Atayde v. Napa State Hosp.

Decision Date25 May 2017
Docket NumberNo. 1:16-cv-00398-DAD-SAB.,1:16-cv-00398-DAD-SAB.
Citation255 F.Supp.3d 978
Parties Lucy ATAYDE, individually and as successor in interest of decedent Richard Michael Ramirez Plaintiff, v. NAPA STATE HOSPITAL, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California

Michael Joseph Haddad, Julia Sherwin, Maya Melissa Sorensen, Thomas Kennedy Helm, IV, Haddad & Sherwin, LLP, Oakland, CA, Sanjay Stephen Schmidt, Law Office of Sanjay S. Schmidt, San Francisco, CA, for Plaintiff.

Jennifer Marquez, Attorney General's Office for the State of California Department of Justice, Krista Jean Dunzweiler, California Department of Justice, Jerome Martin Varanini, Law Offices of Jerome M. Varanini, Sacramento, CA, Jemma Allison Parker Saunders, Peter G. Bertling, Bertling & Clausen LLP, Santa Barbara, CA, for Defendants.



This matter came before the court on December 6, 2016, for hearing of defendants' motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. Nos. 76, 78.) Attorney Michael Haddad appeared on behalf of plaintiff Lucy Atayde, successor in interest of decedent Richard Michael Ramirez. Deputy Attorney General Krista Dunzweiler appeared on behalf of defendants Napa State Hospital ("NSH"), Dolly Matteucci, and Dana White (the "state defendants"). Attorney Jerome Varanini appeared on behalf of defendant Merced County. Attorney Jemma Saunders appeared on behalf of California Forensic Medical Group Inc. ("CFMG"), Taylor Fithian, Deborah Mandujano, Corina Denning, Sean Ryan, Tom Cavallero, Jason Goins, and Heather Goode (the "county defendants"). Following oral argument, defendants' motions were taken under submission. For the reasons stated below, the court will grant in part and denies in part defendants' motions to dismiss.


On January 5, 2016, plaintiff Lucy Atayde, the mother of decedent Richard Michael Ramirez, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against defendants. (Doc. No. 1.) On March 21, 2016, the case was transferred to this district. (Doc. No. 40.) On September 16, 2016, this court granted the state defendants' motion to dismiss and granted in part the county defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 63.)

This action now proceeds on plaintiff's First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), filed October 7, 2016. (Doc. No. 68.) In her FAC, plaintiff raises claims against two major groups of defendants, those affiliated with the Napa State Hospital ("state defendants"), and those affiliated with the Merced County jail ("county defendants"). (Doc. No. 68.) Plaintiff alleges seven causes of action: (i) claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Fithian, Goode, Ryan, Denning, Cavallaro, Goins, Mandujano, and White for violation of decedent's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to adequate mental health treatment, and for violation of plaintiff's First Amendment right to familial association; (ii) claims under § 1983 against defendants Matteucci, Merced County, CFMG, and policy-making officials of each organization, for supervisory and municipal liability; (iii) claims under the California Bane Act, codified at California Civil Code § 52.1 ; (iv) claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("RA") against defendants Merced County, NSH, and CFMG; (v) claims under California Government Code § 845.6 against defendants White, NSH, the County, and Goins; (vi) negligence claims against defendants Cavallero, Goins, and Merced County; and (vii) negligence per se claims against defendants Cavallero, Goins, and Merced County. (Id. )

In her FAC, plaintiff alleges the following facts. On December 15, 2014, decedent—a twenty seven year-old man suffering from severe psychosis—committed suicide while in the custody of the Merced County Sheriff's Department. (Doc. No. 68 at 29, ¶ 102.) Decedent committed suicide after being held in pre-trial detention for nearly four months. (Id. ) The following events led to decedent's suicide.

Decedent was arrested and booked into Merced County Jail on August 23, 2014. (Id. at 10, ¶ 26.) On August 29, 2014, the Merced County Superior Court suspended the criminal proceedings against decedent due to concerns that he was not mentally competent to stand trial and referred him to Dr. Phillip Hamm, Ph.D., for an evaluation pursuant to California Penal Code § 1368. (Id. at 10, ¶ 28.)

