April 9, 2018 – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has reversed a Wisconsin federal district court decision that halted, at the pleadings stage, a Wisconsin woman’s federal claims against a Watertown police officer who arrested her.
Jill Otis filed an action pro se, alleging that a Waterford police officer violated her constitutional rights when the officer arrested her on suspicion of drunk driving, a charge that was later dropped after a blood sample came back negative for drugs and alcohol.
Otis alleged that she was driving to her mother’s house in Illinois with her 11-year-old son when a Watertown officer stopped her vehicle. In the complaint, Otis said she told the officer she was very sick and bleeding heavily and asked to be taken to a hospital.
Instead, Otis alleged, the officer performed a field sobriety test, arrested her, had her child transported to county human services, and took her to the police station for a blood draw before booking her into the county jail, where she remained for 12 hours.
The district court authorized the case to proceed against the officer, Kayla Demarasse, but dismissed the police department and county human services as defendants.
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Otis then filed a supplement to her amended complaint with more than 100 pages, including police reports and medical records. The police report contradicted Otis’s allegations in the complaint. Namely, the police report said Officer Demarasse took Otis to a hospital for OWI processing and she was allowed to clean up and change.
A medical technician “blood/urine” analysis form noted that Otis’s blood was collected at 3 a.m., but the form did not identify where the blood draw took place. The hospital referenced in Demarasse’s police report did not have a record of Otis being treated on the day of her arrest. Upon request, the hospital could not produce any record of her.
The police report said that Officer Demarasse then transported Otis to the jail for a 12-hour-OWI hold because Otis did not have anyone to pick her up.
Otis obtained medical records from a different hospital showing that two days after her arrest, she was admitted to a hospital with “acute blood loss anemia secondary to dysfunctional uterine bleeding.”
The district court dismissed Otis’s action, treating the supplement as a standalone “second amended complaint,” which did not name Demarasse (her first amended complaint did name the officer), which is a requisite for jurisdiction.
Also, the district court ruled that Otis’s claims “were no longer plausible” because Otis did not deny any of the information in Officer Demarasse’s police report, which said that Demarasse took Otis to a hospital and she was examined by hospital staff.
On appeal, Demarasse reiterated that the case cannot move forward because Otis did not name her as a defendant in the “second amended complaint.”
But the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in Otis v. Demarasse et al., No. 16-1875 (April 2, 2018) (correcting order filed April 9, 2018), noted that pro se filings must be liberally construed and, taken together, her complaints intended for Demarasse to be named.
“In light of the Supreme Court’s direction to construe liberally pro se filings, Ms. Otis’s submission should not have been characterized as a superseding complaint,” wrote Judge Kenneth Ripple for the three-judge panel.
“It should have been accepted for what it was – a pro se litigant’s attempt to add parties and incorporate the first amended complaint’s allegations by implicit reference.”
The panel also ruled that Otis’s amended complaint stated a claim upon which relief could be granted. That is, the panel accepted that Otis properly stated a due process claim on the basis that Demarasse was deliberately indifferent to her medical situation.
The panel noted that Officer Demarasse’s police report shows that the officer was aware that Otis was severely bleeding and might need medical attention.
“These allegations are troubling, especially because Ms. Otis could not independently seek medical care while in custody,” Judge Ripple wrote. “At this pleading stage, Ms. Otis alleges enough to piece together a plausible story that Officer Demarasse acted unreasonably in denying her medical care for an obviously serious medical condition.”
Finally, the panel reversed the district court’s conclusion that Otis “pleaded herself out of court” by filing the supplemental information deemed a “second amended complaint.”
First, the panel said the district court erred in crediting the police report statements in the absence of an express denial, noting that an amended complaint said it was “false.”
“More fundamentally, Ms. Otis’s claim does not depend on whether her blood was drawn at a hospital or at the police station,” Judge Ripple wrote.
“Wherever Ms. Otis was taken, she was not taken for the purpose of receiving medical care, and she did not receive medical.”