Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Earle v. City of Huntington

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

July 11, 2017

LUMUMBA EARLE, individually and as the Personal Representative of the ESTATE of ANNIE EARLE, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF HUNTINGTON, d/b/a CITY OF HUNTINGTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, a municipal corporation, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert C. Chambers, Judge

         Pending before the Court are two Motions for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Defendants St. Mary's Medical Center, Inc. (St. Mary's), Tammy Peyton, Tara Ramsey, Bobbi Adams, Melissa Blagg, and Andrea Heath (collectively Defendants) (ECF Nos. 301, 302). The first motion addresses the allegations of negligence and wrongful death (ECF No. 301). The second motion addresses the allegations of false imprisonment (ECF No. 302). Defendants also moved the Court to Set a Hearing (ECF No. 307) for oral argument on the motions. The Court held a Pretrial Conference on July 5, 2017 and finds another hearing unnecessary. The Court, thus, DENIES Defendants' Motion for Hearing (ECF No. 307). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Negligence and Wrongful Death (ECF No. 301) and GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on False Imprisonment (ECF No. 302).

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed the instant case against Defendants, alleging claims of negligence, wrongful death, and false imprisonment for the actions that led to Ms. Annie Earle's (Earle) unfortunate death on January 11, 2014.[1] See Pl.'s Third Am. Compl., ECF No. 111. According to Starlight Behavioral Health Services (Starlight), Earle had been diagnosed with “Schizophrenia, paranoia type, PTSD, and Major Depressive Order.” See ACT Discharge Summary, ECF No. 298-2. Earle was originally taken to St. Mary's on January 10, 2014 for treatment for a head laceration. See Clinical Notes Report, ECF No. 317-1, at 7.

         In the early morning hours of January 11, 2014, Defendants prepared Earle for discharge and contacted Earle's family for transportation back home. Id. at 6. The Clinical Notes Report indicates that the nursing staff called Earle's family nine times to arrange transport without response. Id. The nurses also called the Huntington Police Department to contact the family and the hospital social worker to arrange alternative transport. Id. Although Earle expressed a desire to leave the hospital, Nurse Melissa Blagg encouraged Earle to remain at St. Mary's until someone could transport her home safely. Id. at 2-3. The Clinical Notes Report specifies that Earle agreed to stay through 3:00 p.m. that day. Id. at 2. Nurse Bobbi Adams filed an Application for Involuntary Custody for Mental Health Examination (mental hygiene order) for Earle at approximately 1:00 p.m. See Mental Hygiene Order, ECF No. 328-1, at 8. The application remained pending when, at approximately 4:41 p.m., Earle decided to leave the hospital on her own volition. See Clinical Notes Report, ECF No. 317-1, at 2.

         Nurse Blagg called Cabell County 911 at approximately 4:53 p.m. to report that Earle had walked away against medical advice. See 911 Transcript, ECF No. 301-9; see also Clinical Notes Report, ECF No. 317-1, at 2 (marking time called as 4:55 p.m.). Specifically, Nurse Blagg stated, “[w]e had a patient that we were um trying to get a mental hygiene order on and um she left AMA against medical advice.” See 911 Transcript, ECF No. 301-9. The Mental Health Commissioner denied the mental hygiene order for insufficient facts that Earle was likely to cause harm to herself or others; the denial was marked by voice order at 4:55 p.m. See Order/Notice, ECF No. 328-10, at 2. However, Nurse Adams recorded that she received notice of the denial at 4:45 p.m. See Clinical Notes Report, ECF No. 317-1, at 8; see also Bobbi Adams Dep., ECF No. 317-7, at 36:20-22. Nurse Adams also noted that she called Nurse Blagg to inform her of the denial at around 4:48 p.m. Id. Ms. Donna White, Earle's Starlight caseworker, reported that she received a voicemail from Nurse Adams at 4:52 p.m., informing White that St. Mary's did not have a mental hygiene order over Earle, and Adams “did not believe they would get one.” Statement of Events, ECF No. 328-3, at 2. When White returned the call at 4:55 p.m., Adams informed her that the mental hygiene order had been denied. Id. No one called to update Cabell County 911 when the mental hygiene order was denied.

         In response to Nurse Blagg's call, dispatch reported to the police officers that Earle had walked away from St. Mary's. See CAD Call Info., ECF No. 302-8, at 5. A citizen later called Cabell County 911 to inform dispatch that Earle had entered a nearby O'Reilly's Auto Parts store, and dispatch radioed Huntington Police Officer Andre Jackson and Defendant Officer Josh Nield (Officer Nield) to bring Earle back to the hospital.[2] See Josh Nield Dep., ECF No. 301-12, at 21:6-9. Officer Nield responded to the store and transported Earle back to the hospital as directed. Id. at 28:21-24 (describing that Earle was compliant during transport).

