Craft v. State

Decision Date10 June 2020
Docket NumberS-19-0191
Citation465 P.3d 395
Parties Robert J. CRAFT and Sabrina Craft, individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Robert James Anderson, Appellants (Plaintiffs), v. STATE of Wyoming EX REL., WYOMING DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH; Wyoming State Hospital; Thomas O. Forslund, individually and in his official capacity as Director of the Wyoming Department of Health; Richard Dunkley, individually and in his official capacity as Administrator of the Wyoming State Hospital; David Carrington, M.D.; Sarah J. Rogers, Ph.D.; James Fleenor, PMHNP-BC; Martha Mueller, FNP-BC; Sara Young, RN; Xandrea Vrooman; Steve Billman; Michael Saxton ; Lidia Garcia ; Edgar Hernandez-Bautista; Antoinette "Shelby" Hutcherson; Renita Hurdsman; Giovanni Cerda; Paul Mullenax; Bill Sexton; Jennifer Schmidt-Arroyo; Jennifer Alexander and Spencer Kimble, Appellees (Defendants).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Representing Appellants: Deborah Ford Mincer, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Argument by Ms. Mincer.

Representing Appellees State of Wyoming ex rel. Wyoming Dep't of Health; Wyoming State Hospital; Thomas O. Forslund; Richard Dunkley; David Carrington, M.D.; Sarah J. Rogers, Ph.D.; James Fleenor, PMHNP-BC; Sara Young, RN; Xandrea Vrooman; Steve Billman; Michael Saxton; Lidia Garcia ; Edgar Hernandez-Bautista; Antoinette "Shelby" Hutcherson; Giovanni Cerda; Paul Mullenax; Bill Sexton; Jennifer Schmidt-Arroyo; Jennifer Alexander; Spencer Kimble: Bridget L. Hill, Wyoming Attorney General; Misha Westby, Deputy Attorney General; Amy A. Pauli, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Maddisen L. Gorman, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Pauli.

Representing Appellee Martha Mueller, FNP-BC: Mark Collier and Kendra Beckwith of Messner Reeves LLP, Denver, Colorado. Argument by Ms. Beckwith.

Representing Appellee Renita Hurdsman: Amanda Hunkins Newton of Crowley Fleck, PLLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming.*

Before DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, and GRAY, JJ., and PEASLEY, D.J.

PEASLEY, District Judge.

[¶1] On June 13, 2015, Robert Anderson died while in the custody of the Wyoming State Hospital ("Hospital"). Prior to his death, Mr. Anderson had been adopted by his since deceased paternal grandmother. On June 5, 2018, Robert Craft and Sabrina Craft filed suit against the Hospital and staff for various claims, including medical malpractice, negligence, and wrongful death. Mr. Craft is both Mr. Anderson's biological father and his adoptive brother. Ms. Craft is Mr. Anderson's appointed personal representative. The district court dismissed the complaint, in part because it concluded the Crafts lacked standing and had failed to state a claim under W.R.C.P. 12(b)(6). It reasoned that the Crafts were not qualified wrongful death beneficiaries because of Mr. Anderson's adoption. The district court further concluded that Dr. Sarah Rogers, Ph.D. (a Hospital psychologist) and the Hospital were immune from suit under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act ("WGCA"). We conclude that, as Mr. Anderson's adoptive brother, Mr. Craft is a qualified wrongful death beneficiary, and that the Crafts’ allegations of wrongful death, medical malpractice and negligence are sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. We further hold that Dr. Rogers and the Hospital are not immune from suit. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

ISSUES

[¶2] We frame the issues on appeal as follows:

1. As Mr. Anderson's adoptive half-brother, is Mr. Craft a qualified beneficiary under the wrongful death statutes, such that he has standing to maintain this action?
2. Are Dr. Rogers and the Hospital immune from suit under the WGCA?
FACTS1

[¶3] Mr. Craft's biological mother adopted Mr. Anderson prior to the events giving rise to these proceedings. As a result, Mr. Craft's mother, now deceased, became Mr. Anderson's adoptive mother and Mr. Craft, the proposed wrongful death beneficiary, became Mr. Anderson's adoptive half-brother. Sabrina Craft is married to Mr. Craft and is the appointed personal representative for Mr. Anderson.

[¶4] In August of 2014, Mr. Anderson entered a plea of not guilty by reason of mental illness to criminal charges. Following his plea, Mr. Anderson was transported to the Hospital in Evanston, Wyoming for a forensic evaluation. The Hospital assigned Dr. Sarah Rogers to perform this evaluation.

[¶5] At the time of his death, Mr. Anderson had resided at the Hospital for eight (8) months and was being treated for serious medical conditions. While in the custody of the Hospital, Mr. Anderson was prescribed various medications and made complaints of symptoms in his right arm and other areas of his body. The complaint alleges that Mr. Anderson's death was more likely than not due to the drugs given to him and that the toxicology reports showed that Mr. Anderson had anti-depressants in his system at levels that exceeded therapeutic range.

