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Warren v. Alabama Department of Mental Health

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

March 1, 2019

WAYNE WARREN, by and through his Mother, next friend and legal guardian, Polly Robinson, Plaintiff,
v.
ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case is before the court on Defendant Estate of Perry Walker's (“the Estate”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 39) and Defendant Alabama Department of Mental Health's (“ADMH”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 41). The Motions are fully briefed (Docs. # 46-47, 50-51, 54-55, 57) and are ripe for review. After careful review of the parties' submissions and having conducted oral argument on the Estate's Motion, and for the reasons explained below, the court concludes that ADMH's Motion for Summary Judgment is due to be granted, while the Estate's Motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Factual Background [1]

         This case arises out of an incident that took place on April 2, 2005, [2] when a Mental Health Worker employed by ADMH instructed Plaintiff to hit his roommate on the head with a radio in order to quell a disturbance. The court begins by giving a brief overview of Plaintiff's behavioral history at William D. Partlow Development Center (“Partlow”). It then discusses the history of R.G., [3] Plaintiff's roommate, and the relationship between R.G. and Plaintiff. Finally, the court outlines Perry Walker's employment record at Partlow and his role in the events forming the basis of this action.

         A. Plaintiff's Behavioral History at Partlow

         In August 2003, Wayne Warren (“Plaintiff”) was admitted to Partlow, a facility maintained by ADMH. (Doc. # 46 at 2). He had a documented history of aggression and a diagnosis of Atypical Psychosis, Schizoaffective Disorder, and mild to moderate mental retardation. (Id.). Although his IQ is in the mid-50's (Doc. # 46-4 at 5), his social worker at Partlow noted that he is “verbal and comprehends what is said to him.” (Doc. # 46-2 at 2).

         From March 2004 to April 2005, Plaintiff's psychiatrist, Dr. Baltz, reported that Plaintiff displayed intermittent aggressive tendencies towards the staff as well as other patients, and at various times the following was documented:

• “[C]ontinues to virtually run amuck here. He has been threatening to beat up the staff, fighting with the patients and he tore up his room. He attacked his roommate the first night at about four o'clock in the morning. Kicked holes in the walls over in administration building.” (Doc. # 46-2 at 7).
• “Seems calmer to the staff. He doesn't appear anxious, but does complain about being nervous and he occasionally will say that he wants to go to the hospital. Has no major outbursts.” (Id. at 8).
• “[O]verall hasn't been as disruptive and assaultive. He will still hit some of the patients from time to time.” (Id. at 9).
• “[A]pparently has been having some sexual type behavior with his roommate. Today, he was noted to be kind of rowdy out in the hall and had to be seen pretty quickly. I'm told that he destroys his roommate's property and other people's property. Fights with the patients in his cottage.” (Id. at 10).
• “[C]ontinues to be fairly disruptive and aggressive. He will attack other patients. He doesn't fight with the staff. He gets into his roommates belongings and destroys them. The last two weeks he has been making sexual allegations about his roommate who in return makes them about him.” (Id. at 11).
• “[S]eems to be doing much better. His rates of physical aggression dropped from 38 in June to 5 in August and his rates of disruptive behavior dropped from 103 in June to 25 in August.” (Id. at 12).
• “[H]as settled down quite nicely. He has had zero incidents of severe physical aggression and disruptive behavior. I am told though that he will get loud, slam doors, curse and occasionally slap, but this seems to be at a low rate.” (Id. at 13).
• “[H]as had seven episodes of physical aggression in December and six in January. Over the Christmas holidays, he got mad at home and staff had to go pick him up.” (Id. at 14).
• “[C]ontinues to rock along with episodes of disruptive and aggressive behavior. He is very impatient. He runs out of the apartment from time to time. Breaks and throws things when he is upset.” (Id. at 16).

         In order to combat these tendencies, Plaintiff was prescribed Depakote ER for behavioral control, Aripiprazole for aggression, and Inderal LA for his “aggressive explosive outbursts.” (Id. at 7-16).

         In Dr. Baltz's March 17, 2005 report, he expressed his doubts about Plaintiff's ability to make “medical, surgical, financial, or placement decisions.” (Id. at 15). Consistent with this finding, he executed an affidavit in support of the appointment of a guardian for Plaintiff. (Docs. # 46-4 at 4; 46-5). On April 12, 2005, Plaintiff's mother, Polly Robinson, was appointed his guardian. (Id. at 6-7).

         B. Plaintiff's Roommate at Partlow, R.G.

         R.G. was admitted to Partlow on October 5, 2004 with a prior diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy and mild to moderate mental retardation. (Docs. # 46-3 at 2-3; 46-6 at 1-3). R.G. has never been able to walk and is confined to a wheelchair. (Doc. # 46-3 at 2). According to his individual support plan documented on November 20, 2007, he had an IQ of 40 and his target behaviors were “physical aggression” and “throwing feces.” (Id. at 3; Id.). As to his history of physical aggression, R.G. would sometimes “hit other employees, ” “grab the hair of some of the workers at Partlow, ” “[throw] things at the employees at Partlow, ” and “[grab] or hit the other people who lived there.” (Doc. # 46-9 at 21-22). In fact, the employees at Partlow were required to “[a]lways position [themselves] between [R.G.] and other clients.” (Doc. # 46-10 at 1).

