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Vaught v. Quality Correctional Care, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

June 21, 2018

ANNE VAUGHT, as Personal Representative of the Estate of DAVID VAUGHT and individually, Plaintiff,



         This matter comes before the Court on two Motions for Summary Judgment [ECF Nos. 69, 71]. On October 8, 2015, the Plaintiff filed the instant action in state court [ECF No. 2] against several parties, including: Quality Correctional Care, LLC (QCC) an Indiana domestic company that contracted with the Whitely County Sheriff's Department to be the medical provider for its jail facility; Rebecca Cook, R.N., and Kelley Carroll, N.P., both employed by QCC;[1] Sheriff Marcus Gatton, the current elected Whitley County Sheriff; Sheriff Mark E. Hodges, who was the duly elected Whitley County Sheriff during David Vaught's incarceration at the Whitley County Jail; Officers Steve Myers, Samuel Gillespie, Lauren Schmidt, and Braden Anderson, all employed by the Whitley County Sheriff's Department;[2] Parkview Hospital, Inc.; and Sarah Zook, R.N., a nurse employed by Parkview Hospital, Inc. The Plaintiff brought claims individually and as the administrator of David Vaught's estate based on a federal statute (42 U.S.C. § 1983), state common law (intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress), and state statutes (Indiana Wrongful Death Statute, Indiana Survival Action). The claims stem from the treatment David Vaught received at the Whitley County Jail and Parkview Regional Medical Center, which the Plaintiff alleged caused Vaught's death on April 24, 2014

         On February 1, 2018, the Court granted summary judgment to Parkview and Nurse Zook. (See Opinion & Order, ECF No. 75.) The Plaintiff had sued Parkview and Nurse Zook for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and had sued Nurse Zook for relief under §1983, alleging that she was deliberately indifferent to Vaught's serious health condition.

         The first Motion for Summary Judgment now before the Court was filed by Defendants Kelley Carroll, N.P.; Rebecca Cook, R.N.; and Quality Correctional Care, LLC (QCC). The second was filed contemporaneously by Sheriffs Marcus Gatton and Mark Hodges, as well as Officers Steve Myers, Samuel Gillespie, Branden Anderson, and Lauren Schmidt. Plaintiff Anne Vaught timely responded to the Motions [ECF Nos. 76, 79], and the Defendants timely replied [ECF No. 90, 96]. The matter is now fully briefed and ripe for review.


         The following background is provided by the parties' briefing and attached exhibits, and describes the dispute in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. In October 2012, Whitley County outsourced medical services for inmates at the Whitley County Jail to Quality Correctional Care (QCC) through the Whitley County Inmate Healthcare Service Agreement (Service Agreement). The Service Agreement provided for one physician visit per week; physician availability via telephone or email twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week; on-site nursing for twenty-five hours per week; and a nurse administrator available for consultation twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week, and who would also visit the Jail weekly. (Service Agreement at 2, ECF No. 72-2.) QCC also assumed responsibility for managing discharges and coordinating continued care for inmates in conjunction with normal discharge protocols. (Id. at 7.)

         After the parties executed the Service Agreement, QCC held a training session for the Jail staff. Staff members learned that, among other policies and procedures, if they suspected an inmate was ill or required medical attention, they were to submit a written notification to Rebecca Cook, R.N.'s inbox or, if the situation so required, call Nurse Cook at her home. Nurse Cook provided on-site nursing care at the Jail for twenty-five hours per week. If Nurse Cook was not available, then the Jail staff were to contact Kelley Carroll, N.P., who acted as the nurse administrator, and would also visit the Jail weekly. Jail staff could also exercise their own judgment to call an ambulance if necessary. Additionally, inmates could submit their own requests for medical treatment. The Jail staff would then pass along these requests to the medical staff, and generally deferred to the medical staff's judgment regarding medical care. Jail staff were to complete Incident Reports for any inmate medical issues so that then-Sheriff Mark Hodges could appropriately react to events occurring within the Jail. Minor medical issues did not require a written Incident Report.

         The events that gave rise to this litigation involved several discrete interactions over the course of six months between David Vaught, various members of the Jail staff, QCC employees, and medical personnel affiliated with Parkview Hospital, Inc. Vaught was incarcerated at the Jail in early December 2013. The Plaintiff visited Vaught regularly, and also talked with him on the phone during his incarceration.[3] On December 2, 2013, an employee of the Whitley County Sheriff's Department, Beth Lehman, completed a Standard Medical Questions form with Vaught as part of his intake into the Jail. (ECF No. 76-13.) In that form, Lehman noted that Vaught was taking Depakote-a seizure medication-and that he had an alcohol addiction, arthritis in his shoulders and right hip, a twice broken back, high blood pressure, hearing aids in both ears, and dry skin that bleeds.

