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Rodriguez v. Catholic Health Initiatives

Supreme Court of Nebraska

June 23, 2017

Angela Rodriguez and Adan Rodriguez. Special Administrators of the Estate of Melissa Rodriguez, appellants,
Catholic Health Initiatives, doing business as CHI Health, et al., appellees.

         1. Motions to Dismiss: Appeal and Error. A district court's grant of a motion to dismiss is reviewed de novo.

         2. Pleadings: Appeal and Error. An appellate court reviews a district court's denial of a motion for leave to amend a complaint for an abuse of discretion. However, an appellate court reviews de novo an underlying legal conclusion that the proposed amendments would be futile.

         3. Motions to Dismiss: Appeal and Error. When reviewing an order dismissing a complaint, the appellate court accepts as true all facts which are well pled and the proper and reasonable inferences of law and fact which may be drawn therefrom, but not the plaintiff's conclusions.

         4. Motions to Dismiss: Pleadings. To prevail against a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. In cases in which a plaintiff does not or cannot allege specific facts showing a necessary element, the factual allegations, taken as true, are nonetheless plausible if they suggest the existence of the element and raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the element or claim.

         5. Actions: Pleadings: Notice. Civil actions are controlled by a liberal pleading regime; a party is only required to set forth a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and is not required to plead legal theories or cite appropriate statutes so long as the pleading gives fair notice of the claims asserted.

         6. Actions: Pleadings. The rationale for a liberal notice pleading standard in civil actions is that when a party has a valid claim, he or she should [297 Neb. 2] recover on it regardless of a failure to perceive the true basis of the claim at the pleading stage.

         7. Negligence: Proof. In order to recover in a negligence action, a plaintiff must show a legal duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of such duty, causation, and damages.

         8. Negligence. The question of whether a legal duty exists for actionable negligence is a question of law dependent on the facts in a particular situation.

         9. ___. The existence of a duty generally serves as a legal conclusion that an actor must exercise that degree of care as would be exercised by a reasonable person under the circumstances.

         10. ___. Duty rules are meant to serve as broadly applicable guidelines for public behavior, i.e., rules of law applicable to a category of cases.

         11. ___. Whether a duty exists is a policy decision.

         12. Negligence: Mental Health. Under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 38-2137(2) (Reissue 2016), the duty to warn of or to take reasonable precautions to provide protection from violent behavior shall arise only under the limited circumstances specified in § 38-2137(1), and shall be discharged by the mental health practitioner if reasonable efforts are made to communicate the threat to the victim or victims and to a law enforcement agency.

         Appeal from the District Court for Douglas County: James T. Gleason, Judge.

          Brian E. Jorde, of Domina Law Group, PC, L.L.O., for appellants.

          Patrick G. Vipond, William R. Settles, and Cathy S. Trent-Vilim, of Lamson, Dugan & Murray, L.L.P., for appellees Catholic Health Initiatives, doing business as CHI Health, et al.

          J. Scott Paul and Jay D. Koehn, of McGrath, North, Mullin & Kratz, PC, L.L.O., and, on brief, Elizabeth Bruening Smith, for appellee The Noll Company.

          Joseph S. Daly and Mary M. Schott, of Sodoro, Daly, Shomaker & Selde, PC, L.L.O., for appellees UNMC Physicians and Jane Doe Physician #1.

         [297 Neb. 3]

          Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Stacy, and Kelch, JJ., and Bishop, Judge.

          MILLER-LERMAN, J.


         After Melissa Rodriguez was killed by Mikael Loyd, Melissa's parents, Angela Rodriguez and Adan Rodriguez, as the special administrators of Melissa's estate (collectively the appellants), brought this negligence and wrongful death action in the district court for Douglas County. The appellants filed their second amended complaint against numerous defendants whom we treat as three groups. The first group is collectively referred to as the "Lasting Hope defendants, " composed of Catholic Health Initiatives, doing business as CHI Health; Alegent Creighton Health, now known as CHI Health Alegent Creighton Clinic; Lasting Hope Recovery Center of Catholic Health Initiatives (Lasting Hope); "John Doe #1, " an employee of Lasting Hope; "John Doe #2, " an employee of Lasting Hope; three Noll entities (Noll Human Resource Services, The Noll Company, and Noll, Inc.); and "Jane Doe Nurse #1, " an employee of a Noll entity. The second group is collectively referred to as the "UNMC defendants, " composed of UNMC Physicians (UNMC) and "Jane Doe Physician #1, " an employee of UNMC. The third group is collectively referred to as the "City defendants" composed of the City of Omaha, "Officer Doe #1, " and "Officer Doe #2." The appellants claimed that the defendants were negligent in various respects and specifically in failing to protect Melissa from Loyd. All the defendants moved to dismiss the second amended complaint. The district court granted the defendants' motions to dismiss. The district court denied the appellants' leave to amend their second amended complaint except as to the City defendants. The appellants did not amend their allegations regarding the City defendants, and the City defendants stood dismissed. The appellants filed this appeal challenging the dismissal of the Lasting Hope defendants and UNMC [297 Neb. 4] defendants. The City defendants are not parties to this appeal. We determine that the district court erred when it dismissed the appellants' second amended complaint as to the Lasting Hope defendants. We further conclude that the district court erred when it denied the appellants' motion to amend the second amended complaint to add allegations relative to the UNMC defendants and dismissed the UNMC defendants. We reverse, and remand for further proceedings.


         According to the appellants' second amended complaint, which is the operative pleading in this case, on or about June 11, 2013, Loyd assaulted and battered Melissa. The Omaha Police Department (OPD) was contacted regarding the incident, and officers completed a domestic violence report. Charges were not brought against Loyd at that time, but an investigation was ongoing. The second amended complaint alleges that in July, Loyd falsely imprisoned Melissa for a period of time. Melissa contacted the OPD regarding Loyd at various times in July and August.

         On August 7, 2013, the OPD issued an arrest warrant for Loyd for the misdemeanor assault and battery of Melissa. On August 8, Loyd contacted the OPD and voluntarily met with and spoke to officers. During this meeting, "Loyd expressed a desire to kill." The OPD then placed Loyd under emergency protective custody because it believed that Loyd was "mentally ill and an imminent threat of danger to himself or others." Loyd was transferred to Lasting Hope. The appellants allege that at the time Loyd was placed under emergency protective custody, Lasting Hope was "aware of his misdemeanor warrant." The second amended complaint further states: "Lasting Hope knew or should have known that the [emergency protective custody] hold placed on Loyd was the result of Loyd threatening to kill his mother and professing he was a danger to himself and others."

         [297 Neb. 5] Loyd remained at Lasting Hope from August 8 to 14, 2013. Pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 71-919 (Reissue 2009), within 36 hours of being admitted to a mental health facility, an individual under emergency protective custody must undergo a mental health evaluation to be performed by a mental health professional. Section 71-919(4) provides that "[a] person shall be released from emergency protective custody after completion of such evaluation unless the mental health professional determines, in his or her clinical opinion, that such person is mentally ill and dangerous or a dangerous sex offender." On August 11, Jane Doe Physician #1, an employee of UNMC, prepared a mental health evaluation of Loyd and found "Loyd not to be a danger to himself or others."

         According to the second amended complaint, while Loyd was at Lasting Hope, he made repeated calls to Melissa from Lasting Hope's landline telephone. Loyd called Melissa on August ...

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