United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
ROXANNE ADAMS, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JAMYCHEAL M. MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
NAPHCARE, INC., et al., Defendants.
REBECCA BEACH SMITH CHIEF JUDGE
matter comes before the court on the Motion to Dismiss
("Motion") and Memorandum in Support filed by
Defendant Gail Hart ("Hart") on June 8, 2015. ECF
Nos. 10, 11. The Plaintiff filed a Memorandum in Opposition
on June 22, 2016, ECF No. 22, and Hart filed a Reply on June
28, 2016, ECF No. 28, as well as a Request for Hearing on
June 28, 2016. ECF No. 29.
5, 2016, this court referred the Motion to United States
Magistrate Judge Lawrence R. Leonard, pursuant to the
provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 72(b), to conduct hearings, including
evidentiary hearings, if necessary, and to submit to the
undersigned district judge proposed findings of fact, if
applicable, and recommendations for the disposition of the
Motion. ECF No. 38.
conducted a hearing regarding the Motion on October 19, 2016,
see ECF No. 139, the Magistrate Judge filed the
Report and Recommendation ("R&R") on December
19, 2016. ECF No. 147. The Magistrate Judge recommended
denying the Motion. R&R at 1. By copy of the R&R, the
parties were advised of their right to file written
objections to the findings and recommendations made by the
Magistrate Judge. See id. at 17-18. On December 30,
2016, Hart filed an Objection to the R&R, ECF No. 148,
and on January 6, 2017, the Plaintiff filed a Reply. ECF No.
to Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the
court, having reviewed the record in its entirety, shall make
a de novo determination of those portions of the
R&R to which a party has specifically objected.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). The court may accept, reject, or modify,
in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate
judge, or recommit the matter to him with instructions. 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
action was brought by the Plaintiff in her capacity as the
administrator of the estate of Jamycheal Mitchell
("Mitchell"), who died as a pretrial detainee in
the Hampton Roads Regional Jail ("HRRJ"). Compl.
¶¶ 1, 20. Relevant here, the Complaint alleges that
Hart, as an admissions employee of Eastern State Hospital,
failed to process a competency restraining order
("CRO") issued by a state court that required
Mitchell's immediate transfer from the HRRJ to Eastern
State Hospital for mental health treatment. See id.
¶¶ 2, 84. The Complaint further alleges that, as a
result of Hart's failure to process the CRO, Mitchell
died. Id. at ¶¶ 200, 208, 220, 255.
Motion to Dismiss, Hart alleges, inter alia, that
the Plaintiff has not sufficiently pled proximate cause for
maintaining this action against Hart. Mot. at 1; Mem. Supp.
at 4-5. In the R&R, the Magistrate Judge disagrees,
concluding the following:
Plaintiff has plausibly alleged that Hart's conduct in
preventing a mentally ill pretrial detainee from being
transferred out of a jail, where, because of his medical and
mental disabilities, he did not receive necessary and proper
treatment, to a mental hospital where he would have received
such treatment, led to Mitchell's death.
R&R at 12-13. In the Objection to the R&R, Hart
contests this finding of proximate cause. Obj. at 1.
Specifically, Hart notes that, under the applicable law of
Virginia, "a defendant is not liable for casualties
which, though possible, were 'wholly improbable,
'" and that "'[a] party is not charged with
foreseeing that which could not be expected to
happen.'" Id. (quoting Interim Pers. of
Cent. Va., Inc. v. Messer, 263 Va. 435, 442 (2002)).
Hart then states that "Hart could not possibly have
anticipated" the "intentional and/or willful and
wanton acts" of other defendants, "or
Mitchell's subsequent death, " id. at 1,
and that "[t]here is simply no logical connection
between the administrative error allegedly committed by Hart,
and Mitchell's death several months later."
Id. at 2.
reviewed the matter de novo, the court agrees with
the Magistrate Judge's finding on proximate cause.
Contrary to Hart's assertion, it is not wholly improbable
that a detainee, when kept in a jail despite a court order
for his immediate transfer to receive necessary, in-patient
mental health treatment, might die as a result of not
receiving such treatment. Moreover, the fact that the conduct
of other actors might have also caused Mitchell's death
does not warrant dismissal of the action at this juncture
against Hart. As the Magistrate Judge noted, "there can
be more than one proximate cause of an injury." R&R
at 7 (citing Harman v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc.,
758 S.E.2d 515, 526 (Va. 2014)). Furthermore, the court
agrees with the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that
"[o]ther defendants' actions in denying Mitchell
medication, food, and water at HRRJ may not 'so entirely
supersede the operation of the defendant's
negligence'" as to warrant dismissal due to
intervening, superseding acts. Id. at 15 (quoting
Jenkins v. Payne, 465 S.E.2d 795, 799 (Va. 1996)).
Accordingly, the Plaintiff has plausibly alleged that
Hart's conduct was a proximate cause of Mitchell's
death, and Hart's Objection is hereby OVERRULED.
court, having examined the Objection to the R&R filed by
Hart, and having made de novo findings with respect
thereto, does hereby OVERRULE the Objection, ADOPT AND
APPROVE IN FULL the findings and recommendations set forth in
the R&R of the United States Magistrate Judge filed on
December 19, 2016, ...