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Hales v. Timberline Knolls, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

January 3, 2017

Lauren H. Hales, Plaintiff,
Timberline Knolls, LLC, now known as R.M. Brown Enterprises, LLC, Semone M. West, M.D., Thomas Dattalo Mark DeDonato, Timberline Knolls Holding, LP, and Timberline Knolls Management, LLC, Defendants.


          Thomas M. Durkin, Judge

         Plaintiff Lauren H. Hales, an Iowa resident, and former patient at Timberline Knolls residential treatment center, brings this suit alleging breach of statutory duty (Count I), breach of fiduciary duty and aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty (Counts II and III), tortious interference with physician-patient relationship (Count IV), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V), and breach of contract (Count VI). R. 54 (Second Amended Complaint). This Court has diversity jurisdiction[1] over Hales' claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.[2] See R. 54 ¶¶ 3-20; R. 84-2 at 37. Defendants Timberline Knolls, LLC, Thomas Dattalo (President and Administrator of Timberline Knolls), and Mark DeDonato (Timberline Knolls' Director of Continuing Care) (collectively, the “Timberline Knolls Defendants”) move along with Dr. Semone M. West (Hales' treating psychiatrist at Timberline Knolls) to dismiss each of the six counts alleged against them, whether individually or collectively, for failure to state a claim. R. 91. Defendants Timberline Knolls Holding, LP (“TK Holding”) and Timberline Knolls Management, LLC (“TK Management”) (collectively, the “Corporate Defendants”) move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. R. 83. For the reasons that follow, the Timberline Knolls Defendants' motion is denied with respect to Counts I-V and granted with respect to Count VI, and the Corporate Defendants' motion is granted.


         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the sufficiency of the complaint. See, e.g., Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). A complaint must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), sufficient to provide defendant with “fair notice” of the claim and the basis for it. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While “detailed factual allegations” are not required, “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “‘A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Mann v. Vogel, 707 F.3d 872, 877 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). In applying this standard, the Court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Mann, 707 F.3d at 877.


         Hales was admitted to Timberline Knolls residential treatment center on September 18, 2010.[3] R. 54 at ¶ 27. Her admission was precipitated by a suicide attempt-the culmination of years of mental illness, frequent suicidal ideation, an extensive history of self-harm, and a recent episode of cocaine use and acute alcohol poisoning. Id. ¶ 29. Timberline Knolls was aware of Hales' mental health and substance abuse history, as well as relevant risk-factors in her family history, at the time of her admission. Id. ¶¶ 30-34.

         Hales was housed in the Oak Lodge adolescent treatment building. Id. ¶ 35. In early November 2010, Hales experienced and received counseling regarding delusions of her own death. Id. ¶ 90. On November 23, 2010, another adolescent patient who had been on furlough with a parent returned to the facility with a “substantial amount” of unauthorized prescription medication. Id. ¶ 40-42. This patient was not searched by anyone at Timberline Knolls upon her arrival, and she was permitted to return the Oak Lodge building, where she proceeded to distribute the medication to Hales and others. Id. ¶¶ 43-44. Hales and five other patients ingested dangerous and potentially lethal doses of the medication; she and the others were transported by ambulance to local emergency rooms. Id. ¶¶ 45, 49-56. Timberline Knolls did not voluntarily disclose this incident to state regulators or industry accreditors. Id. ¶¶ 102-103.

         After Hales was physically stabilized, she was admitted to the Department of Adolescent Psychiatry at a local hospital for further treatment, “suicide precautions” and “close observation.” Id. ¶¶ 76, 84. During the period of her hospitalization, Hales “express[ed] and exhibit[ed] severe emotional distress, mental anguish, anxiety and humiliation, ” in part because of the restrictive and aggressively monitored nature of her confinement to what she referred to as “the psych ward.” Id. ¶ 78. Dr. West, Hales' treating psychiatrist at Timberline Knolls, did not call to check on Hales, visit her while she was hospitalized, or return phone calls (or pages) from the hospital or Hales' parents seeking input related to Hales' care. Id. ¶¶ 138-49.

