United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
RUTH ANN WARNER, As guardian of Jonathan James Brewster Warner, an incapacitated adult, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL R. DOUCETTE, Defendant.
Elizabeth K. Dillon, United States District Judge.
case, plaintiff Ruth Ann Warner, as guardian of Jonathan
James Brewster Warner, alleges that defendant Michael
Doucette, violated Mr. Warner's civil rights. Doucette
was the Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Lynchburg
at the time of the events alleged in the complaint; he has
since retired. Warner alleges that, after Mr. Warner was
involved in an altercation at the emergency psychiatric unit
of Lynchburg General Hospital and was shot by a hospital
security guard, Doucette issued a press release/report and
held a press conference explaining his decision not to bring
charges against the shooting officer or against Mr. Warner.
Warner contends that, both in the press release and during
the course of the conference, Doucette divulged Mr.
Warner's “sensitive, private medical history”
without his consent and “without any
justification.” (Compl. ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 2.)
complaint contains two counts, both of which Warner asserts
against Doucette in his individual capacity. (Pl.'s
Opp'n Resp. Mot. to Dismiss 10, Dkt. No. 15 (Opp'n).)
Count One asserts a claim for “invasion of
privacy” pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, referencing
both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Count Two asserts
a state-law claim for “invasion of privacy”
premised on Virginia Code § 32.1-127.1:03, which Warner
contends creates a right to privacy in the content of health
records and which she contends Doucette violated. Count Two
alleges that Doucette acted “willfully or with gross
negligence in redisclosing” Mr. Warner's health
records, although the complaint alleges no facts to support
before the court is Doucette's motion to dismiss. (Dkt.
No. 8.) After Warner failed to timely respond to that motion,
the court issued a show-cause order, directing that Warner
explain her failure. (Dkt. No. 13.) She then filed her
response to the show-cause order, to which Doucette
responded. (Dkt. Nos. 14, 16.)
explanation for filing the response late is that
counsel's automatic calendaring software was not working
properly because of an inadvertent failure to update a
password on his computer. While the court questions whether
this excuse establishes excusable neglect, it is unnecessary
to resolve that issue. Instead, the court simply notes that, even
if the court considers the late-filed response to the motion
to dismiss (Dkt. No. 15), plaintiff's complaint is
nonetheless subject to dismissal for the reasons discussed
herein. Accordingly, the court will grant the motion to
dismiss, dismissing Count One with prejudice and Count Two
without prejudice, and will dismiss as moot the order to show
cause. The court also will deny Doucette's request for
attorney and expert fees in this matter.
facts alleged in the complaint are simple and
straightforward. Warner was shot by a security guard at
Lynchburg General Hospital after he had come to the hospital
for psychiatric treatment. The shooting and the entire
altercation that preceded it were captured on video, although
there is no corresponding audio. Doucette investigated the
shooting, working in conjunction with the Lynchburg Police
Department. During the course of that investigation, Doucette
obtained Warner's health records.
1, 2016,  “Doucette conducted a press
conference and issued a press release to discuss the results
of his investigation and to explain his decision not to
charge anyone criminally.” (Compl. ¶ 11.) During
the conference and in the text of the press release, Doucette
“revealed and redisclosed sensitive content from
Warner's health records, discussing with specificity
information taken from Warner's medical records,
including Warner's psychiatric conditions, history,
treatment, and medication.” (Id. ¶ 12.).
The complaint itself does not provide additional details
about exactly what was revealed.
Standard of Review
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's
allegations must “state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This standard
“requires the plaintiff to articulate facts, when
accepted as true, that ‘show' that the plaintiff
has stated a claim entitling him to relief, i.e.,
the ‘plausibility of entitlement to relief.'”
Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir.
2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The
plausibility standard requires more than “a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
determining whether the plaintiff has met this plausibility
standard, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded
facts in the complaint and any documents incorporated into or
attached to it. Sec'y of State for Defence v. Trimble
Navigation Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007).
Further, it must “draw all reasonable factual
inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor,
” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231,
244 (4th Cir. 1999), but it “need not accept legal
conclusions couched as facts or ‘unwarranted
inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments,
'” Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d
359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Giarratano v.
Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008)).
the court concludes that its consideration of Doucette's
sovereign immunity should be analyzed under Rule 12(b)(1),
see infra Section II-D, it also briefly touches upon
those standards. Specifically, in deciding a Rule 12(b)(1)
motion, “the district court is to regard the pleadings
as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence
outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to
one for summary judgment.” Evans v. B.F. Perkins
Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting
Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United
States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991)). It must,
however, “view the alleged facts in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff, similar to an evaluation pursuant
to Rule 12(b)(6).” Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d
648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) is
proper “only if the material jurisdictional facts are
not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as
a matter of law.” Evans, 166 F.3d at 647
(quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R,
945 F.2d at 768).
Consideration of Extrinsic Documents
parties disagree about whether the court can consider
documents that Doucette attached to his motion to dismiss.
Typically, when a defendant moves to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6), a court is “limited to considering the
sufficiency of allegations set forth in the complaint and the
‘documents attached or incorporated into the
complaint.'” Zak v. Chelsea Therapeutics
Int'l, Ltd., 780 F.3d 597, 606 (4th Cir. 2015)
(quoting E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon
Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011)). It
may, however, consider a document attached to a motion to
dismiss when the document is “‘integral to and
explicitly relied on in the complaint, '” and when
the document's authenticity is unchallenged.
Zak, 780 F.3d at 606 (quoting Am. Chiropractic
Ass'n v. Trigon Healthcare, Inc., 367 F.3d 212, 234
(4th Cir. 2004)).
case, the “press release, ” which is actually an
eleven-page report titled “Commonwealth's
Attorney's Report on the Shooting of Jonathan Warner,
” (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 8, Dkt. No. 9-8
(Report)), is certainly integral to the complaint, as is the
hour-long press conference, the video of which is available
(last visited July 26, 2019) (Press Conf.). The report and
the press conference form the basis for Warner's claims,
and she does not challenge their authenticity. Indeed, Warner
appears to agree that the court can consider those documents:
her response notes that any lack of detail in the complaint
is remedied by defendant's incorporating the written
press release/report, which contains the specific statements
made. (Opp'n 8.) Thus, the court ...