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 is Defendants City of Huntington and Josh
Nield's (collectively Defendants) Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 297). Defendants also moved to Set a
Hearing on the Motion (ECF No. 309) for oral argument. The
Court held a Pretrial Conference on July 5, 2017 and finds
another hearing unnecessary. The Court, thus, DENIES
Defendants' Motion for a Hearing (ECF No. 309). For the
following reasons, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in
part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
297). The Court defers ruling on the Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 297) in regards to the City of
Huntington's municipal liability argument to allow
filed the instant case against these two Defendants, bringing
claims of constitutional and state law violations for the
actions that led to the unfortunate death of Ms. Annie Earle
(Earle) 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
Hospital on January 10, 2014 for treatment for a head
laceration. See Stephanie Earle Tr., ECF No. 311-1,
at 42:17-21. Earle's daughter left the hospital once
Earle was stable but required further treatment. Id.
early morning hours of January 11, 2014, the hospital
prepared Earle for discharge, but the nursing staff could not
get ahold of Earle's family to arrange transportation.
See Clinical Notes Report, ECF No. 298-3, at 5. The
nurses encouraged Earle to remain at the hospital until
someone could transport her home safely, and the Clinical
Notes specify that Earle agreed to stay through 3:00 p.m.
that day. Id. at 1. Ms. Donna White, Earle's
Starlight caseworker, visited Earle at the hospital around
11:30 a.m., noting that Earle's mental status was
“baseline in light of her chronic mental health
issues.” Statement of Events, ECF No. 311-2,
at 1. 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. 298-6; Clinical Notes Report,
ECF No. 298-3, at 2. The application remained pending when,
at approximately 4:41 p.m., Earle decided to leave the
hospital on her own volition. Clinical Notes Report,
ECF No. 298-3, at 2.
Melissa Blagg called Cabell County 911 at approximately 4:53
p.m. to report that Earle had walked away against medical
advice and that the hospital had been trying to get a mental
hygiene order over her. See 911 Transcript, ECF No.
311-21; Clinical Notes Report, ECF No. 298-3, at 1
(marking entry at 4:55 p.m.). 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. 311-22, at 1. No one called to
update Cabell County 911 when the mental hygiene order was
denied. In response to the hospital's call, dispatch
reported to the police officers that Earle had walked away
from St. Mary's. See 911 Transcript, ECF No.
311-21. After an incoming call indicated that Earle had
entered a nearby O'Reilly's Auto Parts store,
dispatch radioed Huntington Police Officer Andre Jackson and
Defendant Officer Josh Nield (Officer Nield) to bring Earle
back to St. Mary's. Id. Another officer asked
for clarification on the mental hygiene order status, and the
dispatcher erroneously stated that the hospital had acquired
the order over Earle. Id. Officer Nield heard this,
responded to the call, and drove to O'Reilly's to
transport Earle back to St. Mary's. See Josh Nield
Dep., ECF No. 298-7, at 21:6-9.
Nield entered O'Reilly's and saw Earle at the
checkout counter. Id. at 25:5. Earle apparently was
talking “gibberish as far as incomplete sentences,
hopping from one train of thought to another.”
Id. at 116:18-19. Officer Nield told Earle that
“St. Mary's had wanted her back and that she needed
to go back to the hospital.” Id. at 25:13-15.
Earle followed Officer Nield compliantly to his patrol car
and rode in the back seat back to the hospital. See
Id. at 27-28. Officer Nield did not handcuff Earle and
did not wait for other police officers to join him at the
scene. See Id. at 100:13-22. Officer Nield reported
in his initial interview that Earle stated that she would
walk away from the hospital again upon return. See Josh
Nield Interview, ECF No. 311-7, at 8:14-16. Once
arriving at St. Mary's, Officer Nield led Earle to the
Nurse's Station in the Emergency Room. See Id.
Nield approached Nurse Andrea Heath at the Nurse's
Station and told her that he was returning the walkaway.
See Josh Nield Dep., ECF No. 298-7, at 29:9-10. Amy
Elkins, an Emergency Room technician, stated that she saw
Officer Nield with Earle at the Nurse's Station and that
Officer Nield's “face was really really red.”
Amy Elkins Interview, ECF No. 311-14, at 2. Nurse
Heath advised Officer Nield that Earle was no longer a
patient at the hospital and that the detention order had been
denied, so Earle was free to leave. See Andrea Heath
Dep., ECF No. 311-13, at 15:12-15.
record is undisputed that Earle became agitated at the
Nurse's Station during the conversation between Officer
Nield and Nurse Heath; however, the extent of the behavior
differs based on which person described the incident. Elkins
recalled that Earle kept trying to walk away from Officer
Nield, but Officer Nield kept “grabbing her by the
sweater jerking her back”, which resulted in
Earle's breast being exposed. Amy Elkins
Interview, ECF No. 311-14, at 2. Nurse Heath recalled
that Earle became aggressive with the officer, trying to hit
Officer Nield with the equipment on the Nurse's Station.
See Andrea Heath Dep., ECF No. 311-13, at 17:20;
Andrea Heath Statement, ECF No. 311-17.
Officer Nield remembered that Earle threw papers off the
desk, which led him to try to get ahold of her. See Josh
Nield Dep., ECF No. 298-7, at 29:13-22. Officer Nield
grabbed both of Earle's arms and held them behind her
back while standing at the Nurse's Station. Id.
at 31:13-15. Officer Nield and Nurse Heath then decided to
remove Earle from the Nurse's Station and take her to
Room 26. Id. at 127-128.
