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Anderson v. Curtright

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

June 11, 2019

SANDRA ANDERSON, Personal Representative of the Estate of BETTY NEWELL; and SANDRA ANDERSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
BRYAN CURTRIGHT; JOHN DOES 1-6, as individuals; and COLUMBIA COUNTY, an Oregon municipality, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN V. ACOSTA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Introduction

         Plaintiff Sandra Anderson, on her own behalf and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Betty Newell (“Plaintiff”), filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”). Anderson alleges defendants Columbia County (the “County”), Bryan Cutright (“Cutright”), and John Does 1-6 violated the right to be free from unlawful seizure and confinement protected by the Fourth Amendment when Cutright, his supervisor, and officers of the Columbia County Sheriffs' Office (the “Officers'), arrested her and seized her mother, Betty Newell (“Newell”), without probable cause. Plaintiff also asserts a wrongful death claim under Or. Rev. Stat. 30.020 for Newell's death caused by the trauma of witnessing Anderson's arrest and her own involuntary transport to a hospital. Cutright and John Doe 1, identified as Cutright's supervisor (collectively “Defendants”), move to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a viable claim against them.

         The court finds Plaintiff adequately alleged a causal relationship between Cutright, the alleged unconstitutional conduct, and Newell's death, but no such relationship with regard to John Doe 1. Accordingly, Defendants' motion to dismiss is[1] be denied with regard to Cutright and granted with regard to John Doe 1.[2]

         Background

         In late 2016, Plaintiff retired from her position as a medical assistant to provide full-time in-home care for Newell. (Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 10, 13.) Plaintiff's sister-in-law, Nettie Anderson (“Nettie”), a licensed caregiver, assisted Plaintiff in caring for Newell. (Compl., ¶ 20.) Plaintiff communicated and cooperated with Anna Crawford, the hospice worker assigned to Newell (“Crawford”), to determine the appropriate care for Newell, specifically with regard to Newell's worsening bedsores. (Compl. ¶ 14.)

         In February 2017, a substitute hospice worker observed Newell's advanced bed sores and reported Plaintiff to the Oregon Department of Human Services (the “Department”) for suspected abuse and neglect. (Compl. ¶¶ 14, 16.) On February 22, 2017, Cutright, a Department employee and former law enforcement officer with the Columbia County Sheriffs' Office, visited Newell's residence to follow up on the report. (Compl. ¶¶ 6, 17.) Cutright observed Newell's bedsores, briefly reviewed Newell's medical chart, and began taking pictures of Newell. (Compl. ¶ 18.) When Cutright denied Plaintiff's request for copies of the pictures, Plaintiff felt the visit was “becoming adversarial” and asked Cutright to leave. (Compl. ¶ 18.) After a somewhat heated exchange with Plaintiff's husband about Cutright's service in the United States Marine Corp, Cutright left the Newell residence threatening to “have [Nettie's] license” and stating “I'm coming back with the authorities.” (Compl. ¶¶ 19, 20.)

         Cutright contacted Crawford, and accused Plaintiff and Nettie of elder abuse based on Newell's bedsores. (Compl. ¶ 22.) Cutright agreed to “postpone any further action” after Crawford advised Cutright of a treatment plan agreed upon by Plaintiff and Crawford. (Compl. ¶¶ 22, 23.) However, Cutright returned to the Newell residence on February 23, 2017, with his supervisor “Susan, ” and the Officers. The Officers immediately placed Plaintiff, her husband, and Nettie in handcuffs and interrogated them “in a threatening and intimidating manner.” (Compl. ¶ 24.) The Officer eventually arrested Plaintiff and Nettie, and transported them to Columbia County Jail. (Compl. ¶ 28.) Newell witnessed the Officers' actions, was visibly upset, and did not speak or eat again. (Compl. ¶ 29.)

         Several of the Officers held Newell while “Susan” took pictures of Newell's bedsores. (Compl. ¶ 27.) The Officers then removed Newell from her residence and transported her to St. Johns Medical Center by ambulance. (Compl. ¶ 30.) Newell was subsequently transferred to a hospice facility, where she passed away on February 28, 2017. (Compl. ¶ 30.) As of the filing of this lawsuit, neither Plaintiff nor Nettie had been prosecuted for elder abuse or neglect. (Compl. ¶ 33.)

         Plaintiff claims Cutright, John Doe 1 (presumed to be “Susan, ”) and John Does 2-6 (identified only as the “Officers”), arrested and seized her without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Plaintiff also alleges the conduct of Cutright and John Does 1-6, specifically “the unconstitutional arrests of Plaintiff [and Nettie], and the unlawful seizure of [] Newell's person against her will” which “were unjustified and unsupported by law” were the cause of Newell's death. Defendants move to dismiss the claims against them arguing they did not personally participate in the seizure or arrest of Plaintiff, Nettie, or Newell, and can not be held liable for such actions.

         Legal Standard

         A well-pleaded complaint requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (2019). A federal claimant is not required to detail all factual allegations; however, the complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. While the court must assume all facts alleged in a complaint are true and view them in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, it need not accept as true any legal conclusion set forth in the complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Additionally, a plaintiff must set forth a plausible claim for relief - a possible claim for relief will not do. “In sum, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory ‘factual content,' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief.” Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv ice, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678); Sheppard v. David Evans and Assoc., No. 11-35164, 2012 WL 3983909, at *4 (9th Cir. Sept. 12, 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679) (“The Supreme Court has emphasized that analyzing the sufficiency of a complaint's allegations is a ‘context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'”)

         Discussion

         I. ...


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