Johnson v. State, 19-400

Decision Date18 December 2019
Docket Number19-400
PartiesDOUGLAS JOHNSON v. STATE OF LOUISIANA, DR. SEYED ALIREZA SADEGHI, JAMES RUBIN AND VELMA RUBIN INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THE DECEASED, SADAIREA RUBIN, DR. DERRICK BROOKS, GINA SPEYER, JADE DOUCET, MICHAEL MILLIGAN
CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana (US)

DOUGLAS JOHNSON
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA,
DR. SEYED ALIREZA SADEGHI,
JAMES RUBIN AND VELMA RUBIN INDIVIDUALLY
AND ON BEHALF OF THE DECEASED,
SADAIREA RUBIN, DR. DERRICK BROOKS,
GINA SPEYER, JADE DOUCET, MICHAEL MILLIGAN

19-400

STATE OF LOUISIANA COURT OF APPEAL, THIRD CIRCUIT

December 18, 2019


NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION

APPEAL FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF LAFAYETTE, NO. C-2014-5036
HONORABLE JULES D. EDWARDS, DISTRICT JUDGE

CANDYCE G. PERRET JUDGE

Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Phyllis M. Keaty, and Candyce G. Perret, Judges.

AFFIRMED.

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Joslyn Alex
The Alex Law Firm
227 Rees Street
Breaux Bridge, LA 70517
(337) 332-1180
COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT:
Douglas Johnson

Dennis J. Phayer
Jonathan H. Adams
Burglass & Tankersley, LLC
5213 Airline Drive
Metairie, LA 70001-5602
(504) 836-0423
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES:
Dr. Seyed Alireza Sadeghi
Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College,
through the Louisiana Health Sciences Center, et al.

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PERRET, Judge.

Plaintiff Douglas Johnson ("Mr. Johnson") appeals the trial court's grant of a motion for directed verdict. Mr. Johnson filed a medical malpractice claim against the State of Louisiana through the Board of Supervisors of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College through Louisiana Health Sciences Center, University Medical Center-Lafayette (referred to as "UMC"), Dr. Seyed Alireza Sadeghi, Dr. Derrick Brooks, Gina Speyer, Jade Doucet, and Michael Millikan (collectively, "Defendants")1 alleging negligence in Defendants' failure to involuntarily commit him on August 23, 2011. We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND:

This case follows the tragic killing of Sadairea Rubin by Mr. Johnson on August 23, 2011, after he was discharged from UMC. Mr. Johnson was criminally charged, tried, and found not guilty by reason of insanity. Following a Medical Review Panel claim wherein the panel unanimously found no breach of the standard of care, Mr. Johnson filed a petition in district court against Defendants. Mr. Johnson's petition alleged that Defendants "improperly discharged [Mr. Johnson] from University Medical Center38f [sic] Lafayette on August 23, 2011[,] despite him evidencing signs of psychological instability and risk of harm to himself and others." Mr. Johnson further alleged that as a result of being discharged, "he beat Sadairea Rubin to death within hours of his discharge." Mr. Johnson asserted that Defendants were negligent in their discharge of Mr. Johnson "despite warning signs that he was mentally unstable and posed a risk of harm to himself and others" as well as:

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1. Failure to properly monitor, examine, evaluate, supervise and tend to Douglas Johnson.
2. Failure to properly monitor and supervise the nursing staff and provide adequate care and treatment for DOUGLAS JOHNSON.
3. Failure to admit him and further treat his immediate, fragile mental state.
4. Negligently discharging DOUGLAS JOHNSON and failing to hold him for observation despite having actual knowledge of his propensity to hallucinate and cause harm to others, in that he had kicked down a neighbor's door within 24 hours prior to being examined by them, due to allegedly hearing non-existent noises coupled with religious ideation.

Mr. Johnson claims that Defendants' allegedly negligent acts "further deteriorated his mental health audio and visual hallucinations[,]" and "caused a total emotional and behavioral breakdown that resulted in the death of Sadairea Rubin." Additionally, the petition itemizes his damages as "A. Medical expenses; past, present and future; B. General Damages, including pain, suffering and disability; past, present and future; C. Loss of Enjoyment of Life, past, present and future; and D. Loss [sic] Wages and/or Earning Capacity, past, present, and future."

During a trial on the merits and following the close of Mr. Johnson's case-in-chief, Defendants moved for a directed verdict citing Mr. Johnson's failure to prove the standard of care and damages. The trial court granted the directed verdict, finding Mr. Johnson failed to present evidence of damages, and pretermitted a "ruling on the alleged lack of evidence regarding standard of care and breach of same." It is from this judgment that Mr. Johnson appeals.

