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Russo-Wood v. Yellowstone County

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

March 12, 2018

PATRICIA L. RUSSO-WOOD, as personal representative of the Estate of Steven Tyler Russo, Plaintiff,
YELLOWSTONE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.


          TIMOTHY J. CAVAN United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Patricia L. Russo-Wood, as the personal representative of the Estate of Steven Tyler Russo (“Plaintiff”), brings this action against Yellowstone County, the City of Billings, and individual officers Brian Degele and Sandra Leonard. Plaintiff asserts claims for negligence and civil rights violations after her son, Steven Tyler Russo, committed suicide while being held as a pretrial detainee at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility. (Doc. 3.) Presently before the Court are Defendant Sandra Leonard's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 26), and Plaintiff's Motion to Extend Time to Respond to the Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 32.) Having considered the parties' submissions the Court finds Plaintiff's Motion to Extend Time should be DENIED, and Leonard's Motion for Summary Judgment should be GRANTED.


         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in the Montana Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County, on June 2, 2016. (Doc. 4.) Thereafter, the action was removed to this Court on March 17, 2017. (Doc. 1.)

         On June 22, 2017, Plaintiff served her first set of Requests for Production of Documents on the City of Billings. (Doc. 34 at ¶ 4.) The City of Billings responded to the requests on July 31, 2017. (Id.)

         On August 3, 2017, Leonard filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing the claims against her for negligence and civil rights violations are barred by the public duty doctrine and qualified immunity, respectively. (Doc. 26.)

         On August 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking an extension of time to respond to the summary judgment motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d), on grounds that she needed to conduct further discovery to respond to the motion. (Doc. 33.)

         Leonard filed an opposition, arguing Plaintiff has not been diligent, and that Plaintiff failed to address how additional discovery will produce evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat Leonard's defenses. (Doc. 35.) Plaintiff did not filed a reply.

         On August 24, 2017, Plaintiff filed a response to the motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 39.) Leonard filed a reply on August 28, 2017. (Doc. 41.)


         Decedent Steven Tyler Russo (“Russo”) was taken to the Yellowstone County Detention Facility (“YCDF”) shortly after 9:00 a.m. on June 5, 2013. (Doc. 28 at ¶ 11.) YCDF detention officers took custody and control of Russo when he was brought into the sally port of the detention center. (Id. at ¶12.) He was searched and placed into a holding cell pending his turn to be formally booked into the facility. (Id.) While he was awaiting booking, Russo requested to shower because he had soiled himself when he was tasered by law enforcement officers during his arrest. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Russo was allowed to shower. (Id. at ¶ 14.)

         Russo became emotional while he was taking a shower, and a YCDF officer noted “inmate very emotional, bears watching.” (Id. at ¶ 14.) Then, while still in the shower, Russo's emotional state changed, and he began to laugh about being tasered. (Id. at ¶ 15.)

         At approximately 6:10 p.m. on June 5, Defendant Detective Sandra Leonard (“Leonard”) arrived at YCDF to interview Russo. Leonard was investigating a series of armed robberies in Billings and Russo was a suspect. (Id. at ¶ 35.) Leonard did not arrest Russo or take him into custody. (Doc. 29 at ¶ 35.)

         Russo was taken to a conference room in the detention center to meet with Leonard at approximately 6:15 p.m. (Doc. 28 at ¶ 36.) At 6:35 p.m., Russo signed an Advisement of Rights form, which set forth Miranda warnings. (Id. at ¶ 37.[2])

         Leonard states that shortly after beginning the interview, Russo invoked his right to speak with an attorney, and therefore, she ceased the interview. (Doc. 29 at ¶¶ 22-24.) Leonard estimates the interview lasted approximately 7 minutes. (Id. at ¶ 24.)

