McDonald-Witherspoon v. City of Phila.

Decision Date25 August 2020
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 17-1914
Parties Michelle MCDONALD-WITHERSPOON, individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Kenyada Jones v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

481 F.Supp.3d 424

Michelle MCDONALD-WITHERSPOON, individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Kenyada Jones


United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania.

Filed August 25, 2020

481 F.Supp.3d 432

Stephen H. Cristal, Cristal Law Firm, Cherry Hill, NJ, for Michelle McDonald-Witherspoon.

Thomas J. Gregory, Lisa A. Cauley, O'Connor Kimball LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Corizon Health, Inc., Vivian Gandy.

Alan Stuart Baum, Cassidy L. Neal, Matis Baum O'Connor, Pittsburgh, PA, for MHM Services, Inc.

Cassidy L. Neal, Matis Baum O'Connor, Pittsburgh, PA, for Deborah Harris-White, Cheryl Baldwin.


Padova, J.

481 F.Supp.3d 433

This is a civil rights action arising out of the death of Plaintiff Michelle McDonald-Witherspoon's son, Kenyada Jones, who died while in custody at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility ("CFCF"). Plaintiff brings claims on behalf of herself and the estate of her son for civil rights violations pursuant to § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 ("Section 504"); 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (" Section 1983"); and state law. Plaintiff asserts these claims against a private healthcare provider for CFCF, Corizon Health, Inc. ("Corizon"), and a Corizon employee, Vivian Gandy, M.D. (collectively, the "Corizon Defendants"); a second private healthcare provider for CFCF, MHM Services, Inc. ("MHM"), and two MHM employees, Cheryl Baldwin and Deborah Harris-White (collectively, the "MHM Defendants"); two probation officers from the Philadelphia Adult Parole and Probation Department ("APPD"), Amber Browne and Jeanette Palmer; and the City of Philadelphia (the "City"). The Corizon Defendants, the MHM Defendants, Browne and Palmer, and the City have filed Motions for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons that follow, we grant the Motions in part and deny them in part.


The following facts are in the summary judgment record. Kenyada Jones was a 45-year-old African American male with a history of mental illness, including past diagnoses of schizophrenia and depression, self-reported prior suicide attempts in 1993 and 1996, and multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. (Pl.’s Ex. 8 at 30 of 31; Pl.’s Ex. 21 at 1.) On February 2, 2016, Jones was arrested for DUI. (Browne Dep. (Pl.’s Ex. 41 & Joint Defense Appendix ("JDA") Ex. F) at 183:24-184:2.) This arrest violated the terms of Jones's probation, which was imposed for a prior aggravated assault conviction. (Browne Dep. at 184:3-9; JDA Ex. J.) As a result of the arrest, Jones was in custody at CFCF until June 13, 2016. During this time, Corizon and MHM employees evaluated and treated Jones's physical and mental health condition. (See Pl.’s Exs. 8-20.) They recorded Jones's history of suicidal thoughts and behaviors and also noted Jones's various mental and physical ailments, including anxiety, depression, paranoia, and high blood pressure. (See, e.g., Pl.’s Exs. 8-9, 12, 14, 16, 18-20.) Corizon prescribed Jones blood pressure medication (Amlodipine ), and MHM prescribed him psychotropic medication (Zyprexa, a brand name for Olanzapine ). (See Pl.’s Ex. 9 at 1; Pl.’s Ex. 10; Pl.’s Ex. 12; Pl.’s Ex. 16; Pl.’s Ex. 18; Pl.’s Ex. 19.)

According to the Philadelphia Prisons Policies and Procedures,1 all medications prescribed at CFCF were to be either "dispensed by Nursing Staff in multiple dose quantities, and ... then possessed by inmates and self-administered" (referred to as "KOP," which is short for "Keep On Person") or "administered by Nursing Staff dose by dose" (referred to as "DOT,"

481 F.Supp.3d 434

which is short for "Directly Observed Therapy"). (JDA Ex. AA at 1-2.) "Psychotropic medications" are designated as DOT medications. (Id. at 3.) Jones's blood pressure medication (Amlodipine ) is not designated as a DOT medication, but the prison health care staff may nonetheless require it to be administered as DOT for "[i]ndividual inmates who have a propensity to abuse or misuse medication." (Id. ) When DOT administration is required for an individual inmate, the treating physician is to document the reasons in the inmate's health care record. (Id. ) CFCF records show that Jones's medications, including Zyprexa and Amlodipine, were at times administered on a DOT basis prior to his release on June 13, 2016. (See Pl.’s Ex. 11 at 8 of 28; Pl.’s Ex. 13; Pl.’s Ex. 14 at 15 of 28; Pl.’s Ex. 16 at 24 of 28; Pl.’s Ex. 17 at 27 of 28; Pl.’s Ex. 18 at 3 of 44; Pl.’s Ex. 19 at 8 of 44.)

