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Baker v. Morgan

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

February 21, 2017

JOYCE SUE BAKER, as next of friend to R. Staley and B. Staley, minors, b Plaintiff,
BECKY MORGAN, et al., Defendants.



         This civil action is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment on Behalf of Donald Van Buren and Becky Morgan, in Their Individual Capacities [Doc. 18], defendant Morgan's Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Sur-Reply or Response to Sur-Reply [Doc. 33], the Motion for Summary Judgment on Behalf of Grainger County, Tennessee [Doc. 35], and plaintiff's Motion to Strike [Doc. 43].

         Defendants Van Buren, Morgan, and Grainger County move the Court to dismiss the claims against them because there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and, as a matter of law, defendants are entitled to summary judgment [Docs. 18, 35]. Plaintiff filed responses in opposition [Docs. 27, 39], and defendants replied [Docs. 30, 42]. Plaintiff also filed a Supplemental Reply Brief with regard to defendants Morgan and Van Buren's motion [Doc. 32], and defendant Morgan filed a motion to strike the supplemental sur-reply [Doc. 33]. Plaintiff also filed a motion to strike [Doc. 43] the affidavit of Kenneth Matthews, Jr., M.D. (“Doctor Matthews”) [Doc. 42-1], which was filed by Grainger County in support of its reply [Doc. 42].

         After careful examination of the record and relevant law, the Court finds summary judgment appropriate on plaintiff's claims made pursuant to § 1983, and it will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims. The court will, therefore, dismiss this case in its entirety. Additionally, the Court will deny defendant Morgan and plaintiff's motions to strike as moot.

         I. Background[1]

         Robert Keith Staley (“the decedent”) was arrested for violation of probation and sent to the Grainger County Detention Center on March 25, 2014 [Doc. 1 ¶ 9; Doc. 12 ¶ 1]. The following day, on March 28, 2014, the decedent met with defendant Becky Morgan (“Nurse Morgan”), based on his representation to her that he was “detoxing off of morphine” [Doc. 18-2 ¶ 3].[2] Nurse Morgan knew that the decedent was a drug addict because he had been imprisoned at the Grainger County jail before, and she had previously treated him for detox symptoms [Id. ¶ 4]. On this occasion, Nurse Morgan provided the decedent with Librium and Phenergan, for his anxiety and nausea, respectively [Id. ¶ 3].

         On March 29, 2014, at 1:15 p.m., inmates in the decedent's cell reported that he “wasn't doing so good” [Doc. 18-1 ¶ 5]. Defendant Van Buren, as the on-duty supervising correctional officer, immediately responded [Id. ¶¶ 3, 5]. He found the decedent lying on his bunk, pale, breathing heavily, and in a dizzy and confused state [Id. ¶ 5]. Van Buren took the decedent's vital signs [Id.], and he contacted Nurse Morgan at around 1:18 p.m. to obtain her advice and instruction [Id. ¶ 6; Doc. 18-4 ¶ 6]. Van Buren relayed to Nurse Morgan that the decedent was “about to pass out” and reported his vital signs [Doc. 18-2 ¶ 5]. Nurse Morgan deduced that the decedent was experiencing morphine withdrawals, due to her knowledge of the decedent's substance abuse issues, her previous conversations with the decedent with regard to his addiction and withdrawals, and the decedent's current symptoms [Id.]. Consequently, consistent with protocols established by the jail physician, Nurse Morgan instructed Van Buren to administer the decedent a detox pack, consisting of three Dilantin-to prevent seizures- and one Librium [Id.; Doc. 18-1 ¶ 6]. Van Buren immediately gave the decedent a detox pack, according to Nurse Morgan's instructions, and suggested that the decedent lie down on his bunk [Id. ¶ 7; Doc. 18-2 ¶ 6].

         By 5:20 p.m., the decedent could not walk to the restroom without assistance, and he had trouble answering Van Buren's questions [Doc. 18-1 ¶ 8]. Van Buren believed that the decedent was under the influence of drugs, and at no time did Van Buren believe that the decedent was experiencing a medical emergency [Id. ¶¶ 8, 14]. He thereafter called his supervisor at 5:48 p.m., who told Van Buren to place the decedent on medical watch [Id. ¶ 9; Doc. 18-4 ¶ 7].[3] Van Buren called Nurse Morgan a few minutes later to update her on the decedent's condition [Doc. 18-4 ¶ 8]. He advised Nurse Morgan that the decedent had been placed on medical watch and “appeared to be stoned and not detoxing” [Doc. 18-1 ¶ 10; Doc. 18-2 ¶ 6]. Van Buren told Nurse Morgan that the decedent had denied having taken drugs since arriving at the jail [Doc. 18-2 ¶ 6]. At approximately 6:00 p.m., Van Buren took the decedent to the intake area so that he could be more closely monitored [Doc. 18-1 ¶ 11]. Van Buren's shift ended at 7:00 p.m., and he updated the incoming officer, Sergeant Nichols, on the decedent's condition [Id. ¶¶ 12-13].

