United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
McCafferty United States District Judge
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. 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.
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)).
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 ...