Nield escorted Earle to Room 26 while holding her arms to her
side. See Id. at 128:6-16; see also Melissa
Blagg Statement, ECF No. 311-18, at 1 (“[Patient]
was seen walking with officer to room 26 with shirt half
off.”); Melissa Blagg Dep., ECF No. 311-16, at
47:19-20 (“He had her firmly by the arm and guiding her
into the room.”). Officer Nield put Earle in the room
and held the door shut to prevent Earle from leaving.
Josh Nield Dep., ECF No. 298-7, at 40:21-23
(“I know she was pulling on the door because I remember
holding the door.”). Officer Nield recalled Nurse Blagg
informing him at this time that there was no active mental
hygiene order in place and that Earle was free to leave.
Id. at 41:3-5; see also Melissa Blagg
Statement, ECF No. 311-18, at 1. Inside the room, Earle
barricaded the door by placing a chair against the door and
sitting on it. Josh Nield Dep., ECF No. 298-7, at
41-42. Officer Nield pushed the door open, and Earle jumped
from the chair into a “fighting stance” near the
back of the room. Id. at 44:14-15. Officer Nield
told Earle that she was free to leave and offered her a ride
from the hospital. Id. at 46:1-2. Nurse Heath also
entered the room to ask Earle whether she wanted to go home
or be checked back in as a patient. Andrea Heath
Dep., ECF No. 311-13, at 22:19-20.
Heath recalled that Earle became more agitated and
aggravated, fixing her eyes on Officer Nield throughout the
encounter. Id. at 22:21-24. 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
23-24. Officer Nield recalled that Earle took her shirt off,
manipulated her breasts, called him names, and threw some
needle cap tops from her pocket at him and Nurse Heath.
Josh Nield Dep., ECF No. 298-7, at 47:5-9. In
response, Officer Nield arced his taser to try to gain
compliance. Id. at 47-48; see also Josh Nield
Interview, ECF No. 311-7, at 14:13. After arcing the
taser, Officer Nield recalled that Earle shoved the computer
cart towards him, but he managed to push the cart out of the
way. Josh Nield Dep., ECF No. 298-7, at 51-52. Earle
continued to move towards the corner of the room, and Officer
Nield stepped closer towards her. Id. at 52:1. Soon
after, Earle lunged towards Officer Nield, hitting him in the
face and knocking his glasses off. Id. at 53:19-21;
see also Andrea Heath Dep., ECF No. 311-13, 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. Id. at 25. Officer Nield, therefore,
was the only person in the room with Earle during the events
that led to her death. Officer Nield stated that he tried to
grab ahold of Earle's arms to restrain her with handcuffs
and pull her down towards the floor for an arrest. Josh
Nield Dep., ECF No. 298-7, at 55:5-8. Officer Nield
grabbed Earle's left arm, put his hand behind Earle's
neck, and pulled her towards him. Id. at 55-56. The
two spun onto the bed in the room and fell to the ground.
Id. at 56. From the hallway, Nurse Heath stated that
she “did not physically see the patient [Earle] hit the
ground, but moving toward the floor.” Andrea Heath
Statement, ECF No. 311-17, at 3. Officer Nield stated
that during the fall, he came down with his full body weight
by his knee into Earle's chest. Id. at 56:20-24.
Earle reached up to grab Officer Nield's vest, and
Officer Nield secured both of Earle's arms. Id.
at 58. Eventually, Officer Nield managed to cuff one of
Earle's hands and flip Earle over to cuff the other hand.
Id. at 59:17-21.
Officer Nield was the only person in the room at the time of
the incident, several nurses recalled the scene from the
hallway. Elkins stated that Nurse Heath left the room but
looked at Elkins, saying that “the police officer that
[Earle] swung at … called [Earle] a fucking bitch and
slammed her to the floor.” Amy Elkins
Interview, ECF No. 311-14. Nurse Blagg stated that she had
heard movement in the room from the hallway and walked back
to see what was happening inside. Melissa Blagg
Statement, ECF No. 311-18, at 1. Nurse Blagg's
statement indicates that she “saw [the] officer have
[the] patient down on ground with his hand on patient's
neck, hand cuffing patient.” Id. After this,
she heard Officer Nield call Earle a “dumb fucking
bitch.” Id.; see also Melissa Blagg
Dep., ECF No. 311-16, at 51-52 (recalling that Officer
Nield was not acting in a “calm and collected
manner” towards Earle). Officer Nield does not deny
that he used profanity towards Earle, but he could not
remember the precise language directed at Earle. See Josh
Nield Dep., ECF No. 298-7, at 60:16-19.
Officer Nield subdued Earle, he realized that Earle was
nonresponsive, so he called the nurses back into the room to
assist. Id. at 61:1-6. When Nurse Heath reentered
the room, Earle was lying on the floor and had agonal
respirations. Andrea Heath Dep., ECF No. 311-13, at
27:18-19. Shortly thereafter, Earle was pronounced dead.
See Report of Death Investigation, ECF No. 298-11.
Earle suffered three fractured ribs, and the medical examiner
concluded that the cause of death was a laceration of the
heart due to compression of the thorax. Id. at 2-3.
At the time of death, Earle was sixty-six years old and
weighed 117 pounds. Id. at 3.
claims against Defendants include: constitutional violations
for unlawful search and seizure and excessive use of force;
failure to train and supervise employees; state law claims
for assault and battery; negligent hiring; deliberate
indifference; and false imprisonment. See Pl.'s Third
Am. Compl., ECF No. 111. Defendants move for summary
judgment on the federal claims on the basis of qualified
immunity. See Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp., ECF
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.