         Shortly after his intake, Nurse Cook examined Vaught. During this assessment, she noted that all of his vital signs were within normal limits, but that his Depakote prescription was for a higher dosage than normal. On December 28, 2013, the Plaintiff visited Vaught (Vaught Dep. 48:2-49:17, ECF No. 79-23) and noticed that Vaught was slow to respond and exhibited poor motor skills, and, as a result, she was concerned that Vaught's Depakote dosage was too high. She left a voicemail with Nurse Cook expressing her concerns. Nurse Cook and Nurse Carroll later reduced Vaught's Depakote dosage. (Vaught Dep. 48:2-49:17, 58:17-59:6, ECF No. 79-23.)

         Nurse Cook next examined Vaught on January 5, 2014. (Cook Dep. 20:22-29:4, ECF No. 79-1.) When she arrived to work that day there was an Incident Report in her mailbox from Lauren Schmidt, a corrections officer at the Jail. The Incident Report [ECF No. 79-3] explained that the Plaintiff had called the Jail the previous evening and reported that Vaught felt foggy and shaky that evening (January 4). The Plaintiff further explained that Vaught had been shaky and foggy on previous visits and that he may be experiencing issues related to his seizure medication. During Nurse Cook's January 5, 2014, examination she noted that Vaught was slow to answer questions, but she did not think that this was unusual because he had difficulty hearing and used hearing aids, and, as a result, usually took time to answer questions. During the examination, Nurse Cook took Vaught's vitals and listened to his breathing. His blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen saturation levels were all within normal limits, and his breathing patterns demonstrated that his lungs were clear. He did have a loose productive cough, but Nurse Cook attributed this cough to Vaught's chronic smoking history.

         On January 17, 2014, Nurse Carroll reviewed the notes from Nurse Cook's January 5 examination. (Cook Dep. 29:2-4; Progress Note, ECF No. 79-5.) Nurse Carroll noted that Vaught's Depakote dosage exceeded the maximum dosage, that he reported feeling “foggy” to Nurse Cook, and that he had no seizure activity. Nurse Carroll lowered the Depakote dosage, and ordered a blood draw within ten days. The blood draw did not happen until February 2, 2014, however, because QCC had recently changed medical suppliers, and Nurse Cook had to wait until the new supplies came in to perform the blood draw. (Cook Dep. 33:11-22.) She performed the blood draw as soon as she received the supplies.

         On January 24, 2014, Vaught submitted an inmate request form to see a nurse for shoulder pain caused by his coughing and chest pains. He noted that he had a lot of pain around his right lung. Nurse Cook examined Vaught that day and took his vitals, which were normal. After listening to Vaught's breathing and physically examining the space between his ribs, Nurse Cook concluded that he was suffering from pulled muscles in his chest area. She added ibuprofen to his medication regimen, which already included Tylenol. She further instructed Vaught to follow-up with her if he did not feel better by Monday, January 27, 2014. On January 28, 2014, Nurse Cook saw Vaught again, and he did not complain of any chest pain or lung discomfort at that time. Nurse Cook did not consider transferring Vaught to an emergency department or a physician because his vital signs did not indicate a need to do so. Further, Vaught did not have a cough at that time. Because Vaught seemed more alert than he appeared on January 4, 2014, Nurse Cook believed that he was progressing.

         On January 30, 2014, Cathy Schrader went to the Whitley County Jail to take Vaught on a job seeking furlough. However, when Jail staff retrieved Vaught he was breathing hard and indicated he had some breathing discomfort. Given Vaught's distress, Schrader refused to take him job searching because she feared that she lacked the resources to deal with an emergency situation beyond calling an ambulance. She did not report her concerns to the medical staff at the Jail, and reported her concerns only to a nearby Jail staff member, Kurt Babb.[4]

         That same day, Kurt Babb filled out an Incident Report concerning Vaught's condition and Schrader's concern. Because of this Incident Report, Nurse Cook examined Vaught the same day. Vaught complained of shortness of breath, which had lasted for a few days. She took his vitals and listened to his breathing. His vitals were normal and his left lung sounded clear, however his right lung displayed diminished capacity. Nurse Cook attributed the diminished capacity in one lung to Vaught's history of chronic smoking. In her notes, Nurse Cook indicated that she would follow-up to see if Vaught's pain improved at the next clinic.

         On the morning of February 2, 2014, Vaught asked two Whitley County Sheriff's Department Officers-Officers Anderson and Gillespie-to call an ambulance for him because he was having trouble breathing. (Incident Report, ECF No. 79-25.) Officer Anderson escorted Vaught to the medical room in the Jail and took his vitals. The Officers called Nurse Cook and explained the situation to her, and she arrived about an hour and a half later. Nurse Cook took Vaught's vitals, and observed that his right lung had diminished breath sounds, he had a harsh non-productive cough, he continued to have increasing shortness of breath, and he complained of intercostal rib pain. (Medical Note, ECF No. 79-8.) His vitals otherwise appeared normal. Nurse Cook also observed that Vaught's legs were retaining fluid, and instead of improving over time looked worse than they had previously. (Cook Dep. 52:14-24.) Nurse Cook called Nurse Carroll for a recommendation on how best to proceed, and she was told to give Vaught a diuretic for the fluid retention and to hold off on a chest x-ray until the results of the blood work came back. (Id. at 49:11-50:3.)

