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Estate of West v. DeFrancisco

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

December 12, 2019




         Pending before the Court is Defendant Robert DeFrancisco's Motion for Summary Judgment or, In the Alternative, Motion to Dismiss and Brief in Support Thereof (Docs. 189-190, filed 10/3/19). Plaintiffs timely filed their response in opposition and Defendant timely replied. See Docs. 192, 193.

         After a careful review of all the written pleadings, motion, response, reply, and the relevant law, the Court GRANTS the motion for summary judgment filed Defendant Robert DeFrancisco.

         I. Parties, Jurisdiction, and Venue

         Plaintiff Kim Ellis is the Personal Representative of the Estate of Jeffrey West. She brought suit against several defendants for causes of action that relate to the death of Jeffrey West. The Complaint lists Plaintiff Estate of Jeffrey West and Plaintiff Kim Ellis separately - though it appears that for the purposes of the lawsuit they are a singular entity. However, for the purposes of this Opinion the Court shall refer to “Plaintiffs” as that is how the parties do so in their pleadings and motions.

         Named defendants listed in the Second Amended Complaint are as follows:[1]

• The Estate of John Vanlandingham - Dr. John Vanlandingham was a medical doctor employed by the Escambia County Jail. Wanda Vanlandingham is the personal representative of the Estate of John Vanlandingham. For the purposes of this opinion, they shall be collectively referred to as “Defendant Vanlandingham.”
• Robert DeFrancisco, M.D. was a psychiatrist employed at the Escambia County Jail. (“Defendant DeFrancisco”)
• Defendant Marbra Chandler was a licensed practical nurse (LPN) employed at the Escambia County Jail. (“Defendant Chandler”)
• Defendant Monica McCall a/k/a Monica Dunn was a nurse employed at the Escambia County Jail. (“Defendant McCall”)
• Defendant Denise R. Brantley a/k/a/ Denise Turner was a nurse employed at the Escambia County Jail. (“Defendant Brantley”)
• Defendant Ronnesha Hodges was a nurse employed at the Escambia County Jail. (“Defendant Hodges”)
• Defendant Stephen Wade Capps was a corrections officer employed at the Escambia County Jail. (“Defendant Capps”)

         The Court previously issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order dismissing all defendants with the exception of Defendant Robert DeFrancisco, M.D. See Doc. 186. However, to provide context, the Court lists all defendants here.

         The District Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the claims in this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction) as Plaintiffs bring claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The Court has supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 for the state law claims under the Ala Code § 14-6-19, the tort of outrage, and the Alabama Medical Liability Act (Ala Code § 6-5-540).

         The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue, and there are adequate allegations to support both.

         The only question regarding jurisdiction is whether it ended with the closure of the case on September 26, 2017 pursuant to the Stipulation of Dismissal filed on September 22, 2017 followed by the reopening on November 28, 2017. Docs. 31, 32, 35. The Court will address this in detail in its analysis.

         II. Factual Background

         On June 27, 2019 Jeffrey West (“West”) was arrested on suspicion of property damage involving a telephone box and taken to the Escambia County Jail. See Doc. 75 at ¶ 21-22. West remained there as a pretrial detainee. While there, he became ill and his condition deteriorated significantly. Id. at ¶ 24. According to the second amended complaint, the medical report from the day he was booked states “Inmate states he his [sic] bipolar and thinks he has staph on the back of his left leg” and nursing notes state West had a “large abscess on the back of left thigh - with black center - with hard area 2x2in and surrounding redness 6x8in” and that she removed a “large amount of thick green bloody pus.” Id. at ¶ 25-26. Additionally, Defendant Chandler provided West a Bactrim DS (antibiotic) but did not refer him to any other provider.

         On June 29, Defendant Dunn noted a “very large amount of bloody green drainage. Majority of (L) thigh red and hard” and continued providing Bactrim DS. Id. at ¶ 29. At no time did Defendant Vanlandingham examine the infection “nor is there any indication that any nurse ever discussed the infection with Dr. Vanlandingham.” Id. at ¶ 33-34.

         On July 5, West complained of “severe pain all over, ” back and stomach cramps, electricity running through his hands and feed, “feels like burning, ” shaking constantly, and “cannot quit” shaking. Id. at ¶ 37. Defendant Turner gave him ibuprofen. Id. at ¶ 38. The next day, West still complained of pain and itching. The nurse contacted Dr. DeFrancisco who told her to provide Librium and he would see West in four days. Id. at ¶ 39. Only July 8, West complained that his entire body tingled, and Defendant Hodges' notes indicate that he was “slobbering when talking. Voiced diarrhea x3 today” and complained of black stools and vomiting. Id. at ¶ 42. Hodges gave him ibuprofen. Id. at ¶ 43. Only July 8, West filed a grievance complaining that he could not keep food down, but Hodges closed the grievance the next day. Id. at ¶¶ 44-45.

         On July 9, another lab draw was completed, and the results showed high levels of monocytes/eosinophils (white blood cells) and basophils. Id. at ¶ 46-48. Dr. Vanlandingham was notified and he advised the nurse to “continue to monitor for temp and any changes. To see Dr. DeFrancisco in the morning.” Id. at ¶ 49. On July 10, Dr. DeFrancisco saw West, noted complaints of “knots in my tongue” and that West appeared lethargic to which he prescribed Librium. Id. at ¶ 50.

         On July 10, 2015, a bond hearing was held and the court released West on his own recognizance - though he was not ultimately released from Escambia County jail until July 13, 2015. Id. at ¶¶ 77-79.

