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Wyoming Guardianship Corp. v. Wyoming State Hospital

Supreme Court of Wyoming

October 11, 2018

WYOMING GUARDIANSHIP CORPORATION, as guardian and conservator of Linda Gelok, Appellant (Plaintiff),
v.
WYOMING STATE HOSPITAL; STATE OF WYOMING, ex rel., WYOMING DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH; and PAUL MULLENAX, Appellees (Defendants).

          Appeal from the District Court of Uinta County The Honorable Joseph B. Bluemel, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Henry F. Bailey, Jr. and Douglas W. Bailey of Bailey|Stock|Harmon|Cottam|Lopez, LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Argument by Mr. Bailey.

          Representing Appellees: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; Daniel E. White, Deputy Attorney General; Jackson M. Engels, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Engels.

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and BURKE [*] , FOX, KAUTZ, and BOOMGAARDEN, JJ.

          FOX, Justice.

         [¶1] Linda Gelok is an involuntarily committed incompetent person who was injured after being left unattended for 25 hours at the Wyoming State Hospital. On her behalf, Ms. Gelok's guardian and conservator, Wyoming Guardianship Corporation, [1] sued the Wyoming State Hospital (WSH); the Wyoming Department of Health (Department); and Paul Mullenax, WSH Administrator, in his official and individual capacities, alleging negligence and violation of her constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court found the negligence action time-barred and dismissed it. It also found that the WSH, the Department, and Mr. Mullenax in his official capacity were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and dismissed the constitutional claims against them. Finally, it found that Mr. Mullenax was entitled to qualified immunity in his individual capacity and dismissed the constitutional claim against him. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] We rephrase and reorganize Ms. Gelok's issues on appeal:

1. Do the notice and filing requirements of the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act extend the medical malpractice statute of limitations in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-3-107?
2. Did Ms. Gelok's Complaint allege sufficient facts to state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983?

         FACTS

         [¶3] At the time of the incident giving rise to this appeal, Ms. Gelok was a sixty-two-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, and borderline intellectual functioning.[2] She had spent many years at various mental health institutions, including a significant amount of time at the WSH. On February 23, 2015, WSH staff found her sitting in the hospital's dayroom with her neck kinked awkwardly. When approached, she stated, "I'm going to die, you're going to let me die." She was anxious, trembling, breathing rapidly, and reeked of urine. As staff members attempted to lift her from her chair to walk her to the hospital's "OT room," they noticed numerous ants crawling on her foot. During a physical examination, WSH staff found dried blood on Ms. Gelok's visibly swollen feet, ants crawling on dark red abrasions on her feet and ankles, and insect bites. A WSH nurse practitioner diagnosed her bleeding abrasions as a "rash" and prescribed her prednisone.

          [¶4] When Wyoming Guardianship Corporation became aware of the situation, it ordered that Ms. Gelok be taken to Evanston Regional Hospital (ERH). At ERH, hospital staff placed Ms. Gelok on oxygen, diagnosed her with a urinary tract infection, and treated her abrasions. When Ms. Gelok returned to WSH, she had a poor appetite, displayed paranoid delusions, was described as "despondent," and complained of pain around her wounds.

         [¶5] Later investigation revealed that Ms. Gelok had been sitting in nearly the same position on the couch in the dayroom for approximately 25 hours. During that time, no one gave her food or water, took her to the bathroom, changed her, or took her to bed. Hospital staff had done some cursory "checks" into the dayroom, but none of them noticed Ms. Gelok until maintenance staff requested that she be moved so they could work on the television. Investigators noticed food on the floor in several areas of the hall and observed that the dining room area floor was very dirty with food and possibly human feces. Hospital staff confirmed that the hospital had an ongoing ant-infestation problem.

         [¶6] On May 12, 2016, Ms. Gelok presented a notice of claim to the appropriate governmental entities, in compliance with Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-113. On June 10, 2016, she filed a claim with the Wyoming Medical Review Panel, as required by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 9-2-1518. The panel dismissed the claim on August 11, 2016. Ms. Gelok filed her Complaint in the district court on August 9, 2017, asserting claims for negligence and for violation of her right to safe and humane living conditions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[3] The district court granted the State's Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, and Ms. Gelok filed a timely Notice of Appeal.

         DISCUSSION

         I.Do the notice and filing requirements of the Wyoming Governmental Claims Actextend the medical malpractice statute of limitations in ...


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