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Goines v. Valley Community Services Bd.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

May 4, 2015


For Gordon Goines, Plaintiff: Timothy Lawrence Coffield, LEAD ATTORNEY, Keswick, VA.

For Valley Community Services Board, Defendant: Rosalie Pemberton Fessier, LEAD ATTORNEY, TIMBERLAKE SMITH THOMAS & MOSES PC, STAUNTON, VA.

For David Shaw, Robert Dean, D.L. Williams, Defendant: Richard Hustis Milnor, LEAD ATTORNEY, Taylor Zunka Milnor & Carter LTD, Chartlottesville, VA.

For Jenna Rhodes, Defendant: James Morton Bowling, IV, LEAD ATTORNEY, Charlottesville, VA.


Elizabeth K. Dillon, United States District Judge.

Pending before the court are five motions to dismiss, separately filed by all defendants in this case. Taken together, they seek dismissal of plaintiff Gordon Goines's complaint in its entirety. Goines has filed responses in opposition, and defendants have filed replies. The court heard oral argument on the motions, and they are now ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, the motions will be granted.

I. Background

Goines's complaint alleges that he was unlawfully seized and detained by defendants, without probable cause and in violation of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. He brings suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and also asserts a state-law claim of false imprisonment. He names as defendants three officers with the City of Waynesboro Police Department (defendants David Shaw, Robert Dean, and D.L. Williams), the Valley Community Services Board (VCSB), and Jenna Rhodes, who is employed by VCSB as an Emergency Services and Intake Clinician. He lists John Does 1-10 as additional defendants.

Accepting the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegations in the complaint as true, as this court must when ruling on a motion to dismiss, see Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 391 (4th Cir. 2011); Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008), the facts of the case are as follows:

Goines suffers from cerebellar ataxia, a neurological condition that manifests itself in physical ways. (Dkt. No. 1, Compl. ¶ 14.) For example, the disorder sometimes makes it " difficult for him to maintain a normal upright posture when walking, causing him to walk with an unsteady, lurching gait." ( Id. ¶ 15.) As a result of the condition, he also speaks slowly and " his speech is sometimes slurred." ( Id. ) He also struggles occasionally with fine motor skills such as writing and buttoning clothes. The effects of this condition are " purely physiological." ( Id. ¶ 16.) It does not affect his cognitive functioning and he is mentally stable and has no " mental health issues." ( Id. )

Goines resides in an apartment complex in Waynesboro. In the weeks leading up to May 15, 2014, he noticed a problem with his cable service. His television would intermittently disconnect throughout the day and would freeze and produce extremely loud line noise and signals. Goines had notified his cable service provider, Comcast, about the problem. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 17-19.)

On May 15, 2014, Comcast sent a field tech to Goines's residence. The field tech examined the conjunction box outside his building and told Goines that one of his neighbors had spliced the cable running to Goines's apartment and was effectively stealing his cable. This was the cause of " the disconnections, loud line noise, and signals" that were coming through his television. ( Id. ¶ 19.)

The field tech told Goines he could not fix the problem without entering the neighbor's apartment and that he was not legally authorized to do so. Instead, the field tech recommended that Goines notify the police of the cable theft. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 20-21.)

That afternoon, Goines walked to the Waynesboro Police Department, which was across the street from his apartment, to report the cable theft. ( Id. ¶ 22.) Goines told Officer Feazell he was uncomfortable confronting his neighbor because he was unsure how the neighbor would react, and further told Feazell he " did not want to 'get in a fight'" with the neighbor. Instead, he was reporting the theft to the police so that the police could handle it. ( Id. ¶ 23.)

Feazell contacted two other officers, Shaw and Dean. An incident report prepared later by Shaw (" the Incident Report" ) reflects that Feazell advised Shaw and Dean that Goines " seemed to have some mental health issues going on over an issue with a television." ( Id. ¶ 24.) Shaw and Dean approached Goines, and Shaw asked if they could go over to Goines's apartment so he could show them what was going on. ( Id. ¶ 25.) Goines agreed, and the two officers followed Goines to his apartment. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 25-26.)

