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Ryan v. Red River Hospital, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

December 19, 2019

THERESE RYAN, Individually and on behalf of the Estate of KEVIN WILLIAM RYAN, Plaintiff,
v.
RED RIVER HOSPITAL, LLC, ACADIA HEALTHCARE COMPANY, INC., and JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM T. MOORE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Defendants Red River Hospital, LLC and Acadia Healthcare Company, Inc.'s Motion to Transfer Venue (Doc. 19) and Defendant Red River Hospital, LLC's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction (Doc. 20). Plaintiff has responded in opposition. This case arises out of the death of Mr. Kevin William Ryan ("Mr. Ryan"), who committed suicide in his residence in Port Wentworth, Georgia after being discharged from Red River Hospital, LLC. (Doc. 10 at ¶ 20.) Plaintiff, Mr. Ryan's widow and Court appointed administrator of the Estate of Mr. Ryan, brought suit against Defendants Red River Hospital, LLC ("Red River"), Acadia Healthcare Company, Inc. ("Acadia"), Harvey C. Martin, MD, and John Does 1-10 alleging negligence, negligence per se, and wrongful death under Georgia law. (Doc. 10.) Defendant Harvey C. Martin, MD has since been dismissed from this action. (Doc. 21; Doc. 24.) Defendants Red River and Acadia now seek to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. (Doc. 19 at 1.) Defendant Red River also seeks dismissal from this action on the basis that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it. (Doc. 20 at 1.) For the following reasons. Defendants' Motion to Transfer Venue is DENIED and Defendant Red River's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendant Red River, a mental health facility that operates in Wichita Falls, Texas, is a Delaware limited liability company that maintains its principal place of business in Texas. (Doc. 10 at ¶ 2.)[1] Defendant Acadia is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Tennessee and is the owner and operator of Defendant Red River. (Id. at ¶ 3.) Plaintiff, individually, is a citizen of the state of Illinois and the Estate of Mr. Ryan is a citizen of Georgia. (Id. at ¶ 1.)

         Mr. Ryan, a United States veteran, was facing charges in the Municipal Court of the City of Port Wentworth, Georgia and a judge of that court released Mr. Ryan from confinement in the Chatham County Detention Center to seek treatment at Laurel Ridge Treatment Center ("Laurel Ridge") in San Antonio, Texas. (Id. at ¶ 13.) In the complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Ryan was transferred from Laurel Ridge on or about August 7, 2017 to Red River Pathways Outpatient Program for more intense treatment due to his suicidal ideations. (Id. at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff alleges that, upon his admission, Mr. Ryan informed Red River of his pending charges and the fact that he was ordered by a judge to seek treatment. (Id.) Shortly thereafter, Mr. Ryan was admitted to the inpatient facility at Red River for additional treatment and monitoring. (Id. at ¶ 15.)

         On September 12, 2017, Dr. Martin ordered that Mr. Ryan be chaperoned upon his discharge and remanded to the custody of the Chatham County Sheriff. (Id. at ¶ 16.) The following day, on September 13, 2017, Mr. Ryan was discharged from the inpatient facility at Red River and traveled to Savannah/ Hilton Head International Airport. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants John Does 1-10 arranged the flights and provided the chaperoning to Mr. Ryan. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants John Does 1-10 left Mr. Ryan unattended and did not return him to the custody cf the Chatham County Sheriff and that all Defendants failed to notify the law enforcement agency originally having custody over Mr. Ryan of his discharge. (Doc. 10 at ¶ 18-19.) Mr. Ryan went to his residence in Port Wentworth, Georgia where he committed suicide. (Id. at ¶ 20.)

         In the amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges a count of negligence against all Defendants contending that the Defendants knew or should have known that Mr. Ryan, if not chaperoned appropriately, was likely to cause bodily harm to himself. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Plaintiff contends that Defendants negligently breached their duty by failing to properly chaperone Mr. Ryan, failing to notify law enforcement of Mr. Ryan's discharge and travel plans, failing to notify court personnel of Mr. Ryan's discharge and travel plans, failing to properly transport Mr. Ryan into the care and custody of the proper authorities, and other acts or omissions that may be shown at trial or revealed in discovery. (Id. at ¶¶ 26-27.) Plaintiff also brings a count of negligence per se against all Defendants alleging that Defendants had a duty to adhere to the laws of the state of Georgia due to the voluntary assumption of responsibility for the transportation and surrender of Mr. Ryan in Chatham County, Georgia. (Id. at ¶ 30.) Plaintiff contends that Defendants were negligent per se by (1} failing to provide notice of discharge to the court which originally ordered involuntary commitment on June 7, 2017, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 37-3-95, (2) failing to provide notice of discharge to the law enforcement agency that originally had custody of Mr. Ryan pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 37-3-94 and O.C.G.A. § 37-3-95, and (3) failing to provide written notification by certified mail or statutory overnight delivery of the proposed discharge to the law enforcement agency pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 37-3-95. (Id. at ¶ 31.) Plaintiff also brings a count for wrongful death against all Defendants, a count for punitive damages against all Defendants, and a count for attorneys' fees and expenses against all Defendants. (Doc. 10 at ¶¶ 33-42.)