         Leonard states that after the interview stopped, Russo requested to use her cell phone to call his mother. (Doc. 29 at ¶ 25.) Leonard states she informed Russo that YCDF staff controlled all incoming and outgoing phone calls in the facility. (Id.) Therefore, she did not let him use her cell phone. (Id.; Doc. 40 at ¶ 8.) But at Russo's request, Leonard agreed to notify his mother that he was detained at YCDF, and Russo gave Leonard a telephone number where he believed his mother could be reached. (Id. at ¶ 26.)

         Leonard states that in total, she spent less than 45 minutes with Russo. (Doc. 29 at ¶ 34.) During that time, she did not observe any behavior on his part that indicated he presented a suicide risk, or that he was in imminent risk of death or serious bodily injury to himself or others. (Doc. 29 at ¶¶ 29-32.) Plaintiff contends Leonard was subjectively aware of Russo's need for medical/mental health care because she assessed him as a “very troubled person” in a later phone call with Russo's mother, and because Russo told her he had been using methamphetamines for seven days with no sleep. (Doc. 40 at ¶ 8.) Leonard denies that Russo told her he had been using methamphetamines for seven days, and had not slept. (Id. at ¶ 33.) Leonard further states, however, that even if Russo would have told her that, it would not have changed her opinion that he was not in imminent danger or needed immediate mental health evaluation or referral to a treatment facility. (Id.)

         After Leonard interviewed Russo, Detention Officer Degele conducted a classification interview with him. (Id. at ¶ 29.) The record indicates that Russo denied being suicidal, denied having a history of suicide attempts, denied having had any recent stressful experiences, and denied having been diagnosed with mental illness or depression. (Doc. 28-6 at 64.) Russo also denied using drugs. (Id. at 65.) Russo was untruthful regarding these matters, since it appears he had a history of substance abuse and prior suicide attempts.[3] (Id. at ¶¶ 72-73.) Nevertheless, Russo did not relay this history to Officer Degele on June 5, 2013, and did not request YCDF detention officers to provide him with mental health services. (Doc. 28 at ¶ 18.) Russo was returned to his holding cell after his classification interview with Detention Officer Degele. (Id. at ¶ 38.[4])

         Later in the evening of June 5, 2013, at approximately 8:42 p.m., Leonard telephoned Russo's mother, Patricia Russo. (Id. at ¶ 42; Doc. 29 at ¶ 38.) Leonard told Ms. Russo that that her son was at YCDF. (Doc. 28-6 at 8; Doc. 29 at ¶ 40.) Leonard states that during the call Ms. Russo discussed her concerns about her son's drug abuse and criminal behavior. (Doc. 29 at ¶ 42.) Leonard says Ms. Russo did not express any concerns that her son was suicidal, or that he had attempted suicide in the past. (Id. at ¶¶ 43-45.) Leonard described having what she would consider a “mother to mother” conversation with Ms. Russo about concerns and common experiences they both had with their sons. (Id. at ¶ 46.) Plaintiff contends that during the phone call, Leonard told Ms. Russo, “I have been a Billing police detective for many years. I have met many bad people and many evil people, and I can tell you your son is neither. Your son is a very troubled person.” (Doc. 40 at ¶ 4.) Plaintiff further asserts Leonard told her that Russo had said during the interview that he had been using methamphetamines for seven days straight, with no sleep. (Id.)

         On June 6, 2013, Russo attempted to call his mother from YCDF. (Doc. 28 at ¶ 45.) Later that day, Russo committed suicide by hanging himself in the shower of YCDF between 2:00 p.m. and 2:20 p.m. (Id. at 2.)

         On June 11, 2013, Leonard returned to her regular work shift following her days off. (Doc. 29 at ¶ 49.) Leonard states that upon returning to work, she learned that Russo had committed suicide. (Id. at 50.) Leonard called Ms. Russo to express her condolences. (Doc. 28 at ¶ 46; Doc. 29 at ¶ 51.)


         A. Plaintiff's Motion for Extension of Time Under Rule 56(d)

         The Court will first address Plaintiff's Motion to Extend Time to Respond to Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 32.) The grounds for Plaintiff's motion is she needs additional time to ...

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