheelchair for her. Wickersham told Newsome to let the jailers know when she was finished using the toilet, and he left the cell door open a crack. At around 5:00 p.m., Jailer-Defendant Wickersham checked on Newsome and found her unresponsive. As multiple Jailer Defendants began to locate emergency equipment, Wickersham called Nurse Green, who instructed [*12] him to notify emergency medical services ("EMS"). Green testified that he learned about Newsome's critical blood work results around the same time that Newsome was found unresponsive.
After Wickersham called Nurse Green, Carpenter wheeled Newsome into the processing area. Newsome was laid onto a mat, and Jailer-Defendants Alicia Wilson, Hughes, and Carpenter left to retrieve a defibrillator. Two Anderson County deputies took turns providing chest compressions to Newsome until EMS arrived.
Newsome was pronounced dead at the hospital at 5:37 p.m. Newsome's autopsy indicates that she died of "[c]omplications of Addison's disease, hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, obesity, and pulmonary emphysema."
In addition to contesting the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendants on appeal, Plaintiffs also raise on appeal the issue of Defendants' alleged spoliation of electronic data. Specifically, Plaintiffs highlight that a series of text messages between Nurse Green, Captain Choate, and Lieutenant Pierson sent on June 15 are unavailable. Plaintiffs moved for discovery sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e), which the district court addressed and denied in its order granting summary judgment for the individual Defendants.
A trial court's decision on a motion for sanctions for spoliation of evidence is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Guzman v. Jones, 804 F.3d 707, 713 (5th Cir. 2015). This court permits an adverse inference or sanctions against the spoliator only upon a showing of "bad faith" or "bad conduct." Id. (quoting Condrey v. SunTrust Bank of Ga., 431 F.3d 191, 203 (5th Cir. 2005)). A party seeking an adverse inference—i.e., [*55] a presumption that "the lost information was unfavorable to the [spoliating] party"—must establish that "the [spoliating] party acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information's use in the litigation." Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(e)(2).
Because the Texas Rangers conducted an investigation following Newsome's death, it may be reasonable to conclude that Defendants had a duty to preserve electronically stored information. It also seems likely that the text messages at issue contained information related to Newsome. Nevertheless, Plaintiffs are unable to effectively rebut Defendants' explanation that they purchased new phones and, as a result, lost access to these text messages. While it may be true that Defendants intended to "frustrate future discovery by destroying incriminating evidence," we find that the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that Plaintiffs have failed to present evidence of bad faith sufficient to warrant spoliation sanctions. We AFFIRM the district court's denial of Plaintiffs' motion for sanctions.
We conclude by addressing Defendants' evidentiary objections that are preserved on appeal. "Properly preserved evidentiary objections are reviewed for an abuse [*56] of discretion." United States v. Curtis, 635 F.3d 704, 716 (5th Cir. 2011).
Defendant Timothy Green objects to Plaintiffs' citations to recorded interviews conducted by a Texas Ranger, as well as a transcript of those interviews. We need not rely on these interviews, however, because the record contains deposition excerpts from the Ranger's interviewees that corroborate the pertinent information contained in the Ranger's interviews. Because our conclusions would be the same regardless of the admissibility of these interviews, we need not address the merits of Defendant Green's evidentiary objections. See United States v. Wells, 525 F.2d 974, 976 (5th Cir. 1976) (declining to decide whether the district court erred in admitting testimony, noting that "inasmuch as the testimony was merely cumulative and in light of the record taken as a whole, any error was harmless"); Weaver v. U.S. Coast Guard, 53 F.3d 1282, 1995 WL 295978, at *2 (5th Cir. 1995) (declining to determine whether certain statements were hearsay where admission of these statements would have no bearing on the case's ultimate disposition); East v. Walgreen Co., 860 F. App'x 367, 369 n.1 (5th Cir. 2021) (declining to address a hearsay issue where the admission of a contested statement would not affect the outcome of summary judgment).
