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Johnson v. Mason County

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

February 27, 2017

PEGGY JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MASON COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE RONALD B. LEIGHTON JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the following Motions: Plaintiff Peggy Johnson's Motion for partial summary judgment [Dkt. #100]; Defendant Healthcare Delivery and Aimee Wagonblast's Motion for Summary Judgment [Dtk. #105]; and Defendant Mason County's Motion for Summary Judgment [Dtk. #118]. The case arises from Jimi Johnson's suicide at the Mason County Jail in April 2013. Plaintiff Peggy[1] Johnson is Jimi's grandmother.

         Jimi Johnson was mentally ill, suffering from schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, and psychosis. Peggy claims Jimi had a heightened risk of self-harm and suicide consistent with these conditions. When Jimi was first incarcerated at Mason County, in August 2012, Peggy claims she “called everyone she could think of” to alert the jail that Jimi was a risk, and that he should be watched. Jimi was released after three months and was soon hospitalized as suicidal and having psychotic hallucinations. He was referred to Defendant Behavioral Health Resources, who determined that he was not eligible for involuntary detention and released him to Peggy. Jimi attempted suicide in late October and was involuntarily detained at BHR's in-patient center. He remained there until November 6, 2012. In December, he again attempted suicide and was again hospitalized, where he was continually reported to be suicidal. Nevertheless, because of his criminal history, BHR released him to Peggy rather than sending him to an in-patient mental health care facility.

         Jimi was arrested and incarcerated again in January 2013. Mason County did a medical assessment and determined that he was likely on drugs. Peggy again sought to inform everyone she could about Jimi's mental health problems and his suicidal tendencies.

         Jimi repeatedly denied being suicidal, though the Jail Mental Health Professional did not chart her contact with him. While he was in jail, Jimi reported trouble sleeping, hearing voices, and anxiety to employees of defendant Healthcare Delivery Systems, a private entity hired by Mason County to provide medical and psychological care to its inmates. An HDS employee, Melanie Figueredo, met with him on February 1. Over the next month, HDS reviewed Jimi's records to determine whether he should be given the anti-psychotic drug Haldol. HDS did not obtain Jimi's records from his doctor, Dr. Cavendish, until March 4. Cavendish informed HDS that Jimi's “basic mental state was psychotic and suicidal, ” whether or not he was “dabbling” in illegal drugs. Defendant Wagonblast, ARNP (another HDS employee) reviewed Jimi's records and met with him on March 11. Jimi told Wagonblast that he had a plan to hang himself, and his records confirmed that he was suicidal and psychotic. Nevertheless, she discontinued his Haldol prescription, and prescribed Zoloft instead.

         By early April, Jimi's condition deteriorated and he assaulted another inmate. He was moved to a maximum security cell, where, according to Peggy, other inmates could hear his cries for help. Peggy claims that Jimi received no meaningful help for his mental illness at the jail. Peggy saw Jimi at a court appearance on April 22 and could see that he was in a mental health crisis, and continued to try to warn the jail of that fact. She claims her efforts were ignored. That night, he hung himself.

         Peggy sued the County and its employees, Behavioral Health Resources and Marsha Weaver, and Healthcare Delivery Systems and Aimee Wagonblast, asserting §1983 (Eighth Amendment) and negligence claims.

         The Mason County defendants seek summary judgment, arguing that Peggy cannot meet her obligation to prove jail staff actually knew of an excessive risk to Jimi's safety, and that they acted (or failed to act) in deliberate disregard of that known risk. They emphasize that Jimi denied suicidal thoughts. They also argue that the individual defendants (jail personnel) are entitled to qualified immunity, and that Jimi's municipal liability (Monell) claim fails because Peggy cannot establish that Jimi's injuries were caused by a Mason County policy or practice.

         HDS and Wagonblast also seek summary judgment. They argue that there is no evidence that HDS or Wagonblast were deliberately indifferent to Jimi's medical needs.

         Peggy seeks partial summary judgment. She claims Wagonblast's expert, Kimberly Pearson, RN, is not qualified as a matter of law to opine about the standard of care for an ARNP. Thus, she claims, Wagonblast does not have any evidence that her conduct met the applicable standard of medical care as a matter of law.

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In determining whether an issue of fact exists, the Court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986); Bagdadi v. Nazar, 84 F.3d 1194, 1197 (9th Cir. 1996). A genuine issue of material fact exists where there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable factfinder to find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. At 251-52. The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there is no evidence which supports an element essential to the nonmovant's claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the movant has met this burden, the nonmoving party then must show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. If the nonmoving party fails to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact, “the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24.

         B. Mason County's Motion is Denied.

         Mason County's defense to Peggy's Eighth Amendment claim is primarily that Jimi denied he was suicidal. It claims that individual defendants, Hilyard and Haugen, had only limited involvement with Jimi and thus cannot have been a cause of any constitutional violation. At the same time, they argue that the County cannot be liable because Peggy can point to no policy, practice or custom leading to Jimi's suicide. Curiously, they do not address, at all, the ample evidence in the record that jail personnel, mental health professionals, and other inmates were aware ...


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