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Ford v. Eastern State Hospital

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

December 4, 2019

TONYA FORD as personal representative of the estate of JAMES FORD, Plaintiff,
v.
EASTERN STATE HOSPITAL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH M. HOOD SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Carrie Rudzik, Cathy Gibson, Julie Spivey, and Dr. Andrew Cooley's motion to dismiss Plaintiff Tonya Ford's claims against them.[1] [DE 3]. Plaintiff is the personal representative of her son, James Ford, who passed away in May 2018 after a week-long involuntary commitment at Eastern State Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. She filed a complaint in Fayette Circuit Court alleging violations of her son's constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, common-law negligence, wrongful death, and a violation of Kentucky's long-term care statute. [DE 2-1]. Because all of Ford's claims fall outside the applicable statute of limitations, and the long-term care statute is inapplicable to this case, her claims must be dismissed.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         James Ford died of a pulmonary embolism on May 14, 2017 following a short-term involuntary commitment at Eastern State, a psychiatric hospital operated by UK HealthCare. [DE 2-1 at 35-38; DE 3-1 at 2]. Ford's mother, the plaintiff in this case, was appointed to be the personal representative of Ford's estate on May 7, 2018. [DE 2-1 at 35]. Ford, at twenty-eight years old, was admitted pursuant to court order on or around May 7, 2017. [Id. at 37]. He suffered from several psychiatric and seizure disorders, including schizophrenia. [DE 8 at 2].

         Ford had a history of pulmonary embolism related to his psychiatric disorders. [DE 2-1 at 37]. On this occasion, Plaintiff claims Ford entered a catatonic state that left him unresponsive and unable to take fluids or food. [DE 8 at 3]. Plaintiff attempted to warn the hospital's employees of the seriousness of her son's condition and the need for certain treatment to avoid blood clotting. [DE 2-1 at 37; DE 8 at 3]. After attempting to visit him at Eastern State and speaking with several employees, Plaintiff says she received no assurances or information about her son's condition. [Id.].

         On May 10, 2017, Plaintiff alleges that she received a phone call from an Eastern State registered nurse and named defendant in this case. [DE 8 at 4]. The nurse expressed extreme concern for Ford's health considering his state and medical history. [Id.]. Four days later, Ford was found unresponsive and was taken to the University of Kentucky Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. [DE 2-1 at 38]. Ford's autopsy lists pulmonary embolism in his lungs as the cause of his death. [DE 2-1 at 38; DE 8-1]. Plaintiff alleges that Ford did not eat during his stay at Eastern State and received no medical attention despite his high risk of blood clotting. [DE 2-1 at 38].

         Plaintiff filed her complaint on May 10, 2019. [DE 2-1 at 2]. Her counsel[2] maintain that they tried to file the complaint on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, but due to an error with the court's e-filing system, it was not filed until Friday, May 10, 2019. [DE 8 at 13]. Counsel realized on May 10 that the complaint was not filed within Kentucky's Courtnet system. [Id. at 16]. Plaintiff attached to her reply an affidavit from an information technology specialist stating that the browser history showed an acceptance of counsel's credit card payment. [DE 8-6 at 1].

         Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants collectively violated Ford's “right to Due Process and his right to be free from cruel and unreasonable punishment” under the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments, pursuant to the private right of action afforded by 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [Id.]. Plaintiff also charges Defendants with negligence, medical malpractice, and wrongful death under Kentucky law for the same actions. [Id. at 40-41]. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated a Kentucky statutory provision that aims to protect residents in long-term care facilities. [Id. at 41].

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint. The court views the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations contained within it. Thompson v. Bank of Am., N.A., 773 F.3d 741, 750 (6th Cir. 2014). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible when it contains facts that allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Id. “The plausibility standard ... asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.

         Generally, a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, which considers the factual allegations in the complaint, is an “inappropriate vehicle” for dismissing a case based on a statute of limitations. Lutz v. Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC, 717 F.3d 459, 464 (6th Cir. 2013)(citing Cataldo v. U.S. Steel Corp., 676 F.3d 542, 547 (6th Cir. 2012)). However, if the allegations in the complaint affirmatively show the claim is time-barred, dismissal is warranted. Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Congress did not provide a statute of limitations for claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The United States Supreme Court has held that federal courts should “borrow and apply to all § 1983 claims the one most analogous state statute of limitations.” Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 240 (1989). The Supreme Court has further held that these claims are best characterized as personal injury actions. Id. In applying this rationale to Kentucky common law, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit explained that Kentucky does not have multiple statutes of limitations for personal injury actions, thus, § 1983 actions in Kentucky are limited by the Commonwealth's one-year statute of limitations in KRS § 413.140(1)(a). Bonner v. Perry, 564 F.3d 424, 430 (6th Cir. 2009)(citing Collard v. Kentucky Bd. of Nursing, 896 F.2d 179, 182-83 (6th Cir. 1990)).

         In addition to § 1983 claims, actions for medical malpractice, negligence, and wrongful death are subject to Kentucky's one-year statute of limitations. KRS § 413.140(e); Carden v. Louisville & Nashville R.R. Co., 101 Ky. 113 (1897)(holding that the statute of limitations for wrongful death in Kentucky is one year); Conner v. George W. Whitesides Co., 834 S.W.2d 652, 653-54 (Ky. ...


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