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Peterson v. Foley

Supreme Court of Kentucky

November 1, 2018

NICOLE PETERSON, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF PEGGY MCWHORTER (DECEASED); AND WANDA RUSSELL, GUARDIAN AND NEXT FRIEND OF D.M.M. AND E.H.M., MINOR CHILDREN OF PEGGY GAIL MCWHORTER APPELLANTS
v.
BETHANY FOLEY; DENNIS GRAYUM DEBBIE GRAYUM; SCOTT HADLEY; AND KEVIN BOOTH APPELLEES

          ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2015-CA-000513-MR RUSSELL CIRCUIT COURT NO. 12-CI-00191

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANTS: COREY ANN FINN STUART WADE HAMPTON YEOMAN CAUDILL FINN & YEOMAN

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEES: STACEY BLANKENSHIP KRISTEN NICOLE WORAK KEULER, KELLY, HUTCHINS & BLANKENSHIP

          OPINION

          CUNNINGHAM, JUSTICE

         This case arises from the death of an inmate. The legal issue concerns the duties of jail personnel to protect inmates in their custody. In a split decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the jail personnel. For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.

         Background

         On November 28, 2011, Peggy McWhorter pled guilty in Russell District Court to a drug-related second offense D.U.I., for which she had been arrested the previous month. McWhorter received a sentence of 60 days in jail, seven days of which were to be served on consecutive weekends beginning on December 9th. The remainder was to be probated for two years. McWhorter served the first weekend in jail, snoring loudly and sleeping most of the time.

         When she reported for her second weekend shortly before 6 p.m. on Friday, December 16, 2011, McWhorter denied having ingested any dangerous amount or mixture of alcohol or drugs. McWhorter was then housed in a detoxification ("detox") cell with two other detainees. After receiving a dinner tray, McWhorter announced her intent to "sleep off her weekend." The Russell County Detention Center Detox Isolation Log and video surveillance verified that several deputies passed by the cell and signed the log approximately hourly, fifteen times in all. The first notation was entered at 6:30 p.m. and the second notation was entered at 7:00 p.m. Both stated "OK." All other entries simply noted "Asleep" prior to "No Response" at 6:10 a.m. McWhorter's death was attributed primarily to a hydrocodone overdose. The precise timing of her death is unclear.

         Appellant, Nicole Peterson as Executrix, filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of McWhorter's estate. Wanda Russell is also an Appellant in this case. She is the guardian and next friend of McWhorter's two minor children. The complaint named as defendants Russell County Jailer Bobby Dunbar and nine of his deputies. However, Appellants' brief on appeal from the Russell Circuit Court's summary judgment for all defendants requested relief against only five deputies: Bethany Foley, Dennis Grayum, Debbie Grayum, Scott Hadley, and Kevin Booth (collectively referred to as "Deputies").

         As previously noted, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's order granting summary judgment. We granted discretionary review.

         Standard of Review

         "The standard of review on appeal of a summary judgment is whether the trial court correctly found that there were no genuine issues as to any material fact and that the moving party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Coomer v. CSX Transp. Inc., 319 S.W.3d 366, 370 (Ky. 2010). We review a trial court's summary judgment ruling de novo. Blankenship v. Collier, 302 S.W.3d 665, 668 (Ky. 2010). We must also view the record in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve all reasonable doubts in that party's favor. Steelvest, Inc. v. Scansteel Serv. Ctr., Inc., 807 S.W.2d 476, 480 (Ky. 1991).

         Qualified Immunity

         For purposes of determining qualified immunity for government officials, the duties of those officials are categorized as either ministerial or discretionary. The Court explained this distinction in Yanero v. Davis:

Qualified official immunity applies to the negligent performance by a public officer or employee of (1) discretionary acts or functions, i.e., those involving the exercise of discretion and judgment, or personal deliberation, decision, and judgment, . . .; (2) in ...

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