On June 16, 2016, only days after his release from CFCF, Jones voluntarily committed himself into Friends Hospital with complaints of increased paranoia and depression and was found, on examination, to have "[s]uidical ideations ... with [a] plan to overdose on pills." (Pl.’s Ex. 21 at 1.) Jones stayed at Friends Hospital for approximately one week for mental health treatment and received Zyprexa to alleviate his reported symptoms. (Id. at 2.) His medication was later changed to Haldol, at his request. (Id. ) After Jones indicated that he would like to leave the hospital, he was observed for a 72-hour period prior to discharge. (Id. ) During that period, Jones "[d]enied suicidal or homicidal ideations" and "all psychiatric and physical symptoms." (Id. ) Friends personnel determined that he had "reached ... his baseline and received maximum inpatient treatment benefit" and that he was "[s]table for discharge," and released him on June 22, 2016. (Id. )

Following his release, Jones went to live with Plaintiff, where according to Plaintiff, Jones's mental health condition "got worse." (Plaintiff Dep. (Pl.’s Ex. 36 & JDA Ex. G) at 111:16-112:2, 125:10-14.) Specifically, Plaintiff observed that, even though Jones was taking the medication prescribed for him at Friends Hospital, he was "short tempered," "couldn't sleep," was "very hyper," and suffered from worsening paranoia. (Id. at 112:14-113:14, 125:15-23.) Plaintiff spoke with her other son and daughter about Jones's worsening condition and discussed a plan to have Jones involuntarily committed at a psychiatric hospital, i.e., 302'd. (Id. at 178:17-179:7.) To facilitate this plan, Plaintiff's children "had the idea to disable [Jones's] car" so that Jones could not leave Plaintiff's home. (Id. at 178:17-179:20.) Nevertheless, Jones was able to drive away in his car. (Id. at 179:18-180:2.)

Because Plaintiff could not get Jones to stay home so that she could have him involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital, Plaintiff called Jones's probation officer, Amber Browne, for help. (Id. at 96:15-23; 127:10-16; 180:3-7.) Plaintiff chose to call Browne because she believed that Jones was "crazy about [her]" and "felt like [Browne] cared about him." (Id. at 96:24-97:2; 183:6-15.) During the call, Plaintiff expressed her "concern[s] about [Jones's] behavior" and her belief that she didn't think Jones's psychotropic medication was working. (Browne Dep. at 91:15-21.) Plaintiff explained that she couldn't "get [Jones] to stay in the house" and asked Browne to "call him to come and see [Browne] so that [Plaintiff could] ... come and take him and have him 302'd." (Plaintiff Dep. at 127:10-16.) Browne agreed to help Plaintiff and hold Jones at the probation office for this purpose. (Id. at 127:17-23.)

481 F.Supp.3d 435

On the morning of June 28, 2016, Jones arrived at the probation office. (Palmer Dep. (JDA Ex. E) at 29:7-13.) According to Browne, Jones had parked illegally, so Browne and Jeannette Palmer, Browne's supervisor at APPD, had Jones move his car. (Browne Dep. at 146:10-24.) As Jones moved his car, Browne and Palmer noticed that he was driving erratically and that there might be a problem with his car. (Palmer Dep. at 49:5-23.) In fact, Browne saw Jones "almost hit someone trying to cross the street" and noticed that his "car [was] smoking." (Browne Dep. at 148:3-5.) Similarly, another APPD officer who observed Jones move his car, "witnessed ... Jones [driving] very erratically, driving from one side to the other trying to park the vehicle almost hitting people out of control," saw Jones "almost hit ... Palmer" while backing up, and noticed smoke coming out from under the hood of Jones's car. (Carassai Dep. (JDA Ex. I) at 10:1-6, 19:11-20.)

Once Jones was inside the probation office, Browne called Plaintiff to notify her that Jones had arrived. (Plaintiff Dep. at 128:5-16.) While Browne and Palmer waited for Plaintiff, they observed that Jones appeared to be decompensating as he was getting increasingly agitated and aggressive, was sweating profusely and rambling, and appeared to be responding to internal stimuli. (Browne Dep. at 171:10-173:18; Palmer Dep. at 42:17-43:17.) According to Browne, Jones "wasn't stable," "he [was] display[ing] manic behavior," "his meds clearly were not working," and he was "not being coherent [or] making sense." (Browne Dep. at 132:8-10, 198:10-18.) Palmer also observed that "[Jones] was pushing the table. He was pushing back in the chair. He jumped up. He sat down. He moved over. He banged the wall. He was back and forth." (Palmer Dep. at 43:5-9.) Moreover, Jones appeared "frustrated" because "[h]e wanted to go to New York to save...

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