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Slaton v. Correct Care Solutions, LLC

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

June 14, 2016

Ephraim Slaton and Gwendolyn Tolliver, as Personal Representatives of the Estate of Matthew Green, Jr., decedent, Plaintiffs,
Correct Care Solutions, LLC, Defendant.


         Plaintiffs Ephraim Slaton and Gwendolyn Tolliver (“Plaintiffs”) filed this wrongful death action against Defendant Correct Care Solutions, LLC, (“Defendant”), alleging medical malpractice for actions taken by Defendant’s employees which resulted in the death of Matthew Green, Jr. (“Decedent”). (ECF No. 1-1 at 10 ¶ 36.) This matter is before the court on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (ECF No. 34.) This court DENIES Defendant’s motion for the reasons stated herein.


         On August 16, 2011, Decedent was arrested and escorted to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center for public drunkenness. (ECF No. 1-1 at 6 ¶ 5.) Defendant is a private contractor providing medical services at Alvin S. Glenn. (ECF No. 1-1 at 5-6 ¶ 2, 6.) During the booking process, it is alleged that Decedent was combative such that Alvin S. Glenn officers could not complete the booking process and were required to use force, specifically a neck hold, in order to place Decedent in a holding cell. (ECF No. 1-1 at 6 ¶ 7.) Defendant’s agent and employee, Dwayne Brown (“Brown”) who is a Certified Nurse Aid, was located in the booking area for the purposes of conducting an intake screening on Decedent. Brown did not conduct the screening because Decedent was placed in a holding cell. However, Brown did briefly look into the cell through a window to check on Decedent. (ECF No. 1-1 at 6 ¶ 8.) Thereafter, Alvin S. Glenn officers informed Brown that Decedent was lying on the floor of the cell. The officers then opened the cell door and called a “code blue.” (ECF No. 1-1 at 7 ¶ 10.) Brown and other employees of Defendant performed CPR on Decedent until emergency medical services arrived on the scene. Decedent was transported to the Dorn Veterans Hospital where he died eight days later. (ECF No. 1-1 at 7 ¶ 12.)

         On January 8, 2015, Plaintiffs, the personal representatives of the estate of Decedent, filed this lawsuit in the Richland County, South Carolina, Court of Common Pleas alleging wrongful death and survivorship causes of action based on Defendant’s gross negligence. (ECF No. 1-1.) On February 11, 2015, Defendant removed the action to federal court based on this court’s diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. (ECF No. 1.) On March 14, 2016, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 34.) Subsequently, Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition on March 30, 2016. (ECF No. 38.) Defendant filed a reply to Plaintiff’s response. (ECF No. 39.) A hearing on the motion was held on May 11, 2016.


         A. Summary Judgment Generally

         Summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). A genuine question of material fact exists where, after reviewing the record as a whole, the court finds that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Newport News Holdings Corp. v. Virtual City Vision, 650 F.3d 423, 434 (4th Cir. 2011).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The case before this court asserts that Defendant was negligent in failing to provide prompt and adequate medical care to Decedent, which ultimately lead to his death. In order to prevail on their claim, Plaintiffs must show that (1) Defendant owed Decedent a duty; (2) Defendant breached that duty by a negligent act or omission; (3) Defendant’s breach was the actual and proximate cause of Decedent’s injury; and (4) Decedent suffered an injury. Madison ex rel. Bryant v. Babcock Center, Inc., 638 S.E.2d 650, 656 (S.C. 2006). Because this negligence action is a medical malpractice claim, Plaintiffs are required to produce expert testimony in order to establish the duty owed to Decedent and the breach of that duty. Dawkins v. Union Hosp. Dist., 758 S.E.2d 501, 503 (S.C. 2014). The expert’s testimony should demonstrate “(1) the generally recognized and accepted practices and procedures that would be followed by average, competent practitioners in the [practitioner’s] field of medicine under the same or similar circumstances, and (2) that the [practitioner] departed from the recognized and generally accepted standards.” Melton v. Medtronic, Inc., 698 S.E.2d 886, 893 (S.C. Ct. App. 2010). Defendant contends that it is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff has failed to produce admissible evidence to show that Defendant breached an established duty of care to Plaintiffs.


