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Brenner v. Asfeld

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 4, 2019

DAWN BRENNER and KATHY BRENNER, as co-trustees for the heirs and next of kin of Dylan Brenner, Plaintiffs,
v.
DANIELLE SUE ASFELD, WES GRAVES, AMANDA NOWELL, CHRISTINA LEONARD, JOHN DOES 1-2, in their individual capacities, SHERBURNE COUNTY, and MEND CORRECTIONAL CARE, PLLC, Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS AND MOTION TO AMEND

          Nancy E. Brasel United States District Judge

         Dylan Brenner died by suicide in 2017 while in custody at the Sherburne County Jail. The trustees of Brenner's estate assert federal and state claims against Sherburne County, MEnD Correctional Care, PLLC, and their employees. Defendants Wes Graves and Sherburne County brought a motion to dismiss, arguing that the complaint fails to plead facts to show specific knowledge that Brenner was a suicide risk. In response, Plaintiffs seek leave to file a second amended complaint to bolster their existing claims and to add new defendants and claims. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the motion to amend in part and denies the motion to dismiss at moot.

         BACKGROUND

         First Amended Complaint

         The First Amended Complaint alleges the following facts:[1]

         Though Brenner's suicide occurred in 2017, Brenner was first incarcerated at the Sherburne County Jail in July and August 2016. During his 2016 stay, MEnD Correctional Care, PLLC provided him with medical care. [ECF No. 6 (“Am. Compl.”) ¶¶ 19-20.] Both Sherburne County and MEnD records show that Brenner was on suicide watch during the entirety of his 2016 stay. (Id. ¶ 22.) Brenner suffered from severe physical and mental health issues-including traumatic brain injury, bipolar disorder, and PTSD-following three combat tours of duty in Iraq. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15, 18.) Sherburne County and MEnD records document Brenner's mental health history and prescribed medications. (Id. ¶ 21.)

         On October 6, 2017, following a guilty verdict in the same criminal matter that led to his 2016 incarceration, Brenner was taken into custody and again booked into the Sherburne County Jail. (Id. ¶ 24.) The seriousness of the guilty verdict combined with Brenner's mental health history, including known suicidality at Sherburne County, placed him at high risk for suicide. (Id. ¶ 25.) Despite knowing this risk, Defendants failed to conduct adequate mental-health screenings, failed to assess the risk properly, and placed Brenner in the general population. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27.)

         The Amended Complaint contains specific allegations about each defendant. As to Defendant and MEnD nurse Christina Leonard, who treated Brenner on the evening of October 6, Plaintiffs assert that Leonard diagnosed Brenner with drug withdrawal, and that she knew doctors had prescribed Brenner medical marijuana for his PTSD and suicidal thoughts. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.) Plaintiffs assert that Leonard failed to ensure that MEnD and Sherburne County properly screened or monitored Brenner, and thus Sherburne County placed him in the general population, where he received 30-minute well-being checks rather than closer medical monitoring. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33.)

         As to Defendant and MEnD nurse Danielle Sue Asfeld, who met with Brenner's mother Kathy Brenner on the morning of October 7, Plaintiffs assert that Kathy Brenner gave Asfield several of Brenner's medications, including medical cannabis, venlafaxine HCL, lamotrigine, cyproheptadine, lurasidone, and trazodone. (Id. ¶ 34.) Asfeld knew Brenner had current and valid prescriptions for the various medications, and that the medications were for treatment of serious mental health conditions, including PTSD, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. (Id. ¶¶ 36-42.) Asfeld had access to Brenner's medical records, knew of his history of suicidal ideations, knew he was suffering from drug withdrawal, and knew he had not received his medications since his incarceration. (Id. ¶ 25.) Despite this knowledge, Asfeld did not provide him with his medication, assess the status of his mental health condition, or inventory or chart the prescriptions. (Id. ¶¶ 43-46.) Plaintiffs assert that as a result, Brenner received 30-minute well-being checks rather than more frequent monitoring. (Id. ¶ 47.)

         As to Defendant and MEnD nurse Amanda Nowell, who inventoried Brenner's medications, Plaintiffs assert she similarly had access to Brenner's file, and knew of his health history and medications, but did not provide him any medicine, assess his mental health status, or chart his prescriptions. (Id. ¶¶ 50-56.) As a result, Plaintiffs assert, Brenner received 30-minute well-being checks rather than more frequent monitoring. (Id. ¶ 57.)

         As to Sherburne County, Plaintiffs allege that Sherburne County staff, including corrections officer Wes Graves, failed to conduct the 30-minute well-being checks properly, missing multiple checks in violation of implemented policies and procedures. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 58-59.) For example, Graves did not conduct a well-being check at 1:59 p.m., and the last proper observation of Brenner occurred no later than 1:05 p.m. (Id. ¶¶ 60-61.) Brenner was found unresponsive at 2:19 p.m., and his time of death was 2:23 p.m. (Id. ¶¶ 62-63.) Plaintiffs assert that had Brenner received proper medical attention, closer monitoring, and his medications, he would likely not have died of suicide. (Id. ¶¶ 68-70.)