[¶6] After complying with the claim requirements of the WGCA, the Crafts filed suit against the Hospital and some of its employees and contractors. The complaint included eight separate causes of action, including: 1) state law and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for wrongful death and personal injury; 2) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as to Robert Craft and Sabrina Craft; 3) Unlawful Policies, Customs, or Habits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ; 4) State Constitutional Violations; 5) State Tort Claims for Wrongful Death and Medical Malpractice; 6) Vicarious Liability; 7) Ordinary Negligence; and 8) Injunctive relief.

[¶7] The Appellees filed motions to dismiss, and the district court granted the motions, dismissing the complaint in its entirety without prejudice. The district court dismissed the state and federal wrongful death actions under W.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) and for lack of standing, concluding that the adoption rendered Mr. Craft an unqualified beneficiary for whose benefit a wrongful death action could be maintained, and because the complaint failed to satisfy the elements necessary to show deliberate indifference. For similar reasons, the district court dismissed the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for violation of Familial Association and for Unlawful Policies, Customs, or Habits for lack of standing, and for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The district court concluded the adoption severed Mr. Craft's right to bring such a claim, and the complaint lacked the necessary allegations concerning the Defendants’ intent to interfere with the family. The district court dismissed the state constitutional claims because the "Wyoming Legislature has not authorized such an action." The district court dismissed the medical malpractice and negligence claims because it found that the Hospital and its employees were immune from suit. Furthermore, the district court dismissed the medical malpractice claims against Defendants Mullenax, Sexton, Schmidt-Arroyo, Alexander and Kimble under the two-year statute of limitations because these defendants were not named in the original claim to the medical review panel. Finally, the district court dismissed the claim for vicarious liability under W.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) and the injunctive relief claim for lack of standing and failing to establish a "sufficient personal interest in the outcome."

[¶8] On appeal, the Crafts challenge the district court's dismissal of the wrongful death and ordinary negligence claims, and some of the medical malpractice claims. Dispositive on appeal is the district court's conclusion that the adoption disqualified Mr. Craft from being a recognized wrongful death beneficiary pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-38-102 because he had no "familial connection" to Mr. Anderson, and that the Hospital and its employees were immune from suit. The Crafts do not challenge the dismissal of the medical malpractice claims against Defendants Mullenax, Sexton, Schmidt-Arroyo, Alexander and Kimble; the state constitutional claim; the vicarious liability claim or the injunctive relief claim, and we do not address those matters in this appeal. The Crafts only challenge the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims to the extent that the district court dismissed them based on a lack of standing, intending to refile them to sufficiently allege facts necessary for those claims to survive a motion to dismiss. Thus, as to the section 1983 claims, we only review the district court's conclusion that the Crafts lack standing to bring those claims.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶9] Our review of a motion to dismiss, whether under W.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) or 12(b)(1), is de novo. Allred v. Bebout , 2018 WY 8, ¶ 29, 409 P.3d 260, 268 (Wyo. 2018). "[W]e employ the same standards and examine the same materials as the district court: we accept the facts alleged in the complaint or petition as true and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Moose Hollow Holdings, LLC v. Teton Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs , 2017 WY 74, ¶ 20, 396 P.3d 1027, 1033 (Wyo. 2017) (quoting Guy v. Lampert , 2015 WY 148, ¶ 12, 362 P.3d 331, 335 (Wyo. 2015) ). When we review dismissal of a complaint for lack of jurisdiction, "we focus on the allegations contained in the complaint and liberally construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." William F. West Ranch, LLC v. Tyrrell , 2009 WY 62, ¶ 9, 206 P.3d 722, 726 (Wyo. 2009) (quoting Cox v. City of Cheyenne , 2003 WY 146, ¶ 7, 79 P.3d 500, 504-05 (Wyo. 2003) ). Dismissal is appropriate only if it is certain on the face of the complaint that the plaintiff cannot assert any facts that create entitlement to relief. Dowlin v. Dowlin , 2007 WY 114, ¶ 6, 162 P.3d 1202, 1204 (Wyo. 2007) ; W.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) ; Ecosystem Res., L.C. v. Broadbent Land & Res., L.L.C. , 2007 WY 87, ¶ 8, 158 P.3d 685, 687 (Wyo. 2007).

[¶10] The district court concluded that the Crafts lacked standing to bring suit for wrongful death. Decisions on standing involve questions of justiciability and are, therefore, reviewed de novo. Bird v. Lampert , 2019 WY 56, ¶ 7, 441 P.3d 850, 853-54 (Wyo. 2019).

DISCUSSION

Statutory standing and failure to state a claim

[¶11] The...

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