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Estate of Rodney Louis Bock, Deceased, By v. County of Sutter; County of Yuba; J. Paul

February 7, 2012

ESTATE OF RODNEY LOUIS BOCK, DECEASED, BY AND THROUGH CYNDIE DENNY BOCK, AS ADMINISTRATOR; KIMBERLY BOCK; KELLIE BOCK; HILLARY BOCK; M.B., MINOR THROUGH HER MOTHER AND GUARDIAN AD LITEM CYNDIE DENNY BOCK; LAURA LYNN BOCK; AND ROBERT BOCK, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COUNTY OF SUTTER; COUNTY OF YUBA; J. PAUL PARKER, SUTTER COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT SHERIFF; TOM SHERRY, DIRECTOR OF HUMAN SERVICES OF SUTTER AND YUBA COUNTIES; AMERJIT BHATTAL, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF HUMAN SERVICES-MENTAL HEALTH OF SUTTER AND YUBA COUNTIES; JOHN S. ZIL; CHRISTOPHER BARNETT; SADOUTOUNNISSA MEER; AND DOES I THROUGH XL, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This action for damages was initiated by the estate and surviving family members of Rodney Louis Bock ("Decedent"). Plaintiffs Estate of Rodney Louis Bock, by and through Cyndie Denny Bock, as administrator, Kimberly Bock, Kelly Bock, Hillary Bock, M.B., a minor through her guardian ad litem Cyndie Denny Bock, Laura Lynn Bock, and Robert Bock (collectively "Plaintiffs") seek to recover from Defendants County of Sutter; County of Yuba; J. Paul Parker, Sutter County Sheriff; Tom Sherry, Director of Human Services of Sutter and Yuba Counties; Amerjit Bhattal, Assistant Director of Human Services-Health Division of Sutter and Yuba Counties; Brad Luz, Assistant Director of Human Services-Mental Health of Sutter and Yuba Counties; John S. Zil; Christopher Barnett; and Sadoutounnissa Meer (collectively "Defendants") for injuries sustained as a result of Decedent's suicide while incarcerated at Sutter County Jail ("Jail"). Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.*fn1

BACKGROUND*fn2

Decedent was a self-employed farmer in Marysville, California, for over 30 years. In late 2009, he began experiencing mental health issues and required psychiatric treatment.

On several occasions from 2009 through 2010, Decedent was involuntarily hospitalized pursuant to California Welfare & Institutions Code § 5150 at the Sutter-Yuba Mental Health Services facility ("SYMHS"),*fn3 which was operated and managed by Defendants County of Sutter and County of Yuba.

SYMHS provides a variety of mental health care services to adults residing in Sutter and Yuba counties and to inmates of the Jail. Because SYMHS has only roughly sixteen inpatient beds, nine to eleven of which are typically filled at any one time, Plaintiffs believe SYMHS staff members personally know, or should know, all patients.

Decedent was first hospitalized at SYMHS on approximately November 30, 2009. During that time, he was documented as psychotic, delusional and grandiose. Defendant Barnett and other staff evaluated and treated Decedent and diagnosed him with, among other things, "Bipolar I Disorder, Most Recent Episode Manic, Severe with Psychotic Features."

On various occasions, Decedent did indeed exhibit delusional and paranoid behavior, and, eventually, on or around January 14, 2010, Decedent entered a restaurant with a gun and began making erratic statements. As a result of that incident, Decedent was arrested, criminal charges were filed against him, and he was taken to the Jail.

According to Plaintiffs, the Jail has the capacity to house approximately two-hundred prisoners, and, given its relatively small size, Jail staff and supervisors must therefore have, or reasonably should have, personal knowledge of all prisoners, especially those exhibiting psychotic behaviors.

On January 15, 2010, while still housed at the Jail, Decedent was referred to SYMHS for a psychiatric evaluation, at which time SYMHS staff again documented his psychiatric history, which included his history of delusions. In addition, later in January, after Decedent had been released from the Jail, he was again treated at SYMHS, pursuant to one of the above-mentioned involuntary holds, by Defendants Barnett and Meer and other staff, some of whom confirmed Decedent's serious psychiatric diagnoses and recommended 15-minute safety checks and daily treatment.

Subsequently, on or around January 27, 2010, the Sutter County Superior Court judge presiding over Decedent's then-pending criminal case ordered Decedent to undergo a separate psychological evaluation to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. The physician conducting that evaluation concluded that Decedent's highly unstable psychiatric condition rendered him incompetent to be tried.

Approximately one month later, on March 1, 2010, another Sutter County Superior Court judge ordered a placement evaluation of Decedent. A different physician than the one who evaluated Decedent's competency confirmed Decedent's psychiatric history and recommended that Decedent receive outpatient treatment.

Later, on March 25, 2010, Decedent attended a psychiatric appointment with Defendant Meer, who documented that Decedent remained delusional.

