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Haltom v. Parks

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

February 16, 2018

JOHN V. HALTOM, Plaintiff,
v.
KAREN PARKS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          John M. Gerrard, United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Mental Health Associates LLC's motion for summary judgment (filing 101) and motion to dismiss (filing 135). The Court will grant the motion for summary judgment, and deny the motion to dismiss as moot.

         BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff's allegations are briefly summarized as follows. In 2009, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) began investigating domestic disputes between the plaintiff, John Haltom, and his former wife. Haltom claims that as part of its investigation, DHHS conspired with private health practitioners to violate Haltom's constitutional rights and, ultimately, take away his children. These actions were purportedly motivated by DHHS's "long standing resentment" of Haltom, stemming from past litigation, his operation of adult entertainment businesses, and his "political ambitions within the State of Nebraska and its state departments." Filing 6 at 3; 8, 9. To accomplish its goals, at least according to Haltom, DHHS and the other defendants-all acting "under color of state law"- partook in widespread misconduct ranging from the production of false medical evaluations to unwarranted "invasions" into Haltom's home. Filing 6 at 5-6, 12. As a result, Haltom says he has experienced "extreme emotional and physical distress" and is "[unable] to function in society." Filing 6 at 5.

         From that, Haltom asserts 37 separate purported claims for relief against 49 named and 7 unnamed defendants, all premised on alleged federal constitutional violations brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985(2), 1985(3), or 1986.[1] Seefiling 6. Some defendants have already been dismissed on motions to dismiss, filing 81, and others were dismissed for failure to serve process, filing 97.

         One of the remaining defendants is "Mental Health Associates LLC" (MHA). MHA was composed of Dr. James C. Carmer (one of the previously dismissed named defendants) and three other independent mental health practitioners, who entered into an office-sharing arrangement. Filing 103 at 3;[2] filing 102-6 at 1-2. They leased an office suite together and made administrative decisions about rent, insurance, and support staff. Filing 103 at 3. But they were all self-employed: they maintained their own files, treated their own patients, and did not pool or share the fees they collected. Filing 103 at 4; filing 102-6 at 2. They did not intend to create any business association, and merely used the name "Mental Health Associates" for convenience as a d/b/a name. Filing 103 at 3; filing 102-6 at 2. They never created a "formal partnership, joint venture, corporation, limited liability company, registered trade name, or legal entity whatsoever." Filing 103 at 4; seefiling 102-1; filing 102-2; filing 102-7.

         MHA moves for summary judgment on two grounds: it claims that it is not an entity capable of being sued, and that it cannot be held vicariously liable for the alleged actions of those associated with it. See filing 103. MHA also moves to dismiss the case for failure to substitute parties as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(a). Seefiling 136.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is proper if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for the motion, and must identify those portions of the record which the movant believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). If the movant does so, the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

         On a motion for summary judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts. Id. Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the evidence are jury functions, not those of a judge. Id. But the nonmovant must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b), the question of what constitutes an unincorporated association for capacity purposes will be determined in accordance with the law of the state in which the court is sitting. 6A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1564; see Lundquist v. Univ. of S.D. Sanford Sch. of Med., 705 F.3d 378, 380-81 (8th Cir. 2013). And under Nebraska law,

[a]ny company or association of persons formed for the purpose of (1) carrying on any trade or business, (2) holding any species of property in this state, or (3) representing employees in collective bargaining with employers, and not incorporated, may sue and be sued by such usual name as such ...

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