Defendant Green also objects to a chart created by Plaintiffs' counsel that purports to reflect Green's telephone calls. We need not rely on this [*57] chart, however, because Plaintiffs have provided the underlying phone records. We leave it to the district court to determine in the first instance whether Plaintiffs' evidentiary aids are appropriate. We also need not rely on an order issued by the Texas Board of Nursing suspending Defendant Green's nursing license, which Green objects to on hearsay and authentication grounds, since the facts contained in this order are cumulative of information contained elsewhere in the record.14
Defendant Green and Defendant Adam Corley both preserve their objections to Plaintiffs' use of sworn expert reports, but we find these objections unpersuasive. Defendant Green argues that the expert reports were outside the scope of the district court's discovery order, which limited discovery to the issue of qualified immunity. But the district court's discovery order made no mention of prohibiting expert disclosure, and Plaintiffs' experts' reports are relevant to the issue of qualified immunity because they help explain the substantial risk that Addison's disease patients face when their condition is left untreated. The district court's several cites to the expert reports in its order granting summary [*58] judgment for the individual Defendants bolsters Plaintiffs' argument that their inclusion of expert reports did not violate the district court's discovery order.
Defendants Green and Corley also object to the expert reports as containing hearsay and hearsay within hearsay. Defendants' broad hearsay objections are arguably too "loosely formulated and imprecise" to be considered preserved on appeal, since Defendants did not point the district court to the portions of the extensive expert reports that they find objectionable. See United States v. Lewis, 796 F.3d 543, 546 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting United States v. Polasek, 162 F.3d 878, 885 (5th Cir. 1998)). Furthermore, evidence may be considered on summary judgment provided "[its] contents can be presented in admissible form at trial," Patel v. Tex. Tech Univ., 941 F.3d 743, 746 (5th Cir. 2019), and Plaintiffs have properly submitted sworn declarations from their experts pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2) indicating that Plaintiffs intend to rely on their experts' testimony at trial. Defendants have made no effort to specify which portions of the experts' reports fall outside the scope of permissible expert testimony under the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Finally, in a one-sentence footnote, Anderson County and the Jailer Defendants attempt to reassert their objections to Plaintiffs' affidavit evidence. The district court overruled [*59] these objections in its order granting summary judgment for the individual Defendants, finding that personal knowledge could be inferred from each affidavit itself. See DIRECTV, Inc. v. Budden, 420 F.3d 521, 530 (5th Cir. 2005). Because Defendants undertook no effort to address the district court's analysis and explain how it abused its discretion in overruling Defendants' evidentiary objections, we consider these objections forfeited on appeal. See Hallam, 42 F.4th at 327.
For the foregoing reasons, we REVERSE the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendants Timothy Green, Todd Choate, Jonathan Strong, Robin Jones, Matthew Wickersham, Jessica Carpenter, and Dakota Hughes. We AFFIRM the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendants Alicia Wilson, Travis Wesson, and TAKET Holdings, L.L.C. We AFFIRM IN PART the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendant Adam Corley as related to Plaintiffs' supervisory claim against him, but we REVERSE the district court's grant of summary judgment for Dr. Corley as related to Plaintiffs' nonsupervisory claim. We also AFFIRM IN PART the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendants Anderson County and Greg Taylor for the claims alleged in Plaintiffs' second amended complaint, [*60] and we VACATE the district court's denial of Plaintiffs' motion for leave to file a third amended complaint and REMAND with instructions to grant Plaintiffs leave to amend their pleadings to include additional supervisory and municipal liability claims based on the alleged policy of delaying treatment to obtain PR bonds. Finally, we AFFIRM the district court's denial of Plaintiffs' motion for sanctions.
1 Plaintiffs claim that there is a factual dispute regarding whether Nurse Green made this midnight visit to Newsome. We express no view on whether Plaintiffs have presented sufficient evidence to support a justifiable inference that Nurse Green fabricated this visit. Even if we accepted as true Green's claim that he treated Newsome that night, we would still hold that the district court erred in granting him summary judgment due to the events that transpired on June 15.
14 We also note that we do not deem the Texas Board of Nursing's conclusions of law that Defendant Green violated state regulations relevant to our analysis of Green's alleged violation of Newsome's constitutional rights. See Davis, 468 U.S. at 194 ("Officials sued for constitutional violations do not lose their qualified immunity merely because their conduct violates some statutory or administrative provision."); Gagne v. City of Galveston, 805 F.2d 558, 560 (5th Cir. 1986) ("[A]llegations about the breach of a statute or regulation are simply irrelevant to the question of an official's eligibility for qualified immunity in a suit over the deprivation of a constitutional right.").
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