S. Nev. Adult Mental Health Servs. v. Brown, 78770

Docket NºNo. 78770
Citation498 P.3d 1278
Case DateNovember 17, 2021
CourtSupreme Court of Nevada

498 P.3d 1278 (Table)

James Flavy Coy BROWN, on behalf of himself and all those similarly situated, Respondent.

No. 78770

Supreme Court of Nevada.


Attorney General/Carson City

Attorney General/Las Vegas

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP/Las Vegas

Allen Lichtenstein

Law Office of Mark E. Merin



In 2014, respondent James Flavy Coy Brown and other class members asserted claims for negligence, negligence per se, and medical malpractice, among others, against appellant Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services (SNAMHS) and several nonparties to this appeal in state court.1 These nonparty defendants included state employees in their official capacities and several SNAMHS employees. Brown claimed that SNAMHS and its employees involuntarily discharged him and other class members who were patients at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital,2 sending them out of state on a Greyhound bus without a plan in place for follow-up treatment or housing arrangements upon their arrival to their destinations. This discharge practice is referred to by Brown as "Greyhound therapy." In Brown's prayer for relief, he requested, among other things, class certification, a permanent injunction to prevent the defendants from continuing "Greyhound therapy," declaratory judgment that the defendants violated Brown's and the other class members’ rights under Nevada law, and damages.

Throughout the proceedings, the other defendants were dismissed or summary judgment was granted in their favor such that only SNAMHS and some of its employees remained parties to the case. Before trial, SNAMHS and the remaining defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted in their favor on all claims except negligence and negligence per se. In that order, the district court also specifically found that, "[e]xcept for medical malpractice and conspiracy [on which summary judgment was granted], Plaintiff Brown did not name SNAMHS ... in any of the other negligence claims."3 Despite this finding, SNAMHS, over its objection, remained in the case and proceeded to trial.

During trial, the parties stipulated to awarding each class member the same amount of damages awarded to Brown as the class representative. The jury found SNAMHS and its administrator negligent and awarded $250,000 to Brown. Subsequently, the district court entered judgment in favor of each class member but reduced the amount of damages to the statutory cap of $100,000 per class member. The court also issued a mandatory injunction for a period of two years, enjoining SNAMHS from further engaging in "Greyhound therapy" discharge practices and requiring it to document and report its compliance on a quarterly basis. SNAMHS and its administrator filed several posttrial motions and, because the district court granted their motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict as to the administrator, only SNAMHS remained liable.

SNAMHS now appeals, arguing that the district court erred by allowing Brown's negligence and negligence per se claims to proceed against SNAMHS at trial. SNAMHS also challenges the jury's award of damages to Brown, the district court's award of costs, and the district court's orders certifying the class and granting injunctive relief. Finally, SNAMHS contests the district court's determination that Brown's claims were not time-barred under NRS 41A.097(2) as medical malpractice claims rather than ordinary negligence claims.

Brown did not plead negligence or negligence per se claims against SNAMHS

SNAMHS argues that the district court erred when it allowed Brown's negligence claims to go to trial because Brown never asserted those claims against SNAMHS in his complaint. At first, the district court found in its June 2018 order that the only claims Brown had asserted against SNAMHS were civil conspiracy and medical malpractice, and it dismissed both of those claims in that order.4 At trial, the district court reversed course and determined that Brown did assert these negligence claims against SNAMHS because he named SNAMHS as a defendant and used the term "defendants" throughout the facts section of the amended complaint, thus holding "it's implicit if not express in the pleadings." The reasoning for the district court's about-face may be gleaned from its ruling on SNAMHS's oral directed verdict motion. In that order, the district court found that SNAMHS could "be vicariously liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior," and that Brown did not need to specifically identify or name as defendants the SNAMHS agents and employees who allegedly negligently discharged Brown and the class members.

Because the district court did not explain its reason for deviating from its findings in the June 2018 summary judgment order, we will treat its order denying SNAMHS's motion for directed verdict as an order amending its June 2018 order. See NRCP 54(b) (providing that "any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties ... may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment"); see also Arnold v. Kip, 123 Nev. 410, 417, 168 P.3d 1050, 1054 (2007) (providing that this court "may consider the arguments asserted in the reconsideration motion in deciding an appeal from the final judgment" where a reconsideration order and motion are part of the record on appeal, and where the district court elected to entertain the motion on its merits). A district court's decision to reconsider its prior rulings is reviewed for abuse of discretion. See Moore v. City of Las Vegas, 92 Nev. 402, 405, 551 P.2d 244, 246 (1976) (stating that "the question whether to grant the second motion for rehearing was within the sound discretion of the district court").

