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Estate of Barnwell v. Grigsby

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

April 10, 2018

ESTATE OF DUSTIN BARNWELL, by next of kin, S.C.B., a minor, b/n/f, SHASTA LASHAY GILMORE, Plaintiff,
MITCH GRIGSBY, DAVID RANDLE, RICHARD STOOKSBURY, and ROBERT COOKER, in their individual capacities, Defendants.



         This lawsuit began in November 2012. By the time the case went to trial on October 3, 2017, the issues to be decided for each remaining defendant-two officers and two medics-were as follows: (1) whether the defendant had a role in administering the succinylcholine to Dustin Barnwell; (2) if so, whether the defendant was acting in a law-enforcement capacity or as a medical responder; (3) if the former, whether the administration of the drug was objectively reasonable or instead constituted excessive force; and (4) if the administration was objectively unreasonable, whether the defendant acted with evil motive or intent [see D. 298, at 8; Trial Transcript (T.T.), D. 366, at 57, 59, 149]. For the officer defendants, there was an additional issue as to whether either officer had committed a state-law battery.

         Upon conclusion of Plaintiff's proof, Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law on grounds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find in favor of Plaintiff. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a). After consideration, the Court found that Plaintiff had presented no proof that either of the officer defendants (Grigsby and Stooksbury) ordered that the medics use succinylcholine, or that they did anything to assist in its administration aside from restraining Mr. Barnwell [T.T., D. 366, at 147-49]. Additionally, the Court found that there was no proof that the medic defendants (Randle and Cooker) were acting to assist law enforcement in enforcing the law or in deterring misconduct [Id.]. Because the defendants were all acting to render solicited aid in an emergency situation, the Fourth Amendment does not apply.[1] Accordingly, the Court granted Defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law, and the case was dismissed. Judgment was entered in Defendants' favor the following day, on October 6, 2017 [D. 362].

         On November 2, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion [D. 367] under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) and 60(b)(6) and the Seventh Amendment, asking the Court to reconsider this Judgment, as well as two previous orders, dated October 25, 2013 [D. 66], and June 16, 2016 [D. 250]. Defendants responded in opposition [D. 369], and Plaintiff replied [D. 370]. For the reasons explained below, the Court declines to reconsider either of these orders or its judgment, and Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration will be denied in its entirety.

         I. Legal Standards

         A. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e)

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), a party may file a motion to alter or amend a final judgment no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment. A court may grant a Rule 59(e) motion based on “(1) a clear error of law; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) an intervening change in controlling law; or (4) a need to prevent manifest injustice.” Nolfi v. Ohio Ky. Oil Corp., 675 F.3d 538, 551-52 (6th Cir. 2012). But Rule 59(e) “may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments … that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” J.B.F. by & through Stivers v. Ky. Dep't of Educ., 690 Fed.Appx. 906, 907 (6th Cir. 2017) (quoting Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n.5 (2008)). Ultimately, the grant or denial of a Rule 59(e) motion “is within the informed discretion of the district court, reversible only for abuse.” Betts v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 558 F.3d 461, 467 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). See also Leisure Caviar, LLC v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv., 616 F.3d 612, 615 (6th Cir. 2010) (noting that the district court has “considerable discretion” in deciding whether to grant a motion under Rule 59(e)).

         B. Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6)

         A Rule 60 motion for relief from a final judgment may be granted only for certain specified reasons, including mistake, fraud, newly discovered evidence, and a void or satisfied judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). Plaintiff is proceeding under subsection (b)(6), “a ‘catch-all provision' providing relief from a final judgment for any reason not otherwise captured in Rule 60(b).” Miller v. Mays, 879 F.3d 691, 698 (6th Cir. 2018) (citing West v. Carpenter, 790 F.3d 693, 696-97 (6th Cir. 2015)). Rule 60(b)(6) applies only in “exceptional and extraordinary circumstances where principles of equity mandate relief.” Id. The Sixth Circuit has made clear that the district court's discretion in deciding a Rule 60(b)(6) motion is “especially broad due to the underlying equitable principles involved.” Tyler v. Anderson, 749 F.3d 499, 509 (6th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         C. Seventh Amendment

