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James v. Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

December 18, 2019

MARY JAMES, ET AL.
v.
IBERIA PARISH SHERIFF'S OFFICE, ET AL.

          APPEAL FROM THE SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF IBERIA, NO. 125919 HONORABLE VINCENT J. BORNE, DISTRICT JUDGE.

          Samuel David Abraham Attorney at Law Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants: Mary James Richard James, Jr. Sheryl Theodile.

          James B. Mullaly Usry & Weeks Counsel for Defendants/Appellees: Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis M. Ackal Sergeant Stoney Penn Deputy Jordan Robeaux Deputy Eric Bell.

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Phyllis M. Keaty, and Candyce G. Perret, Judges.

          PHYLLIS M. KEATY JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs appeal a trial court judgment granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissing Plaintiffs' claims against them with prejudice. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This wrongful death and survival action was filed by Mary James, Richard James, Jr., and Sheryl Theodile, the widow and two children, (collectively "Plaintiffs") of Richard James, Sr. (James), who died by suicide on March 12, 2014. Plaintiffs' Petition for Damages named as Defendants the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office (IPSO), [1] Sergeant Stoney Penn, Deputy Jordan Robeaux, and Deputy Eric Bell (collectively "Defendants"). After Plaintiffs moved to set the matter for trial, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment seeking to have the case against them dismissed on the following bases: 1) Defendants are statutorily immune from suit pursuant to La.R.S. 9:2798.1 and/or La.R.S. 46:2142; 2) Plaintiffs failed to establish that Defendants owed any duty to them to protect them from the risk of James committing suicide, nor that such duty was breached; and 3) Plaintiffs failed to allege or prove that any action or inaction by Defendants was the factual or legal cause of James' suicide.

         Plaintiffs opposed the motion on the basis that the IPSO had "Standard Operating Procedures and Procedural Orders, and Generally Accepted Police Practices and Procedures dealing with mentally ill and barricaded citizens," including "Crisis Intervention protocols," which were allegedly ignored by Sgt. Penn, Dep. Robeaux, and Dep. Bell, all of whom knew that James suffered from mental illness, thus contributing to his death.

         Defendants filed a Statement of Uncontested Background Facts as well as a Statement of Uncontested Material Facts. Plaintiffs did not object to those statements of facts. Instead, Plaintiffs submitted that because Defendants admitted to knowing and failing to follow the IPSO procedures regarding how mentally ill and barricaded citizens should be dealt with, their actions amounted to reckless misconduct to which the statutory immunity provisions found in La.R.S. 9:2798.1 and/or La.R.S. 46:2142 do not apply. Moreover, Plaintiffs submitted that the IPSO procedures set out duties that Defendants were bound to follow in interaction with James, who had barricaded himself within the residence and who was known by Defendants to suffer from mental illness. In light of each of the officer/Defendants' admissions that they did not follow those procedures, Plaintiffs submitted that Defendants' actions, and/or inactions, were both the cause-in-fact and the legal cause of James' death.

         Given Plaintiffs' lack of objections thereto, we now repeat the Statements of Uncontested Facts contained in Defendants' motion for summary judgment:

A. UNCONTESTED BACKGROUND FACTS
On March 12, 2014, Sergeant Stoney Penn assisted Deputy Jordan Robeaux, Deputy Eric Bell and Deputy Eric Boyer in serving an eviction notice. See Incident Report of Sgt. Stoney Penn, attached as Exhibit 1; Incident Report of Jordan Robeaux, attached as Exhibit 2; Incident Report of Eric Bell, attached as Exhibit 3; Plaintiffs' Petition at ¶ 2. On the eviction notice Mrs. Mary James stated she feels threatened by Mr. James. Exh. 1, 2. Mrs. James advised Mr. James stated he was going to kill her, everyone around and then kill himself. Id. Mrs. James advised Mr. James has a .357 magnum. Exhs. 1, 2, 3.
Upon arrival, Deputies spoke with the recipient, who was identified as Mr. Richard James, Sr. Deputies advised Mr. James that his wife filed to evict him and Mr. James was served with the eviction notice. Exhs. 1, 2, 3, Plaintiffs' Petition at ¶ 2.[2]
Mr. James was agitated with the situation, but was cooperative with the Deputies. Exh. 1. Mr. James asked, if he wanted to return to the residence to get the rest of his items, what did he need to do. Id. Sgt[.] Penn advised Mr. James to call the Sheriff's office and Deputies would return to assist. Id. Mr. James then grabbed several articles of clothing and left the residence. Exhs. 1, 2, 3.
Before leaving the residence, Sgt[.] Penn asked Mr. James if he had someone to take care of his dog; he replied that his daughter could care for it. Exh. 1. Sgt[.] Penn contacted Mr. James' daughter and advised her of the situation. Id. Sgt. Penn advised Mr. James' daughter that Deputies would place the key in the mail box for her. Id.; Plaintiffs' Petition at ¶ 3.
About twenty to thirty minutes after leaving the James residence, dispatch broadcasted that Mr. James was back at his residence and stated he was going to kill himself. Exhs. 1, 2, 3, Plaintiffs' Petition at ¶¶ 4, [3] 5.[4]
Sgt. Penn arrived on scene and Deputy Robeaux and Deputy Bell arrived seconds later. Id. Sgt. Penn knocked on the front door with no response. Id.
Deputy Robeaux then grabbed the key for the front door from the mail box. Id. Sgt. Penn unlocked the door and attempted to open the door with resistance. Id. However, Mr. James had barricaded himself in the residence by placing a metal pipe against the door. Exhibit 2; Exhibit 3. Sgt. Penn then pushed on the door once more and the door opened. Exhs. 1, 2, 3.
Mr. James came into sight and Sgt. Penn identified himself. Id. Mr. James then yelled, "if y'all want me out, y'all have to come get me out". Sgt. Penn observed Mr. James with a black in color handgun, which was later identified as a .357 revolver pointed at his chest. Id. Sgt. Penn advised Mr. James to drop the weapon. Id. Before Sgt. Penn could talk any ...

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