United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division
LaKrystal Coats, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Demetric Cowan, Plaintiff,
Ray Pope, in his individual capacity, FNU Nichols, in his individual capacity, FNU Cardarelli, in his individual capacity, FNU White, in his individual capacity, Gerald Brooks, in his official capacity as Chief of Police of the City of Greenwood, Sidney Montgomery, in his individual capacity, Roy Murray, in his individual capacity, Pamela Osborne, in her individual capacity, and Tony Davis, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Greenwood County, Defendants.
L. Wooten Senior United States District Judge.
LaKrystal Coats, as personal representative of the estate of
her husband, Demetric Cowan, filed this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and South Carolina state law alleging
constitutional violations and tort law causes of action
arising from Cowan's arrest and subsequent detention and
death at Greenwood County Detention Center (GCDC). Coats
filed this case against the following City of Greenwood
police officers in their individual capacities: Officer Ray
Pope, Sergeant Steven Nichols, Officer Daniel Cardarelli, and
Officer Brandon White (collectively, Arresting Officers).
Coats also sues the following GCDC officers in their
individual capacities: Sergeant Sidney Montgomery, Officer
Roy Murray, and Officer Pamela Osborne (collectively, GCDC
Officers). In addition, Coats sues Gerald Brooks in his
official capacity as City of Greenwood Chief of Police and
Tony Davis in his official capacity as Sheriff of Greenwood
filed motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 32, 33, 35.
Coats filed a response in opposition, ECF No. 38, and
Defendants replied, ECF Nos. 42, 43, 44. This matter is now
before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation
(Report) filed by United States Magistrate Judge Shiva V.
Hodges, to whom this case was assigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g)
(D.S.C.). The Report recommends that Defendants' motions
be granted. ECF No. 45. Coats filed an Objection to the
Report, ECF No. 50, and the matter is now ripe for
conducting this review, the Court applies the following
The magistrate judge makes only a recommendation to the
Court, to which any party may file written objections . . . .
The Court is not bound by the recommendation of the
magistrate judge but, instead, retains responsibility for the
final determination. The Court is required to make a de novo
determination of those portions of the report or specified
findings or recommendation as to which an objection is made.
However, the Court is not required to review, under a de novo
or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of
the magistrate judge as to those portions of the report and
recommendation to which no objections are addressed. While
the level of scrutiny entailed by the Court's review of
the Report thus depends on whether or not objections have
been filed, in either case, the Court is free, after review,
to accept, reject, or modify any of the magistrate
judge's findings or recommendations.
Wallace v. Housing Auth. of the City of Columbia,
791 F.Supp. 137, 138 (D.S.C. 1992) (citations omitted).
record reflects that Cowan swallowed a bag of cocaine at some
point during an arrest arising out of a traffic stop. After
arriving at the detention center, Cowan perished as a result
of cocaine toxicity, according to the autopsy report. Coats
alleges that Arresting Officers and GCDC Officers violated
Cowan's substantive due process rights by delaying or
failing to provide medical care for Cowan. ECF No. 1 at 6.
establish a constitutional violation, Coats must show that
Defendants exhibited “deliberate indifference” to
Cowan's “serious medical needs.” Farmer
v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 835 (1994). A claim of
deliberate medical indifference requires more than a showing
of mere negligence, Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97,
105-06 (1976), and “more than ordinary lack of due care
for the prisoner's interests or safety, ”
Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986).
Specifically, Plaintiff must show that Defendants were
“aware of facts from which an inference could be drawn
that a substantial risk of serious harm exists” and
that Defendants actually drew that inference.
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. “If an officer fails
to act in the face of an obvious risk of which he should have
known, but did not, the officer has not violated the Eighth
or Fourteenth Amendments.” Watkins v. City of
Battle Creek, 273 F.3d 682, 686 (6th Cir. 2001).
indifference involves an objective and a subjective
component. The objective component is met if the medical need
is “sufficiently serious.” Farmer, 511
U.S. at 834. A medical need is sufficiently serious “if
it is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating
treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person
would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's
attention.” Sealock v. Colorado, 218 F.3d
1205, 1209 (10th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). Under the
subjective component, the plaintiff must show that the
officials had “a sufficiently culpable state of mind,
” which is shown if an official “knows of and
disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or
safety.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. Stated
another way, the plaintiff must “allege facts which, if
true, would show that the official … subjectively
perceived facts from which to infer substantial risk to the
[individual], that he did in fact draw the inference, and
that he then disregarded that risk.” Comstock v.
McCrary, 273 F.3d 693, 703 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837). If the official recklessly
disregarded a known risk, a plaintiff need not prove that the
official acted purposefully to cause harm or with knowledge
that harm would result. Scozzari v. Miedzianowski,
597 Fed.Appx. 845, 848 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835).
“minor maladies” or “non-obvious complaints
of a serious need for medical care” are involved,
verifying medical evidence of the detrimental effect of delay
is required to establish the subjective component of
deliberate indifference. Blackmore v. Kalamazoo Co.,
390 F.3d 890, 898 (6th Cir. 2004). In such cases, the conduct
in causing a delay creates the constitutional infirmity, and
the effect of the delay goes to the extent of the injury, not
the existence of a serious medical condition.