         The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides for the right to a civil jury trial. U.S. Const., amend. VII. The maintenance of a jury as a fact-finding body “is of such importance … that any seeming curtailment of the right to a jury trial should be scrutinized with the utmost care.” Dimick v. Schiedt, 293 U.S. 474, 485-86 (1935). Nevertheless, it has long been settled that the entry of judgment as a matter of law before the case reaches the jury does not violate the Seventh Amendment's guarantee. See Weisgram v. Marley Co., 528 U.S. 440, 449-50 (2000); Neely v. Martin K. Eby Const. Co., 386 U.S. 317, 321 (1967); Galloway v. United States, 319 U.S. 372, 389 n.19 (1943) (citing cases as early as 1850). Thus, once a party has been fully heard on an issue at a jury trial, the Court may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law for the opposing party if it finds that “a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the [nonmovant].” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). That is what occurred in this case at the conclusion of Plaintiff's proof on the third day of trial.

         II. Discussion

         A. October 25, 2013 Order [D. 66]

         1. Background

         The Court's October 25, 2013 Order addressed two motions challenging Plaintiff's medical malpractice claim against Roane County and four individual medics. In April 2013, these defendants moved to dismiss the claim against them due to Plaintiff's failure to comply with the good faith certification requirements under the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (THCLA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-122 [D. 8, 24]. In August 2013, they also moved for summary judgment on grounds that Plaintiff had not complied with the THCLA's pre-suit notice requirements as stated in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121 [D. 48].

         On September 26, 2013, United States District Judge David L. Bunning held a telephonic oral argument on these motions [D. 50], after which he ordered Plaintiff's counsel to file an affidavit demonstrating extraordinary cause for Plaintiff's failure to comply with the statutory requirements [D. 59]. Plaintiff's counsel submitted an affidavit [D. 63], but it was insufficient. Judge Bunning determined that counsel had not provided any new information for the Court's consideration, but simply “restate[d] facts and allegations that are already contained in the record.” [D. 66, at 3]. This showing did not constitute “extraordinary cause, ” which would excuse Plaintiff's non-compliance with the statutes. Thus, on October 25, 2013, Judge Bunning dismissed Plaintiff's medical malpractice claim [Id.]. In doing so, he noted that non-compliance with either Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121 or § 29-26-122 would support a dismissal with prejudice [Id. at 3 nn.1-2].

         2. Analysis under Rule 59(e)

         Plaintiff does not expressly state the grounds for her motion under Rule 59(e), but it seems to turn on an alleged intervening change in controlling law. She says that, in the years since Judge Bunning's decision, “there has been a noticeable trend in the judicial interpretation of Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-26-121 and 29-26-122, ” which has led to the relaxation of certain technical and procedural requirements [D. 368-1, at 14].

         i. Tennessee Code § 29-26-121

         Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121 requires a plaintiff asserting a medical malpractice claim to provide “written notice of the potential claim to each health care provider that will be a named defendant at least sixty days before the filing of a complaint.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(1). Notice may be given either personally or by certified mail. Id. § 29-26-121(a)(3). “The statute is very specific about how and when the notice must be sent and the information the notice must contain.” Conrad v. Washington Cty., 2012 WL 554462, at *2 (E.D. Tenn. Feb. 21, 2012) (Jordan, J.). Plaintiff must also state in the complaint whether she complied with the pre-suit notice requirements, and must attach documentation certifying proof of service. Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-26-121(a)(3). Compliance with the statute may be excused “only for extraordinary cause shown.” Id. § 29-26-121(b).

         In this case, it is undisputed that Plaintiff only provided pre-suit notice to Roane County. [see D. 1-1, at 7; D. 22]. None of the four medic defendants received any sort of individualized notice. Nor were their addresses provided in the notice to Roane County, as is required under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(D) [see D. 48-1]. In her response to the defendants' motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff claimed that the medics were immune from suit in their individual ...

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