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Wehrli v. Allegheny County

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 4, 2017

CATHY WEHRLI, Adminstratix of the Estate of JACQULYN WEHRLI, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
ALLEGHENY COUNTY; ORLANDO HARPER, individually; CORIZON HEALTH, INC.; CORIZON, INC.; and NORBERTO RODRIGUEZ, MD, individually, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER [1]

          Cynthia Reed Eddy United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Cathy Wehrli brings this civil rights, wrongful death, and survival action as Adminstratix of the Estate of her deceased daughter, Jacqulyn Wehrli, (“Jacqulyn”), who died as a result of receiving improper medical care at the Allegheny County Jail (“ACJ” or “the jail”). There are currently three pending motions to dismiss the complaint filed by the above-captioned Defendants. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the motion filed by Corizon Health, Inc. and Corizon, Inc. (collectively “Corizon”) (ECF No. 8), deny the motion filed by Dr. Norberto Rodriguez, M.D. (ECF No. 21), grant the motion filed by Allegheny County and Orlando Harper (ECF No. 16 errata 18), and will allow Plaintiff to file an amended complaint to add factual allegations against the County and Harper.

         I. Factual Background

         Before Jacqulyn's death, she had a medical history that included bipolar disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, mental retardation, and neuroleptic malignant syndrome (“NMS”). On May 19, 2014, Jacqulyn sought treatment for her intermittent explosive disorder (a behavioral disorder characterized by explosive outbursts of anger and violence) as a voluntary outpatient at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (“WPIC”). During this treatment, an incident occurred in which Jacqulyn allegedly struck and injured a nurse, resulting in Jacqulyn being discharged in shackles and remanded into the custody of ACJ.

         When Jacqulyn was placed in the jail's custody, WPIC staff provided the jail with a discharge summary that listed her allergies, medications, and prior medical history. WPIC staff also faxed the jail a separate “internal” and/or “institution-to-institution” discharge summary that listed with more specificity Jacqulyn's allergies, medications, and medical history.

         On or about May 20, 2014 at 10:45 a.m., Jacqulyn was examined by Defendant Dr. Rodriguez, a psychiatrist employed by the jail's medical contractor, Corizon. The complaint alleges that Dr. Rodriguez's assessment of Jacqulyn was incomplete, as he recorded minimal notes during his evaluation, ordered that Haldol be administered to Jacqulyn, and did not order close monitoring of Jacqulyn. In light of WPIC's discharge summaries, Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Rodriguez knew of Jacqulyn's history of NMS, which can be triggered from the administration of Haldol. According to the complaint, NMS is a rare, but life-threatening, idiosyncratic reaction to neuroleptic treatment that often occurs shortly after the initiation of the treatment, or after dose increases. The complaint asserts that if a patient has a history of NMS, other sedative/treating agents should be considered before administering Haldol, but if Haldol is required or administered, the patient should be closely monitored in order to detect and prevent an onset of NMS.

         The next day, May 21, 2014 at 9:55 p.m., Jacqulyn displayed a change in behavior that included cessation of agitation, but at the request of Dr. Rodriguez, the administration of Haldol continued. Jacqulyn's vital signs remained unmonitored for the next twenty hours, until May 22, 2014 at 5:30 p.m., which was three days after she was transferred to the jail and two days after the administration of Haldol began. Jacqulyn displayed symptoms of an onset of NMS but the administration of Haldol, with a lack of sufficient monitoring, continued. On May 24, 2014, Jacqulyn continued to manifest symptoms of NMS. Despite these symptoms, her chart made no mention of possible causes.

         On May 25, 2014, Jacqulyn was non-verbal, unable to take fluids, unable to squeeze a nurse's hand on command and was transferred to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Mercy. When she arrived at UPMC Mercy, she was in a catatonic state.

         Jacqulyn remained in the care of UPMC for the next six months and was then transferred to Kane Hospital in Glenn Hazel, Allegheny County. In a catatonic state and unable to communicate with caregivers or her family, Jacqulyn passed away on December 5, 2014 due to massive organ failure.

         The autopsy report produced by the Office of the Medical Examiner of the Allegheny County performed on December 16, 2014 states that “Jacqulyn Wehrli, a 31 year old white female, died as a result of [NMS]/malignant catatonia due to Haldol administration.”

         II. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff initiated this action on June 29, 2016 against Defendants Allegheny County, Orlando Harper (the warden), Corizon (the medical contractor), and Dr. Rodriguez (the psychiatrist). All of these Defendants responded to the complaint by filing Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss in September 2016. (ECF Nos. 8, 16 errata 18, 21). Corizon and Dr. Rodriguez requested in their motions that the Court convert their motions to dismiss into motions for summary judgment based on a statute of limitations defense, relying on numerous medical records and other documents not attached to or referenced in the complaint. All of the pending motions have been briefed extensively, (ECF Nos. 9, 17, 22, 38-40, 43, 45, 46, 50-52), and they became ripe on December 30, 2016. The Court has carefully reviewed all of these submissions.

         III. Legal Standard

         “Under Rule 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss will be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds that plaintiff's claims lack facial plausibility.” Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 88 (3d Cir. 2011). “In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010).

         When matters outside of the pleadings are presented to the Court on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court has the discretion to exclude such matters from consideration. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 905 n. 3 (3d Cir. 1997). “This discretion generally will be exercised on the basis of the district court's determination of whether or not the proffered material … is likely to facilitate the disposition of the action.” 5C Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ: § 1366 (3d ed.). If the Court decides to consider matters outside of the pleadings, then the motion must be treated as a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment, and all parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         IV. Discussion

         Because Corizon and Dr. Rodriguez make similar arguments in support of their motions to dismiss, the Court will address their arguments together. The Court will then separately address the motion filed by the County and Warden Harper.

         A. Corizon and Dr. Rodriguez

         Corizon and Dr. Rodriguez move to dismiss the § 1983 claims and state law survival claims by arguing in their respective briefs that the complaint was not filed within the applicable statute of limitations period, which is two years for all of Plaintiff's claims.[2]See 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524(2); Kach v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 634 (3d Cir. 2009) (§ 1983 claims); Miller v. Philadelphia Geriatric Ctr., 463 F.3d 266, 275-77 (3d Cir. 2006) (state law survival actions). These Defendants have attached medical records to their motions to dismiss, which they claim show that Plaintiff knew of the cause of Jacqulyn's injury (during the time in which Jacqulyn was in a catatonic state) more than two years before the lawsuit was initiated, and, as such, request that the Court convert their motions into motions for summary judgment. Aside from the fact that the medical records submitted by Corizon and Dr. Rodriguez are incomplete, see note 3 infra, even if the Court were to consider the records at this stage, it would not facilitate the disposition of the action because the ...


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