Zavala v. City of Baton Rouge, CIVIL ACTION NO. 17-656-JWD-EWD

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Middle District of Louisiana
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 17-656-JWD-EWD
Decision Date20 September 2018




September 20, 2018



Plaintiff Maria Olga Zavala filed this lawsuit on September 20, 2017, against a number of entities and individuals in connection with the death of her son at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Pending before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Charles Bridges (Doc. 27); City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge, Prison Medical Services, and Rintha Simpson (Doc. 34); CorrectHealth, LLC (Doc. 40); Sid J. Gautreaux, III, Dennis Grimes, and Nova Casualty Company (Doc. 47); and Robert Blanche (Doc. 61).

After careful consideration of the parties' submissions and the relevant law, and for the following reasons, the motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Charles Bridges (Doc. 27), Prison Medical Services (Doc. 34), Rintha Simpson (Doc. 34), and Robert Blanche (Doc. 61) are GRANTED; the motions to dismiss filed by CorrectHealth, LLC (Doc. 40), Sid J. Gautreaux, III, Dennis Grimes, and Nova Casualty Company (Doc. 47) are GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; and the motion to dismiss filed by City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge (Doc. 34) is DENIED.


A. Specific Events Underlying This Case

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Zavala alleges that her son, Louis Fano, was a prisoner at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison ("EBRPP") in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who suffered and died as a result of Defendants' failure to properly treat Fano's mental illness and ultimately prevent his death. (Doc. 23 at 1). Named as Defendants are: (1) the City of Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish (the "City/Parish"); (2) Sid Gautreaux, III, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff; (3) Dennis Grimes, EBRPP Warden; (4) Prison Medical Services, with which until December 31, 2016, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office ("Sheriff's Office") and City/Parish contracted to provide medical and mental health services to prisoners at EBRPP; (5) Rintha Simpson, the interim director of PMS until December 31, 2016; (6) Dr. Charles Bridges, the medical director of EBRPP; (7) Dr. Robert Blanche, a psychiatrist for EBRPP's mental health program; (8) CorrectHealth East Baton Rouge, LLC ("CorrectHealth"), with which the Sheriff's Office and City-Parish contracted as of January 1, 2017, to provide medical and mental health services to prisoners at EBRPP; and (9) Nova Casualty Company, a liability insurer for the Sheriff's Office. (Id. at 2-6).

Zavala's First Amended Complaint (Doc. 23) alleges the following facts. On October 31, 2016, Fano, who was traveling by bus from Miami, Florida, to California, was arrested by Baton Rouge police officers for several misdemeanors and booked into EBRPP. (Id. at 6-7). At the time of his arrest, Fano was "naked and running around and swinging his penis . . . hollering and cussing at imaginary people." (Id. at 7). He claimed that he and "Titianna," an imaginary person, were "cross dressers and trying to find a show to make money." (Id.). At one point, Fano lifted his shirt and began "twirling around hollering he was beautiful and there was no law against anything he and Titianna were doing." (Id.).

On November 1, 2016, Fano was placed in a dorm and within hours attempted suicide by cutting his wrists. (Id. at 9). An EBRPP corrections officer issued a disciplinary report for "self-

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mutilation," and a disciplinary committee ultimately imposed 13 days of isolation. (Id.). Fano was later taken to the hospital. (Id.). On a November 1, 2016 emergency medical request form, a PMS staff member incorrectly noted that Fano had "no mental health history," but did note that he had a "suicidal cut to [left] wrist" and complained of "hearing voices." (Id. at 10).

The next day, Fano was placed on suicide watch in in a single-person cell, and PMS staff reported that he had a "depressed mood" and "bizarre thoughts or behavior." (Id.). An appointment with a social worker was made for "suicide precautions" and classified as "the highest level or priority," but the appointment was "never kept" and was deleted from the system on January 6, 2017, as an "overdue task prior to CorrectHealth Transition of health services." (Id. at 12).

On November 3, Dr. Blanche assessed Fano through the bars of his cell and "determined that [Fano] was 'not suicidal,'" discontinued the suicide watch, and prescribed Seroquel for sleep and olanzapine for Fano's bipolar disorder. (Id.). Dr. Blanche assessed inmates like Fano through cell bars "due to the difficulty of moving such patients" rather than for "any valid medical reason." (Id.). The next day, an appointment was made for Fano to see a psychiatrist for a one-month "return to clinic" visit on December 15, 2016; this appointment was also classified at the "highest level of priority" but never occurred. (Id. at 12). It appears that, the same day, another return-to-clinic appointment was scheduled for January 3, 2017. (Id. at 14). That appointment was also not kept and was classified as "rescheduled" with no new date noted. (Id.). "In the alternative, [Fano] was seen on January 3, 2017 by a medical staff person with [CorrectHealth]. The exam sheet noted that [Fano] complained of anxiety, problems with depression, and hearing voices. The unknown medical staff person prescribed hydroxyzine for anxiety." (Id.).

