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Shipman v. Hamilton

May 9, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge


A. Procedural History

On March 24, 2006, Plaintiff Karen Y. Shipman filed this cause of action against Randolph County Deputy Sheriff Eric Hamilton ("Defendant") (see Doc. 1). Plaintiff asserts Defendant arrested her without probable cause, thereby depriving her of her constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Now before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 18). For the reasons that follow, the Court hereby DENIES that motion (Doc. 18).

B. Factual Background

On April 29, 2005, Plaintiff Karen Shipman, a registered nurse on duty at the Sparta Community Hospital ("hospital"), was arrested by Defendant and charged with two violations: (1) "obstructing service of process," and (2) "obstructing a peace officer" (see Doc. 21, Ex. A, "Copy of Complaint & Summons- Violator's Copy").

At approximately midnight on that date, Defendant was attempting to serve an emergency order of protection on a patient at the hospital, Roscoe Handsbury. Defendant and another deputy, Rod Queen, entered the hospital around 11:50 P.M. (See Doc. 19, Ex. B, Deposition of Eric Hamilton ("Hamilton Dep.") at 80). Upon entering the hospital, Defendant, along with Queen, approached the nurses' station and inquired of the whereabouts of Handsbury and informed the individuals present at the nurses' station that he had to serve papers on Handsbury (See Doc. 19, Ex. A, Deposition of Karen Shipman ("Shipman Dep.") at 12). Plaintiff, who was at that time the highest-ranking nurse on the floor, stated to Defendant that she was Handsbury's nurse. The parties offer differing accounts as to how the rest of the interaction proceeded.

Plaintiff, on her part, asserts that she pointed out to Defendant and Queen where Handsbury was located in the hospital, pointing out the exact room that he was in, a "sort of ICU environment," and telling the officers that Handsbury was "the only one in [that room]" (see Doc. 21, Attachments 18-24, Deposition of Rod Queen ("Queen Dep.") at 15). Queen, the officer accompanying Defendant, agrees with Plaintiff that Defendant was then aware of Handsbury's location (see Queen Dep. at 27). In fact, Queen testified, they "could see [Handsbury] through the window, and he was watching [Queen and Defendant] pretty much the whole time." Id. at 15.

Defendant offers a different account of Plaintiff's initial response to his approach, asserting that Plaintiff "wouldn't take us or tell us where [Handsbury] was" (Hamilton Dep. at 88). Nonetheless, all parties agree that Plaintiff never physically blocked the doorway or physically disallowed the officers from gaining entry through the door of the room in which Handsbury was located.

The parties further agree that Plaintiff described Handsbury's medical condition to Defendant, and told Defendant that she "need [ed] to call [Handsbury's] doctor," because she "didn't know if [Handsbury] had improved a lot, because [Handsbury] had been extremely upset and crying a lot all day long, very torn up" (Shipman Dep. at 16). Plaintiff explained to Defendant that "it might be best to [enter the room and serve process] whenever the doctor [was] [there] ... to be with [Handsbury] since he was in [an ICU- like area] and he wasn't doing well at all." Id. at 18.

Plaintiff further informed the officers that she did not feel that she had the authority to allow them into the room to serve Handsbury, as she "had no authority except to care for [her] patient," and was an agency nurse (Shipman Dep. at 62). Moreover, Plaintiff was concerned that "being 12:30 at night when a [sixty year old] patient ... so ill has been medicated and they're asleep, ... to go in and wake them up in the middle of the night ... would cause [the patient] to stroke or [suffer other medical complications] if his heart was bad ..." Id. at 32. Plaintiff also feared that allowing the officers into Handsbury's room might have violated her obligations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act (HIPAA); she felt "liability, because a nurse is supposed to have good, prudent judgment." Id.

Because of these concerns, Plaintiff decided her best course of action was to "follow[] through with [her] chain of command." Id. Plaintiff first called the on-call doctor, Dr. Salarda, who suggested that Plaintiff contact Plaintiff's supervisor, the Director of Nursing, Kathy Lehr. Id. at 42, 45, 61. Plaintiff did so. Lehr, on her part, called the CEO of the hospital, and thereafter called Plaintiff back, who then gave the phone to Defendant after speaking briefly with Lehr. Id. at 20. Lehr (as Dr. Salarda had suggested to Plaintiff) suggested to Defendant that the officers return to the hospital at 8:00 a.m. the next morning in order to serve Handsbury while his doctor was present.

After handing the phone over to Defendant, Plaintiff felt that she was "done" and had "no reason to talk" to the officers anymore at that point, because she "figured things would be taken care of [then]." Id. at 34. Plaintiff resumed her nursing duties and was "putting an IV together and getting ready to go hang it," when Defendant got off the phone with Lehr and again approached Plaintiff, telling her that she had "blocked his way [of serving process] when [she] called the medical doctor ..." and that he was therefore going to arrest her. Id. at 34.

According to Plaintiff, Defendant then demanded she give him her name. The parties give a differing account of Plaintiff's response: Plaintiff asserts that she did not answer because she was "just honestly stunned," (Id. at 34), whereas Defendant asserts that Plaintiff stated "I am not telling you who I am." (Hamilton Dep. at 82). According to Plaintiff, Defendant responded by saying "okay, that does it," and grabbed her by the arms, cuffed her, and then forced her ...

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