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Stricker v. Blaine County

Supreme Court of Montana

December 3, 2019

SUMMER STRICKER, Personal Representative of the ESTATE OF ALLEN J. LONGSOLDIER JR., Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
BLAINE COUNTY, and STATE OF MONTANA, Defendants, HILL COUNTY, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: September 18, 2019

          District Court of the Eighth Judicial District, In and For the County of Cascade, Cause No. DDV-12-0937 Honorable Matthew J. Cuffe, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Maureen H. Lennon, Gregory L. Bonilla, MACo Defense Services, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Patrick F. Flaherty, Daniel J. Flaherty, Paul Gallardo, Attorneys at Law, Great Falls, Montana Steven T. Potts, Steven T. Potts, PLLC, Great Falls, Montana

          For Amicus Montana League of Cities and Towns: Patricia Klanke, Drake Law Firm PC, Helena, Montana

          JIM RICE JUSTICE.

         ¶1 Hill County appeals the entry of summary judgment in favor of the Estate of Allen J. Longsoldier, Jr. (Estate), by the Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County, declaring that Hill County is vicariously liable for the negligence of the Northern Montana Hospital (NMH, or Hospital) under the non-delegable duty doctrine. We reverse, and address the following issue:

Did the District Court err by determining that Hill County was vicariously liable for the medical negligence of Northern Montana Hospital?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 On November 19, 2009, a Blaine County sheriffs deputy arrested Allen J. Longsoldier, Jr. (Longsoldier) at the request of Longsoldier's probation officer after the probation officer was unable to make contact with Longsoldier. Blaine Cty. v. Strieker, 2017 MT 80, ¶ 6, 387 Mont. 202, 394 P.3d 159. The deputy transported Longsoldier to the Hill County Detention Center (Detention Center) to be detained there, pursuant to an agreement between the counties. Blaine Cty., ¶ 6.[1] Longsoldier had been drinking heavily in the days prior to his arrest, but had not been drinking immediately prior to his arrest and showed no signs of intoxication when he was brought to the Detention Center. Blaine Cty., ¶7.

         ¶3 In the evening of November 21, 2009, Hill County notified Blaine County that Longsoldier had not slept for three days, was hallucinating, was involuntarily detoxing, and needed to be transported to NMH for treatment. A Blaine County sheriffs deputy went to the Detention Center and transported Longsoldier to NMH. Blaine Cty., ¶ 8. At that time, a Detention Center policy called for detainees who were ill to be transported to NMH for medical care.

         ¶4 A doctor at NMH examined Longsoldier and gave him several medications, but failed to diagnose Longsoldier's alcohol withdrawal syndrome. About two hours after his arrival at NMH, the hospital discharged Longsoldier and a Blaine County deputy transported him back to the Detention Center. Blaine Cty., ¶ 8. Shortly after Longsoldier returned to the Detention Center from NMH, his condition worsened. Blaine Cty., ¶ 9.

         ¶5 At around 2:30 a.m. on November 22, 2009, Hill County again called Blaine County authorities and requested that Longsoldier be returned to NMH for further treatment. In response, a Blaine County dispatcher called NMH, and a nurse at NMH advised that Longsoldier need not be returned to the Hospital because there was nothing physically wrong with him, and that Longsoldier was "playing them" because he did not want to be in jail. Consequently, Blaine County did not transport Longsoldier to the Hospital at that time. Blaine Cty., ¶ 9. Longsoldier's condition continued to deteriorate, and late in the evening of November 22, the Detention Center called an ambulance, which transported Longsoldier to the Hospital. Shortly thereafter, Longsoldier tragically died due to the effects of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Blaine Cty., ¶ 10.

         ¶6 In May of 2010, Longsoldier's Estate filed a discrimination complaint against the Counties and NMH with the Montana Human Rights Bureau (HRB), alleging that Longsoldier had been discriminated against based on his race and disability, respectively Native American and alcoholism. NMH settled with the Estate prior to the contested case hearing in September of 2011. Following the hearing, the Hearing Officer determined there was no evidence that Longsoldier's death was a result of discriminatory animus by the Counties toward Longsoldier. Blaine Cty., ΒΆ 11. On appeal, this Court noted that the case was "not a claim for negligence," but ...


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