According to the complaint, " Shaw and Dean apparently ignored or did not take the time to understand Goines' complaint." ( Id. ¶ 26.) In the Incident Report, Shaw indicated that Goines told them " there was a clicking noise in the wall because someone outside was controlling his T.V." ( Id. ) Neither the officers nor Goines turned on the television at any point, however, and the officers never heard the line noise and signals. ( See id. ¶ 27.) The Incident Report--which the court credits as accurate insofar as it does not conflict with the allegations in the complaint, see Section II.B. herein--describes that Goines " tried to get us to hear the noises he was but we didn't hear them and told him that." (Dkt. No. 12-3 at 3.)

Goines alleges that " [a]t no time did [he] make any threat to do harm to any person or to himself." ( Id. ¶ 34.) The Incident Report, though, stated that Feazell told Shaw that Goines said he was " going to hurt somebody" (Dkt. No. 12-3 at 3), and Goines admits that when Officers Dean and Shaw asked him about fighting with his neighbors, he answered that he would " use his hands." (Dkt. No. 29 at 15-16.) When the officers asked Goines how he would " use his hands," Goines said " by punching." ( Id. ) Goines describes this exchange as a hypothetical conversation.

The officers asked Goines if he " had any mental health issues" or " had a doctor for issues." (Dkt. No. 1, ¶ 28.) Goines told them he did not. ( Id. ) Despite his response, Shaw and Dean concluded that Goines was " having irrational issues and hearing things." ( Id. ¶ 29.) So Shaw asked Goines if he " wanted to talk to someone." ( Id. ¶ 30.) By his question, Shaw intended to ask whether Goines wanted to talk to a mental health professional. Indeed, Goines does not dispute the accuracy of the Incident Report on this point, wherein Officer Shaw reported that he " told [Goines] there was concern for his and others safety and he needed to go talk to someone about all these problems. He agreed to go with Officer Dean to go speak to VCSB." (Dkt. No. 12-3 at 3.) Goines claims, however, that he understood Shaw to be asking if he wanted to talk to someone about the cable theft. In any event, Goines agreed to go with the officers. (Dkt. No. 1, ¶ ¶ 28-31.)

At that point, Shaw and Dean handcuffed Goines, took him back to the police station, and placed him into the caged portion of a police vehicle in the parking lot. ( Id. ¶ 32.) Goines told Dean he wanted to go home and asked Shaw and Dean to let him out of the car, but Dean told Goines " that wasn't an option." [1] ( Id. ¶ 33.) Goines's counsel agreed at argument that there may have been consent at the time Goines left the house with the officers, albeit consent based on a misunderstanding. But at the point that Goines stated he wanted to go home and the officers would not allow him, a seizure clearly occurred and had to be supported by probable cause.

Goines alleges that, upon information and belief, Dean or Shaw then placed a call to one of the John Doe defendants, who encouraged Shaw and Dean to take Goines into custody under Virginia laws involving mental-health evaluations. Dean and Shaw transported Goines against his will to Augusta County Medical Center [ACMC].[2] ( Id. ¶ ¶ 35, 37.)

Dean or Shaw then placed a phone call to one of the John Does and requested a background check on Goines, which revealed that Goines had no criminal record, but that he owned a registered firearm. ( Id. ¶ 38.) In response to questioning from Dean or Shaw, Goines explained he purchased the firearm in or around 2010 when he worked as a security guard, and that he kept the firearm locked in a safe at his residence. ( Id. ) Goines also told them that if there was a problem with the firearm, they could have it, and that he simply wanted to go home. ( Id. P 39.) Goines alleges that he repeatedly stated to Dean and others at the hospital that he wanted to go home. ( Id. ¶ 40.) He claims that there was no legitimate or lawful basis to seize, arrest, or detain him.

At around 6:00 p.m., defendant Jenna Rhodes began an evaluation of Goines, acting as the designee and employee of VCSB. At approximately 6:15 p.m., Defendants John Doe 1-- identified in the Incident Report as Officer Scott--and Williams came to the hospital and relieved Dean. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 45-46.)