         Once arriving at St. Mary's, Officer Nield led Earle to the Nurse's Station in the Emergency Room. Id. at 29:8-9. Officer Nield approached Nurse Andrea Heath at the Nurse's Station and told her that he was returning the walkaway. Id. at 29:9-10. Nurse Heath advised Officer Nield that Earle was no longer a patient at the hospital and that the mental hygiene order had been denied, so Earle was free to leave.[3] See Andrea Heath Dep., ECF No. 301-5, at 15:12-15; Melissa Blagg Dep., ECF No. 301-2, at 79:9-15. During this discussion, Earle became agitated and started to throw objects from the Nurse's Station. See Josh Nield Dep., ECF No. 301-12, at 29:13-14 (“she threw off some papers from the charge nurse desk. I tried to grab ahold of her at that point.”); Andrea Heath Dep., ECF No. 301-5, at 18:2-3 (“she started throwing equipment around”). Officer Nield grabbed both of Earle's arms, stating that he tried to restrain her from causing further disruption. See Josh Nield Dep., ECF No. 301-12, at 29:21-22 (“at that point I was able to get ahold of her with both arms”).

         Officer Nield and Nurse Heath agreed to take Earle to Emergency Room 26 away from the other patients and staff. See Andrea Heath Dep., ECF No. 301-5, at 189:3-4 (“And the officer said, ‘Is there somewhere we can go to talk to her?'”).[4] Nurse Heath asked Earle if Earle would like to go home or check back into the hospital as a patient. Andrea Heath Dep., ECF No. 301-5, at 21:8-9. Earle never responded to Nurse Heath and maintained eye contact only with Officer Nield throughout the entire encounter. Id. at 22:19-24. As Officer Nield spoke to Earle and asked her about leaving, Earle became more aggravated. Id. Describing Earle's conduct as aggressive, Nurse Heath stated that Earle jumped on and off the bed repeatedly, moved around the room, grabbed cords to some medical equipment, and began to shove a computer around in attempts to turn it over. Id. at 22-23. Officer Nield recalled that Earle shoved the computer cart towards him, but he managed to push the cart out of the way as he moved closer toward Earle. See Josh Nield Dep., ECF No. 301-12, at 51:22-24. Soon after, Earle lunged towards Officer Nield, hitting him in the face and knocking his glasses off. See Id. at 53:19-21; Andrea Heath Dep., ECF No. 301-5, at 25:2-4 (“I saw her hit him at least four times and knock his glasses from his face, and she was still jumping around and I got scared.”).

         At this point, Nurse Heath left the room and waited in the hallway because she was afraid that Earle would become aggressive towards her. Andrea Heath Dep., ECF No. 301-5, at 25:21-24. Officer Nield, therefore, was the only person in the room with Earle during the events that led to her death. The parties dispute as to whether Officer Nield fell with Earle to the ground during the attempt to arrest Earle for battery of an officer or whether Officer Nield slammed Earle to the ground.[5] Regardless of how Officer Nield and Earle landed on the floor, the altercation ended with Officer Nield handcuffing Earle. After Officer Nield noticed that Earle was no longer responsive, he called the nursing staff for assistance. Plaintiff does not allege that Defendants' actions after this point were negligent. At Earle's death, Earle was a sixty-six-year-old woman who weighed 117 pounds. See Report of Death Investigation, ECF No. 298-11. Earle suffered from three fractured ribs. Id. The Medical Examiner declared Earle deceased due to the laceration of the heart caused by the compression of the thorax. See Certificate of Death, ECF No. 301-13.

         Plaintiff's claims against Defendants include negligence, wrongful death, and false imprisonment. See Pl.'s Third Am. Compl., ECF No. 111. Defendants move for summary judgment on the basis that the actions by St. Mary's hospital staff were not negligent, but if they were, Officer Nield's actions served as an intervening cause to absolve liability. See Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. on Negligence, ECF No. 303, at 1. Defendants also move for summary judgment on the false imprisonment claim, citing the lack of evidence to support Defendants' alleged unlawful detention of Earle. See Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. on False Imprisonment, ECF No. 304, at 1.

         II. Legal Standard

         To obtain summary judgment, the moving party must show that no genuine issue as to any material fact remains and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court will not “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter[.]” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Instead, the Court will draw any permissible inference from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986). Any inference, however, “must fall within the range of reasonable probability and not be so tenuous as to amount to speculation or conjecture.” JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

         Although the Court will view all underlying facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the nonmoving party nonetheless must offer some “concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in his [or her] favor[.]” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Summary judgment is appropriate when the nonmoving party has the burden of proof on an essential element of his or her case and does not make, after adequate time for discovery, a showing sufficient to establish that element. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The nonmoving party must satisfy this burden of proof by offering more than a mere “scintilla of evidence” in support of his or her position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. “Mere speculation by the non-movant cannot create a genuine issue of material fact” to avoid summary judgment. JKC Holding, 264 F.3d at 465.

         III. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.