         ANALYSIS

         I. MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE

         In their motion to transfer venue, Defendants Red River and Acadia argue that this Court should transfer venue to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas because none of the Defendants reside in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia and because none of the relevant events upon which Plaintiff's amended complaint is based took place in this district. (Doc. 19 at 1.) Plaintiff has responded in opposition and contends that this venue is the proper and most convenient venue. (Doc. 23 at 3-11.)

         A. Whether the Action Could Have Been Brought in the Proposed Alternative Forum

         "A district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought" if transfer is based upon the convenience of the parties, the convenience of the witnesses, or the interest of justice. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Thus, the first step is to determine whether this action could have been brought in the Northern District of Texas. Mason v. Smithkline Beecham Clinical Labs., 146 F.Supp.2d 1355, 1359 (S.D. Fla. 2001).

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), a civil action may be brought in (1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located; (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated; or (3) if there is no district in which an action may otherwise be brought as provided in this section, any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court's personal jurisdiction with respect to such action.

         Defendants contend that venue is proper in the Northern District of Texas pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). (Doc. 19 at 3.) Defendants primarily argue that the Northern District of Texas is a proper venue because a substantial part of the events giving raise to the claim arose there. (Id. at 3-4.) In response, Plaintiff contends that Plaintiff's causes of action "arise out of and accrue after the failure of Defendants to turn Sergeant Ryan over to Chatham County officials after his arrival in Chatham County." (Doc. 23 at 4.)

         The Court finds that this action could have been brought in the Northern District of Texas. Although Plaintiff claims that the event that directly gave rise to Plaintiff's claims was Defendants' failures in Chatham County, a review of the amended complaint shows that Plaintiff seeks to hold Defendants liable for breaching a duty for actions that occurred in Texas as well. Plaintiff contends that Defendants negligently breached their duty by failing to properly chaperone Mr. Ryan, failing to notify law enforcement of Mr. Ryan's discharge and travel plans, failing to notify court personnel of Mr. Ryan's discharge and travel plans, failing to properly transport Mr. Ryan into the care and custody of the proper authorities, and other acts or omissions that may be shown at trial or revealed in discovery. (Doc. 10 at ¶¶ 26-27.) Many of the allegations of Defendants' negligence hinge on what Defendants did, or did not do, in Texas with the exception of not handing over physical custody of Mr. Ryan to law enforcement officials at the airport in Savannah, Georgia and failing to properly chaperone Mr. Ryan. Even those factual allegations presuppose a duty prior to the arrival in Georgia-e.g. Plaintiff claims that the release of Mr. Ryan was negligent because Defendants had a duty to, prior to his discharge, communicate the discharge and arrange for an exchange of custody. Those actions would have occurred in Texas. Accordingly, the Court finds that a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to Plaintiff's claims occurred in Texas such that the case could have originally been brought in the Northern District of Texas. The Court now turns to the central issue in this case: whether the Northern District of Texas would be a more convenient forum than the Southern District of Georgia.

         B. Whether Transfer is More Convenient for the Parties and Witnesses

         If the case could have originally been brought in the transferee venue, the forum court next looks to nine factors to determine whether to effect transfer: (1) the convenience of the witnesses; (2) the location of relevant documents and the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (3) the convenience of the parties; (4) the locus of operative facts; (5) the availability of process to compel the attendance of unwilling witnesses; (6) the relative means of the parties; (7) a forum's familiarity with the governing law; (8) the weight accorded a plaintiff's choice of forum; and (9) trial efficiency and the interests of justice, based on the totality of the circumstances. Weintraub v. Advanced Corr. Healthcare, Inc., 161 F.Supp.3d 1272, 1279 (N.D.Ga. 2015) .

         1. Convenience of the witnesses

         Defendants argue that the key witnesses in this case will be the physicians, nurses, and other individuals who cared for Mr. Ryan at Red River and the healthcare professionals at Laurel Ridge as these individuals possess information as to "what was communicated to Red River regarding Mr. Ryan's ultimate release from the facility and whether this was to be a release back to the custody of law enforcement at the Chatham County Detention Center." (Doc. 19 at 5.) In opposition, Plaintiff argues that the key witnesses are not these healthcare professionals but instead are the Chatham County coroner, the law enforcement officers that investigated Mr. Ryan's suicide, the employees at the airport, Mr. Ryan's neighbors, Chatham County Detention Center officials, and prosecutors, defense attorneys and judicial staff that were involved in the underlying criminal action against Mr. Ryan. (Doc. 23 at 5.)

         The Court finds this factor to be neutral on the question of transfer as there appears to be key non-party witnesses in both Texas and Georgia. Defendants note, and Plaintiff acknowledges, that this action focuses on the duty that Red River allegedly owed to Mr. Ryan and the actions or omissions that constitute a breach of that duty. While Defendants dispute the application of Georgia law to this action and argue that the case is, in reality, a medical malpractice action, Defendants highlight that any alleged duty owed pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 37-3-94 and O.C.G.A. § 37-3-95 reguires Plaintiff to prove, among other things, ...


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