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Ornelas v. City of Manchester

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

June 5, 2017

Fernando Ornelas
City of Manchester, et al Opinion No. 2017 DNH 104


          Landya McCafferty United States District Judge

         Fernando Ornelas brings suit against the City of Manchester, the Manchester Police Department, Hillsborough County, Elliot Hospital, the Hillsborough County of Department of Corrections, and several employees of those entities alleging claims arising out of serious injuries that he sustained while in their custody.[1] Elliot Hospital moves to dismiss Ornelas's medical injury claim against it, arguing that the claim is barred by New Hampshire's three-year statute of limitations on personal actions. Ornelas objects.

         Standard of Review

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true, construe reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, and “determine whether the factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint set forth a plausible claim upon which relief may be granted.” Foley v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 772 F.3d 63, 71 (1st Cir. 2014) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The court “may grant a motion to dismiss based on a defendant's affirmative defense of a statute of limitations ‘when the pleader's allegations leave no doubt that an asserted claim is time-barred.'” DeGrandis v. Children's Hosp. Boston, 806 F.3d 13, 16-17 (1st Cir. 2015) (quoting LaChapelle v. Berkshire Life Ins. Co., 142 F.3d 507, 509 (1st Cir. 1998)).


         I. Factual Background

         On October 15, 2013, Ornelas was admitted to Elliot Hospital's emergency room to be evaluated for possible head trauma following a car accident. Ornelas, who had a known mental health condition, was disoriented. On his sister's request, mental health professionals evaluated Ornelas at the hospital. Those professionals diagnosed Ornelas with bipolar disorder and, with his sister's consent, petitioned to have Ornelas involuntarily committed in a psychiatric hospital under state law.[2] According to the petition completed by medical personnel, Ornelas was “displaying paranoia, hallucinations and mood swings, as a result of mental illness, sufficient to pose a likelihood of danger to himself or others.” Doc. no. 63 at ¶ 28.

         While waiting for a bed to become available at the psychiatric hospital, Ornelas remained in the secured mental health section of Elliot Hospital's emergency room. While there, Ornelas had an altercation with Lawrence Bolduc, a hospital security guard. During that altercation, Ornelas suffered severe head and facial injuries.

         Because Bolduc wanted to press charges, a call was placed to the Manchester Police Department. Officers from the department decided to take Ornelas to the police station and book him on charges for simple assault. Before being taken to the police station, however, the police officers requested that Elliot Hospital staff examine Ornelas to determine whether he was stable enough to be discharged.

         An Elliot Hospital physician ordered a physical examination and diagnostic studies for Ornelas. Based on those tests, Elliot Hospital physicians determined that Ornelas had sustained significant injuries but was nevertheless stable enough to be discharged. The emergency room notes of the physician that examined Ornelas stated that he was complaining of facial pain, a headache, dental and jaw pain, and had a neck contusion. In Ornelas's discharge papers, Elliot Hospital staff members wrote that officers should “[r]eturn to emergency department as soon as possible if persistent vomiting, confusion, weakness to arms or legs or any other concerns.” Doc. no. 63 at ¶ 53.

         Ornelas was discharged into the Manchester Police Department's custody at around 10:45 p.m. on October 16, 2013. After being booked, Ornelas was then placed in the custody of the Hillsborough County Department of Corrections and was taken to the Valley Street Jail. At the jail, Ornelas acted confused and could be heard by guards hitting the cell door with his forehead and running back and forth in his cell. After unsuccessfully attempting to get Ornelas to calm down, officers decided to forcibly extract Ornelas from his cell.

         Three officers entered Ornelas's cell and eventually restrained him. During the extraction, Ornelas was slammed to the concrete floor and hit his head on the toilet. Other inmates heard Ornelas screaming and heard “sounds consistent with a person being struck.” See doc. no. 63 at ¶ 142-44. Following the extraction, Ornelas's cell contained visible pools of blood on the floor.

         After being removed from his cell, Ornelas was placed in a restraint chair. A nurse later noticed that Ornelas was unresponsive and determined that he needed emergency medical care. A staff member at the Valley Street Jail called an ambulance to return Ornelas to Elliot Hospital. Emergency personnel arrived at the Valley Street Jail at 9:10 a.m. on October 17 and returned Ornelas to the Elliot Hospital emergency room. Once at the hospital, physicians determined that Ornelas had severely fractured his cervical vertebrae and was paralyzed.

         II. Procedural Background

         Ornelas brought suit on September 11, 2014, alleging claims against several defendants, including claims for general negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress against Elliot Hospital. Although Ornelas brought claims under RSA 507-E, New Hampshire's medical injury statute, against several defendants he did not bring such a claim against Elliot Hospital.[3]

         In support of his negligence claim, Ornelas alleged that Elliot Hospital had failed to, among other things, provide Ornelas proper psychological evaluations, “examine properly and diagnose” Ornelas, and “properly evaluate and recommend the appropriate discharge instructions and follow-up with the patient.” Doc. no. 1 at ¶ 324. Ornelas's original complaint did not contain any specific allegation of wrongdoing or negligence arising out of his second visit to Elliot Hospital. Rather, Ornelas alleged that he had already suffered the cervical fracture and was paralyzed when he returned to Elliot Hospital. Id. at 45 (“Mr. Ornelas is returned to Elliot Hospital paralyzed and unresponsive from Hillsborough County Department of Corrections.”). Based on this theory, Ornelas alleged that he “suffered an injury sufficient to cause a fracture of his cervical spine” during either his first visit to Elliot Hospital, his booking at the Manchester Police Department, or his detention at Valley Street Jail. See Id. at ¶¶ 208-09.

         On January 26, 2017, Ornelas moved for leave to amend his complaint. In that motion, Ornelas asserted that during discovery he had obtained additional information demonstrating that Ornelas was not paralyzed when he arrived at Elliot Hospital, the second time, but rather had become paralyzed there. Ornelas further asserted that based on that information, it was his position that he “suffered a cervical fracture which was unstable and which became progressively worse until the fracture caused complete paralysis.” Doc. no. 62-1 at 10. Because no defendants objected, the court granted Ornelas's motion for leave to amend.

         Ornelas's amended complaint, which was filed on February 10, 2017, contained new factual allegations about his care at Elliot Hospital after he was returned to the emergency ...

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