         During April 2005, R.G. lived at Partlow in Apartment 10B with Plaintiff. (Docs. # 41-3 at 14; 46-1 at 4). In comparing the physical makeup of these two clients during that month, Plaintiff was 34 years old, six feet tall, and weighed 195 pounds. (Doc. # 46-2 at 3). R.G., on the other hand, was 24 years old and weighed between 246 and 271 pounds. (Doc. # 46-3 at 2-3). The Rule 56 record shows that Plaintiff did not like his roommate. (Id. at 17; Id. at 5).

         C. Perry Walker's Employment Record and His Role on April 2, 2005

         From November 5, 2001 to April 7, 2005, Perry Walker was employed by ADMH as a Mental Health Worker I at Partlow. (Doc. # 39-2 at 1). His duties included assuring client safety, interacting and intervening with clients, performing light housekeeping, escorting clients, recording/reporting information in a timely manner, performing personal care activities and minor treatments, and monitoring and reporting client physical, behavioral, and personal issues. (Doc. # 46-15 at 1, 8).

         Walker, and other ADMH employees, were also trained (both upon employment and annually) on the Department Policies. (Doc. # 46-12 at 5). Department Policy 19-10 provides:

Any form of client abuse, neglect, exploitation or mistreatment will not be tolerated. The DMH will immediately investigate and provide for appropriate legal and administrative actions based upon such investigation in any state-operated facility.

(Doc. # 46-13 at 1). Department Policy 19-25 also imposes a duty to report on ADMH employees:

In accordance with state law, the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (DMH/MR) shall report to the Department of Human Resources (DHR) cases of abuse, neglect, or exploitation involving persons receiving services in state operated DMH/MR residential facilities (with the exception of psychiatric nursing home(s)) when there is reasonable cause to suspect that abuse, neglect, or exploitation has occurred.

(Doc. # 46-14 at 1). Abuse is defined as “the willful infliction of physical pain, injury, or mental anguish or the willful deprivation of services necessary to maintain mental and physical health.” (Id.). Neglect is “the failure to provide basic needs such as food, clothing, medical treatment, and shelter.” (Id.). Finally, exploitation is defined as “an unjust or improper use of another person or another person's resources for one's own profit or advantage or for the profit or advantage of another person.” (Id.).

         From 2001 to 2003, Walker's performance record reflected adequate “meets standards” scores. (Doc. # 46-15 at 1-6). However, on February 5, 2004, Walker allegedly physically abused a client at Partlow. (Id. at 15). The client suffered “a quarter-sized hematoma to the forehead and an abrasion to the right fourth finger.” (Id.). Following an investigation and a pre-disciplinary conference held February 24, 2004, the Facility Director suspended Walker for three weeks for violating Department Policy 19-10, “Reporting and Investigating Abuse, Neglect, Mistreatment, and Exploitation.” (Id. at 14) (referenced above). The suspension was effective for the period of March 6, 2004 to March 29, 2004. (Id.).

         Walker worked with Plaintiff's roommate frequently; indeed, R.G. saw him every day. (Doc. # 46-9 at 23). On April 2, 2005, Walker was the Mental Health Worker assigned to R.G. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 18). The incident arose because R.G. was upset and did not want his diaper changed, so he began throwing feces at Walker and Plaintiff. (Docs. # 46-1 at 8; 39-1 at 8). Only these three individuals were in the room at the time. (Id.). In response, Walker instructed Plaintiff to hit his roommate on the head with a radio, and Plaintiff did so.[4] (Id. at 5; Id. at 5). Plaintiff claims that Walker said, “Wayne, hit [R.G.] in the head.” (Id. at 7; Id. at 7). “Then he told [Plaintiff] to do it again.” (Id.). Plaintiff testified that he hit his roommate because of Walker's instruction, but also because he was upset R.G. was throwing feces at him. (Id. at 8, 12; Id. at 8, 12). Plaintiff claims that when he hit his roommate, “[his] heart was pounding” in his chest. (Doc. # 46-1 at 12; 39-1 at 12). His mother testified that he still gets “upset” and sometimes cries talking about the incident. (Doc. # 46-16 at 4-5). She further testified that Walker offered Plaintiff a Coke to hit R.G., and Plaintiff “always wanted Cokes.” (Id. at 4, 12).

         Both Plaintiff and R.G. testified that they reported the incident to other Mental Health Workers at Partlow. (Docs. # 46-1 at 7-8; 46-11 at 26). On April 4, 2005, ADMH placed Walker on mandatory leave while it conducted an investigation. (Docs. # 46-15 at 13; 39-2 at 2). ADMH did not discipline or terminate Walker because he resigned on April 7, 2005. (Id. at 12; 39-3). Later that same year, Walker passed away. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 9).

         II. ...


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