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Kent v. Duncan

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

January 8, 2020

IRENE WARREN KENT, Administratrix of the Estate of Michele Quantele Smiley, Plaintiff,
v.
VAN DUNCAN, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Buncombe County; WESTERN SURETY COMPANY, as surety for the Sheriff; CHARLES J. WILHELM, in his official and individual capacity; JEFFREY LEON LITTRELL, in his official and individual capacity; THOMAS CHRISTOPHER "CHRIS" BARBER, in his official and individual capacity; RYAN PATRICK ZABLOUDIL, in his official and individual capacity; MICHAEL CORN, in his official and individual capacity; EDWARD F. PARKER, in his official and individual capacity; MEGHAN T. RIDDLE, in her official and individual capacity; TINA COX MILLER, LPN; and SOUTHEAST CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL GROUP, PLLC, Defendants.

          ORDER APPROVING SETTLEMENT WITH COUNTY DEFENDANTS

          MARTIN REIDINGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion to Approve Partial Wrongful Death Settlement, with County Defendants [Docs. 57, 58].[1]

         BACKGROUND

         This is a wrongful death action brought by the Plaintiff Irene Warren Kent, as the Administratrix of the Estate of Michele Quantele Smiley. The Plaintiff's claims arise from the Defendants' alleged failure to provide Ms. Smiley with emergency medical treatment and/or transportation to the hospital for such treatment while she was experiencing a severe drug overdose, which resulted in her death, during her detention at the Buncombe County Detention Center. Specifically, the Plaintiff has alleged that Defendants Van Duncan (“Duncan”), Charles J. Wilhelm (“Wilhelm”), Jeffrey Leon Littrell (“Littrell”), Thomas Christopher Barber (“Barber”), Ryan Patrick Zabloudil (“Zabloudil”), Michael Corn (“Corn”), Edward F. Parker (“Parker”), and Meghan T. Riddle (“Riddle”) failed to provide appropriate medical treatment for Ms. Smiley, failed to contact emergency medical services, failed to secure emergency medical care from a licensed physician, and failed to transport Ms. Smiley to the hospital, in violation of their affirmative obligations under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 153A-224 and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 162-55, and in violation of Ms. Smiley's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Plaintiff further has alleged that Western Surety Company is liable for the negligence of the aforementioned Defendants under the Sheriff's bond pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 58-76-5. Defendants Duncan, Wilhelm, Littrell, Barber, Zabloudil, Corn, Parker, Riddle, and Western Surety Company shall be hereinafter referred to as “the County Defendants.”[2]

         The Plaintiff has reached a settlement agreement with the County Defendants. The Plaintiff now seeks court approval of that settlement, as five of the six beneficiaries of the agreements are minor children. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 28A-13-3(23) (2018).

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         On December 18, 2019, this matter came on for final hearing before the Court. Present at the proceeding were counsel for the Plaintiff; counsel for the County Defendants; counsel for the Medical Defendants; the Plaintiff Irene Warren Kent, as administratrix of the Estate of Michele Quantele Smiley and as legal guardian of the minor children; Roy Kent, as legal guardian of the minor children; and the guardian ad litem for the minor children, John C. Cloninger. Prior to the hearing, the Court reviewed the following with respect to the Motion to Approve Settlement with the County Defendants: (1) the Settlement and Release of All Claims and exhibits thereto [Docs. 58-1, 58-2; 58-3, 58-4]; (2) the Affidavit of Irene W. Kent and exhibit thereto [Docs. 58-5, 58-6]; (3) the Affidavit of John C. Cloninger [Doc. 58-7]; (4) the Affidavit of George B. Hyler, Jr., counsel for the Plaintiff, and exhibits thereto [Docs. 58-8, 58-9, 58-10, 58-11, 58-12]; and (5) the Affidavit of John M. Olesiuk, counsel for the Plaintiff [Doc. 58-13].

         Based on the Court's document review and based on the statements at the hearing by counsel for the parties, the Plaintiff, Mr. Kent, and Mr. Cloninger as guardian ad litem, the Court makes the following FINDINGS OF FACT:

         1. Michele Smiley was 34 years old at the time of her death. She is survived by six children: Trenton Fleming, age nineteen, and five minor children (S.F., age sixteen; S.F., age fifteen; B.F., age twelve; L.F., age ten; A.N., age seven).[3]

         2. The Plaintiff Irene Warren Kent is Ms. Smiley's grandmother, and she is the duly appointed administratrix of Ms. Smiley's estate. She also serves, along with her husband Roy Kent, as legal guardian of Ms. Smiley's five minor children.

         3. At the hearing held on December 18, 2019, the Plaintiff acknowledged that she:

(a) has read the settlement documents filed in this matter, including the Settlement and Release of All Claims; the Qualified Assignment and Release Agreement; the Addendum to Settlement and Release Agreement; and the Addendum for Minor's Compromise, and that she understands and assents to the terms thereof.
(b) has had an adequate opportunity to confer with her counsel regarding her decision to settle this matter.
(c) understands that the settlement documents propose that certain consideration be paid for the benefit of the minor children.
(d) believes, in her capacity as legal guardian for the minor children, that the proposed settlement is fair and reasonable for the minor children under the circumstances of this case, particularly as to the nature of the settlement, the amount of monetary payments to be made under ...

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