Sometime after this last appointment, Decedent, who still continued to experience paranoia and delusions, began to believe he was being "direct[ed]" to drive to his nephew's home in Idaho. Decedent eventually followed that "direction" but was returned to California by his nephew. In the meantime, however, Decedent had missed a court date and, as a result, a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

Upon his return to California, Decedent was again taken to SYMHS for evaluation and treatment. SYMHS staff confirmed Decedent's prior diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder, Manic with Severe Psychotic Features, and identified his need for inpatient hospitalization or "state hospital placement." Defendant Barnett also documented that Decedent was sharing delusions of "end times."

Notwithstanding these observations, on April 2, Defendants discharged and transferred Decedent, pursuant to the pending warrant, to the custody of Sutter County Sheriff's Department, and he was again placed at the Jail. According to Plaintiffs, Defendants transferred Decedent to the Jail in contravention of California Welfare & Institutions Code § 5152(a) and despite their knowledge of Decedent's urgent need for inpatient care. Plaintiffs also generally allege that, at the time of Decedent's discharge, Defendant Barnett and SYMHS staff provided a wholly inadequate treatment plan for Decedent.

Plaintiffs nonetheless further aver that, on the day of Decedent's transfer, Defendant Zil advised a Jail nurse that Decedent was to continue taking his current medications. Two days later, SYMHS and/or Sutter County Sheriff's Department staff documented Decedent's "continued delusions" and need for further psychiatric review, and, on April 8, Defendant Zil personally met with Decedent.

Also at around this same time, the physician who had conducted Decedent's original court-ordered placement evaluation sent a letter to the court retracting his outpatient treatment recommendation. Shortly thereafter, on April 19, the judge who had ordered Decedent's placement evaluation found Decedent incompetent to stand trial, suspended all pending proceedings, and ordered that Decedent be transferred to Napa State Hospital for treatment. Defendant Parker, who as Sheriff was under a statutory duty to ensure Decedent was transferred in accordance with the Court's order, and all other Defendants, nonetheless failed to transfer Decedent in accordance with that order.

By April 24, Decedent was unstable and unkempt, was talking to himself and to inanimate objects and was refusing his medication. According to Plaintiffs, no further evaluation of Decedent was conducted, however, nor was any further treatment undertaken. To the contrary, Defendant Meer, who was scheduled to follow up with Decedent on April 28, failed to attend that appointment.

Plaintiffs thus allege Defendants failed to appropriately assess and medicate Decedent upon his incarceration at the Jail. More specifically, Plaintiffs allege Defendants failed to appropriately assess Decedent's suicide risk. Consequently, on April 29, using items that Plaintiffs allege should not have been permitted in Decedent's cell due to his psychiatric condition, Decedent fashioned a noose and hanged himself from the upper bunk. When he was found, there were large amounts of blood covering the cell floor and walls, apparently a result of Decedent banging his head against the wall in a very violent manner. Decedent died in his cell.

By this suit, Plaintiffs now assert eleven causes of action against Defendants arising out of Decedent's death. Defendants moved to dismiss each claim and to strike Plaintiffs' request for punitive damages. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED and Defendants' request to strike Plaintiffs' prayer for punitive damages is DENIED as moot.

STANDARD

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6),*fn4 all allegations of material fact must be accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996).

Rule 8(a)(2) "requires only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the [...] claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not require detailed factual allegations. However, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted). A court is not required to accept as true a "legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, ___, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216 (3d ed. 2004) (stating that the pleading must contain something more than "a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.")).

Furthermore, "Rule 8(a)(2)... requires a 'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Thus, "[w]ithout some factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard to see how a claimant could satisfy the requirements of providing not only 'fair notice' of the nature of the claim, but also 'grounds' on which the claim rests."

Id. (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, supra, at § 1202). A pleading must contain "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. If the "plaintiffs ... have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, their complaint must be dismissed." Id. However, "[a] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and 'that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'" Id. at 556 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

A court granting a motion to dismiss a complaint must then decide whether to grant leave to amend. Leave to amend should be "freely given" where there is no "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, ... undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment ...." Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) (listing the Foman factors as those to be considered when deciding whether to grant leave to amend). Not all of these factors merit equal weight. Rather, "the consideration of prejudice to the opposing party ... carries the greatest weight." Eminence Capital, 316 F.3d at 1052 (citing DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton, 833 F.2d 183, 185 (9th Cir. 1987)). Dismissal without leave to amend is proper only if it is clear that "the complaint could not be saved by any amendment." Intri-Plex Techs. v. Crest Group, Inc., 499 F.3d 1048, 1056 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

ANALYSIS

At the outset, the Court notes that Plaintiffs seek relief for the events that transpired from April 1 to April 29, 2010. See Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss ("Plt. Opp.") (ECF No. 16) at pg. 1. In viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, however, Decedent's treatment at SYMHS prior to April 1, 2010, as well as other events leading up his detention in April 2010, are relevant to Plaintiffs' claims and will be considered herein.

A. Plaintiffs' First Through Third Causes of ...


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