United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO
THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court are Defendants Western Mental Health Institute and
Debora Murphy, M.D.'s Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 55
& 69) filed on September 20, 2017, and October 12, 2017,
respectively. Plaintiff Clifford Robert White does not oppose
the dismissal without prejudice of Western Mental Health
Institute for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff
has responded in opposition to DeBora Murphy, M.D.'s
Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim, and Dr.
Murphy has filed a reply. For the reasons set forth below,
Defendants' Motions to Dismiss are
filed his original Complaint on February 3, 2016, alleging
claims for federal civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and state law claims sounding in negligence. The
original Complaint alleged that Plaintiff's decedent Gina
Lenore White (“Ms. White”) was arrested on or
about January 1, 2015, and taken to the Henderson County
Criminal Justice Center (“the jail”). In the
weeks after her arrest, Ms. White experienced a dramatic
decline in her health. By early February 2015, Ms. White was
so ill she was no longer able to meet her own physical needs
and could not control her bodily functions. The Complaint
alleged that despite obvious signs Ms. White urgently needed
medical care, Defendants failed to take any action to meet
her serious health needs. Ms. White died in custody on
February 7, 2015. Based on the facts alleged, the original
Complaint asserted the following claims against Defendants
under § 1983 and state law: denial of medical care;
wrongful death; negligent hiring, training, and supervision;
gross negligence, intentional conduct, and willful, reckless,
and wanton misconduct; and liability under the Tennessee
Governmental Tort Liability Act (“TGTLA”).
March 21, 2016, Defendants Henderson County, Tennessee;
Sheriff Brian Duke; Anthony Woodfin; Jackie Bausman; and Eric
Hatchett (collectively “the Henderson County
Defendants”) filed a motion for partial dismissal. One
year later on March 24, 2017, this case was transferred to
the undersigned for all further proceedings. On April 21,
2017, the Court granted in part and denied in part the
Henderson County Defendants' motion for partial
dismissal. Based on Plaintiff's concessions, the Court
dismissed his claims against the Henderson County
Sheriff's Department, the official capacity claims
against the individual employees of Henderson County, and any
claim for violation of the Tennessee Constitution. The Court
accepted supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's
claims under the TGTLA.
the Court's ruling on their motion for partial dismissal,
the Henderson County Defendants filed their Answer (ECF No.
34) to the original Complaint on May 8, 2017, and then a
First Amended Answer (ECF No. 36) on May 26,
2017. The Henderson County Defendants'
responsive pleadings alleged the comparative fault of four
non-parties: Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc.; Derinda
Lucken, LPN; Western Mental Health Institute
(“WMHI”); and DeBora Murphy, M.D. (“Dr.
Murphy”). In response to the Henderson County
Defendants' Answer and First Amended Answer, Plaintiff
filed an unopposed motion to amend his initial Complaint for
the purpose of adding these non-parties as new Defendants.
The Court granted Plaintiff leave to amend, and Plaintiff
filed his First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 48) on August 4,
to the First Amended Complaint, WMHI is a division of the
state of Tennessee or the Tennessee Department of Mental
Health, and Dr. Murphy, a psychiatrist, was at all times
relevant an employee of WMHI. The First Amended Complaint
restates the same allegations against the Henderson County
Defendants found in the original Complaint, describing the
Henderson County Defendants' treatment of Ms. White
between January 29, 2015, and her death on February 7, 2015.
See First Am. Compl. ¶ 16-45. The First Amended
Complaint now alleges that some time after Ms. White's
arrest on January 1, 2015, Henderson County discovered that
Ms. White had previously received treatment for psychosis,
bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Id. ¶ 17. So
jail officials made the decision to send Ms. White to WMHI
for evaluation and treatment. Id. ¶ 10. Ms.
White remained at WMHI under Dr. Murphy's care from
January 10, 2015, to January 29, 2015. Id.
Murphy diagnosed Ms. White with bipolar mania with psychotic
features, narcissistic personality disorder, and
hypertension/high blood pressure. Id. ¶ 19. Dr.
Murphy prescribed a series of medications, including daily
doses of Lithium, Amitriptyline, Cogentin Clondine, Prolixim,
and Hydrochlorothiazide. Id. Upon Ms. White's
release from WMHI and return to the jail, Dr. Murphy
instructed the Henderson County Defendants to continue Ms.
