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Ex parte Kozlovski

Supreme Court of Alabama

April 24, 2015

Ex parte Amee Kozlovski, M.D.
v.
Altapointe Health Systems, Inc., and Amee Kozlovski, M.D. In re: David Shamlin, as administrator of the estate of Jeffery Brown, deceased

          (Mobile Circuit Court, CV-12-902874).

         For Petitioner: Thomas O. Gaillard III of Satterwhite, Druhan, Gaillard & Tyler, LLC, Mobile; and Luther Strange, atty. gen., and Thomas B. Klinner, gen. counsel and asst. atty. gen., and Joseph " Jody" G. Stewart, Jr., asst. atty. gen., Alabama Department of Mental Health.

         For Respondent: John R. Spencer, Mobile; and C.S. Chiepalich, Mobile.

         MAIN, Justice. Moore, C.J., and Stuart, Bolin, Shaw, Wise, and Bryan, JJ., concur. Parker, J., dissents.

          OPINION

Page 446

         PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

         MAIN, Justice.

         Amee Kozlovski, M.D., petitions this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Mobile Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in her favor in a wrongful-death action brought against her by David Shamlin, as administrator of the estate of Jeffery Brown,[1] deceased. We grant the petition and issue the writ.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         In November 2011, following a physical attack on his father, David Brown, Jeffery Brown was involuntarily committed by the Mobile Probate Court to Searcy Hospital, a long-term-care facility for mental illness operated by the Alabama Department of Mental Health. Brown was 19 years old at the time of his commitment and had a long history of mental illness and psychiatric hospitalizations.[2]

         One particular problem associated with Brown's mental illness was his tendency to run away from home. Brown's father testified that Brown began running away from home in 2003. As Brown grew older, his impulse to run away became so pervasive that it was necessary to keep him under 24-hour supervision and to place alarms on his bedroom door and window to keep him from running away at night. When Brown did run away, he would sometimes be gone for days at a time, and when found he would be malnourished and dehydrated. Brown also exhibited violent behavior and aggression toward his parents and others. This behavior also escalated as he grew older. In November 2011, Brown physically attacked his father. The incident resulted in Brown's arrest and his involuntary commitment to Searcy Hospital.

         At Searcy Hospital Brown was assigned a " treatment team." Dr. Kozlovski, a licensed physician and psychiatrist employed by the Alabama Department of Mental Health, was the head of Brown's treatment team and was responsible for making the ultimate judgment about whether Brown met the criteria for discharge from Searcy Hospital. The treatment team also included a social worker, a licensed psychologist, a rehabilitation coordinator, and a registered nurse. A treatment plan was devised for Brown, and he was prescribed medication and received other mental-health treatment. During his time at Searcy Hospital, Brown had several

Page 447

incidents of self-injurious behavior but was otherwise fully compliant with his treatment. On April 5, 2012, the treatment team reached a consensus that Brown had met the conditions for discharge.[3] On May 18, 2012, despite reservations expressed by Brown's family that he would run away from a group-home facility, Brown was discharged to Safe Haven, a group home owned and operated by Altapointe Health Systems, Inc. (" Altapointe" ). Dr. Kozlovski approved the discharge.

         On May 19, 2012, Brown left Safe Haven without the knowledge of Safe Haven's staff. On May 23, 2012, Brown's body was found lying on a road in Mobile. Brown had apparently been struck and killed by a motorist.[4]

         Shamlin, as the court-appointed administrator of Brown's estate, initiated the underlying wrongful-death action in the Mobile Circuit Court, naming as defendants Dr. Kozlovski and Altapointe.[5] The complaint alleged that Dr. Kozlovski had been negligent and/or wanton in numerous respects. Shamlin's complaint, as amended, alleged that Dr. Kozlovski:

" a. Negligently and/or wantonly failed to provide proper and/or adequate treatment of [Brown's] mental illness and psychological condition;
" b. Negligently and/or wantonly failed to properly assess and/or diagnose [Brown's] mental illness and psychological condition;
" c. Negligently and/or wantonly failed to identify [Brown] as a flight risk;
" d. Negligently and/or wantonly failed to assess and/or diagnose [Brown's] physical needs and/or requirements;
" e. Negligently and/or wantonly failed to determine whether [Brown] met the admission requirements of Safe Haven, a non-secure facility;
" f. Negligently and/or wantonly failed to determine whether Safe Haven had the capability to monitor and supervise [Brown] at all times in order to prevent [Brown] from eloping, fleeing or escaping from Safe Haven;
" g. Negligently and/or wantonly approved and authorized [Brown's] release or discharge from Searcy Hospital, a secure facility, to Safe Haven, a non-secure facility; and
" [h]. Negligently and/or wantonly failed to advise, prescribe or otherwise convey that at the time of or prior to discharging [Brown] from her care at Searcy Hospital to Altapointe, [Brown] required 24 hour 'around the clock' eyes-on supervision for at least the first week of his placement at Safe Haven Group Home."

         Shamlin also alleged that Dr. Kozlovski negligently and/or wantonly discharged Brown in violation of the Mobile Probate Court's commitment order and that she negligently and/or wantonly failed to conduct a suicide-risk assessment before discharging Brown.

Page 448

          On September 18, 2014, Dr. Kozlovski filed a motion for a summary judgment, arguing that the claims against her were barred by the doctrine of State-agent immunity.[6] Shamlin filed a response in opposition to Dr. Kozlovski's motion for a summary judgment, in which he contended that Dr. Kozlovski had violated certain rules and regulations applicable to Brown's release and was not, therefore, entitled to rely on the doctrine of State-agent immunity.[7] On December 12, 2014, the trial court denied Dr. Kozlovski's motion, without explanation. On December 30, 2014, Dr. Kozlovski timely filed this petition for a writ of mandamus.

         II. Standard of Review

" Although the denial of a motion for a summary judgment is generally not appealable, this Court has held that the denial of a motion for a summary judgment grounded on a claim of immunity is reviewable by a petition for a writ of mandamus. Ex parte Kennedy, 992 So.2d 1276, 1280 (Ala. 2008). In such case, we apply the following standard of review:
" '" 'While the general rule is that the denial of a motion for summary judgment is not reviewable, ... the denial of a motion for summary judgment grounded on a claim of immunity is reviewable by petition for writ of mandamus.' Ex parte Rizk, 791 So.2d 911, 912 (Ala. 2000). A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy available only when there is: '(a) a clear legal right to the order sought; (2) an imperative duty upon the respondent to perform, accompanied by a refusal to do so; (3) the lack of another adequate remedy; and (4) the properly invoked jurisdiction of the court.' Ex parte BOC Group, Inc., 823 So.2d 1270, 1272 (Ala. 2001)." '
" Kennedy, 992 So.2d at 1280 (quoting Ex parte Nall, 879 So.2d 541, 543 (Ala. 2003))."

Ex parte Ruffin, [Ms. 1130324, Aug. 29, 2014] 160 So.3d 750, *5 (Ala. 2014).

         III. Analysis

         Dr. Kozlovski contends that the trial court erred in denying her motion for a summary judgment because, she argues, she is entitled to State-agent immunity in this case. In response, Shamlin argues that Dr. Kozlovski is not entitled to State-agent immunity from the wrongful-death claim because, he contends, Dr. Kozlovski's actions, as related to Brown's discharge from Searcy Hospital, violated several rules and regulations applicable to ...


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