We conclude that the district court abused its discretion when it ruled that SNAMHS continued to be a party in this case despite Brown's failure to assert his only remaining claims against it. "Nevada is a notice-pleading jurisdiction and [thus, we] liberally construe[ ] pleadings to place into issue matter which is fairly noticed to the adverse party." Chavez v. Robberson Steel Co., 94 Nev. 597, 599, 584 P.2d 159, 160 (1978). However, parties are bound by their pleadings. See Kingsbury v . Copren, 43 Nev. 448, 455, 187 P. 728, 728 (1920), reh'g denied, 189 P. 676 (stating that "it appeared from the complaint itself, as a matter of law, that there was no uncertainty as to the capacity in which plaintiff s[ought] to hold the defendant responsible" and that the plaintiff was "bound by the material allegations of her complaint").

In his amended complaint,5 Brown asserted negligence specifically against several SNAMHS employees and unnamed Does 1 to 50, but he failed to mention SNAMHS.6 Similarly, Brown only asserted his negligence per se claim against four unnamed social workers, but he did not mention SNAMHS.7 This omission contrasts notably with Brown's medical malpractice and conspiracy claims in which he instead used the collective term "[d]efendants" without specifically listing them.8 As such, a plain reading of Brown's amended complaint and who he identified as the defendants against whom he was seeking liability in each claim supports the district court's initial holding that Brown did not plead either negligence claim against SNAMHS, but rather, only claims for conspiracy and medical malpractice. Moreover, Brown never sought leave to amend his complaint to name SNAMHS despite SNAMHS's repeated objections throughout the proceedings and even after trial. Cf. Grouse Creek Ranches v. Budget Fin. Corp., 87 Nev. 419, 426-27, 488 P.2d 917, 922-23 (1971) (rejecting the argument that the district court erred because it granted judgment in favor of a party that moved to amend its pleadings to conform to the evidence related to an issue raised and tried at trial after the court had already entered judgment).

Further, neither the district court nor Brown asserted that there were new issues of fact or law related to this issue, which would justify rehearing. See Moore, 92 Nev. at 405, 551 P.2d at 246 ("Only in very rare instances in which new issues of fact or law are raised supporting a ruling contrary to the ruling already reached should a motion for rehearing be granted." (emphasis added)); see also Masonry & Tile Contractors Ass'n of S. Nev. v. Jolley, Urga & Wirth, Ltd., 113 Nev. 737, 741, 941 P.2d 486, 489 (1997) ("A district court may reconsider a previously decided issue if substantially different evidence is subsequently introduced or the decision is clearly erroneous."). Therefore, the district court abused its discretion when it kept SNAMHS in the case after it issued its order granting summary judgment on all claims asserted against it. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's judgment against SNAMHS.

Brown failed to establish damages

Even if Brown had properly pleaded his negligence claims against SNAMHS, we further conclude that Brown failed to establish the damages element for these claims. SNAMHS argues that the jury's award of damages is unsupported by the record. The district court rejected SNAMHS's contention that Brown had failed to establish damages for his negligence claims in its order denying SNAMHS's motion for directed...

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1 practice notes
  • Mehta v. Vict. Partners, 2:21-cv-01493-CDS-VCF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Nevada
    • September 2, 2022
    ...18. A showing of emotional distress may satisfy the damages element in some circumstances. S. Nevada Adult Mental Health Servs. v. Brown, 498 P.3d 1278 (Nev. 2021) (table) (citing Shoen v. Amerco, Inc., 896 P.2d 469, 477 (Nev. 1995) (recognizing “that the negligent infliction of emotional d......
1 cases
  • Mehta v. Vict. Partners, 2:21-cv-01493-CDS-VCF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Nevada
    • September 2, 2022
    ...18. A showing of emotional distress may satisfy the damages element in some circumstances. S. Nevada Adult Mental Health Servs. v. Brown, 498 P.3d 1278 (Nev. 2021) (table) (citing Shoen v. Amerco, Inc., 896 P.2d 469, 477 (Nev. 1995) (recognizing “that the negligent infliction of emotional d......

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