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Estate of Johnson v. Milwaukee County

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 6, 2017

ESTATE OF BRANDON T. JOHNSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MILWAUKEE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          LYNN ADELMAN United States District Judge

         In 2012, Brandon Johnson died while he was confined at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex (the “Complex”). Brandon's[1] estate and his parents bring this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Milwaukee County, five health care professionals who treated him at the Complex, and an insurance company. One of these five healthcare professionals, Dr. Laurens D. Young, has filed a motion to dismiss the claims against him for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The other defendants have filed a motion to “join” Young's motion to dismiss. I consider these motions below.

         I. ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT

         According to the allegations of the complaint, on October 3, 2012, at about 7:00 a.m., officers with the Milwaukee Police Department took Brandon into custody because he was behaving erratically. The officers brought him to the County Mental Health Complex, where he arrived at about 8:00 a.m. Later that day, staff at the Complex placed Brandon in a room on one of the Complex's units.

         At some time before 5:30 p.m., Brandon sustained a blunt force injury to his neck, possibly as a result of falling. No staff member at the Complex witnessed Brandon sustain the injury. However, at about 5:40 p.m., two staff members heard Brandon calling for help from inside his room. When they entered his room, they found him lying on the floor. Brandon told these staff members that he had fallen, that he could no longer move his legs, that he could not feel his legs, that he was unable to get up, that he was paralyzed, and that he needed to be taken to a “specialty hospital.” Compl. ¶¶ 179-84. The first staff members to respond examined Brandon but were unable to determine if he was paralyzed. Other staff members also came to Brandon's room or were told about his condition.

         At about 6:00 p.m., the Complex's emergency room sent one of the defendants, Dr. Graig Aders, a psychiatrist, to examine Brandon. When Aders arrived at Brandon's room, Brandon was lying on the floor. Brandon told Aders that he had fallen, was unable to move his legs, and needed to go to a specialty hospital. Aders examined Brandon, recognized that he might have suffered a neurological injury, but did not conduct a full examination that would have addressed any neurological issues. After he completed his examination, Aders told staff that they could pick Brandon up off the floor and place him in his bed. However, the staff was unable to lift Brandon into his bed. Instead, they placed a mattress on the floor and put Brandon on it. Throughout the rest of the night, Brandon repeatedly complained that he was paralyzed and needed further medical attention.

         On the morning of October 4, 2012, Brandon told a certified nursing assistant that he was paralyzed and had soiled himself. The nursing assistant confirmed that Brandon had soiled himself and bathed him. For the rest of his stay at the Complex, Brandon wore an adult diaper.

         Brandon continued to complain about being paralyzed. Staff members eventually placed him in a “geriatric chair, ” which is similar to a wheelchair, so that they could move him around the Complex. At some point on October 4, one of the defendants, Dr. David Drake, a physician, informed a staff member that Brandon's inability to feel his legs was “psychological.” Compl. ¶ 279.

         On October 5, 2012, Brandon was scheduled to attend a probable-cause hearing regarding his continued detention at the Complex. However, because Brandon could not get himself out of bed, he did not attend the hearing. One of the defendants, Kelly K. Duggan, a psychologist, attended the hearing and testified that Brandon's paralysis was a “delusional belief.” Compl. ¶ 333. She further testified that Brandon's inability to walk had a psychiatric explanation rather than a physical explanation. Id. ¶ 334.

         Later that day, at about 2:00 p.m., Dr. Young, a psychiatrist, gave Brandon a “sensory examination.” Compl. ¶ 349. This occurred after another defendant, Barbara Plumb, a nurse practitioner, refused to examine the plaintiff or review his chart after being informed that Brandon was refusing to walk. According to the complaint, when Young examined the plaintiff, he did not have the proper equipment to conduct the examination and had difficulty conducting it because he did so in Brandon's room, which was dark and confined, and because Brandon was lying on a mattress on the floor. The complaint further alleges that Young “did not have all the facts” regarding Brandon's circumstances. Id. ¶ 352. During the examination, Brandon told Young that he had numbness and tingling in his upper extremities, numbness and problems with movement in his lower extremities, and could not walk. Young determined that Brandon had some loss of sensation in his lower extremities. Following the examination, Young diagnosed Brandon with “hysterical paralysis/psychotic presentation, rule out peripheral neuropathy.” Id. ¶ 356. Young informed other staff members at the Complex that there was no need to take Brandon to a specialty hospital. As far as the allegations of the complaint reveal, Young did not himself “rule out peripheral neuropathy” and did not make arrangements for Brandon to be seen by another doctor who could rule it out.

         After Young completed his examination, Brandon remained at the Complex and was occasionally examined by other professionals, including by defendant Drake. However, according to the allegations of the complaint, staff at the Complex did not perform a proper exam to determine whether Brandon had suffered a neurological injury.

         At about 9:00 a.m. on October 6, 2012, staff members wheeled Brandon into the Complex's dayroom for breakfast. While in the dayroom, Brandon slumped over in his chair and became nonresponsive. Staff members initiated an emergency response and administered CPR. Eventually, employees of the fire department arrived and took over. However, Brandon was pronounced dead at 10:04 a.m. An autopsy revealed that Brandon died of blood clots and lung blockage associated with having suffered a blunt force injury to his neck.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Dr. Young has moved to dismiss the claims against him for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. A plaintiff must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The complaint must, at a minimum, “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombl ...


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