United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
LUMUMBA EARLE, individually and as the Personal Representative of the ESTATE of ANNIE EARLE, deceased, Plaintiff,
CITY OF HUNTINGTON, d/b/a CITY OF HUNTINGTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, a municipal corporation, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. Chambers, Judge
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).
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. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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).
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. 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
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?'”). 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.”).
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. 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.
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.
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)
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.