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Dooley v. Noxubee County

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

June 13, 2017




         This wrongful-death action is before the Court on Defendant Noxubee General Hospital's Motion to Dismiss [5]. For the reasons that follow, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state-law claim and thus grants Defendant's motion.

          I. Facts and Procedural History

         The events leading to Carl Dooley III's death in this sad matter began on December 23, 2015. Starting that evening and continuing into the next morning, Carl's wife, Plaintiff Rhonda Dooley, placed multiple 911 calls to report that Carl was threating to harm her and himself. Compl. [1] ¶ 7. Noxubee County, Mississippi law enforcement arrived at the Dooleys' home around 11:00 a.m. on December 24 and found Carl with self-inflicted lacerations to both wrists. Id. ¶ 8.

         That same day, the Noxubee County Sheriff's Department transported Carl to Noxubee General Hospital (“Noxubee General”). Id. ¶ 9. There, Carl told Noxubee General personnel that he “tried to kill [him]self” using a razor. Id. A Noxubee General employee then treated Carl's wounds and discharged him back to Noxubee County law enforcement a little over an hour later, with no psychological assessment or treatment provided. Id. ¶ 10.

         Noxubee County personnel then transported Carl from the hospital and released him to the custody of the Lowndes County, Mississippi Sheriff's Department at 3:17 p.m. on December 24. Id. ¶ 11. There was no communication between the County employees regarding Carl's previous suicide attempt or subsequent hospital treatment. Id. Accordingly, he was not placed on suicide watch at Lowndes County, where he sent Rhonda numerous emails suggesting that he “was contemplating another suicide attempt.” Id. ¶¶ 11-12. Then on December 26, 2015, Carl committed suicide using bedsheets while in Lowndes County custody. Id. ¶ 13.[1]

         Rhonda Dooley (“Dooley”), individually and on behalf of Carl's beneficiaries, filed suit in this Court on December 21, 2016. She brings a state-law negligence claim again Noxubee General, and § 1983 and deliberate-indifference federal claims as to Noxubee County and Lowndes County. Noxubee General moved to dismiss the state-law claim against it pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), and that motion was fully briefed on May 19, 2017. The Court has personal and subject-matter jurisdiction and is prepared to rule.

          II. Standard

          Under 28 U.S.C. § 1367, this Court “shall have supplemental jurisdiction over” claims that do not independently come within the jurisdiction of the district court but “are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) (2012). “The question under section 1367(a) is whether the supplemental claims are so related to the original claims . . . that they ‘derive from a common nucleus of operative fact.'” Mendoza v. Murphy, 532 F.3d 342, 346 (5th Cir. 2008). Stated another way, a state-law claim is part of the same case or controversy as a federal claim where a plaintiff “would ordinarily be expected to try them all in one judicial proceeding.” United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725 (1966). “The party which asserts jurisdiction bears the burden of proof for a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).” Davis v. United States, 597 F.3d 646, 649 (5th Cir. 2009).

         III. Analysis

          A. Whether the Court Has Supplemental Jurisdiction Under Section 1367(a)

          This Court has federal-question subject-matter jurisdiction over the federal claims asserted against: (1) Noxubee County for allegedly transferring Carl into custody without informing the custodian of his suicide attempt and medical treatment and (2) Lowndes County for allegedly failing to properly monitor Carl's mental condition and emails once he was in custody. Compl. [1] ¶¶ 19-20, 23-24. But Noxubee General argues that the Court lacks supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law negligence claim asserted against it. Dooley is suing Noxubee General under Mississippi law for failing to appropriately assess and evaluate Carl's mental status before he was discharged from the hospital following his suicide attempt. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. Citing cases from circuits outside of this one, Noxubee General says the negligence claim falls outside the supplemental jurisdiction of this Court because it does not “derive from the same nucleus of fact as the federal law claims” against the Counties. Def.'s Mem. [6] at 3. The foundation of Noxubee General's argument is that the state claim involves a different defendant and entirely dissimilar acts.

         Ignoring the seemingly new allegations she presents in response, [2] Dooley says the federal and state claims pleaded in her Complaint are “inextricably intertwined” as each party's liability “revolves around the failure to assess the suicide risk suffered by Carl.” Def.'s Mem. [19] at 1- 2. It is obvious Dooley attempts to broadly assess the operative factual issue in this case. On the other hand, Noxubee General tries to boil down the factual issues to something more distinct and specific-evaluation while under hospital treatment versus information transfer and supervision while in police custody. So the question becomes how broadly or narrowly the Court should define the “common nucleus of operative fact.”

         This is a close call based on a difficult standard. To be sure, as Noxubee General points out, the claims against each defendant address “distinct alleged wrongs.” Def.'s Mem. [6] at 4. But “Section 1367(a) is expansive, extending supplemental jurisdiction to its constitutional limit.” Lucarino v. Con-Dive, LLC, No. H-09-2548, 2010 WL 786546, at *2 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 5, 2010) (Rosenthal, J.). And it “requires only that the jurisdiction-invoking claim and the supplemental claim have some loose factual connection.” Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3567.1 (3d ed. 2017); see also CheckPoint Fluidic Sys. Int'l, Ltd. v. Guccione, No. 10-4505, 2012 WL 195533, at *3 (E.D. La. Jan. 23, 2012) (“A loose factual connection between the claims is generally sufficient.”); Lucarino, 2010 WL 786546, at *2 (“[T]his does not mean that all of the facts applicable to the federal claim must also apply to the state claim. Section 1367(a) is generally satisfied by a ...

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