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After Sixth Circuit Stops Attempted End-Run Around Rules, Former Kentucky Jail Detainee Settles Suit Against Southern Health Partners

by Kevin W. Bliss

On June 7, 2022, the federal court for the Eastern District of Kentucky dismissed the case of a former jail detainee after she reached a settlement with the lockup’s privately contracted healthcare provider. However, the amount and most of the terms of the settlement between Kimissa Rowland and Southern Health Partners, Inc., (SHP) were not disclosed.

Rowland was booked on a drug charge into the Franklin County Regional Jail on July 28, 2017. She was being treated for ulcerative colitis (UC) at the time, and she soon suffered a flare-up of symptoms. That got her released on a medical furlough on September 11, 2017. However, her health insurance had lapsed, so she saw no other medical provider before returning to the jail two days later.

Jail staff suspected that she was hiding drugs when she returned and sent her to the hospital for a CT scan. When that revealed no foreign objects in her body, she was sent back to the jail with a note to see a gastroenterologist for follow up “as soon as possible.” She was also provided a five-day regimen of prednisone.

Before that was through, she went back to the jail’s medical staff, complaining of a toothache on September 25, 2017. She submitted another sick-call request on October 3, 2017, complaining that her UC symptoms persisted. When seen the next day, she was vomiting. But after another 13 days passed, she still had not seen anyone with more training than a nurse. That day, October 16, 2017, she was put back on prednisone and told she’d see a gastroenterologist.

But no such appointment was ever made. Over the next nine days she continued to vomit, submitting more sick-call requests. Finally, on October 25, 2017, she was admitted to a hospital, where she remained for two weeks until her UC was brought under control.

With the assistance of attorneys Christopher D. Minix of Minix Law, PLLC in Bowling Green and Gregory A. Belzley of Belzley, Bathurst & Bentley in Prospect, Rowland filed suit in the district court against SHP and three of its nurses, accusing them of deliberate indifference to her serious medical needs, in violation of her Eighth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She also lodged state-law claims for negligence and inadequate medical care.

The district court allowed that the care she received was “imperfect,” but it didn’t see “that she was treated so cruelly as to violate the Eight Amendment.” It dismissed her federal claims on July 27, 2020, preserving her state-law claims. See: Rowland v. S. Health Partners, Inc., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131863 (E.D. Ky.).

Rowland turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, where she testified that she had voluntarily dismissed her state-law claims. Why? So the district court’s order would be “final” and she could appeal the dismissed federal claims. Then, she added, if the Court granted her appeal, she would also like it to reinstate those state-law claims.

To which the Court said: No way.

“[T]his attempt to manufacture finality by voluntarily dismissing certain claims without prejudice in order to pursue what would otherwise be an interlocutory appeal is an impermissible circumvention of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b),” the Court declared.

The purpose behind the rule was to ensure a “one-case, one-appeal” system, the Court explained. Otherwise the district court’s role is diminished, proceedings are delayed, and appellate resources wasted. Circumventing a final order would allow litigants to pursue legal action without the risk of having their claims dismissed due to a time bar or for bringing them multiple times in the same action.

“In the absence of an effective final judgment,” the Court concluded, “we lack appellate jurisdiction to hear this appeal.” It dismissed Rowland’s appeal on July 21, 2021, over the dissent of Judge Karen N. Moore, who found the district court’s written order more probative than “plaintiff’s desires.” See: Rowland v. S. Health Partners, Inc., 4 F.4th 422 (6th Cir. 2021).

Rowland then went back to the district court and re-opened her voluntarily dismissed state-law claims against the nurses. Defendants moved to exclude certain evidence and asked for permission to file for summary judgment past the deadline. But those motions were largely denied on February 24, 2022. See: Rowland v. S. Health Partners, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32433 (E.D. Ky.).

That apparently got Defendants to negotiate a settlement. Because it was not docketed, and SHP is a private firm, its terms remain largely private, except for a note in the dismissal that each party would bear its own fees and costs. See: Rowland v. S. Health Partners, USDC (E.D. Ky.), Case No. 3:18-cv-00033. 

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