ZEBLEY v. HEARTLAND Indus. of DAWSON INC., No. 09-2453.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtRILEY, Chief Judge.
Citation625 F.3d 449
PartiesJeanene ZEBLEY, individually and as surviving mother on behalf of Fallon Zebley, Appellant, v. HEARTLAND INDUSTRIES OF DAWSON, INC., Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 09-2453.
Decision Date12 November 2010

625 F.3d 449

Jeanene ZEBLEY, individually and as surviving mother on behalf of Fallon Zebley, Appellant,
v.
HEARTLAND INDUSTRIES OF DAWSON, INC., Appellee.

No. 09-2453.

United States Court of Appeals,Eighth Circuit.

Submitted: May 13, 2010.
Decided: Nov. 12, 2010.


625 F.3d 450

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED.

625 F.3d 451

Kim E. Brust, argued, Fargo, ND, for appellant.

Joel A. Flom, argued, Fargo, ND, for appellee.

Before RILEY, Chief Judge, LOKEN and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

RILEY, Chief Judge.

Fallon Zebley (Fallon), a young woman with mental disabilities, died after she jumped from the fifth-floor fire escape on a building in Fargo, North Dakota. At the time of her death, Fallon was under the care and supervision of Heartland Industries of Dawson, Inc. (Heartland), a licensed non-profit day training, habilitation, and employment services provider. Fallon's mother, Jeanene Zebley (Zebley), brought this wrongful death action against Heartland. A jury returned a verdict in Heartland's favor. The district court 1 denied Zebley's post-trial motion attacking the jury's verdict. Zebley appeals. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND 2 A. Fallon and the Team

Fallon was born in 1981. In 1997, Fallon contracted encephalitis. Following four months in a coma, Fallon emerged from the coma with severe brain damage. Fallon's brain injuries resulted in unpredictability, poor judgment, impulsivity, suicidal ideations, seizures, and poor balance and gait. When Fallon became agitated, her unpredictability, poor judgment, and impulsivity worsened. Fallon did not understand the consequences of her actions, avoided responsibility and undesirable activities, sought attention through negative means, and was verbally aggressive and argumentative when “asked to do things she [did] not want to do.”

Various organizations helped Zebley and her husband care for Fallon after her brain injury. Heartland provided Fallon with supported employment services, including a “job coach.” Divine House provided residential support and maintained Fallon's residence, an apartment in Moorhead, Minnesota. SOLUTIONS Behavioral Healthcare Professionals, Inc. (Solutions) provided behavioral management services. Representatives from each of these organizations, along with Zebley's parents and a representative of Clay County, Minnesota, constituted Fallon's interdisciplinary team (team).

B. The RMAP and the BPP

The team identified various risks Fallon might encounter in life and approved two plans designed to minimize Fallon's exposure to those risks. Heartland developed Fallon's Risk Management and Assessment

625 F.3d 452

Plan (RMAP), and Solutions created Fallon's Behavior Program Protocol (BPP).

The RMAP, which detailed Fallon's mental and physical impairments, instructed Fallon's care providers to “verbally and physically redirect Fallon as needed to assure her safety.” The RMAP elaborated, “If Fallon engages in behavior that jeopardizes her safety (i.e. walks away from staff ...) staff may need to physically intervene and if necessary follow ... policies on emergency control procedures.”

The BPP provided Fallon's care providers with detailed guidance on how to respond if Fallon exhibited certain behaviors. For outbursts in the workplace, the BPP generally advised:

When Fallon becomes agitated and argumentative she will be given one verbal prompt to find a quiet place to calm down.... She will be given no longer than 30 minutes to calm and comply with the staff's request to process the incident,[[ 3 ] due to vocational time constraints at her job site. If, after 30 minutes, Fallon is not calm and refusing to process, her vocational staff will contact [Aaron Benson, Heartland's Fargo-Moorhead Site Coordinator and Fallon's Qualified Mental Retardation Professional] and [Fallon's] residential Program Coordinator to inform them that Fallon be returned to her apartment.

