United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
GREGORY K. FRIZZELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court is the Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 21] of
defendant the United States of America. For the reasons set
forth below, the motion is granted.
a wrongful death case brought by plaintiff Lera Schulze
against the United States of America for the death of her
husband, John G. Schulze. On June 8, 2017, John Schulze
reported suicidal thoughts to a nurse practitioner, Tiffany
Richey. Richey contacted Oklahoma City Veterans Affairs
Health Care System Medical Center (“VA Hospital”)
regarding treatment for Mr. Schulze. Thereafter, law
enforcement escorted Mr. Schulze to the VA Hospital. A VA
Hospital healthcare provider assessed Mr. Schulze at 1:04
p.m., and the VA Hospital discharged Mr. Schulze at 3:03 p.m.
that same day. Two days later, on June 10, 2017, John Schulze
died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
lawsuit, plaintiff alleges defendant breached the standard of
care by releasing Mr. Schulze on June 8, 2017, rather than
admitting him for extended mental health treatment. Plaintiff
asserts a single claim for wrongful death pursuant to Okla.
Stat. tit. 12, § 1053.
Summary Judgment Standard
motion for summary judgment shall be granted “if the
movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 56(a) “mandates the entry of summary
judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion,
against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to
establish the existence of an element essential to that
party's case, and on which that party will bear the
burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Adler v. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998). A
court must examine the factual record in the light most
favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Wolf v.
Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 50 F.3d 793, 796 (10th Cir.
the moving party has carried its burden, “its opponent
must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record taken
as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find
for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue
for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586- 87 (1986)
(citations omitted). The inquiry for the court is
“whether the evidence presents a sufficient
disagreement to require submission to a [finder of fact] or
whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a
matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251- 52 (1986).
Undisputed Material Facts
following facts are undisputed for summary judgment purposes.
2017, John Schulze was a fifty-three-year old Army veteran.
Mr. Schulze was married to plaintiff Lera Schulze, and the
couple resided in Pawnee, Oklahoma.
February 16, 2017, Mr. Schulze first sought treatment for
depression with psychiatrist Dr. Linda Evans. [Doc. 22, p. 5,
¶¶ 1-2; Doc. 34, p. 2, ¶¶ 1-32]. On March
22, 2017, Mr. Schulze was admitted to the VA Hospital,
presenting with occupational stress, depressed mood, anxious
distress, and feelings of being overwhelmed and powerless.
[Doc. 22, pp. 5-6, ¶¶ 5-6; Doc. 34, p. 2,
¶¶ 1-32]. During his stay, Mr. Schulze engaged in
therapy, including group therapy, and completed a Suicide
Prevention Safety Plan. [Doc. 22, p. 6, ¶¶ 8 and
10; Doc. 34, p. 2, ¶¶ 1-32]. Mr. Schulze's
Suicide Prevention Case Manager, Selonda Moseley, determined
that no recommendation for a “High Risk Patient Record
Flag” activation would be made for Mr. Schulze because
he denied suicidal ideation prior to his
admission. [Doc. 22, p. 6, ¶ 9; Doc. 34, p. 2,
¶¶ 1-32; Doc. 22-8]. Mr. Schulze was discharged on
March 24, 2017. [Doc. 22, p. 7, ¶¶ 12 and 14; Doc.
34, p. 2, ¶¶ 1-32].
April of 2017, Mr. Schulze expressed suicidal thoughts to his
son and plaintiff. [Doc. 34-6, pp. 30:3 to 31:14]. On April
8, 2017, Mr. Schulze presented to the VA Hospital Emergency
Department with depression and suicidal thoughts, and was
voluntarily admitted. [Doc. 22, p. 7, ¶ 16; Doc. 34, p.
2, ¶¶ 1-32]. On April 10, 2017, Ms. Moseley noted
that Mr. Schulze reported suicidal ideations without a plan
or suicidal behavior, and that he had no history of suicide
attempts. Therefore, she did not recommend a Patient Record
Flag for Suicide at that time, but she noted that he could be
re-evaluated at a later time if a heightened risk was
present. [Doc. 22, p. 8, ¶ 18; Doc. 34, p. 2,
¶¶ 1-32; Doc. 22-14]. During Mr. Schulze's
April stay at the VA Hospital, plaintiff and her sons went
through the Schulze residence and secured all of the guns
that they could find. [Doc. 22, p. 8, ¶ 19; Doc. 34, p.
2, ¶¶ 1-32; Doc. 34-6, p. 33:6-21]. Mr. Schulze was
discharged on April 14, 2017. [Doc. 22, p. 8, ¶ 21; Doc.
34, p. 2, ¶¶ 1-32].
8, 2017, Mr. Schulze attended an appointment with Tiffany
Richey, APRN. Ms. Richey noted: “[Mr. Schulze] was
asked about current thoughts of suicide and confirms that he
does think about it. He states he does have a plan that
includes overdosing on medication and other means that were
not defined specifically.” [Doc. 22, p. 10, ¶ 30;
Doc. 34, p. 2, ¶¶ 1-32; Doc. 22-20, p. 1]. Ms.
Richey informed plaintiff that Mr. Schulze admitted to being
suicidal and that Ms. Richey could not let Mr. Schulze leave.
Although plaintiff stated she would take Mr. Schulze to the
VA Hospital, Ms. Richey stated that law enforcement would
have to take him. [Doc. 22, p. 10, ¶ 31; Doc. 34, p. 2,
¶¶ 1-32]. Ms. Richey noted, in pertinent part,
John went willingly without aggressive threats with the
officer; however, this increased his agitation and anxiety.
He verbalized his concern of losing his new job if he were to
be admitted to the hospital. Lera stated to myself that she
understood the concern for John's wellbeing related to
the verbalization of suicide and plan. She conveyed this to
John and this seemed to calm him.
[Doc. 22, p. 10, ¶ 32; Doc. 34, p. 2, ¶¶ 1-32;
Doc. 22-20, pp. 2-3]. Ms. Richey sent the following Third
Party Statement with law enforcement to be given to VA
Pt (John) verbalized to me that he has had suicidal thoughts
for the last couple months. He stated he had/has a plan
including overdosing on meds and if that wasn't available
he has other means available to him. He ...