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Cooper v. The City of Cottage Grove

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

August 21, 2014

THE CITY OF COTTAGE GROVE, et al., Defendants.


THOMAS M. COFFIN, Magistrate Judge.


This is an action brought by the Estate of Nathan S. Cooper and his mother, Wendy Cooper, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 for the death of Nathan Scott Cooper while he was in the custody of the Cottage Grove Municipal Jail on May 5, 2012. Named as defendants are the City of Cottage Grove and eight officers of the Cottage Grove Police Department (Chief Michael Grover, Commander Scott Shepherd, Officer Carlos Jones, Corporal John Woodke, Commander Dean Finnerty, Commander Cornad Gagner, Officer Tami Howell, and Officer Jarrod Butler). Presently before the court is a motion for summary judgment brought on behalf of all the defendants.

Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 allows the granting of summary judgment:

if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). There must be no genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

The movant has the initial burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists or that a material fact essential to the nonmovant's claim is missing. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986). Once the movant has met its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to produce specific evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact or to establish the existence of all facts material to the claim. Id .; see also, Bhan v. NME Hosp., Inc. , 929 F.2d 1404, 1409 (9th Cir. 1991); Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd., v. Fritz Cos., Inc. , 210 F.3d 1099, 1105 (9th Cir. 2000). In order to meet this burden, the nomnovant "may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading, " but must instead "set out specific facts showing a genuine issue of fact for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

Material facts which preclude entry of summary judgment are those which, under applicable substantive law, may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. Factual disputes are genuine if they "properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Id . On the other hand, if, after the court has drawn all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant, "the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, " summary judgment may be granted. Id.

As noted, the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant (i.e., plaintiff) in determining whether summary judgment is appropriate under the circumstances or whether a jury trial is necessary to resolve material issues of fact.

Statement of Facts

1. Cottage Grove Jail Background

The Cottage Grove municipal jail is located in the basement of the building which houses the Cottage Grove Police Department and the City's municipal courtroom. Chief Grover is responsible for the jail budget, approving policies and procedures, and is ultimately responsible for the inmates lodged therein and their care. Commander Shepherd is responsible for the operation of the jail. The jail does not have dedicated staff whose responsibilities lie completely within the jail. Instead, patrol officers and investigators are responsible for the jail's daily operation, with officers conducting jail checks approximately once per hour during their shifts. The jail has eight cells, which can hold up to 16 inmates, and is separated from the Police Department and Dispatch Center by a flight of stairs and a locking door. In addition to the hourly checks by officers on the inmates, the cells are monitored by cameras and microphones which allow the on-duty dispatcher to see, hear, and speak with inmates. The Dispatch Center and Police Department are staffed around the clock.

Because of its small size, the jail does not have medical personnel on staff and does not directly provide medical services to inmates. During the booking process officers perform a visual inspection of each inmate for signs of obvious sickness or injury and ask a series of health questions. If an inmate appears in need of medical attention, policy calls for the police to choose one of three options: 1) call fire department paramedics (EMTs) to the jail to assess the inmate; 2) take the inmate to the local hospital emergency room; or 3) grant the inmate a medical furlough (release from custody) to allow the inmate an opportunity to seek medical care on his/her own.

2. Events Surrounding the Death of Nathan Cooper

On April 26, 2012, Nathan Cooper was sentenced to serve a sentence often days in the Cottage Grove Municipal Jail for a drug-related crime.

On the evening of April 27, 2012, Cooper was vomiting uncontrollably and exhibited a diminished level of consciousness. Officer Howell summoned South Lane County Fire and Rescue EMTs to the jail to evaluate Cooper. A paramedic concluded that he was suffering withdrawals from methadone addiction, and offered to transport him to the local hospital for further evaluation, but Cooper declined. The paramedic estimated Cooper's weight at the time to be 80 kilograms, or 176 pounds. (This is significant, because at the time of Cooper's death early in the morning of May 5, 2012, his weight was 120 pounds.) After the EMTs left the jail, Howell informed Commander Shepherd of the situation and he authorized her to release Cooper on a medical furlough to give him an opportunity to seek medical care. Upon his release, he was told to return to the jail on the morning of April 29, 2012 to resume serving his sentence.

Cooper failed to seek medical care on furlough, nor did he voluntarily return to jail. After police obtained a warrant and located Cooper on April 30, they discovered him with another addict and in possession of heroin, syringes, and drug paraphernalia. In short, he used the furlough to inject drugs, not see a doctor.

On May 1, after being reincarcerated at the jail, Cooper again began vomiting and exhibiting withdrawal symptoms. At approximately 10 A.M., EMTs were again summoned to the jail, and determined that Cooper was withdrawing from heroin and meth. According to defendants, Cooper declined an offer by EMTs to transport him to the hospital for further evaluation.[1] A paramedic recommended that officers ensure that Cooper stay well hydrated while going through withdrawals. The officers thereafter provided Cooper with bottles of Gatorade, but the evidence does not reveal that any of the officers monitored or verified his actual fluid intake. The paramedic instructed officers to monitor Cooper and transport him to the hospital for evaluation if his symptoms persisted.

Some 10 hours later, (7:47 P.M.), Cooper complained of stomach pains to Officer Woodke and expressly requested medical attention. Woodke summoned EMTs, but the call was canceled before they arrived because Woodke was told by Officer Skaggs that EMTs had evaluated Cooper earlier that day and left instructions to simply give him Gatorade.

The next morning (May 2nd) at approximately 5:30 A.M., Officer Gagner and Jones conducted a jail check. At that time, Cooper asked Gagner what it meant when "you puke up blood." Gagner understood from the question that Cooper had in fact puked up blood, and responded that it usually meant that the throat was irritated from coughing or vomiting. Gagner never made a ...

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