         At 7:38 p.m., Sergeant Nichols called Nurse Morgan and requested that she come to the jail [Doc. 18-2 ¶ 7; Doc. 18-4 ¶ 10]. He told Nurse Morgan that the decedent had admitted to taking some drugs earlier that day [Doc. 18-2 ¶ 7]. Sergeant Nichols told Nurse Morgan that the decedent was now in “rough shape” and that he believed the decedent would aspirate if given more liquids in an attempt to obtain a urine sample [Id.]. Nurse Morgan responded that the decedent needed to go to the hospital, and the officer expressed his desire for Nurse Morgan to evaluate the decedent first, “to see if he was putting on or if he really had a problem that needed to be addressed” [Id.]. Nurse Morgan told Sergeant Nichols that she would be at the jail in twenty minutes [Id.].

         Fifteen minutes later, at approximately 7:55 p.m., Nurse Morgan arrived at the jail and immediately went to check on the decedent [Id. ¶ 8]. She took his vital signs and observed that the decedent was confused but oriented to location and staff members' names [Id. ¶ 9]. Based upon her assessment, Nurse Morgan believed that the decedent was intoxicated [Id.]. He admitted to having taken Opana and two other pain pills [Id.]. Nurse Morgan determined that the decedent should be transported to the hospital but that emergency transportation would not be necessary [Id.]. Around this time, the decedent voided six times [Id.]. Arrangements were made to transport the decedent by county vehicle [Id. ¶ 9]. Nurse Morgan took his vital signs repeatedly while waiting for transportation [Id. ¶ 10]. The decedent was taken to the Jefferson Memorial Hospital (“Jefferson”) at approximately 9:13 p.m., at which time he was stable and was able to walk to the cruiser [Id. ¶ 11].

         The decedent arrived at Jefferson around 9:50 p.m. [Doc. 18-3 p. 4]. A computed tomography (“CT”) scan was performed, and it showed no evidence of acute intracranial hemorrhage [Id. at 12]. The decedent was declared “clinically intoxicated” by medical professionals, and records indicate that the decedent admitted to taking Suboxone [Id. at 3-5].[4] A “stash” of drugs was found in his underwear [Id. at 3]. A neurological evaluation noted that the decedent was oriented as to person, place, and situation, but not to time [Id.]. His memory and cranial nerves were normal [Id.]. Physicians at Jefferson diagnosed the decedent in the following manner: “Encephalopathy, Cerebrovascular Accident (CVA)-possible, Drug Overdose-Substance Abuse, Endocarditis-possible, Fever, positive troponin” [Id. at 4]. Medical professionals ordered a transfer of the decedent to Physician Regional Medical Center in Knoxville on March 30, 2014 [Id.]. He died one month later, on April 30, 2014 [Doc. 1 p. 1; Doc. 19 ¶ 26].

         A certified physician assistant commissioned by plaintiff, Logan Hyatt, states that “[a] number of clinical entities may bring about a change in mental status, therefore these patients should be evaluated as soon as possible” [Doc. 29-4 p. 1].[5] Mr. Hyatt goes on to assert that “[a] past history of substance abuse although considered in one's initial assessment should not become an assumption that leads to the excusion [sic] of a more thorough differential diagnosis” [Id.]. According to Mr. Hyatt, “[t]he standard practice/goal of present day stroke treatment is that they receive evaluation and initiation of antithrombotic therapy within 3 hours of a change in mental status” [Id.]. He admits, however, that the decedent “would go on to receive reasonable and appropriate care” prior to his death on April 30, 2014 [Id. at 1-2]. Importantly, Mr. Hyatt notes that the decedent's death resulted from an “ongoing process that occurred over time despite appropriate and aggressive treatment” [Id. at 2]. Thus, “the although seemingly unreasonable delay (of about 10 hours) in [the decedent's] professional evaluation at a hospital facility . . . cannot objectively in [Mr. Hyatt's] opinion be linked ultimately to his death” [Id.].

         The current suit was filed by the decedent's mother, Joyce Sue Baker, on March 29, 2015, as next friend of the decedent's two minor children [Doc. 1]. Plaintiff asserts that the decedent “suffered a stroke or aneurysm which went undiagnosed and untreated” [Id.]. She consequently brings the following claims against Grainger County, Nurse Morgan, Van Buren, and other unidentified individuals: (1) deliberate indifference under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) failure to provide adequate medical care, under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, pursuant to § 1983; (3) negligence under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (“TGTLA”); and (4) wrongful death under Tennessee state law [Id. at 4-12].

         II. Motions for Summary Judgment

         All named defendants now move the Court for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims. Defendants Morgan and Van Buren argue that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to plaintiff's § 1983 claims because they were not deliberately indifferent to any serious medical need of the decedent [Doc. 18 p. 1]. Plaintiff responded in opposition to defendants Morgan and Van Buren's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 27], in which she asserts that defendant Morgan is not entitled to qualified immunity because she “arguably was deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need of the decedent” [Id. ¶ 1]. Plaintiff concedes, however, that her claims against defendant Van Buren should be dismissed because plaintiff “is without sufficient information to deny that Mr. Van Buren is entitled to qualified immunity” [Id. ¶ 3]. In its later-filed motion for summary judgment [Doc. 35], Grainger County argues that it is also entitled to summary dismissal, primarily because there was no underlying constitutional violation by Nurse Morgan [Id. at 1].[6]

         The Court, after setting forth the relevant standard of review, will proceed by evaluating plaintiff's § 1983 claims against Nurse Morgan and Grainger County, and it will then address plaintiff's state law claims.

         A. 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 (1986); Moore v. Philip Morris Cos., 8 F.3d 335, 339 (6th Cir. 1993). All facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the ...

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