ACA.supremecourt.070419

 A federal judge has thrown out a year-old wrongful death lawsuit accusing Assumption Parish correctional officers of failing to supply medication to a man with a heart condition who died from cardiac arrest fewer than 12 hours after being booked in jail.

But the ruling leaves open the possibility of a state court negligence suit, which plaintiff's lawyers say they are planing to file in Assumption.

U.S. District Judge Greg Guidry ruled jail officials tried to find out what medications Edward Murphy Jr. needed and to administer them but it remains in dispute whether Murphy, who had a stent, got critical blood thinners and whether the failure to receive one dose of those thinners could have caused his death.

Under the federal civil rights claims, the plaintiff — his mother, Mary Murphy — had to prove not just "mere negligence," Guidry noted, but that jail officials showed deliberate indifference to his well-being.

Guidry dismissed that claim with prejudice, which means it can't be raised again in federal court.

"The undisputed facts show that no prison officials had a subjective intent to cause harm to Mr. Murphy," Guidry wrote in a 10-page ruling.

Guidry also dismissed state negligence claims from federal court but without prejudice.

In the federal suit and subsequent court papers, the plaintiffs had accused the Sheriff's Office of violating their own medical policies so flagrantly it amounted to indifference.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 22, 2018, in the Eastern District of Louisiana, had named Sheriff Leland Falcon, Warden Roland Rodrigue, Chief Jail Medical Official Francine Mabile and Sgt. Brittney Wiggins as defendants. 

Lonny Cavalier, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said Monday that the office has maintained that deputies went above and beyond what they were required to do for Murphy.

"It was just an unfortunate situation. He passed away. He had a heart issue and passed away," Cavalier said.

David Vicknair, one of the plaintiff's attorneys, said Tuesday they are preparing to file a negligence suit in state court in Assumption Parish.

Guidry's ruling, which was issued Oct. 8, came before trial through what is known as summary judgment. The attorneys argue major factual points are not in dispute, so the court can rule as a matter of law without a jury.

State troopers had pulled Edward Murphy over the afternoon of Feb. 3, 2018, on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. A breath test administered at the jail found he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.218 grams/percent. In Louisiana, a BAC of 0.08 percent is a presumption of drunk driving.

Drawing from court papers citing sworn, pretrial interviews, Guidry detailed the steps a state trooper and Assumption Sheriff's Sgt. Wiggins took to determine what medications Murphy needed and to try to administer them.

Before bringing him to the parish jail in Napoleonville, the state trooper took Murphy and his sister, who was riding with him, to their residence to get his medications, court papers say.

Later, Wiggins, the jail correctional sergeant who received the medications, talked with Murphy's niece about his health and allowed him to divide his daytime and nighttime medications, the judge wrote.

Wiggins also checked with Mabile via submitted photographs of Murphy's pill bottles for advice, provided Murphy with nighttime medication and then checked on him in his jail cell until her shift ended the morning of Feb. 4, 2018. 

But Guidry also found Wiggins could not say what medications she gave Murphy or if Murphy took them. 

Murphy was found unresponsive in his cell less than an hour after Wiggins' shift had ended. Deputies administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Murphy was taken to an area hospital where he later died.

Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.