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Barnes v. Boyd

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

November 27, 2018

JAMES BARNES, as Personal Representative of the ESTATE OF RACHEL A. BARNES, Deceased, Plaintiff
JOHN T. BOYD, Sheriff of LaPorte County, Indiana, et al., Defendants


          Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge

         Defendants Dr. Weldon Cooke, Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc., and IUHLP Liquidation, Inc., doing business as I.U. Health-LaPorte Hospital filed motions for summary judgment with respect to each of the remaining claims asserted against them in Mr. Barnes' third amended complaint. For the following reasons, the court grants those motions.

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, discovery materials, disclosures, and affidavits demonstrate no genuine issue of material fact, such that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Protective Life Ins. Co. v. Hansen, 632 F.3d 388, 391-392 (7th Cir. 2011). The court must construe the evidence and all inferences that reasonably can be drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to Mr. Barnes, as the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). As the moving parties, the defendants bear the burden of informing the court of the basis for their motions, and presenting evidence demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If they meet that burden, Mr. Barnes can't rest upon the allegations in the pleadings, but must “point to evidence that can be put in admissible form at trial, and that, if believed by the fact-finder, could support judgment in his favor.” Marr v. Bank of Am., N, A., 662 F.3d 963, 966 (7th Cir. 2011).

         LaPorte County Sheriff Deputy Skyler Curtis arrested Rachel Barnes when he found her intoxicated next to the car she had driven into a pond. He took her to the I.U. LaPorte Hospital for a blood draw and alcohol test. After drawing her blood, a hospital employee told Deputy Curtis that it would take an hour to get the results. Deputy Curtis took Ms. Barnes to the county jail and went off his shift without collecting the test results. Those results showed that Ms. Barnes had a blood alcohol content of .447 percent.

         Officer Nancy Bunch, the jail intake officer that Friday night, believed Ms. Barnes was under the influence of drugs or alcohol based on her observation of slurred speech, dilated pupils, unsteady gait or balance, bloodshot eyes and confusion. Ms. Barnes told Officer Bunch she had last taken her methadone five days earlier, and had consumed a pint of vodka in the previous hour.

         Early the next morning, Ms. Barnes complained that she couldn't breathe, She told Corporal Ryan Hawkins that she suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and was being treated for opiate addiction. The county hadn't arranged for Advanced Correctional Healthcare, its private health care provider, to staff the jail on weekends, so there were no medically trained personnel at the jail. Cpl. Hawkins filled out an Opiate Withdrawal Protocol sheet and took Ms. Barnes's vital signs. Under the county's agreement with Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Dr. Weldon Cooke became Ms. Barnes's private physician when she was booked into the jail, so Cpl. Hawkins called Dr. Cooke at home to discuss Ms. Barnes's anticipated opiate withdrawal. Cpl. Hawkins told Dr. Cooke nothing about alcohol withdrawal. Dr. Cooke prescribed medicines for Ms. Barnes.

         Ms. Barnes raised the issue of alcohol during her medical intake screening later Saturday morning. Officer Bruce Vermilyer thought Ms. Barnes was under the influence of alcohol, but because Cpl. Hawkins already had spoken with Dr., Cooke, neither Officer Vermilyer or anyone else relayed any concerns about alcohol withdrawal to Dr. Cooke. Officer Nerissa Miller took over for Cpl. Hawkins when the shifts changed a little after noon; Cpl. Hawkins told her about Ms. Barnes's opiate withdrawal, but nothing about her alcohol withdrawal.

         A little later, Dep. Curtis picked up the blood alcohol test results from the hospital. He told no one about the high blood alcohol content and simply corrected the arrest report to reflect a BAC of .447. Under jail policy, an arrestee with a BAC over .24 wasn't supposed to be admitted to the jail.

         Several times during Saturday afternoon, Ms. Barnes complained to jail personnel of weakness. Early on Sunday morning, officers found Ms. Barnes dead in her cell. An autopsy disclosed that the cause of death was seizure due to alcohol withdrawal.

         John Barnes, the Successor Administrator of the Estate of Rachel Barnes, sues Dr. Cooke and Advanced Correctional Healthcare, IUHLP Liquidation, Inc. (the hospital) and the county sheriff's department and several of its deputies and officers. Mr. Barnes alleges that the defendants violated the Fourth Amendment (Counts 1-4) and state law (including Indiana's Wrongful Death Statute, Ind. Code § 34-23-1-2), when they deprived Ms. Barnes of medical care for a serious medical condition (alcohol withdrawal and related seizures) while she was incarcerated as a pretrial detainee at the LaPorte County Jail and caused her death. The sheriff's department and personnel haven't moved for summary judgment; Dr. Cooke, Advanced Correctional Healthcare and the hospital have moved for summary judgment.

         After Mr. Barnes voluntarily dismissed the medical malpractice complaint against Dr. Cooke that was pending before the medical review panel, the court granted Dr. Cooke's motion to dismiss the state law claims against him (Counts 5 and 6), which were essentially medical malpractice claims [Doc. No. 113]. The court also granted LaPorte Hospital's Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings to the extent Ms. Barnes' § 1983 claims sought to hold it vicariously liable for the acts or omissions of its lab employees, but found that he had stated a plausible claim for direct liability and that there wasn't a sufficient factual basis to determine whether the hospital was a state actor for purposes of the § 1983 claims [Doc. No. 113].

         In his Statement of Genuine Disputes, Mr. Barnes contends that two disputed facts preclude the entry of summary judgment for Dr. Cooke and Advance Correctional Healthcare:

(1) Dr. Cooke's assertion that the blood pressure variance between Ms. Barnes' left and right arm on the night she was arrested was “normal”. Plaintiff's expert, Dr. Joliff, didn't think it was and would have asked that those vitals be retaken; and
(2) Dr. Joliff's belief that Ms. Barnes' oximeter reading either indicated a potential problem or was inaccurate, ...

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