At some point during Goines's detention at ACMC, Rhodes or a John Doe filed a petition seeking Goines's temporary detention and involuntary admission to a mental health facility pursuant to Virginia Code § 37.2-809.[3] ( Id. ¶ 47.) Goines refers to the twelve-page document attached to his complaint as the May 15 Petition, but it is actually titled " Preadmission Screening Report" (Screening Report). According to the complaint, the Screening Report alleged " (i) that Goines had a mental illness and was in need of hospitalization or treatment; (ii) that there existed a substantial likelihood that, as a result of mental illness, Goines would, in the near future, cause serious physical harm to others . . . ; and (iii) that Goines would suffer serious harm due to his lack of capacity to protect himself from harm or provide for his own basic human needs." ( Id. P 49, and Ex. A.)

The Screening Report was completed by Rhodes and included a " diagnosis" that Goines had a " Psychotic Disorder NOS (298.9)." [4] The complaint notes that " Rhodes has a master's degree in education" and " was not a licensed medical professional, clinical psychologist, or clinical social worker in Virginia or any other state." ( Id. ¶ 50.) Goines contends that, by diagnosing him, she engaged in clinical psychology without being qualified to do so. ( Id. ¶ 51.) It is undisputed, however, that Rhodes was an individual designated by VCSB to perform such evaluations, and Goines does not allege that she was not certified by Virginia to do so.

Goines alleges that, " [b]ased on the observations of [him] as set forth in the 'Preadmission Screening Report,' Rhodes lacked probable cause to believe that [he] had a mental illness, or would cause serious harm to himself or others, or that he was in need of hospitalization." [5] ( Id. ¶ 53.) The Screening Report contained other information and observations, including:

o that Goines " often displays inappropriate affect" ;
o that he appeared to " have delayed response" ;
o that he appeared " to respond to internal stimuli by his eyes darting about the room, as if responding to visual hallucination" ;
o that he appeared " disoriented as to time" (specifically, when asked the date, he said it was March 10 or 11, 2012, instead of May 15, 2014);
o that Goines had informed her that he had a " shrunken cerebellum" that was continuing to shrink;
o that he perseverated on the topic of his television and neighbors, insisting that his neighbors are controlling his television and noting that he sold a television because it wouldn't stop;
o that if he were released, " he will return home and assault his neighbors 'because I'm just tired of it'" ;
o that he had access to weapons, a fact she knew from one of the officers; and
o that the officers reported to Rhodes that Goines " made threats that he was going to assault his neighbors 'with my hands' and then later referenced 'taking care of it myself' with his Smith and Wesson firearm."

( Id. ¶ ¶ 49, 53 and Ex. A.)

The complaint alleges that Rhodes petitioned for Goines's detention at the request or instigation of one or more John Does, and that a magistrate issued a Temporary Detention Order (the May 15 TDO) based on the petition at 8:41 p.m. on May 15, 2014. ( Id. ¶ 55 and Ex. B.) He argues that the order was based upon the " bare bones and conclusory" May 15 petition and Rhodes's report. ( Id. ¶ 55.) Goines was subsequently transported, against his will and pursuant to the May 15 TDO, to Crossroads Mental Health Center, where he was held until his release on May 20, 2014.[6] He claims that he has no history of mental illness and has never been treated or sought treatment for mental illness, and that " [a]t no time has any person offered evidence that [he] has harmed or threatened to do harm to any person." ( Id. ¶ ¶ 59-60.)

Goines's complaint contains two causes of action. The first, titled " Unlawful Seizure under the Fourth Amendment--Color of State Law" alleges that the actions of all the individual defendants violated Goines's rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, giving rise to liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 62-63.) He also asserts that VCSB should be held liable for the violation of his Fourth Amendment rights because it exhibited deliberate indifference to those rights. ( Id. ¶ 66.) He bases his claim against VCSB on two grounds: (1) it had a policy and practice of " delegating authority and employing persons who are not sufficiently trained or educated" to make decisions regarding involuntary admissions to mental health facilities; and (2) it failed to train and/or adequately supervise Rhodes. ( Id. )

In his second cause of action, titled " False Imprisonment, State Law," Goines is unclear as to whom he is naming, referring only to " one or more Defendants--including, but not limited to Shaw, Dean, ...

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