Decedent exhibited signs of mental illness while held at Merced County jail, reportedly hearing voices and experiencing major mood changes. (Id. at 11–13, ¶¶ 34–38.) On two separate occasions in early September of 2014, decedent was placed in safety cells because of his behavior. (Id. at 13–14, ¶¶ 39–44.) After each of these instances, decedent was released without the initiation of a treatment plan or other follow-up action. (Id. ) Decedent was given only two telepsychiatric consultations while incarcerated at the Merced County jail. (Id. at 12–13, ¶ 38.) On September 5, 2014, defendant Heather Goode, M.D., met with decedent and wrote him a prescription for an antipsychotic medication. (Id. at 12–13, ¶ 38.) However, defendant Goode did not draft a treatment plan or diagnose decedent as suffering from psychosis. (Id. ) On September 15, 2014, defendant Cora Denning, R.N., conducted a separate assessment of decedent, and found him to have a clear and normal thought process. (Id. at 14–15, ¶ 48.) Decedent was scheduled for another consultation on September 22, 2014, but this appointment was canceled due to a scheduling conflict and was never rescheduled. (Id. at 15, ¶ 49.)

Decedent refused to take his prescribed medications during his time at the jail. (Id. at 16, ¶ 56.) In response to his refusal, county employees and agents merely signed release of liability forms on decedent's behalf. (Id. at 16, ¶ 56.) Decedent never signed these release forms himself. (Id. )

On September 22, 2014, Dr. Hamm issued his court-ordered report on decedent. (Id. at 15–16, ¶¶ 51–53.) The report stated that decedent likely suffered from Psychotic Disorder NOS (not otherwise specified) and was not able to understand the nature and purpose of the proceedings against him. (Id. ) On September 26, 2014, Merced County Superior Court adopted Dr. Hamm's report and declared decedent incompetent to stand trial. (Id. at 15–17, ¶¶ 51–60.) The court also ordered a placement report to be submitted by October 15, 2014 and scheduled a report hearing for October 17, 2014. (Id. at 17, ¶ 60.)

During the period of time leading up to the report hearing, decedent engaged in a series of self-harming behaviors. (Id. at 18–21, ¶¶ 61–76.) On September 27, 2014, while housed in segregated lockdown, decedent began to strike the walls and door of his cell, causing his hand to swell and bruise. (Id. at 18, ¶ 61.) On September 29, 2014, decedent attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself with a t-shirt. (Id. at 18, ¶ 64.) On October 5, 2014, decedent again attempted suicide by choking himself with his own hands. (Id. at 19, ¶ 70.) In response to each suicide attempt, decedent was placed in a safety cell—generally for a period of two days—and given an updated prescription. (Id. at 19–20, ¶¶ 67, 69, 73, 75.) However, decedent continued to refuse his medications, and county staff continued to fail to develop a treatment plan. (Id. at 16–21, ¶¶ 56, 63, 69, 75–76.)

On October 24, 2014, the Merced County Superior Court ordered decedent to be committed to the trial competency program at defendant NSH, or another appropriate facility, pursuant to California Penal Code § 1370. (Id. at 22, ¶ 79.) In its order, the court specifically noted that if decedent's mental disorder "is not treated with antipsychotic medication, it is probable that serious harm to the physical or mental health of the patient will result." (Id. ) Both county and state defendants were given notice of this order. (Id. )

NSH completed a pre-admission evaluation of decedent and approved him for admission. (Id. at 20, ¶ 74.) On October 9, 2014, defendant White, a nurse employed by defendant NSH, wrote a letter stating that decedent would be admitted upon receipt of seven specific court documents. (Id. ) Defendant NSH received these documents before October 31, 2014. (Id. at 24, ¶ 86.) However, decedent was never transferred to NSH. (Id. at 20, 24–26, ¶¶ 74, 86.) Plaintiff alleges that decedent was not transferred either because the state defendants actively denied decedent's admission to NSH, or because the county defendants failed to transport and deliver decedent to NSH as ordered. (Id. )

Between October and December of 2014, decedent continued to engage in self-harming behavior. He was placed in a safety cell on three separate occasions during this period—on November 28, 2014, December 5, 2014, and December 14, 2014—and each time was released after a period of observation. (Id. at 26–29, ¶¶ 91, 94, 101.) On December 15, 2014, after being placed in a segregated cell, decedent committed suicide by hanging himself. (Id. at 29, ¶ 102.)

Defendants Merced County, Cavallero, and Goins filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's FAC on October 21, 2016. (Doc. No. 76.) State defendants filed a separate motion to dismiss on the same date. (Doc. No. 78.) On November 22, 2016, plaintiff filed oppositions to defendants' motions to dismiss, one of which was amended on November 30, 2016. (Doc. Nos. 80, 81, 84.) County defendants filed their reply on November 26, 2016, and state defendants filed their reply on November 30, 2016. (Doc. Nos. 82, 83.)


The purpose of a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. N. Star Int'l v. Ariz. Corp. Comm'n , 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983). "Dismissal can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v....

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