         Two days later (February 4), Nurse Cook completed a Progress Note detailing the plans for Vaught's treatment. (Pl. Ex. L at 13, ECF No. 79-3.) The Progress Note contained Nurse Carroll's treatment plan based on Vaught's blood work results, which came in the same day. The note included several orders, such as a course of zithromax (an antibiotic) and prednisone (an anti-inflammatory); thrice-weekly measurements of Vaught's breathing and oxygen saturation levels to be performed by Nurse Cook and reported to Nurse Carroll; and a chest x-ray. The chest x-ray was ordered on February 5, 2014, but was delayed until the following day in part due to a winter storm watch in the area. (Id. at 12; see also Cook Dep. 58:15-24.) The x-ray was ordered because the results of Vaught's blood work showed that he had an infection, and the medical staff wanted to ensure he did not have pneumonia. (Cook Dep. 59:20-22.)

         On February 6, 2014, Vaught had a chest x-ray, and the report was faxed to Nurse Cook just before 2:00 P.M. (Id. at 60:12-23; Radiology Report, ECF No. 79-10.) Nurse Cook immediately reported the results to Nurse Carroll. (Cook Dep. 62:18-20.) The results showed a right hemithorax opacification due to extensive entire-lung pneumonia, or pneumonectomy, or pleural effusion. Nurse Carroll ordered that Vaught be sent to an emergency department, and Nurse Cook, to save time, ordered an officer (instead of an ambulance) to transport Vaught. He was taken to Parkview Whitley, and Nurse Cook called ahead to notify the hospital that Vaught was coming and also passed along copies of his last set of vitals and his x-ray report. (Cook Dep. 71:14-20.) Later that day Vaught was transported to Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne. (Cook Dep. 71:2-11.) He received care there through March 7, 2014. (Cook Dep. 72:12- 20.)

         On March 1, 2014, several days before Vaught was discharged from Parkview, Whitley County Sherriff's Department Officer Steve Myers visited Vaught. Officer Myers noted that Vaught was still on oxygen and required a bed sitter every day, around the clock, because of his confusion. (Cook Dep. 80:10-23.) Vaught also needed at least two people to help him walk. On March 5, 2014, Nurse Sarah Zook from Parkview Hospital called the jail and spoke with Nurse Cook about Vaught's discharge plan. (Cook Depo. 76:22-77:8.) She told Nurse Cook that Vaught would be released from Parkview on March 7, 2014. (Cook Depo. 77:14-78:22.) Nurse Cook then expressed concern to Sheriff Hodges that the Jail did not have the resources to provide Vaught with round-the-clock care. (Cook Depo. 81:11-17.) Sheriff Hodges agreed, and that day he asked Judge Douglas Fahl, the sentencing judge, to consider modifying Vaught's sentence to house arrest so that Vaught could receive the care he needed in his recovery. (Letter to Judge Douglas Fahl, ECF No. 79-19.) Judge Fahl issued an order on March 7, 2014, modifying Vaught's sentence so that he could serve his one year probationary period immediately upon release from Parkview. (Order, ECF No. 79-20.)

         On March 7, 2014, Vaught was released from Parkview and transported to the Whitley County Jail. (Cook Dep. 78:16-18.) The Plaintiff met Sheriff Hodges at the jail, and according to the Plaintiff, Sheriff Hodges physically helped Vaught into the Plaintiff's car and fastened his seatbelt for him. (Vaught Dep. 72:21-73:2, ECF No. 79-23.) Unfortunately, Vaught's prescriptions were omitted from his discharge bag. (Cook Dep. Ex. L at 33, ECF No. 79-3.) The Plaintiff notified Nurse Cook on March 8, 2014, about this omission, and Nurse Cook called in the prescriptions that day.

         Vaught continued to cough, had profound weakness, and had a rounded or distended abdomen after his discharge. (Medical Note, ECF No. 79-12.) He was admitted back into Parkview Hospital on March 12, 2014. He was ultimately released into hospice care, and died on April 24, 2014.


         Summary judgment is warranted when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The nonmoving party must marshal and present the Court with evidence on which a reasonable jury could rely to find in his favor. Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010). A court must deny a motion for summary judgment when the nonmoving party presents admissible evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact. Luster v. Ill. Dep't of Corr., 652 F.3d 726, 731 (7th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). A court's role in deciding a motion for summary judgment “is not to sift through the evidence, pondering the nuances and inconsistencies, and decide whom to believe. [A] court has one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial.” Waldridge v. Am. Heochst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). Facts that are outcome determinative under the applicable law are material for summary judgment purposes. Smith v. Severn, 129 F.3d 419, 427 (7th Cir. 1997). Although a bare contention that an issue of material fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, a court must ...

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