On appeal, Mr. Johnson asserts that the trial court erred in finding that Mr. Johnson did not establish a cause for an award of damages and that the trial court improperly excluded evidence.

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DIRECTED VERDICT:

Standard of Review:

Directed verdicts are governed by La.Code Civ.P. art. 1810, which states that following the close of the opponent's evidence, a party may move for a directed verdict, which "shall state the specific grounds therefor." The trial court may grant a motion for directed verdict "if, after weighing all evidentiary inferences in the light most favorable to the opponent, the facts and inferences clearly show that a reasonable jury could not reach a contrary verdict." Whitehead v. Kansas City S. Ry. Co., 99-896, pp. 17-18 (La.App. 3 Cir. 12/22/99), 758 So.2d 211, 222, writ denied, 00-209 (La. 4/7/00), 759 So.2d 767.

In Warren v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co., 15-354, p. 5 (La.App. 3 Cir. 6/29/16), 196 So.3d 776, 783, writ granted, 16-1647 (La. 1/13/17), 215 So.3d 246, aff'd as amended, 16-1647 (La. 10/18/17), 233 So.3d 568, this court explained the standard of review on appeal for directed verdicts:

On appeal, "legal sufficiency of the evidence challenges, such as those presented by . . . motions for directed verdict . . . are subject to the de novo standard of review that is used for all legal issues." Hall v. Folger Coffee Co., 03-1734, p. 10 (La.4/14/04), 874 So.2d 90, 99. "[T]he applicable standard of review on a motion for directed verdict is whether the evidence in the record is such that a reasonable person could not reach a verdict to the contrary." Richard v. Artigue, 11-1471, p. 4 (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/4/12), 87 So.3d 997, 1001.

Therefore, the question on appeal is "not whether [Mr. Johnson] has proven [his] case against the defendants by a preponderance of the evidence, but rather, upon reviewing the evidence submitted, the court could conclude that reasonable persons could not have reached a verdict in favor of [Mr. Johnson] against the defendants." Hebert v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 01-223, p. 5 (La.App. 3 Cir. 6/6/01), 787 So.2d 614, 617, writ denied, 01-1943 (La. 10/26/01), 799 So.2d 1145.

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Discussion:

Louisiana Revised Statutes 9:2794 provides that in a medical malpractice claim, a plaintiff is required to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence:

(1) The degree of knowledge or skill possessed or the degree of care ordinarily exercised by physicians . . . licensed to practice in the state of Louisiana and actively practicing in a similar community or locale and under similar circumstances; and where the defendant practices in a particular specialty and where the alleged acts of medical negligence raise issues peculiar to the particular medical specialty involved, then the plaintiff has the burden of proving the degree of care ordinarily practiced by physicians . . . within the involved medical specialty.

(2) That the defendant either lacked this degree of knowledge or skill or failed to use reasonable care and diligence, along with his best judgment in the application of that skill.

(3) That as a proximate result of this lack of knowledge or skill or the failure to exercise this degree of care the plaintiff suffered injuries that would not otherwise have been incurred.

"In order to prevail in a medical malpractice claim, Plaintiffs . . . have the burden of proving '[t]hat as a proximate result of this lack of knowledge or skill or the failure to exercise this degree of care the plaintiff suffered injuries that would not otherwise have been incurred.'" Newsom v. Lake Charles Mem'l Hosp., 06-1468, p. 17 (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/4/07), 954 So.2d 380, 391, writ denied, 07-903 (La. 6/15/07), 958 So.2d 1198 (quoting La.R.S. 9:2794(A)(3)).

In this case, Mr. Johnson has asserted in his petition that Defendants were negligent in improperly monitoring, examining, evaluating, supervising, and tending to him; in improperly supervising the nursing staff; in providing inadequate care and treatment; in failing to admit Mr. Johnson for further treatment; and ultimately in discharging him on the day of the occurrence. Mr. Johnson further asserts that Defendants' alleged negligence caused him past, present, and future medical expenses; past, present, and future general damages,

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including pain, suffering and disability; past, present, and future loss of enjoyment of life; and past, present, and future lost wages and/or earning capacity.

At trial, Mr. Johnson called several witnesses, including Sergeant Shannon Brasseaux; Corporal Tyler Howerton; Seyed Sadeghi, M.D., the medical director of the emergency room at UMC on August 23, 2011; Gina Speyer, RN at UMC; Jade Doucet, RN at UMC; Michael Milliken, a professional counselor at UMC; and Dr. Benjamin Löwenburg, a forensic psychologist at Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System ("ELMHS"). Additionally, Mr. Johnson submitted his UMC records and proffered several documents. Thereafter, Mr. Johnson rested. Defendants then moved for a directed verdict arguing Mr. Johnson failed to prove the standard of care and his damages.

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