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Stanziano v. Cooley

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

July 5, 2019

BETHANY L. STANZIANO, INDIVIDUALLY, AND ALEXANDRA STANZIANO AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF MARK JOSEPH STANZIANO, DECEASED APPELLANTS
v.
ANDREW M. COOLEY, M.D., CHARLES I. SHELTON, AND UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER, D/B/A UK HEALTHCARE, D/B/A EASTERN STATE HOSPITAL APPELLEES AND UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY MEDICAL CENTER, D/B/A UK HEALTHCARE, D/B/A EASTERN STATE HOSPITAL CROSS-APPELLANT
v.
BETHANY L. STANZIANO, INDIVIDUALLY, AND ALEXANDRA STANZIANO AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF MARK JOSEPH STANZIANO, DECEASED CROSS-APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM FAYETTE CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE ERNESTO M. SCORSONE, JUDGE ACTION NO. 15-CI-02408

          BRIEFS FOR APPELLANTS/ CROSS-APPELLEES: Roger N. Braden Derek D. Humfleet Florence, Kentucky

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEES/CROSS-APPELANTS: Donald P. Moloney, II Andrew DeSimone Lexington, Kentucky William E. Thro Margaret M. Pisacano Lexington, Kentucky

          ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLANTS/ CROSS-APPELLEES: Derek D. Humfleet Florence, Kentucky

          ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLEES/ CROSS-APPELLANTS: Andrew DeSimone Lexington, Kentucky

          BEFORE: COMBS, NICKELL AND K. THOMPSON, JUDGES.

          OPINION

          NICKELL, JUDGE.

         On the morning of June 27, 2014, Mark Stanziano was murdered by Clinton Inabnit in Somerset, Kentucky. Mark's widow, Bethany Stanziano, in her individual capacity and as Administratrix of Mark's estate, [1] commenced the instant wrongful death and medical malpractice action against Andrew M. Cooley, M.D., Charles I. Shelton, Jr. D.O., (collectively "physicians") and University of Kentucky Medical Center d/b/a UK Healthcare d/b/a Eastern State Hospital ("Eastern State"). Inabnit, a former mental patient, was released by Eastern State approximately forty-four days prior to murdering Mark. The trial court determined the physicians were shielded from liability by the provisions of KRS[2] 202A.400 and further concluded Bethany had failed to carry her burden of proof to proceed against Eastern State. A claim of sovereign immunity by Eastern State was denied as moot. This appeal and cross-appeal followed. After a careful review of the record, briefs, oral arguments and the law, we discern no error and affirm.

         Inabnit had a lengthy history of mental illness, having been diagnosed as a paranoid, delusional schizophrenic. He had three involuntary hospitalizations at Eastern State between 2010 and 2011. From May 8 to May 14, 2014, Inabnit was again involuntarily hospitalized at Eastern State. He was disoriented and illogical at admission. During his stay, it was clear Inabnit suffered from delusions of prophesies and conspiracies. Although he communicated some violent ideologies, Inabnit never communicated an actual, specific threat of harm or physical violence against Mark to any of his mental health providers. Inabnit was discharged on May 14 with instructions for follow-up care; he did not complete any of the recommended treatments.

         Inabnit's apartment was located across the street from Mark's law office and the two had spoken on occasion, but otherwise had no relationship. Approximately six weeks after his discharge, Inabnit approached Mark and, during a lengthy conversation, threatened to kill him. Later that evening, Mark told his wife and daughter about the threat and the decision was made to contact law enforcement the next day to make a report. Unfortunately, the following morning, Inabnit shot and killed Mark as he was preparing to enter his office.

         One year after the murder, Bethany filed the instant suit[3] against the physicians, Eastern State, and two other doctors who had allegedly treated Inabnit during his 2010 and 2011 involuntary hospitalizations.[4] The complaint alleged claims of loss of consortium and negligent discharge of Inabnit from Eastern State. A subsequent amended complaint added a claim for negligence per se pursuant to KRS 202A.400[5] for the failure to warn Mark of the danger posed by Inabnit.

         Following a period of discovery, the physicians and Eastern State moved for summary judgment on May 16, 2016, asserting liability could not attach pursuant to KRS 202A.400 because the record showed Inabnit had never communicated to them an actual threat of harm directed at Mark. Eastern State subsequently moved for summary judgment on grounds of sovereign immunity. Bethany responded, claiming the physicians had failed to act in good faith and within accepted professional practice requirements as mandated by KRS 202A.301, [6] and therefore, the immunity provisions of KRS 202A.400 did not apply to shield the physicians from liability. She further argued the plain language of KRS 202A.400 did not extend immunity to Eastern State. Several hearings and additional discovery ensued.

         On June 20, 2017, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the physicians, finding Bethany had come forward with no evidence to support a claim under KRS 202A.400. The trial court further concluded no viable common law claims existed as the enactment of KRS 202A.400 eliminated the general, common law duty to predict, warn against or take precaution against the violent behavior of a patient, citing Devasier v. James, 278 S.W.3d 625 (Ky. 2009). The trial court ordered additional briefing on the issue of whether Eastern State could remain liable for damages in light of the dismissal of all claims against the physicians.

         Bethany asserted the plain language of KRS 202A.400 extended immunity to a limited class of mental health professionals which clearly did not include mental health facilities such as Eastern State. She further claimed nothing in the statute could be seen as a legislative intent to abrogate the common law doctrine of respondeat superior liability, and thus, ...


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