         As a threshold matter, Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs’ expert’s report should not be relied upon because 1) it is not based on any reliable scientific methods or data analysis and 2) it is based on false information. Thus, Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs’ expert is not reliable pursuant to FRE 702. Plaintiffs counter that although the expert’s opinions are not based on scientific data, she is permitted to form opinions based on her extensive experience in the nursing industry.

         “Under Rule 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., expert testimony is admissible if it: (1) concerns scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge; (2) that knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand or resolve a fact at issue; and (3) the witness is qualified as an expert based on knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” Columbia Commc'ns Corp. v. EchoStar Satellite Corp., 2 F.App'x 360, 369 (4th Cir. 2001). When assessing testimony based on experience, the court must require the expert to “explain how [his] experience leads to the conclusion reached, why [his] experience is a sufficient basis for the opinion, and how [his] experience is reliably applied to the facts.” United States v. Wilson, 484 F.3d 267, 274 (4th Cir. 2007). The focus of the inquiry into admissibility of expert testimony “must be solely on principles and methodology, not on the conclusions that they generate.” Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 595 (1993).

         Amy Crittenden (“Crittenden”), Plaintiffs’ nursing expert, indicates that her opinion is based upon her knowledge, training, and over thirty years of experience as a nurse who has previously worked in various positions in the correctional health care setting for about ten years. Furthermore, she indicated that she referred to a number of regulatory texts including South Carolina’s Minimum Standards, the Nurse Practices Act, the standards of the American Correctional Association and the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare, and Defendant’s own policies and procedures. She also reviewed the video along with reports and medical records associated with this case. She testified to a reasonable degree of certainty that Defendant’s agent, Brown, failed to provide timely emergent medical care to Decedent by failing to conduct the intake screening as required. She further indicated that this delay ultimately contributed to Decedent’s irreversible deterioration, and death. Although Defendant might disagree with Crittenden’s opinions, they are not inherently unreliable. Contrary to Defendant’s assertion, though it would be helpful, there is no case law which requires an expert to cite to the specific statute relied on in order for it to be deemed reliable. Furthermore, in her deposition, Crittenden specifically cited to Estelle v. Gamble as the basis for her opinion that medical providers in a correctional setting owe a duty of care to prisoners in the facility. (ECF No. 34-5 at 57:15-21.) Additionally, her opinions concern specialized knowledge in the area of providing medical care as a nurse in a correctional setting. Such knowledge bears on whether Defendant had a duty to Decedent, as well as the standard of care and whether Defendant adhered to it. At this juncture, the witness is seemingly qualified based on her experience and reliance on regulatory documents common within the nursing and corrections industries.

         Defendants also argue that Crittenden relied upon false information in reaching her conclusions, namely that she apparently indicated in her deposition that she believes that Defendant’s agent, Brown, witnessed the neck hold contrary to testimony that he did not. Defendant asserts that because Crittenden is not qualified as a human factors expert dealing with visual perception, she cannot view the video[1] and determine that Brown saw Officer Jenkins carrying a “combative” Decedent through the booking area in a neck hold. Even though Crittenden responded to questioning during her deposition which would indicate that she believes Brown witnessed the neck hold, based on this court’s review of her report, it does not appear that her findings regarding Defendant’s duty and alleged breach were based on her belief that Brown saw the neck hold. Her findings were based on personal observation, review of documents, experience, and reference to industry texts. This court inquires into the principles and methodology, not the conclusions. Accordingly, there is no indication that Crittenden used faulty principles or unreliable methodology, nor is there any indication that she is lacking in experience or specialized knowledge. Ultimately, a jury will determine whether Brown, or some other agent of Defendant, saw the neck hold after viewing the video and comparing it to Brown’s testimony. ...

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