         On November 27, 2010, hospital personnel informed Hales that she was stable enough to be transferred back to Timberline Knolls. Id. ¶ 150. The hospital and Hales' father made numerous attempts to reach Dr. West, because before Hales could be released, Dr. West, as Hales' treating physician at Timberline Knolls, needed to be briefed on Hales' hospitalization and medical status. Id. ¶¶ 150-55. Dr. West's failure to respond to these calls and pages unnecessarily prolonged Hales' hospital stay. Id. Eventually, the hospital was directed to a different psychiatrist at Timberline Knolls. Id. at 156. Hales was discharged from the hospital as a “moderate” suicide risk on November 29, 2010, and transferred back to Timberline Knolls to complete her rehabilitation program. Id. ¶ 89.


          I. The Timberline Knolls Defendants and Dr. West

         A. Count I: Breach of Statutory Duty

         Count I of the complaint alleges a breach of statutory duty against the Timberline Knolls Defendants, citing The Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act of 1986 (“Protection and Advocacy Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 10801, et seq., two state mental health laws (the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (“Illinois Mental Health Code”), 405 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/1-101, et seq., and the Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill. Persons Act (“Illinois Protection and Advocacy Act”), 405 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 45/1, et. seq.)), and generally identified “rules and regulations promulgated by the Illinois Department of Human Services” as the basis of the alleged breach. Id. (Count I). The claim catalogues various purported violations and consequent harms suffered, which fall, essentially, into three categories. First, the Timberline Knolls Defendants breached their statutory duty by failing to report the overdose incident. Id. ¶¶ 106-07. Second, the Timberline Knolls Defendants “failed to design, implement and maintain adequate security measures with respect to preventing the introduction of unauthorized control substances onto the Oak Lodge premises.” Id. ¶¶ 114-16. Third, the Timberline Knolls Defendants subjected Hale to abuse and/or neglect, either intentionally or negligently, in derogation of their statutory duties. Id. ¶¶ 117-122.[4] The Court addresses each aspect of Count I in turn.

         1. Rules and Regulations Promulgated by the Illinois Department of Human Services.

         Hales vaguely alleges that Timberline Knolls was required to report the overdose incident pursuant to unspecified rules and regulations and that it failed to do so. Not only are these allegations threadbare at best, the duty they reference is one that would be owed to state regulators, not to Hales. To the extent Count I is based on Timberline Knolls' alleged duty to report, it is dismissed with prejudice.

         2. Illinois Mental Health Code

         The Timberline Knolls Defendants argue that Hales' claims under the Illinois Mental Health Code fail because the Code does not “expressly provide for” a private right of action. R. 91 at 2. Whether a statute expressly permits a private right of action is not dispositive of whether a plaintiff can base a claim for relief on a violation of statutory standards. In Threlkeld v. White Castle Sys., Inc., 127 F.Supp.2d 986, (N.D. Ill. 2001), the court explained the rule as follows:

The [defendant] moves to dismiss the malpractice claim, arguing that there is no private right of action under the Mental Health Code. This is quite irrelevant. [The plaintiff] does not argue that she has a private right of action under the Code, but rather that the [defendants'] violations of the Mental Health Code give rise to a cause of action for negligence. Even where a statute does not create an express or implied right of action, it may establish a standard of care such that a plaintiff can make a prima facie case for negligence based on a violation of the statute.

Id. at 989 (citing Cuyler v. United States, 37 F.Supp.2d 1099, 1103 (N.D. Ill. 1999) (“[S]tatutes and ordinances designed to protect human life or property establish the standard of conduct required of a reasonable person. In other words, they fix the measure of legal duty.”)); see also Wigod v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 673 F.3d 547, 582 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing authority for the proposition that violations of federal statutes and regulations are a common basis for negligence liability in tort proceedings); see also Restatement (Third) of Torts § 38 (“When a statute requires an actor to act for the protection of another, the court may rely on the statute to decide that an affirmative duty exists and to determine the scope of the duty.”).

         In order to state a negligence claim based on the violation of a statute, Hales must establish that: (1) the statute is designed to protect human life or property; (2) she is within the class of people protected by the statute; and (3) her injuries are the kind against which the statute was intended to protect. See Threlkeld, 127 F.Supp.2d at 989. If she adequately alleges a violation of the Illinois Mental Health Code, Hales ...

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