White's course of medications and to provide follow up
mental health treatment. Id. The First Amended
Complaint alleges that the Henderson County Defendants failed
to follow Dr. Murphy's discharge instructions and failed
to administer Ms. White's medications as prescribed by
Dr. Murphy. Id. ¶ 21. Specifically, the
Henderson County Defendants failed to provide Ms. White with
all of her prescribed doses of Lithium and failed to insure
that she took her medication. Id. ¶ 24. The
Henderson County Defendants waited five days to begin giving
Ms. White Lithium and allowed other inmates to administer Ms.
White's medications to her. Id. ¶¶ 21,
24. Dr. Murphy's discharge instructions also outlined the
potential symptoms of harmful drug reactions or an overdose
of Lithium, symptoms which Ms. White experienced after her
return to the jail. Id. ¶ 26. Based on a blood
test conducted on February 5, 2015, two days before Ms.
White's death, Ms. White had nearly three times the
concentration of Lithium in her blood that she had had on
January 27, 2015, the day she was discharged from WMHI.
Id. ¶ 44.
First Amended Complaint alleges three separate theories of
fault against WMHI and Dr. Murphy. Plaintiff first alleges
that both Defendants failed to provide Ms. White with
appropriate medical treatment during her stay at WMHI.
Id. ¶ 67. Second, WMHI and Dr. Murphy failed to
provide adequate discharge instructions for Ms. White's
ongoing care back at the Henderson County Correctional
Center. This includes inadequate instructions on how jail
officials were to determine whether Ms. White needed
additional mental health treatment. Id. Plaintiff
describes Dr. Murphy's discharge instructions as
“medically and professionally negligent, ”
“negligently prepared, ” and otherwise
“below the applicable standard of care.”
Id. ¶ 68. WMHI and Dr. Murphy should have known
that other healthcare providers would rely on Dr.
Murphy's discharge instructions to determine whether Ms.
White should receive additional mental health treatment.
Id. And as his third theory of WMHI and Dr.
Murphy's liability, Plaintiff alleges that in light of
the risks associated with taking the medication Lithium, Dr.
Murphy had an ongoing duty to monitor Ms. White for adverse
drug reactions or interactions. Id. ¶ 69. Dr.
Murphy never followed up to assess Ms. White's progress
once she returned to the jail. Id. ¶ 68.
Plaintiff alleges that these acts and omissions of WMHI and
Dr. Murphy constituted negligent and reckless deviation from
the accepted standard of care. Id. ¶ 70.
Motion to Dismiss, WMHI argues that as an agency of the state
of Tennessee, WMHI has Eleventh Amendment immunity from any
claim. Tennessee has not waived its sovereign immunity, and
Congress has not acted to abrogate Tennessee's sovereign
immunity. Additionally, WMHI argues that it is not a
“person” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. §
1983, and therefore Plaintiff's section 1983 claims
against WMHI will not lie. The Court should conclude then
that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over
Plaintiff's claims against WMHI. In response to
WMHI's Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff acknowledges that as
an agency of the State of Tennessee, WMHI has sovereign
immunity from any claim under section 1983. Plaintiff further
concedes that the Tennessee Claims Commission has exclusive
jurisdiction over his claims against WMHI. Even though this
Court lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims against
WMHI, Plaintiff requests that the Court dismiss his claims
against WMHI without prejudice to Plaintiff's right to
pursue the claims before the Tennessee Claims Commission.
Plaintiff contests any argument that WMHI's sovereign
immunity extends to Dr. Murphy.
Murphy has filed a separate Motion to Dismiss, arguing that
the First Amended Complaint fails to state a section 1983
claim against her. According to Dr. Murphy, Plaintiff fails
to allege that Dr. Murphy was deliberately indifferent to Ms.
White's serious medical needs. The First Amended
Complaint alleges that Plaintiff's decedent received care
from Dr. Murphy but states in conclusory fashion that Dr.
Murphy's care was “inappropriate.” This is
insufficient to state a claim for deliberate indifference.
Once Ms. White was returned to the custody of Henderson
County, Dr. Murphy had no opportunity to observe Ms. White or
assess her medical needs and therefore could not have been
deliberately indifferent to Ms. White's condition. Dr.
