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Delaney v. United States

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

May 24, 2017

REBECCA DELANEY, as personal representative of the Estate of Justin Nicholas Miller, Plaintiff,
v.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on a motion for summary judgment filed by defendant the United States of America (“government”). For the reasons set forth below, the court grants the government's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 24, 2012, Kalvin Hunt (“Hunt”), a Marine on involuntary leave while appealing his dishonorable discharge, was accompanied to the Beaufort Naval Hospital (“US Naval Hospital”) by Edward Ray (“Ray”), an employee of the Beaufort County Office of Veteran's Affairs.[1] When Hunt and Ray arrived at the naval hospital, Nurse Saundra Smith (“Smith”) came to offer assistance and meet with Hunt. While Smith was in the process of interviewing Hunt and scheduling an appointment for him to see a doctor the following Monday, Hunt began to rock back and forth in his chair and let out an exasperated kind of moan. When Smith asked Hunt if he wanted to hurt himself, he said that he did. At that time, Smith took Hunt and Ray to the emergency department.

         Once in the emergency department, Hunt first saw triage nurse Janice McDonald (“Janice”). When Janice asked Hunt whether he had thoughts about hurting himself, he responded that he did, although he had no plan to hurt himself at that time. Janice informed Hunt that he would be evaluated by a psychiatrist and, depending on her judgment, a decision would be made whether to admit him. Janice turned Hunt over to her husband Joe McDonald (“Joe”), who is also a registered nurse in the emergency department. Joe accompanied Hunt to be evaluated by Dr. Christian Jansen (“Dr. Jansen”). Dr. Jansen noted that while Hunt had suicidal thoughts and thoughts of hurting others, he had no specific plans. At that time, Dr. Jansen called for a psychiatric technician from the U.S. Naval Hospital's mental health unit to evaluate Hunt.

         Arthur Manning (“Manning”), a psychiatric technician, evaluated Hunt and recommended that Hunt be admitted. The on-duty psychiatrist, Dr. Beverly Hendelman (“Dr. Hendelman”), accepted the recommendation and made the decision to hospitalize Hunt. Dr. Hendelman then relayed her decision to Dr. Jansen. The plan was to admit Hunt to nearby Beaufort Memorial Hospital because the U.S. Naval Hospital did not provide in-patient mental health treatment.

         About the time that Dr. Jansen was in the process of determining bed availability at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Ray asked Joe if he and Hunt could go outside for some fresh air, and Joe said that they could. Once outside, Hunt removed some items of clothing and ran towards the front gate. A security guard saw Hunt running but did not stop him. Ray attempted to pursue Hunt, but was unable to catch him. Ray approached the front gate and described the events that had just occurred to a group of security guards. A security guard called the Beaufort County Sheriff's Department to report the incident.

         At the same time, the Town of Port Royal Fire Department was responding to an emergency call at a nearby apartment complex. Hunt got into a still-running and unattended fire truck and began driving it down Ribaut Road at high speed. Hunt collided with several cars and struck and killed pedestrian Justin Miller.

         On August 22, 2014, plaintiff Rebecca Delaney (“Delaney”) filed this suit as personal representative of Justin Miller's estate. Delaney brings causes of action against the government for negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”).[2] On February 10, 2017, the government filed a motion for summary judgment on all of Delaney's claims. Delaney responded on February 23, 2017, and the government filed a reply on March 2nd, 2017. This matter has been fully briefed and is now ripe for the court's review.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249. The court should view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Id. at 255.

         “The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the district court that there is no genuine issue of material fact.” Major v. Greenville Hous. Auth., No. 6:12-cv-183, 2012 WL 3000680, at *1 (D.S.C. Apr. 11, 2012). Nevertheless, “when a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party ‘must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The plain language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “[C]onclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude the granting of the summary judgment motion.” Major, 2012 WL 2000680, at *1.

         III. DISCUSSION

         The government moves for summary judgment on all of Delaney's claims.[3]Gov.'s Mot. 1. Although somewhat muddled, the government appears to be arguing that Delaney has not met the requirements for expert testimony outlined in S.C. Code Ann. ยง 15-79-125, and that even if Delaney had ...


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