On November 25, 2016, Fano completed a medical request form, stating that his medications were no longer effective, that he had "a lot of anxiety," and that he could not sleep.

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(Id. at 13). Medical staff apparently made a psychiatric appointment for December 15, 2016, but no record exists that Fano saw any psychiatrist on that date. (Id.). A few weeks later, on December 18, Fano completed a medical request form stating that he was having "really bad anxiety and depression" and "really bad thoughts of [his] time here." (Id.). The "medical staff disposition" was "seen on 1/3/17." (Id.).

On December 22, 2016, a sick-call appointment was made for Fano to see an unspecified medical or mental health staffer concerning "[a]nxiety; [d]epression" on the same day. (Id.). This appointment never occurred. (Id.). A second sick-call appointment was made concerning the same issue for the next day, and it was also never kept (and later deleted from the system as an overdue task). (Id. at 13-14). On December 26, another sick-call appointment was made, with the note "NEED TO SEE PSYCH." (Id. at 14). The appointment was completed, but Dr. Blanche made no notes concerning the appointment in Fano's file. (Id.).

On January 11, 2017, Fano was seen on a mental health sick call by a CorrectHealth staffer due to a report that he was not taking medication or eating. (Id.). Fano was referred to Dr. Blanche and prescribed hydroxyzine for anxiety. (Id.). The same day, Fano was seen by a CorrectHealth staffer who reported suspicions that Fano was "faking bad or exaggerating his condition" and wrote that he "present[ed] as stable overall." (Id. at 15). On January 18 or 19,1 Dr. Blanche assessed Fano through the bars of his cell, noting that he doubted "serious mental illness" and that he would begin reducing Fano's medications. (Id.). Dr. Blanche ordered that Fano's Zyprexa be reduced immediately and discontinued after a week. (Id.).

On February 2, 2017, Fano was found hanging from the bars of his cell and was transported to the hospital in critical condition. (Id.). He was declared dead three days later. (Id.).

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In interviews conducted after Fano's death, two prisoners reported that Fano was "crying often," which no staffer had documented. (Id.). An officer also found two notes in Fano's cell indicating that he had been targeted by other prisoners for "his food and sex."2 (Id. at 16).

While Fano was at EBRPP, family members visited once and called two or three times per week. (Id.). Family members informed EBRPP staff members of Fano's mental health issues and "begged" them for treatment, and they were told that Fano was receiving the medication and treatment he needed. (Id.).

Fano spent nearly all of his time at EBRPP in solitary confinement. (Id.). Between November 2 and December 16, 2016, Fano received an average of 11 minutes per day out of his cell. (Id.). Between November 5, 2016, and February 1, 2017, Fano "refused," was "not present" for, or did not receive his medication due to "other" reasons 57 times. (Id. at 17). "Documentation why occurred only 6 times." (Id.).

B. HMA Report and Allegations of Policies, Practices, and Conditions

In January 2016, the City/Parish contracted with Health Management Associates ("HMA") to assess clinical operations and medical services at EBRPP. (Id. at 7). HMA interviewed various individuals, including Simpson, Grimes, Dr. Blanche, and Dr. Bridges, in connection with the assessment. (Id.). A site visit occurred in February 2016, and findings and recommendations were presented publicly in June 2016. (Id.). Drafts of HMA's report were presented to Simpson, Grimes, Dr. Blanche, and Dr. Bridges, as well as members of the City/Parish's Metrso Council. (Id. at 8).

The HMA report allegedly established the following facts. Prisoners brought to EBRPP and "appearing ill" are taken to a hospital for evaluation. (Id.). Ten percent of newly admitted

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prisoners do not receive an intake screening "on a timely basis," and some never do. (Id.). Additionally, nurses who perform the screenings vary in their "adherence to screening policy and procedures." (Id.). Further, chart reviews "showed no evidence of [EBRPP] health staff following up upon return [from the local hospital] other than noting inmate was back at" EBRPP. (Id. at 9).

Prisoners on suicide watch are placed in single person cells with no recreation or personal visits and are locked in their cells for at least 23 and a half hours per day. (Id. at 10). There is no...

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