In the event of a “physical outburst,” including “running away” or “throw[ing] ... items,” the BPP instructed Fallon's job coach to immediately disengage from Fallon so long as Fallon was not in danger. Christine Bietz, M.S., who authored the BPP for Solutions, believed “physical intervention wasn't really appropriate unless there was an extreme health or safety risk.” In case of danger, the BPP advised Fallon's job coach to assess whether verbal or physical intervention was appropriate under the circumstances. For example, the job coach might verbally prompt Fallon to “calm” in a quiet and safe place. If the job coach was uncomfortable attempting to intervene without assistance from other staff members, the BPP recommended the job coach contact Solutions or a supervisor.

C. Supported Employment

Heartland employed Fallon as an apartment cleaner and trained Malena Rock to supervise Fallon while Fallon worked at various worksites in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Rock started working for Heartland as Fallon's one-on-one job coach in August 2004. Rock's duties included supervising Fallon's work, assisting Fallon if she needed help, keeping Fallon always within eyesight, motivating Fallon, ensuring Fallon's safety, and processing with Fallon after Fallon behaved improperly.

Rock and Fallon enjoyed a good working relationship, and Fallon improved substantially under Rock's tutelage. Fallon stopped “eloping” from worksites and acting out physically, and her behavioral problems and need for processing substantially diminished. Rock was Fallon's best job coach, and served in that role longer than any other person. Rock was calm, thorough, and consistent, and Fallon craved consistency. Rock became very familiar with Fallon and utilized the RMAP and BPP to ensure Fallon's safety.

As of 2005, there was no identified acute risk Fallon would commit suicide. Neither the RMAP nor the BPP specifically required Fallon's care providers to intervene

625 F.3d 453

with physical force to prevent Fallon from using stairs, balconies, or fire escapes. Fallon had not fallen down stairs-intentionally or accidentally-since 2001 or 2002. She lived in a second-floor apartment with access to a balcony and routinely worked in multi-level buildings, including the six-story Ivers Building in downtown Fargo.

Heartland inspected the Ivers Building for safety. Rock believed the Ivers Building's six-floor fire escape presented “challenges” in light of Fallon's unsteady gait and history of falling down stairs. The fire escape “scare[d]” Rock, who feared Fallon “could get out there, [Rock] would not be in a position to deal with [Fallon,] and something bad could happen.” Rock worried Fallon might fall, resulting in serious injury or death. Unbeknownst to the rest of the team, however, Rock and Fallon “cooled off” on the fire escape on hot days.

D. Death

On February 6, 2006, Rock picked up Fallon and drove her to the Ivers Building for work. Fallon was in a good mood, joking, laughing, and talking about the future. After they arrived, Fallon noticed some of the Ivers Building's resident employees were having a meeting. Fallon complained she was the only person working in the building and that was not fair. Rock verbally redirected Fallon. Rock explained the resident employees were having a meeting, just as Fallon occasionally met with her team.

While cleaning the sixth floor, Fallon's vacuum stopped working. Fallon became agitated and complained Rock was throwing “stuff” on the floor to create more work for Fallon. Rock again attempted to redirect Fallon verbally. Rock explained that Rock and Fallon would need to go downstairs and get another vacuum so Fallon could finish her work. Rock also told Fallon they would need to “process” the incident. Fallon agreed to go downstairs.

When Rock called the elevator, Fallon insisted upon using the stairs. Fallon proceeded to the stairs with her broken vacuum. Rock “withdrew attention” from Fallon and followed her down the stairs. Rock assumed Fallon was going to the ground floor to pick up a new vacuum, but Fallon exited the stairwell at the fifth floor. Rock then followed Fallon through a series of hallways. As Fallon navigated the fifth floor, Rock thought Fallon might be looking for a place to calm, such as an interior window ledge. On a previous occasion, Fallon sat down in the hallway after becoming frustrated with Rock. Although Fallon's designated calming place was on the main floor, it was not uncommon for Fallon to choose her own calming place.

To Rock's surprise and immediate consternation, Fallon suddenly slammed her vacuum down and accelerated to a door leading to the fire escape. Rock was worried Fallon might use the fire escape to leave the Ivers Building, but Rock did not have an opportunity to stop Fallon from walking outside. Fallon glanced at Rock, opened the door, and walked onto the fire escape. The door closed behind Fallon.

