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Estate of Barnwell v. Roane County

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

April 9, 2015

Estate of Dustin Barnwell, by next of kin, Shaili Cheyenne Barnwell, a minor, b/n/f, Shasta Lashay Gilmore, Plaintiff,
Roane County, Tennessee., et al., Defendants

For Shasta Lashay Gilmore, Shasta Lashay Gilmore, Estate Of Dustin Barnwell, Minor, S.C.B., Plaintiffs: A Philip Lomonaco, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of A. Philip Lomonaco, Knoxville, TN USA; Dan C Stanley, LEAD ATTORNEY, Stanley & Kurtz, PLLC, Knoxville, TN USA; John M Wolfe, Jr, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of John M. Wolfe, Jr., Chattanooga, TN USA.

For Mitch Gritsby, individually, Richard Stooksbury, individually, David Randle, individually, Robert Cooker, individually, Mike Carter, individually, Mike Myers, individually, Mitch Gritsby, officially, Mike Myers, officially, David Randle, officially, Mike Carter, officially, Robert Cooker, officially, Richard Stooksbury, officially, Roane County, TN Gov't, Defendants: Nathaniel Craig Strand, P Alexander Vogel, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Jeffrey R Thompson, O'Neil, Parker & Williamson, Knoxville, TN USA.



In November 2011, Dustin Barnwell took eight Flexeril tablets and passed out on his couch at home. Concerned that he was overdosing, Mr. Barnwell's fiancé e, Shashta Gilmore, called 911. Roane County police officers Richard Stooksbury and Mitch Grigsby were the first to respond. When they arrived, they found Mr. Barnwell unconscious on the couch in the living room. Ms. Gilmore warned them that when she had been able to wake Mr. Barnwell he was " very combative."

The officers approached Mr. Barnwell and tried to wake him up by speaking to him and by shaking his feet. It worked. Mr. Barnwell woke up and became very combative, yelling and kicking at Officer Stooksbury. The officers attempted to restrain Mr. Barnwell by holding his arms, but they had difficulty calming him down. When the officers asked Mr. Barnwell what he had taken, he would not respond other than to shout and yell. Mr. Barnwell repeatedly fell in and out of consciousness throughout this process. Eventually, the officers " took Barnwell to the ground and controlled both of his arms" in an attempt to control his combative behavior.

Around this time, the first EMS paramedics, defendants Randle and Myers, arrived. The medics asked the officers to handcuff Mr. Barnwell so they could treat him. Still, after being handcuffed, Mr. Barnwell remained combative and would not calm down. Two more paramedics, defendants Cooker and Carter, arrived at Mr. Barnwell's house. Mr. Barnwell was still combative despite being restrained. He would not speak to the paramedics, he had highly elevated blood pressure, and his pupils were not reactive. The medics determined that Mr. Barnwell was possibly overdosing.

At this point, the medics inserted an IV and administered a drug called Succinylcholine to paralyze Mr. Barnwell. According to the defendants, this was a medical decision made by the medics. The plaintiff, on the other hand, asserts that the officers conferred with the medics and jointly decided to paralyze Mr. Barnwell. The plaintiff contends that the drugs were administered at the urging of the officers, particularly Officer Stooksbury, and that the drug-induced paralysis was not based on any patient-oriented rational theory of medicine, but was punitive in nature or, at best, a dangerous method of dealing with unruly patients.

The paralysis prevented Mr. Barnwell from breathing on his own, so the medics inserted a tracheal tube to keep Mr. Barnwell from asphyxiating. According to the plaintiffs and their expert, it appears that, rather than correctly inserting the tube down Mr. Barnwell's trachea, the medics inserted it down his esophagus and into his stomach--where, for obvious reasons, it could not help Mr. Barnwell breathe. Mr. Barnwell then began suffering " cardiac issues" and the medics administered additional medications and began CPR. When brown fluid appeared in the tracheal tube, the medics removed the tube and placed it correctly down Mr. Barnwell's airway. Mr. Barnwell died shortly after arriving at the hospital. The parties dispute the actual cause of his death.

The plaintiff filed this suit in the Roane County Circuit Court in March 2013. She amended her complaint after the defendants removed the case to this Court. The amended complaint asserts constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, common law battery claims, negligence claims, and claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985. The core of the plaintiff's claims are based on the defendants' decision to administer a paralytic drug to Mr. Barnwell despite the plaintiff's contention that there was no medical reason for doing so.

The defendants have moved for summary judgment, arguing that the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, and that the plaintiff cannot establish a violation of Mr. Barnwell's constitutional rights. The plaintiff has responded in opposition, and the matter is now ripe. For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Standard of Review

Summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is proper " if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issues of material fact exist. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 n.2, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Moore v. Philip Morris Co., Inc., 8 F.3d 335, 339 (6th Cir. 1993). All facts and inferences to be drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Burchett v. Keifer, 310 F.3d 937, 942 (6th Cir. 2002). Courts may not resolve genuine disputes of fact in favor of the movant. Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863, 188 L.Ed.2d 895 (2014) (vacating lower court's grant of summary judgment for " fail[ing to] adhere to the axiom that in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor" ) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Once the moving party presents evidence sufficient to support a motion under Rule 56, the nonmoving party is not entitled to a trial merely on the basis of allegations. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 317. To establish a genuine issue as to the existence of a particular element, the nonmoving party must point to evidence in the record upon which a reasonable finder of fact could find in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The genuine issue must also be material; that is, it must involve facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id.

The Court's function at the point of summary judgment is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper question for the fact finder. Id. at 250. The Court does not weigh the evidence or determine the truth of the matter. Id. at 249. Nor does the Court search the record " to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of fact." Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479 (6th Cir. 1989). Thus, " the inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for a trial -- whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that ...

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