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Washington v. Craane

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 18, 2019

STEPHEN JOSEPH CRAANE, Physician MD; DEBORAH ANN MACNEILL, Psychiatrist; LON JOSEPH AUGDAHL, Psychiatrist; DIANE MEDCHILL, Behavioral Health Assistant Director; KATHY REID, Health Service Administrator; DAVID REISHUS, Assistant Warden of Operations; NAN LARSON, Director of Health Service; and JANE DOES, Nurses, Defendants.

          Keith Eugene Washington, plaintiff pro se.

          Rachel E. Bell-Munger, Minnesota Attorney General's Office, for defendants Diane Medchill, Kathy Reid, David Reishus, and Nan Larson.



         Plaintiff Keith Eugene Washington, a Minnesota state prisoner, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging deliberate indifference to his medical needs by prison officials and contractors. Four of the seven defendants named to this action - Diane Medchill, Kathy Reid, David Reishus, and Nan Larson - now seek dismissal from this litigation pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See ECF No. 20. The four moving defendants argue that, insofar as they are sued in their official capacities as agents of the State of Minnesota, they are immune from claims for money damages; that Washington has failed to allege that they personally acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs; and that the actions that Washington has alleged them to have engaged in are not unlawful. For the reasons provided below, this Court agrees with the moving defendants and recommends that they be dismissed without prejudice from this action.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Prior to his incarceration, Washington had been prescribed psychotropic medications that he alleges had worked effectively with minimum side effects.[1]Defendant Deborah Ann MacNeill, a psychiatrist at the prison where Washington resides, refused to allow Washington to continue with this medication. See Compl. at 6 [ECF No. 1]. Instead, MacNeill insisted that Washington switch to other medication - medication that was not as effective and caused Washington to suffer “life altering side effects.” Id. at 7. Washington offers several motives for why MacNeill might have changed his medications - either a desire to use him “as a lab rat, ” id., or in retaliation for filing complaints with the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, or perhaps simply due to insufficient interest in the specifics of Washington's case - but in any event, MacNeill persisted in this course of treatment for several months. Defendant Lon Joseph Augdahl, another psychiatrist and MacNeill's supervisor, supported this course of treatment. Id. Neither MacNeill nor Augdahl have joined in the motion to dismiss.

         Around this same time, Washington was engaged in another dispute over medication with defendant Stephen Joseph Craane, a physician employed at the prison. See Compl. at 10. This argument centered on medication that had previously been prescribed to Washington for nerve damage caused by a gunshot wound. Id. As in the other dispute, Craane prescribed different medication that Washington alleges was less effective and caused more severe side effects. Id. Craane also has not joined in the motion to dismiss.

         In addition to MacNeill, Augdahl, and Craane, four prison officials have been named as defendants to this action in connection with the above-described events. Washington alleges that, as the facility's health service administrator, defendant Kathy Reid failed to take adequate steps to intervene or reprimand the other defendants for their actions and also “hinder[ed] petitioner's exhaustive process.” Compl. at 8. Defendant David Reishus, associate warden, is similarly alleged to have “allowed the malpractice and retaliatory actions with foreknowledge, and did nothing to stop the defendants under his charge.” Id. (spelling and punctuation altered). No. specific allegations are raised in the complaint regarding defendants Diane Medchill or Nan Larson; Washington clarifies in his briefing that they have also been included in this litigation because, he argues, those defendants (in their supervisory capacities at the prison) should have done more to ensure that he received adequate medical care. Washington also asserts in his briefing that Medchill and Larson hindered his ability to pursue administrative grievances.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Washington sues each of the defendants in both their personal capacities and in their official capacities as officers or employees of the State of Minnesota. Defendants Medchill, Reid, Reishus, and Larson move to dismiss the claims brought against them in both capacities. This Court agrees that both sets of claims fail as a matter of law and should therefore be dismissed. Because the reasons for why those claims fail differs somewhat for each capacity, this Court will first discuss the personal-capacity claims and then turn to the official-capacity claims.

         A. Personal Capacity

         “Personal-capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985). Accordingly, to succeed on a personal-capacity claim under § 1983, a litigant must prove that the specific defendant being sued acted unlawfully himself or herself. See Madewell v. Roberts, 909 F.2d 1203, 1208 (8th Cir. 1990) (“Liability under § 1983 requires a causal link to, and direct responsibility for, the deprivation of rights.”).

         Washington raises three theories as to why Medchill, Reid, Reishus, and Larson should be held personally liable for the events at issue.[2] First, Washington alleges that each of the four moving defendants exercised supervisory authority over Craane, MacNeill, Augdahl, or over another of the moving defendants, thus making the supervisory defendant responsible for the actions of his or her supervisees. Second, Washington alleges that the four moving defendants enacted or carried out unlawful policies which led to the unlawful denial of medical care. Third, Washington alleges that the four moving defendants either actively thwarted or, at a minimum, turned a blind eye to his administrative grievances concerning his medical care.

         With respect to defendants' alleged supervisory authority: “Respondeat superior or vicarious liability will not attach under § 1983.” City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989). The mere fact, taken alone, that defendants acted as supervisors to others alleged to have committed unlawful acts cannot be enough to establish the liability of the supervisors under § 1983. See also Langford v. Norris, 614 F.3d 445, 460 (8th Cir. 2010) (“As ...

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