SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM, JENNIFER THOMAS-TAYLOR, M.D., ALVA BRITT, R.N., BENJAMIN W. HUDSON M.D., AND EMERGENCY ROOM GROUP, LTD.
TERESA VERMILYEA AND JULIE VERMILYEA KASBY AS THE WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF RANDY VERMILYEA AND JULIE VERMILYEA KASBY, INDIVIDUALLY
Of Judgment: 07/11/2016
FROM WHICH APPEALED JACKSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. ROBERT
P. KREBS JAMES E. LAMBERT, III JOHN A. BANAHAN JESSICA B.
McNEEL A. KELLY SESSUMS, III MARC L. BOUTWELL TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: JOHN A. BANAHAN JESSICA B. McNEEL
MICHAEL R. MOORE BRETT K. WILLIAMS A. KELLY SESSOMS, III
JAMES E. LAMBERT, III.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: MARC L. BOUTWELL.
KITCHENS, P.J., KING AND CHAMBERLIN, JJ.
KITCHENS, PRESIDING JUSTICE.
Teresa Vermilyea and her daughter, Julie Vermilyea Kasby,
filed suit against Singing River Health System, Jennifer
Thomas-Taylor, M.D.; Alva Britt, R.N.; Benjamin W. Hudson,
M.D.; and Emergency Room Group, Ltd., pursuant to the
Mississippi Tort Claims Act for the wrongful death of Randy
Vermilyea, the husband of Teresa Vermilyea and father of
Julie Vermilyea Kasby (collectively, "Vermilyea").
Vermilyea alleged that Randy Vermilyea had been admitted to
the Singing River Hospital following a suicide attempt and
that the defendants had breached the standard of care by
failing to assess his mental condition properly and
prematurely discharging him, proximately causing his suicide
minutes after his discharge. Julie Vermilyea Kasby, who had
witnessed her father's suicide, asserted a claim for
intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court
denied the defendants' motions to dismiss for failure to
state a claim. The appellants timely sought, and we granted,
an interlocutory appeal. Finding that Vermilyea did state
viable legal claims based upon Randy Vermilyea's death,
we affirm and remand the case to the Circuit Court of Jackson
County for further proceedings.
Vermilyea filed a complaint on October 8, 2015, and an
amended complaint on November 13, 2015. According to the
amended complaint, on October 12, 2014, a severely depressed
and suicidal Randy Vermilyea was standing on the ledge of the
Pascagoula River Bridge, threatening to jump to his death.
The amended complaint alleged that officers of the Jackson
County Sheriff's Department arrived and spent ninety
minutes pleading with him to leave the bridge. The amended
complaint further alleged that, when Randy Vermilyea finally
agreed to step off the bridge, the officers took him into
custody and had him transported by ambulance to the emergency
room at Singing River Hospital, where he was evaluated and
released a few hours later. According to the allegations of
the amended complaint, Randy Vermilyea was evaluated by
defendants Jennifer Thomas-Taylor, M.D.; Benjamin W. Hudson,
M.D.; and Alva Britt, R.N.; and then he was released from the
hospital on his own, without shoes, and without hospital
employees' having contacted any of his family members to
inform them of his suicide attempt. The amended complaint
alleged that, upon his discharge, Randy Vermilyea telephoned
his daughter, Julie Vermilyea Kasby, for transportation, and
the defendants never informed her of his suicide attempt.
Finally, the amended complaint alleged that, within minutes
of his discharge, Randy Vermilyea jumped to his death from a
bridge in Moss Point on Highway 613.
In the amended complaint, Vermilyea alleged that the
defendant medical providers had a duty to their patient,
Randy Vermilyea, to exercise such reasonable care and
attention as his mental and emotional condition required.
Vermilyea claimed that the defendants had breached the
standard of care by failing to conduct an adequate suicide
assessment because, if one had been conducted, Randy
Vermilyea would not have been discharged from the hospital
prematurely. Vermilyea claimed that the failure to take
adequate measures to assess Randy Vermilyea's mental
state and keep him hospitalized proximately had caused his
suicide immediately after his discharge. The amended
complaint charged that the defendants had failed to assess
and treat Randy Vermilyea's psychiatric condition, failed
to hospitalize him, negligently and prematurely released him
from the hospital, failed to take reasonable steps to prevent
him from harming himself, failed to follow the standard of
care applicable to a depressed and suicidal patient, and
failed to inform Theresa Vermilyea or Julie Vermilyea Kasby
of his attempted suicide and need for follow-up care. The
amended complaint also alleged that the physicians and nurse
had failed to recognize the definitive signs and symptoms of
Randy Vermilyea's medical condition. Vermilyea claimed
that Singing River Health System and Emergency Room Group,
Ltd., were vicariously liable for the negligent acts and
omissions of their employees. Additionally, Julie Vermilyea
Kasby asserted a claim for intentional infliction of
emotional distress based on her having witnessed her
father's suicide after the defendants had omitted
informing her that he had attempted suicide earlier in the
Singing River Health System and Jennifer Thomas-Taylor, M.D.,
answered and filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim upon which relief could be granted pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure. Dr.
