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Seastrunk v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

June 5, 2014

Charles E. Seastrunk Jr., as personal representative of the Estate of Joshua Scott Blankenship, Plaintiff,
v.
The United States of America, Defendant

Page 813

For Charles E Seastrunk, Jr, as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Joshua Scott Blankenship personal representative Joshua Scott Blankenship, Plaintiff: Dylan Ward Goff, LEAD ATTORNEY, James E Smith Jr Law Office, Columbia, SC; James Emerson Smith, Jr, LEAD ATTORNEY, Smith Ellis and Stuckey, Columbia, SC.

For United States of America, The, Defendant: Christie V Newman, Marshall Prince, Terri Hearn Bailey, LEAD ATTORNEYS, U.S. Attorneys Office, Columbia, SC.

Page 814

ORDER

Joseph F. Anderson, Jr., United States District Judge.

In this medical malpractice case brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act (" FTCA" ), 28 U.S.C. § § 1346(b), 2671-2680, the United States has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 62. Charles E. Seastrunk Jr. opposes the motion. ECF No. 63. The court heard oral arguments on May 21, 2014.

I.

Mr. Seastrunk is the grandfather and personal representative of the estate of Joshua Scott Blankenship, a United States Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq before being honorably discharged in June 2009. On July 13, 2010, Mr. Blankenship committed suicide in a friend's home by means of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Mr. Seastrunk filed this wrongful death action against the United States under the FTCA, alleging that the United States, through health care providers employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn V.A. Medical Center (" VAMC" ) in Columbia, South Carolina, committed medical malpractice in the treatment of Mr. Blankenship. Mr. Seastrunk alleges that his 25-year-old grandson's suicide was a proximate result of the VAMC's breach of the prevailing standards of care. In an affidavit, Mr. Seastrunk's expert witness, Dr. David R. Price, opines that health care providers at the VAMC:

[D]eviated from the applicable standards of care for physicians treating individuals at high risk of suicide, and from the VAMC's own policies and procedures, by failing to emergently admit him for voluntary psychiatric care, failing to notify his relatives of his imminent danger to himself and/or pursue his involuntary commitment due to his mental illness, alcoholism and his suicidal risk.

Price Aff. 2-3, ECF No. 30-1. In Dr. Price's opinion, Mr. Blankenship presented several predictors of suicide and those " were not properly addressed, or were not addressed at all by the VAMC." Id. at 3-4 (citing Assessment and Prediction of Suicide (Ronald W. Maris et al., eds.)).

II.

While state law governs the disposition of an FTCA case, federal law defines the procedure. Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A material fact is one that " might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242 F.3d 179, 183 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). A dispute of material fact is " genuine" if sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party exists for the trier of fact to return a verdict for that party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49. The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. However, that showing does not have to be made by expert testimony. ...


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