Rock ran to the fire escape, pushed open the fire escape door, and saw Fallon sitting on the first step of the fire escape stairs leading up to the sixth floor. Fallon was not agitated and appeared to be calming. Rock wanted to cajole Fallon inside but worried physical intervention might agitate Fallon and cause her to run or possibly fall down the fire escape stairs. Rock decided against climbing onto the fire escape, instead propping the door open with her foot.

625 F.3d 454

Rock told Fallon she should come back inside the Ivers Building, because it was cold outside and they needed to process. Fallon refused. Rock made two cellular telephone calls for backup. Solutions did not answer the first call, but on the second call Rock was able to reach Heartland. Benson's supervisor, Kerry Larson, told Rock that Larson would send Chris Fester to help Rock process with Fallon. Larson directed Rock to tell Fallon about Fester's impending arrival to motivate Fallon to come inside. Rock told Fallon that, if Fallon did not come inside within five minutes, Rock would call Fester to help Rock and Fallon process.

Fallon stood up and faced Rock. Rock initially thought...

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14 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Kane, No. 06–1103.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • April 29, 2011
    ...setting forth this case's background in greater detail than in our previous decisions. See Zebley v. Heartland Indus. of Dawson, Inc., 625 F.3d 449, 451 n. 2 (8th Cir.2010). A comprehensive understanding of the case is essential to understanding why we hold Kane's sentence is unreasonable. ......
  • Am. Bank of St. Paul v. TD Bank, N.A., Nos. 12–1806
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • April 26, 2013
    ...new trial. This court reviews for an abuse of discretion a district court's jury instructions. Zebley v. Heartland Indus. of Dawson, Inc., 625 F.3d 449, 455 (8th Cir.2010). “A district court possesses broad discretion in instructing the jury, and jury instructions do not need to be technica......
  • Farrow v. Contra Costa Cnty., Case No. 12-cv-06495-JCS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • January 2, 2019
    ...of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight"); Zebley v. Heartland Indus. of Dawson, Inc., 625 F.3d 449, 457-58 (8th Cir. 2010) (holding that a district court correctly stated the standard for negligence under North Dakota law when it instructed......
  • Der v. Connolly, Nos. 11–1048
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • January 25, 2012
    ...to them. This court reviews for an abuse of discretion a district court's jury instructions. Zebley v. Heartland Indus. of Dawson, Inc., 625 F.3d 449, 455 (8th Cir.2010). “A district court possesses broad discretion in instructing the jury, and jury instructions do not need to be technicall......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • U.S. v. Kane, No. 06–1103.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • April 29, 2011
    ...setting forth this case's background in greater detail than in our previous decisions. See Zebley v. Heartland Indus. of Dawson, Inc., 625 F.3d 449, 451 n. 2 (8th Cir.2010). A comprehensive understanding of the case is essential to understanding why we hold Kane's sentence is unreasonable. ......
  • Am. Bank of St. Paul v. TD Bank, N.A., Nos. 12–1806
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • April 26, 2013
    ...new trial. This court reviews for an abuse of discretion a district court's jury instructions. Zebley v. Heartland Indus. of Dawson, Inc., 625 F.3d 449, 455 (8th Cir.2010). “A district court possesses broad discretion in instructing the jury, and jury instructions do not need to be technica......
  • Farrow v. Contra Costa Cnty., Case No. 12-cv-06495-JCS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • January 2, 2019
    ...of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight"); Zebley v. Heartland Indus. of Dawson, Inc., 625 F.3d 449, 457-58 (8th Cir. 2010) (holding that a district court correctly stated the standard for negligence under North Dakota law when it instructed......
  • Der v. Connolly, Nos. 11–1048
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • January 25, 2012
    ...to them. This court reviews for an abuse of discretion a district court's jury instructions. Zebley v. Heartland Indus. of Dawson, Inc., 625 F.3d 449, 455 (8th Cir.2010). “A district court possesses broad discretion in instructing the jury, and jury instructions do not need to be technicall......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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