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Griffith v. Franklin County

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

March 27, 2019

AUSTIN CHRISTIAN GRIFFITH, Plaintiff,
v.
FRANKLIN COUNTY, KENTUCKY, et al., Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is one of two recent cases involving pretrial detention at Franklin County Regional Jail.[1] Disturbingly, in this matter, Austin Christian Griffith, nearly died while in custody. The Defendants seek to resolve this case by way of summary judgment. [R. 68, 69, 71.] This requires the Court to consider for the first time the teachings of the Supreme Court in Kingsley v. Hendrickson, a Fourth Amendment case, in the context of the Eighth Amendment. 135 S.Ct. 2466 (2015). Ultimately, for the reasons set out below, the motions will be GRANTED.

         I

         Austin Griffith, an 18-year old man, involved himself in a botched robbery. [R. 101.] During that attempted robbery he was hit in the back with a baseball bat. Id. And so began his vomiting, which lasted from that point until he was life-flighted to UK Health. Id. But his troubles were not just physical, and he was arrested that same day. [R. 69-1 at 2.] Following his arrest Griffith was taken to booking. Id.

         As is standard, a deputy jailer interviewed Griffith about his medical condition. Id. at 3. Griffith also admitted to having taken a Xanax and smoking marijuana a few times daily. Id. At this time, Griffith was made to understand that he could request a health care provider at any time while he was in jail. Id.

         During this intake process, the deputy was given pause when Griffith cried while speaking to his mother. Id. at 4. Due to the serious charges, Griffith's emotional behavior, and young age, the deputy surmised that Griffith might be at risk for suicide. Id. So, she reached out to a clinician with the Mental Health Crisis Network. Id. The deputy described Griffith's emotional condition and shared her fear that Griffith had the potential to withdraw from alcohol or drugs. Id. In response, the clinician told her that Griffith posed a moderate suicide risk and he should be placed in general population with individualized observation for 48-hours. Id. As to the possibility of withdrawal, the deputy simply put a note to “refer to medical for obs.” Id. Griffith was then placed in a “detox” cell on November 8th. Id. at 4. In this cell Griffith was checked every 20 minutes. Id. During that first night, the deputies logged Griffith vomiting seven times, a fact that Griffith attributed to nerves. Id.

         Besides basic observation by jail deputies, all of Griffith's medical care was to be handled by SHP-a medical services contractor. Id. at 2. SHP employed licensed practical nurses Sabina Trivette and Heather Sherrow, registered nurse Brittany Mundine, advanced practice registered nurses Jane Bartram and Stacy Jensen, and facility physician Ronald Waldridge, MD to provide care. Id.

         Nurse Sherrow was the first of SHP's employees to see Griffith. Id. at 5. She determined based on the clinician's evaluation that Griffith was at moderate suicide risk-a classification to be reevaluated after 48 hours. Id. As a result, SHP staff observed Griffith twice daily. Id.

         Later that same day Griffith put in a “sick call slip” because he had been vomiting for the previous two days. Id. Responding to Griffith's sick slip, Nurse Trevette took Griffith to the medical room for observation. Id. Once there, Griffith repeated his disclosure about drug use and complained about vomiting and diarrhea. Id. Despite Griffith's confession of drug use Nurse Trevette determined that Griffith did not appear to be withdrawing from drugs. Id. Instead, understanding that vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration, she checked his skin turgor. Id. Having determined that his turgor was good, she counseled Griffith on dehydration and prescribed him Imodium and Mylanta. Id.

         Griffith's symptoms did not improve. The next day Griffith completed another sick call slip for stomach pain and puking. Id. During the nearly 24-hour period between sick calls he was observed vomiting six more times. Id. at 6. Responding again, Nurse Trevette checked Griffith's vital signs. Id. Despite vomiting on numerous occasions, he had not lost weight. Id. But in place of diarrhea, constipation had set in. Id. Given Griffith's symptoms, Nurse Trevette again reviewed hydration. Id. She told him to notify the staff if his conditions changed. Id. Separately, Nurse Trevette sought to place Griffith in a dry cell but was unable to do so since no rooms were available. Id. Griffith was returned to his detox cell. Id.

         Over the next 24-hours Griffith was only observed vomiting two times. Id. Early in the morning on November 11, Griffith was re-evaluated by the Kentucky Jail Mental Health Crisis Network. Id. at 7. A clinician noted that he had not decompensated over the past 48-hours and had been observed for detox. Id. The clinician reclassified Griffith as a low suicide risk and he was moved to general population. Id.

         He was seen again by staff that day. Id. At that time, he was given a urinalysis. Nurse Trevette referred him to the APRN and recorded a physician's order for a seven-day regimen of Cipro. Id. Medical staff also gave him a Gatorade for dehydration. Id.

         Over the next three days Griffith did not complete any sick call slips and had access to water which he drank when he was thirsty. Id. But Griffith says during this period he was not evaluated by medical staff despite continuing to vomit. [R. 101 at 12.]

         Then, Griffith suffered his first seizure. [R. 69-1 at 7.] Nurse Mundine responded. Id. Griffith's cellmates informed Nurse Mundine that Griffith had been vomiting for several days- later confirmed by Griffith-and hit his head after the seizure caused him to fall off the bunk bed. Id. But Griffith showed no visible signs of a head injury and denied being in pain. Id. at 8. Before moving forward, Nurse Mundine discussed the incident with Nurse Sherrow over the telephone. Nurse Sherrow advised Nurse Mundine to treat Griffith's temperature, move him to the bottom bunk, monitor him, and complete a urine drug screen. Id. Once Griffith's gate steadied and his orientation returned, he was given Gatorade mix and taken back to his pod. Id.

         Shortly thereafter, Griffith experienced a second seizure. Id. This time Nurse Mundine had Griffith transported to the local hospital. There he suffered a third seizure which caused him to be life flighted to UK Healthcare “with concern for severe lactic acidosis and acute renal failure.” Id. at 9. Griffith was ultimately diagnosed with acute renal failure, seizure disorder, posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome, hypomanesemia, and anion gap metabolic acidosis. Id. Griffith believes that all of this was avoidable if SHP had provided constitutionally adequate care.

         Griffith is wrong. SHP and the jail's deputies were not recklessly indifferent to his medical need. Instead, Griffith's complaints sound more in state tort law. But this Court refuses to exercise pendant jurisdiction over those state law claims.

         II

         A

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “the pleadings, 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)(2); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986). “A genuine dispute exists on a material fact, and thus summary judgment is improper, if the evidence shows ‘that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.' “ Olinger v. Corporation of the President of the Church, 521 F.Supp.2d 577, 582 (E.D.Ky.2007) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). Stated otherwise, “[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. The moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that establish the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Chao v. Hall Holding Co., Inc., 285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir.2002). The movant may satisfy its burden by showing “that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325. Once the movant has satisfied this burden, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts demonstrating the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Hall Holding, 285 F.3d at 424 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324). Moreover, “the nonmoving party must do more than show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material fact. It must present significant probative evidence in support of its opposition to the motion for summary judgment.” Hall Holding, 285 F.3d at 424 (internal citations omitted).

         In applying the summary judgment standard, the Court must review the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Logan v. Denny's, Inc., 259, F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir.2001) (citing Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255). However, the Court is under no duty to “search the entire record to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material fact.” In re Morris,260 F.3d 654, 655 (6th Cir.2001). Rather, “the nonmoving party has an affirmative duty to direct the ...


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