         On July 11 at 3:10 a.m., Defendant Capps and Officer Percy Wheeler noted that West vomited on himself. Id. at ¶ 51. Defendant Chandler noted a “large amount of blood dried secretion on face” and West complained of dry mouth, a tooth was falling out, being cold, and was “draw[n] up in fetal position.” She gave him Gatorade. Id. at ¶¶ 52-53. Later that day, she saw West spit out red liquid which he said was blood, but she could not tell if it was blood or red Gatorade. Id. at ¶¶ 54-55.

         On July 12, Chandler saw West again and found more yellow/green dried secretion on face and nose and that he complained of being very cold and feeling unwell. Notes later from the day indicate Dr. Vanlandingham prescribed an antibiotic and Imodium, but suspected West of faking. Id. at ¶ 59. Later in the day Chandler gave more Imodium, but found West lying in the fetal position with a “large amount of thick green secretions” and the right eye was red and mottled. Id. at ¶ 61.

         By the early morning of July 13, West had urinated and defecated on himself. Defendant McCall's notes reflect West had leg pain and muscle weakness while he complained of hurting all over. Nurse Clark told Dr. Vanlandingham she thought West should go to the Emergency Room. Id. at 62.

         Upon his release from jail that same day, West immediately went to the emergency room at D.W. McMillan Hospital. Id. at ¶ 79-80. West arrived at 9:20 a.m. and by 9:50 a.m. was unconscious for a period of time. Id. at ¶¶ 63-64. Blood and urine results were abnormal and significantly out of the normal range. Id. at ¶¶ 66-71. At 3:15 p.m., he was transported to Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, Florida. Id. at ¶¶ 82. Records show West was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, seizures, renal failure, and dehydration and that the specialty care required was beyond what D.W. McMillan could handle. Id. at ¶ 83. All this was done in the same day he was released from Escambia County Jail.

         West remained in the critical care unit at Baptist Hospital until his death on July 31, 2015. He died from failure of multiple organs and the listed cause of death was shock, acute respiratory syndrome, and hypoxia. The autopsy further listed complications of bronchopneumonia and pulmonary alveolar injury. Id. at ¶¶ 90-95.

         III. Procedural History

         On June 23, 2017, Plaintiffs filed their original complaint. See Doc. 1.[2] The original complaint lists as defendants Sheriff Grover Smith, Escambia County, Jailers 1-5, Medical Professionals 1-10, and Medical Company. Id. It was filed around 38 days before the statute of limitations would run on a § 1983 claim. In the Parties section, Plaintiffs describe the Defendants as follows:

9. Defendant Escambia County is a legally organized county and subdivision of the State of Alabama.
10. Under Alabama law, Escambia County retains responsibility for maintaining a jail's physical facility and funding the jail's operations.
11. Defendant Sheriff Grover Smith is the Sheriff of Escambia County, Alabama. He operates the Escambia County Jail.
12. Defendant Jailers 1-5 are jailers: employees or contractors of the Sheriff who had the ability to supervise, control, and direct Mr. West's activities, and who had the duty to ensure that he received adequate medical care and attention.
13. Defendant Medical Professionals 1-10 are doctors, nurses, technician, and other allied professionals, who had the duty to provide Mr. West with adequate medical care, including monitoring his condition, observing his condition, and responding to his complaints. These Defendants also were in a position to perform their duties.
14. Defendant Medical Company is a corporation that contracts with the Sheriff, employs and controls the Defendant Medical Professionals, supervises their activities, provides them with training, and is responsible for their performance.

Doc. 1 at 3. In the Facts section, Plaintiffs describe the following about the Defendants listed in paragraphs 12, 13, and 14:

19. Prior to his death, Mr. West explained that he had complained to the Defendant Jailers and Medical Personnel of his need for medical treatment, but was ignored
23. Despite his complaints, none of the Defendants did anything to help Mr. West or see to his obvious, serious, and urgent need for medical treatment.
24. Defendant Medical Personnel failed to provide any treatment.
25. Defendant Jailers were present in the jail but failed to render any treatment.

Id. at 4.

         Next, in Count 1, Plaintiffs assert claims for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs against Defendants Jailers 1-5, Medical Professionals 1-10, and Medical Company. Id. at 13. He generally states that they knew West had serious medical needs and acted with deliberate indifference to those needs and failed to provide or refused to obtain medical treatment for West. Id. In Count 2, Plaintiffs assert against Defendants Escambia County, Jailers 1-5, Medical Professionals 1-10, and Medical Company a violation of Ala Code § 14-6-19, failure to attend to a detainee's medical needs. Id. at 14-15. Count 3 asserts against Defendants Jailers 1-5, Medical Professionals 1-10, and Medical Company a claim for failure to intervene in violation of § 1983. Id. at 15-16. Count 5 asserts the Alabama tort of outrage against Defendants Escambia County, Jailers 1-5, Medical Professionals 1-10, and Medical Company. Id. at 17-18. Finally, in Count 6, Plaintiffs assert violations of the Alabama Medical Liability Act (“AMLA”) against Defendants Medical Professionals and Medical Company. Specifically, it argues that Defendants Medical Professionals 1-10 and Medical Company breached the standard of care required of them and were negligent in several respects. Id. at 19.[3]

         Finally, Plaintiffs spent several pages/paragraphs describing the need to sue certain defendants as fictitious - John Doe defendants. Doc. 1 at 7-12. Plaintiffs stated that they made repeated attempts to obtain documents and information from the Sheriff's counsel to no avail. Further that the Sheriff, the County, and their attorneys were aware of the claims asserted in the case almost since the day West died ...

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