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McArdle v. Mission Hospital, Inc.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

August 15, 2017


          Heard in the Court of Appeals 29 November 2016.

         Appeal by Plaintiffs from Order entered 21 January 2016 by Judge William H. Coward in Buncombe County, 14 CVS 5473 Superior Court.

          Twiggs, Strickland & Rabenau, by Donald R. Strickland, Karen M. Rabenau, and Katherine A. King, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

          Roberts & Stevens, P.A., by Phillip T. Jackson and Eric P. Edgerton, and Patla, Straus, Robinson & Moore, P.A., by Richard S. Daniels, for Defendants-Appellees.

          INMAN, Judge.

         [C]ompassion is a natural feeling . . . that hurries us without reflection to the relief of those who are in distress: it is this which in a state of nature supplies the place of laws, morals and virtues . . . . [T]he origin of society and law . . . irretrievably destroyed natural liberty . . . and serve as a substitute for natural compassion, which lost, when applied to societies, almost all the influence it had over individuals . . . . The people having in respect of their social relations concentrated all their wills in one, . . . becom[ing] so many fundamental laws, obligatory on all the members of the State without exception, and one of these articles regulates the choice and power of the magistrates appointed to watch over the execution of the rest.

         Jean-Jacques Rousseau, A Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality, in The Social Contract & Discourses by Jean-Jacques Rousseau 155, 199-228 (G. D. H. Cole trans., London, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1913) (1754).

"[E]very law is universal, and there are some things about which it is not possible to speak rightly when speaking universally."

         Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 100 (Joe Sachs trans. 2002).

         When a respondent in an involuntary commitment proceeding is delivered to a hospital or other facility for an initial examination to recommend whether commitment without the respondent's consent is required, neither the examiner nor the hospital or other facility obtains custody or a legal right to control the respondent unless and until involuntary commitment is recommended by the examiner. For this reason, neither the examiner nor the facility owes a duty to third parties for harm resulting from an examiner's recommendation against involuntary commitment, even if the examination failed to comply with statutory requirements.

         Arthur and Kimberly McArdle and their five surviving children (collectively "the McArdles") appeal a trial court's order of 21 January 2016 denying their motion to amend their complaint as futile and granting a motion to dismiss by Mission Hospital, Inc. and Mission Health System, Inc. (collectively "Defendants") on the basis that Defendants owed the McArdles no legal duty. We affirm.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         The McArdles' complaint and proposed amended complaint include the following allegations:

         Joshua McArdle ("Joshua"), now deceased, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after serving a tour of duty in a hostile area of Iraq as a United States Marine. He received an "Other than Honorable" discharge from the Marine Corps in 2008 due to drug abuse, which precluded him from receiving subsequent care through the Veterans Administration (VA). After discharge, Joshua received no mental health or substance abuse treatment. He abused alcohol, cocaine, Percocet, and marijuana, experienced extreme paranoia, and amassed a personal arsenal of weapons and ammunition.

         The McArdles and other family members, including Joshua, gathered in Asheville, North Carolina in the days preceding the planned wedding of Joshua's sister Seldon Jones ("Seldon"), née McArdle, on 11 May 2013. During the pre-wedding gathering Joshua engaged in episodes of violence on 7 and 8 May 2013, including: (1) choking his brother Banning McArdle ("Banning") while Banning was driving, after Banning refused to take Joshua to buy drugs; (2) entering his brother Jacob McArdle's ("Jacob") house at night and awakening and beating Jacob; and (3) attempting to break down the door of his parents' house and again attacking Jacob. Joshua also threatened to beat up his biological father when he arrived in town for the wedding. During the altercation at the family home on the morning of 8 May 2013, Seldon called 911. Sheriff's deputies arrived at the home shortly after Joshua left.

         One of the responding deputies suggested that, rather than having Joshua arrested, the family should instead pursue involuntary commitment. The McArdles all agreed on this course of action, and Arthur McArdle executed an Affidavit and Petition for Involuntary Commitment (the "Petition") before the Buncombe County Assistant Clerk of Superior Court on the same morning. Arthur's Petition sought involuntary commitment of Joshua on the grounds that he was: (1) mentally ill and dangerous to self or others and in need of treatment in order to prevent further disability or deterioration that would predictably result in dangerousness; and (2) a substance abuser and dangerous to self or others.

         The Buncombe County Assistant Clerk of Superior Court issued a Findings and Custody Order for Involuntary Commitment (the "Custody Order") on 8 May 2013 finding reasonable grounds to believe that the allegations in the Petition were true and directing law enforcement officers to take Joshua into custody for an initial examination ("First Examination") as required by N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 122C-263 and 122C-283.[1] The Buncombe County Sheriff's Department took Joshua into custody and delivered him to Mission Hospital at 1:45 p.m. on the same day.

         At approximately 3:30 p.m. on 8 May 2013, nursing staff in Mission Hospital's Emergency Department noted initial observations that Joshua appeared "Anxious" with "Impaired Focus/Concentration" and that he "Denies suicidal ideation/homicidal ideation at present" and "Minimizes problem." At approximately 4:25 p.m., Mission Hospital emergency medicine physician James Roberson, M.D. ("Dr. Roberson") referred Joshua to the hospital's psychiatric unit for the required First Examination.

         In the psychiatric unit at 4:40 p.m., a Patient/Family Services Consult was performed by clinical social worker David Weiner, who indicated in Joshua's hospital chart that:

[t]he patient is under community petition by his father. The petition was due to a physical altercation with his brother wherein the patient tried to strangle him. The patient denies the severity of this altercation. The patient's family reports that the patient is an ex-Marine and might be struggling with PTSD. Patient to be assessed by next available PC.

         Subsequently on 8 May 2013, Dina Paul ("Paul"), a licensed clinical social worker and employee of Defendants, conducted an examination of Joshua. Paul interviewed Joshua and also received statements from several family members, including Arthur, Banning, and Jacob. Paul was apprised of Joshua's alcohol and marijuana use, a drug screen testing positive for cannabinoids, his "Other than Honorable" discharge from the Marine Corps for drug abuse, his lack of current VA benefits, and Joshua's acknowledgment of anger issues since returning from Iraq and his desire for treatment for PTSD. Paul wrote an Evaluation report to Dr. Roberson recommending against inpatient commitment for Joshua. Paul's report ...

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