         Second Amended Complaint

         After reviewing Graves' and Sherburne County's answer and motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs conducted more investigation, and now seek leave to file a second amended complaint (“SAC”), adding new allegations about Brenner's placement in administrative security segregation, his several prescriptions, and Defendants' alleged failures to provide adequate care despite their knowledge of Brenner's history. [See generally, ECF No. 34-2, Ex. B (“Second Am. Compl.”).] Plaintiffs assert that these added facts bolster their existing § 1983 and negligence claims. The proposed SAC alleges that during his 2016 stay in Sherburne County, Brenner was on “Max-Gown” status because he was a suicide risk. Under “Max-Gown” status, Brenner wore a Kevlar suicide prevention gown, received only a Kevlar blanket and finger food, and was under special mental health watch every fifteen minutes. (Id. ¶¶ 46-49.)

         According to the SAC, Brenner remained on this “Max-Gown” status and in administrative maximum security segregation until his August 1, 2016 transfer to the Wright County Jail. (Id. ¶¶ 67-71.) An Inmate Transfer Form denoted that Brenner “was presently on a 30-minute special watch, and that [he] was in maximum security administrative segregation ‘[d]ue to his assaultive history, comments made at arrival, and MH issues.'” (Id. ¶ 80.)

         Along with these new detailed allegations about Brenner's status and suicide watch in 2016, the SAC asserts, in more detail, the written requirement that he remain in administration maximum security. (Id. ¶¶ 86-212.) It also adds deliberate indifference allegations against Dr. Todd Leonard, the sole member of MEnD and the medical director/supervisor at the Sherburne County Jail, and three corrections officers at Sherburne County-Rebecca Lucar, Denny Russell, and James Rourke. (Id. ¶¶ 6-11.) The SAC also adds allegations about Defendants' history of deliberate indifference to other inmates. (Id. ¶¶ 226-41.)

         The initial complaint alleged the following legal claims:

• § 1983 Deliberate Indifference against Asfeld, Nowell, Leonard, John Does 1-2;
• Wrongful death/Professional negligence against Asfeld, Nowell, Leonard, MEnD, Sherburne County, and John Does 1-2; and
• Wrongful death/Negligence against Graves, John Does 1-2[2], and Sherburne County.

         The SAC adds the following claims and defendants:

• § 1983 Supervisory Liability against Dr.Leonard;
• § 1983 Monell Liability against MEnD, Dr. Leonard, and Sherburne County;
• § 1983 Deliberate Indifference against Wes Graves, Rebecca Lucar, Denny Russell, James Rourke, and Dr. Leonard; and
• Wrongful death/Negligence against Lucar, Russell, and Rourke.

         All existing and proposed Defendants oppose the Motion to Amend. Defendants first argue prejudice as to the entire SAC, or, in the alternative, for the Court to strike portions of the SAC under Rule 12(f). The existing and proposed Defendants then argue futility on various grounds, including that the SAC does not meet the Iqbal/Twombly plausibility standard and that Defendants are entitled to immunity.

         Separately, Graves and Sherburne County (the “Sherburne Defendants”) have brought a Motion to Dismiss the operative First Amended Complaint.

         ANALYSIS

         I. MOTION TO AMEND

         When a party seeks an amendment other than as a matter of course, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's consent or the court's leave. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). Rule 15(a) is a lenient standard, and a “good cause” showing is required only after the expiration of the applicable deadline in the scheduling order. See Hebert v. Winona Cty., No. CV 15-469 (RHK/JJK), 2016 WL 7888036, at *1 (D. Minn. Apr. 7, 2016). Rule 15(a) favors granting leave because this litigation is in its early stages, as only a limited pretrial schedule has been set and the motion to amend deadline has not passed. [See ECF No. 48 (“Pretrial Scheduling Ord.”).]

         There is no absolute right to amend, though, and a “court may appropriately deny leave to amend where there are compelling reasons such as undue delay, bad faith, or dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendment previously allowed, undue prejudice to the non-moving party, or futility of the amendment.” Moses.com Sec., Inc. v. Comprehensive Software Sys., Inc., 406 F.3d 1052, 1065 (8th Cir. 2005) (citations and quotation marks omitted). Here, there is no claim of undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, or repeated failure to cure pleading deficiencies. Defendants instead assert that the Court should deny the amendment because it will prejudice Defendants and is futile. The Court addresses each argument below.

         II. PREJUDICE

         MEnD Correctional Care, PLLC, Danielle Sue Asfeld, Amanda Nowell, and Christina Leonard (the “MEnD Defendants”) argue that because they do not dispute the sufficiency of the operative complaint, “[i]n asserting 195 new allegations, Plaintiffs are imposing significant defense and discovery burdens upon the MEnD Defendants without a correlating benefit or relationship to this case.” [ECF No. 46 (“MEnD Defs' Opp. To Leave”) at 10.] They contend the new allegations will unduly burden discovery without a good-faith basis to do so. ...


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