Benjamin Hudson and Emergency Room Group, Ltd., filed an
answer and a joinder in Singing River's and Dr.
Thomas-Taylor's motion to dismiss. Alva Britt, R.N.,
filed an answer and affirmative defenses in which she moved
to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a
claim. The defendants asserted that Vermilyea had failed to
state a claim because, under Truddle v. Baptist Memorial
Hospital-DeSoto, Inc., 150 So.3d 692 (Miss. 2014),
recovery against a third party for a suicide is permitted
only upon proof that the decedent had acted under an
irresistible impulse, proximately caused by the
defendant's intentional conduct, that had rendered him
unable to discern the nature or consequences of suicide.
Because Vermilyea's amended complaint alleged negligence,
not that the defendants had committed an intentional act that
had proximately caused an irresistible impulse in Randy
Vermilyea to commit suicide, the defendants argued that the
amended complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a
After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion to
dismiss, finding the case to be distinguishable from
Truddle. The defendants jointly filed a petition for
an interlocutory appeal of the denial of the motion to
dismiss. This Court granted the petition and stayed the
proceedings in the trial court.
A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule
12(b)(6) raises an issue of law which we review de
novo. City of Vicksburg v. Williams, 191 So.3d
1242, 1244 (Miss. 2016). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the
legal sufficiency of the complaint, and review is limited to
the content of the complaint. State v. Bayer Corp.,
32 So.3d 496, 502 (Miss. 2010). "On a motion to dismiss,
'the allegations in the complaint must be taken as true,
and the motion should not be granted unless it appears beyond
doubt that the plaintiff will be unable to prove any set of
facts in support of his claim.'" Covington Cty.
Bank v. Magee, 177 So.3d 826, 828 (Miss. 2015) (quoting
City of Belmont v. Miss. State Tax Comm'n, 860
So.2d 289, 295 (Miss. 2003)).
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY DENYING THE MOTION TO DISMISS.
The defendants argue that, taking the allegations of the
complaint as true, Truddle v. Baptist-Memorial
Hospital-DeSoto, 150 So.3d 692, is an absolute bar to
Vermilyea's ability to recover for the suicide of Randy
Vermilyea. Truddle involved Diane Truddle's
claim against an internist and Baptist Hospital for the
wrongful death of her son, Eric Carmichael, who had committed
suicide after having been discharged from Baptist.
Id. at 693. Upon his admission to Baptist,
Carmichael was diagnosed with a gastric ulcer and other
physical ailments and was prescribed the drug Reglan.
Id. at 694. The night before his discharge, he
became agitated and aggressive. Id. His mother told
his treating internist that Carmichael did not want to be
discharged because he had said that one of the medications
had made him crazy, but the internist discharged him anyway.
Id. At the follow-up appointment four days later,
Carmichael's mother complained to the internist that
Carmichael had said his medications were making him crazy.
Nonetheless, the internist wrote him another prescription for
Reglan. Id. Two days later, after telling a friend
that he was tired of living, Carmichael committed suicide.
Id. at 694-95. Truddle filed a wrongful death
lawsuit against Baptist and the internist, arguing that
Reglan had put Carmichael at a higher risk of suicide.
Id. at 694. The trial court granted summary judgment
to the defendants, and Truddle appealed. Id. at 693.
In determining that the trial court properly had granted
summary judgment to the defendants, this Court discussed two
lines of cases concerning a third party's liability for
another's suicide. Id. at 695-98. The Court
first reviewed the line of cases concerning the irresistible
impulse doctrine in Mississippi, originally recognized in
State for Use and Benefit of Richardson v.
Edgeworth, 214 So.2d 579, 585 (Miss. 1968).
Edgeworth was a suit for the wrongful death of Billy
Joe Edgeworth, who had committed suicide after having
suffered continuous, intense harassment by two justices of
the peace who had used the criminal process of the courts
wrongfully to collect civil debts. Edgeworth, 214
So.2d at 581, 584. The plaintiff's expert ...