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Turner v. Palmer

United States District Court, S.D. Iowa, Western Division

February 4, 2015

JESSICA TURNER, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLES M. PALMER; RICHARD SHULTS; DEBORAH HANUS; ILONA AVERY; DR. JOAN GERBO; REVAE GABRIEL; and DEB WILKENS, Defendants

For Jessica Turner, Plaintiff: John Mandel Sandy, LEAD ATTORNEY, SANDY LAW FIRM, P.C., Spirit Lake, IA; Matthew Sease, LEAD ATTORNEY, KEMP & SEASE, Des Moines, IA.

For State of Iowa, Charles M Palmer, Richard Shults, Deborah Hanus, Ilona Avery, Joan Gerbo, Revae Gabriel, Deb Wilkens, Defendant: Gretchen Witte Kraemer, LEAD ATTORNEY, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF IOWA HOOVER STATE OFFICE BLDG, DES MOINES, IA.

ORDER

JAMES E. GRITZNER, Chief United States DISTRICT JUDGE.

This matter comes before the Court on Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim by Defendants Charles Palmer, Richard Shults, Deborah Hanus, Ilona Avery, Dr. Joan Gerbo, Revae Gabriel, and Deb Wilkens. Plaintiff Jessica Turner resists. A hearing on the Motion was held on January 15, 2015. Plaintiff was represented by attorney Matthew Sease. Defendants were represented by Assistant Iowa Attorney General Gretchen Kraemer. The matter is fully submitted and ready for disposition.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Jessica Turner filed this action against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment violations arising from her confinement at the Iowa Juvenile Home. For purposes of this Order, the following factual allegations are taken from the Amended Complaint, ECF No. 11, and are assumed to be true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 681, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

The Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff is a citizen of Iowa and a resident of Pottawattamie County. Plaintiff was born on August 30, 1994. On March 16, 2011, Plaintiff, at age 16, was found to be a juvenile delinquent and a Child in Need of Assistance. Plaintiff was ordered to be placed at the Iowa Juvenile Home, located in Toledo, Iowa. Upon placement, Plaintiff was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder with possible Conduct Disorder, Mood Disorder, possible Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Mild Mental Retardation. Prior to her placement at the Iowa Juvenile Home, Plaintiff had multiple other placements, including several psychiatric hospitalizations.

Plaintiff's cause of action stems from her placement in small cement isolation cells, labeled Quiet Rooms, Safety Rooms, Comfort Rooms, and the Special Unit. Plaintiff alleges she spent numerous consecutive weeks locked in isolation cells, spending 289 out of the 528 days she was at the facility in isolation. Plaintiff complains that she was only given one thin mat to sleep on; she was locked in the cell and only permitted to exit to use the restroom; and during many of these stays, she was not allowed any homework, classroom instruction, reading material, or outside communication. Plaintiff alleges that she would repeatedly cry and inform the staff that she was in pain and wanted out. Plaintiff would violently bang her head against the cement walls of the cells in attempts to garner the staff's attention. Plaintiff was released from the Iowa Juvenile Home on August 24, 2012 - six days before her eighteenth birthday.

The Iowa Juvenile Home is a state institution governed and controlled by the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) pursuant to Iowa Code § 218.1.[1] The DHS is responsible for the control, management, direction, and operation of the Iowa Juvenile Home. Defendant Charles Palmer was at all relevant times the appointed Director of the DHS. Defendant Richard Shults was at all relevant times employed as the Mental Health and Disability Services Division Administrator by the DHS. Defendant Deborah Hanus was at all relevant times employed by the DHS as the Superintendent of the Iowa Juvenile Home. Defendant Ilona Avery was at all relevant times employed by the DHS as the Clinical Director of the Iowa Juvenile Home. Defendant Dr. Joan Gerbo was at all relevant times employed by the DHS as the Director of Education at the Iowa Juvenile Home. Defendant Revae Gabriel was at all relevant times employed by the DHS as the Youth Counselor Supervisor at the Iowa Juvenile Home. Defendant Deb Wilkins was at all relevant times employed by the DHS as the Youth Counselor at the Iowa Juvenile Home. Plaintiff alleges each of the individually named Defendants had a supervisory role at the Iowa Juvenile Home and oversaw the use of the isolation cells in which Plaintiff was confined.

II. DISCUSSION

Defendants move to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).[2] Defendants argue they are entitled to qualified immunity and the claim falls outside of the statute of limitations. [3] " 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.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). " A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. The Court must " accept[ ] as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw[ ] all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Simes v. Ark. Judicial Discipline & Disability Comm'n, 734 F.3d 830, 834 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting Richter v. Advance Auto Parts, Inc., 686 F.3d 847, 850 (8th Cir. 2012) (per curium)).

A. Qualified Immunity

" Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, a court must dismiss a complaint against a government official in his individual capacity that fails to state a claim for violation of 'clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Hager v. Ark. Dep't of Health, 735 F.3d 1009, 1013 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). " To prevail at this stage of the proceedings, defendants must show that they are entitled to qualified immunity on the face of the complaint." Bradford v. Huckabee, 394 F.3d 1012, 1015 (8th Cir. 2005).

Plaintiff's constitutional claims arise under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments for Defendants' alleged continuous and systematic use of isolation cells at the Iowa Juvenile Home. In support of her claim, Plaintiff primarily relies on R.G. v. Koller,415 F.Supp.2d 1129 (D. Haw. 2006). In Koller, three juveniles detained at a state-run juvenile correction facility brought claims under § 1983 for violations of their constitutional rights after being placed in isolation cells for extended periods of time. Id. at 1133. The state officials used isolation cells to separate plaintiffs from harassment by other juveniles in the facility because plaintiffs were identified as or perceived to be gay. Id. After examining expert opinions on the effect of isolation cells on juveniles, the court held that the defendants' conduct was not within the range of acceptable professional practices and constituted punishment in violation of the plaintiffs' due process rights. Id. at 1154-55. The court stated, " [t]he expert evidence before the court uniformly indicates that long-term segregation or isolation of youth is inherently punitive and is well outside the range of accepted professional practices." Id. at 1155. The court went on to cite a number of other courts that also found the use of isolation cells on juveniles to be in violation of due process. Id. (citing H.C. by Hewett v. ...


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