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Willis v. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services

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

September 21, 2017

JONTE T WILLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES, Defendants.

          ORDER DKT. #30

          Ronald B. Leighton United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Defendants' Second Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. #30]. Plaintiff Willis sues Defendants Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Western State Hospital, Ron Adler (its former CEO), and Brian Waiblinger, M.D. (its former Medical Director and a licensed psychiatrist) for unduly restraining his liberty by forcing him to languish in jail for 91 days while he awaited admission to Western State to have his competency restored. He also claims the Defendants falsely imprisoned him and were negligent in failing to treat him promptly.

         The Court denied Adler's and Waiblinger's first motion for summary judgment, concluding they were not entitled to qualified immunity because at the time of Willis's detention, it was clearly established that a lack of facilities could not excuse the unconstitutionality of indefinitely detaining one awaiting competency restoration. Adler and Waiblinger now hang their hats on Peralta v. Dillard, 744 F.3d 1076, 1083 (9th Cir. 2014), arguing that a lack of resources is indeed a defense to a § 1983 claim for damages, such as this one. They argue that because DSHS and the State Legislature control Western State's budget and capacity for patients-not them-they cannot be held liable for forcing Willis to remain in jail, incompetent to stand trial. Willis argues Peralta's cost defense cannot save Adler and Waiblinger from liability because they were aware he was awaiting admittance and had the power to admit him.

         Adler, Waiblinger, DSHS, and Western State also ask the Court to dismiss Willis's negligence and false imprisonment claims against them because, they argue, a Washington statute immunizes them. Willis disagrees, arguing RCW 10.77.068(5) maintains all existing claims related to the timeliness of competency evaluations or admissions; it just establishes no new cause of action. The Court heard oral argument on the Defendants' motion.

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. Factual[1] and Procedural Background and Housekeeping.

         Willis was charged with second degree assault and felony harassment. On August 27, 2014, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Cuthbertson found Willis incompetent and committed him to Western State for a period not to exceed ninety days. Western State's 270 forensic-treatment beds were full, with a waiting list of over 100 criminal defendants. On October 21, 2014, Willis still remained in jail, mostly in solitary confinement, and Cuthbertson found DSHS in contempt of his order. He issued a fine of $500 per day “until the contempt is purged.” Ninety- one days after Cuthbertson's initial order, on November 26, 2016, Western State admitted Willis for competency restoration.

         Willis sued Adler, Waiblinger, DSHS, and Western State for restraining his liberty without due process of law under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; for negligence in shirking their duty of providing him reasonable, timely restorative care; and for false imprisonment for forcing him to remain in jail despite a court order referring him to Western State. He moved for summary judgment on his § 1983 claim against the state agencies and the individual defendants in their official capacities. The Court denied his motion because the Eleventh Amendment protects these defendants from suit. See Dkt. #29 (Order on 1st MSJ) at 6. The Defendants now ask the Court to dismiss Willis's § 1983 claims against them for the same reason. Willis does not oppose their motion. His § 1983 claims against DSHS, Western State, and Adler and Waiblinger in their official capacities are DISMISSED.

         Adler and Waiblinger also moved for summary judgment on Willis's § 1983 claims against them personally, arguing they were entitled to qualified immunity. They conceded that detaining Willis after the superior court had ordered him admitted to Western State violated his constitutional rights, but they denied that such a violation, when caused by a spike in the number of incapacitated defendants requiring restorative treatment, was clearly established. The Court disagreed, concluding Oregon Advocacy Ctr. v. Mink, 322 F.3d 1102, 1122 (9th Cir. 2003), had established, years before Willis's detention, that indefinitely detaining incompetent defendants because of a lack of facility space violates those defendants' rights.

         Adler and Waiblinger move again for summary judgment, asking the Court to reconsider its decision after Peralta. They argue Peralta forecloses suit under § 1983 against individual defendants with no control over a state agency's budget when a lack of resources caused a constitutional violation. They argue that because they did not set Western State's budget, they cannot be held liable for violating Willis's Fourteenth Amendment rights. Willis attempts to distinguish Peralta by arguing that unlike the defendant in that case (a staff dentist at a jail) Adler and Waiblinger each had administrative power. He also argues Adler, at least, could have made an exception for him, as he had for others.

         Adler and Waiblinger, joined by DSHS and Western State, also ask the Court to dismiss Willis's negligence and false imprisonment claims against them. They argue a Washington State statute, RCW 10.77.068(5), bars Willis's state law claims because it allegedly provides that no cause of action may lie from the State's failure to timely admit a criminal defendant into a state mental hospital for inpatient competency services.

         Willis responds that while RCW 10.77.068(5) creates no new cause of action, it does not immunize defendants from preexisting state law claims arising from inadequate competency evaluations and restoration services.

         The Defendants also argue Willis's 91-day detention resulted from the superior court's actions, not theirs, so he cannot maintain a false imprisonment action against them. Willis argues the Defendants bear responsibility because despite a court order calling for his admittance to Western State and a contempt order punishing them for each day they delayed so doing, they refused to admit him for months.

         B. Standard of Review.

         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(a). 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. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986); see also 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. See 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 no evidence exists that supports an element essential to the nonmovant's claim. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). Once the movant has met this burden, the nonmoving party then must show the existence of a genuine issue for trial. See 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.

         C. Section 1983 Claim against Adler and Waiblinger.

         1. ...


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