Murphy also argues that the First Amended Complaint fails to
allege that any negligence on Dr. Murphy's part was the
proximate cause of Ms. White's death. Plaintiff's
theory is that Dr. Murphy's failure to provide adequate
discharge instructions and that her failure to follow up with
Henderson County officials were causes of Ms. White's
death. However, there is no allegation that Dr. Murphy had
reason to know that Henderson County officials would not
follow her discharge instructions or that follow-up contact
with Henderson County officials would have resulted in
improved care for Ms. White. Dr. Murphy goes on to argue that
she is entitled to absolute and qualified immunity and that
the Court should decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over the state law claims against her.
has filed a brief responding in opposition to Dr.
Murphy's Motion to Dismiss. Under Local Rule of Court
12.1(b), “a party opposing a motion to dismiss must
file a response within 28 days after the motion is
served.” Local R. 12.1(b). Dr. Murphy filed her Rule
12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss on October 12, 2017, and served a
copy of her Motion on counsel for Plaintiff through CM-ECF.
Plaintiff thus had 28 days from October 12, 2017, in which to
respond, making his brief due November 9, 2017. Plaintiff did
not file his response until November 27, 2017. Plaintiff has
not explained why his brief was over two weeks late, and Dr.
Murphy has not contested the late filing of the brief.
Despite the fact that Plaintiff did not timely respond, the
Court will consider the merits of Plaintiff's belated
contends that Dr. Murphy's Motion to Dismiss is premature
because Dr. Murphy's arguments assume facts which have
not yet been established. Plaintiff first argues that Dr.
Murphy has not shown that she was an employee of the State of
Tennessee. Without an evidentiary hearing to introduce proof
of this fact, Dr. Murphy is not entitled to absolute immunity
as a state employee. As for qualified immunity, Dr. Murphy
likewise must make an evidentiary showing that her
“official conduct” did not cause a violation of
Ms. White's constitutional rights. Plaintiff has attached
to his response a copy of Dr. Murphy's discharge letter,
advising that Ms. White might feign impairment by
“employing dramatic means, such as suicidal threats,
suicidal gestures, behavioral outbursts, report of
hallucinations, or puzzling complaints of medical problems .
. . .” Plaintiff argues that Dr. Murphy's opinion
taken together with her failure to follow-up with jail
officials about Ms. White's condition may have
contributed to the jail's denial of appropriate medical
care for Ms. White. Plaintiff also cites the medical opinion
of Dr. Richard M. Sobel, an opinion witness retained by the
Henderson County Defendants. Plaintiff has attached to his
brief a copy of Dr. Sobel's written report in which Dr.
Sobel opines that Dr. Murphy's letter had the effect of
discouraging jail officials from returning Ms. White to WMHI
for additional mental health treatment. Plaintiff argues then
that issues of fact remain about whether Dr. Murphy is
entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, Plaintiff argues
that if the Court does dismiss Dr. Murphy as a party to the
suit, then the Court should as a matter of fairness preclude
the Henderson County Defendants from alleging Dr.
Murphy's comparative fault.
Murphy has filed a reply. Dr. Murphy argues that under
Tennessee law she is entitled to absolute immunity as a state
employee. There is no need to hold an evidentiary hearing to
establish the fact that Dr. Murphy was a state employee. The
fact of her employment is undisputed and is alleged multiple
times in the Amended Complaint. And the Court can decide Dr.
Murphy's qualified immunity at the pleadings stage,
Plaintiff's argument to the contrary notwithstanding.
Plaintiff's response focuses on Dr. Murphy's
discharge letter and failure to follow-up, not on the actual
care Dr. Murphy provided to Ms. White while she was a patient
at WMHI. And yet the Amended Complaint alleges that the
Henderson County Defendants ignored Dr. Murphy's
discharge letter. There is no allegation then that Dr.
Murphy's letter was the proximate cause of the alleged
denial of medical care at the jail. Even if Plaintiff could
show that the Henderson County Defendants relied on the
discharge letter, Dr. Sobel's opinion only shows that Dr.
Murphy's remarks were negligent, not deliberately
indifferent. The Amended Complaint does not allege that Dr.
Murphy had reason to know of Ms. White's serious health
needs once she returned to the jail. For these reasons