Blackmore, 390 F.3d at 899. The Fourth Circuit has
held that where a deliberate indifference claim is predicated
on a delay in medical care, a constitutional violation will
be found if “‘the delay results in some
substantial harm to the patient,' such as
‘marked' exacerbation of the prisoner's medical
condition or ‘frequent complaints of severe
pain.'” Formica v. Aylor, 739 Fed.Appx.
745, 755 (4th Cir. 2018) (quoting Webb v.
Hamidullah, 281 Fed.Appx. 159, 166-67 (4th Cir. 2008)
and citing Sharpe v. S.C. Dep't of Corr., 621
Fed.Appx. 732, 734 (4th Cir. 2015)).
another branch of deliberate indifference claims, a
constitutional violation may be premised solely on the delay
in providing medical care where the need for medical
attention is obvious. “[A] constitutional violation
arises if the injury in question is so obvious that even a
layperson could easily recognize the necessity for a
doctor's attention, and the resulting need for treatment
was not addressed within a reasonable time frame.”
Scozzari, 597 Fed.Appx. at 849 (citing
Blackmore, 390 F.3d at 899-900). In such a case, the
plaintiff may rely on the obviousness of a detainee's
serious medical condition to support an inference of an
official's deliberate indifference and satisfy the
subjective component. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842
(“Whether a prison official had the requisite knowledge
of a substantial risk is a question of fact subject to
demonstration in the usual ways, including inference from
circumstantial evidence…and a factfinder may conclude
that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the
very fact that the risk was obvious.”); see
also Blackmore, 390 F.3d at 899 (“When
prison officials are aware of a prisoner's obvious and
serious need for medical treatment and delay medical
treatment of that condition for non-medical reasons, their
conduct in causing the delay creates the constitutional
infirmity. In such cases, the effect of the delay goes to the
extent of the injury, not the existence of a serious medical
Coats' Objections as to the Fourteenth Amendment Claims
Arising Out of the Traffic Stop
Report recommends summary judgment in favor of Arresting
Officers, who did not seek medical treatment for Cowan,
because “[they] did not see [Cowan] ingest cocaine and
had no reason to suspect [Cowan] had handled or come into
contact with cocaine.” Coats argues that the Magistrate
Judge erred by “focusing exclusively on cocaine rather
than the clear evidence that [Cowan] had ingested some form
Cowan's arrest, the Arresting Officers discovered
marijuana, ecstasy pills, a set of scales, and cash in
Cowan's possession, but no other drugs. Cowan attempted
to conceal ecstasy pills under his car and told Arresting
Officers that he was choking. Arresting Officers searched
Cowan's mouth but found nothing to indicate that he had
swallowed any drugs. The record reflects that Cowan was
talking and breathing normally throughout his arrest and
continued to behave normally upon arriving at the detention
center. Importantly, it is undisputed that Cowan did not
inform Arresting Officers that he swallowed a bag of drugs at
any time. While Cowan eventually informed officers that he
had used drugs earlier in the day, no case law has been
presented establishing that officers must specifically ask a
detainee if he swallowed drugs during an arrest or that
officers must seek medical treatment for general use of
“some form of drugs.” Given these facts,
deliberate indifference cannot be shown because there is no
evidence from which a fact finder could infer that Arresting
Officers in fact knew that Cowan had swallowed a bag of
cocaine or that he evidenced a need for medical attention.
also objects to the Report's reliance on Brown v.
Middleton, 362 Fed.Appx. 340 (4th Cir. 2010). She
contends that Brown is not dispositive since the
detainee in that case, who also swallowed cocaine during
arrest, “received immediate medical attention.”
However, as the Magistrate Judge observes, the detainee in
Brown received medical attention as soon as he fell
out of the shower in the detention center and began seizing,
not upon arrest. During arrest, officers found a bag of
cocaine in the detainee's mouth but there was no evidence
that the bag had lost any of its contents. Prior to arriving
at the detention center, the detainee repeatedly denied
having ingested cocaine, declined offers for medical care,
and displayed no symptoms associated with cocaine ingestion.
Based on these facts, the Fourth Circuit held that there was
no triable issue of fact as to whether arresting officers
knew the detainee needed urgent medical attention. Similarly,
in this case, Arresting Officers did not know that Cowan had
swallowed a bag of cocaine based on his behavior during
arrest, so no triable issue of fact exists as to whether they
knew that Cowan needed urgent medical attention. Therefore,
this Court agrees with the analysis in the Report and
concludes that summary judgment in favor of Arresting
Officers is appropriate.
Coats' Objections as to the Fourteenth Amendment Claims
Arising Out of Cowan's Detention at ...