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Theisen v. Butler

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

April 17, 2019

MATTHEW THEISEN and MICHAEL THEISEN, Plaintiffs,
v.
W. RANCE BUTLER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN A. ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This legal malpractice action is before the Court on Defendant W. Rance Butler's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 34). The motion is unopposed.[1] For the following reasons the motion will be granted.

         Background

         On June 14, 2011, Plaintiffs Matthew and Michael Theisen were arrested in Stoddard County for alleged felony criminal damage to property and transferred to the custody of the Stoddard County Jail. Plaintiffs alleged that while in custody at the Stoddard County jail, they were physically and sexually assaulted by inmates and a jail employee, Larry Gulley (“Gulley”).[2] Matthew Thiesen attacked Gulley in an attempt to prevent the alleged assaults. Plaintiffs were subsequently charged with felony assault, felonious restraint, and felony attempted escape in connection with the attack on Gulley.

         At their June 16, 2011 arraignment, Plaintiffs requested and were denied representation by a public defender. On June 18, 2011, Defendant W. Rance Butler (“Butler”) was retained to represent Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs allege that on June 23, 2011, Butler filed a motion for mental examination in their cases, without consulting them or their family. The same day, the Circuit Court of Stoddard County sua sponte ordered pre-trial psychiatric examinations of Plaintiffs. Almost a year later, on May 10, 2012, the Circuit Court of Stoddard County held a competency hearing in Plaintiffs' cases. Based on the evidence presented, the Court found Plaintiffs lacked the capacity to understand the proceedings against them and were not capable of assisting their attorney in their own defense. By order dated May 21, 2012, the Court suspended criminal proceedings against Plaintiffs and ordered them committed to the custody of the Missouri Department of Mental Health (“DMH”) for confinement at the Fulton State Hospital, where they remain today. Following entry of the commitment orders, Plaintiffs terminated their attorney-client relationship with Butler.

         On May 19, 2017, Plaintiffs filed this action for legal malpractice against Butler in connection with his representation of them as criminal defendants in the Circuit Court of Stoddard County. Plaintiffs alleged that Butler was negligent by seeking a commitment order without discussing it with them and their family; failing to investigate the rape of Matthew Thiesen while in the custody of the Stoddard County Jail; failing to investigate the beatings of Plaintiffs during booking into the Stoddard County Jail; failing to seek any medical treatment for Plaintiffs following the rape and beatings while in the custody of the Stoddard County Jail; and failing to conduct a proper examination of witnesses at the commitment hearing on May 21, 2012. Plaintiffs further alleged that as a direct and proximate result of Butler's negligent acts or omissions, they have been unjustly held in the custody of the Missouri Department of Mental Health for almost five years. On February 20, 2018, the Court struck from Plaintiffs' complaint allegations bearing no logical connection to their malpractice claim and allowed them to proceed on facts related to Butler's failure to call mental health experts for live testimony. (Doc. No. 19 at 4-5)

         On December 26, 2018, Butler moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiffs have failed to present sufficient facts or evidence to establish a cause of action and because there is no genuine issue as to any material facts. Plaintiffs failed to respond.

         Legal Standard

          Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine issue of material fact exists in the case and movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The initial burden is placed on the moving party. City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-op., Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir. 1988). If the record demonstrates that no genuine issue of fact is in dispute, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth affirmative evidence and specific facts showing a genuine dispute on that issue. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         Plaintiffs' failure to respond properly to the motion for summary judgment does not mean summary judgment should be automatically granted in favor of Butler. Even if the facts as alleged by Butler are not in dispute, those facts still must establish he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Country Club Estates, LLC v. Town of Loma Linda, 213 F.3d 1001, 1006 (8th Cir. 2000); see also Vandergrift v. Emerson, No. 09-5058-CV-SW-ODS, 2012 WL 15021, at *1 (W.D. Mo. Jan. 4, 2012).

         In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate in a particular case, the Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor. Benford v. Correctional Medical Services, No. 1:11-CV-121 JAR, 2012 WL 3871948, at 4* (E.D. Mo. Sept. 6, 2012) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 331). The Court's function is not to weigh the evidence but to determine whether there is genuine issue for trial. Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Id. (quoting Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011)).

         Facts[3]

         On May 21, 2012, Stoddard County Circuit Court sua sponte ordered competency hearings of Plaintiffs and found both men mentally unfit to stand trial in multiple criminal cases pending against them. The court committed Plaintiffs to the custody of DMH. Butler's representation of Plaintiffs ended on July 5, 2012. (SOF at ¶¶ 6, 7).

         The Circuit Court of Stoddard County entered orders continuing Plaintiffs' commitment to DMH on December 27, 2012, July 26, 2013, January 15, 2014, June 30, 2014, January 5, 2015, June 12, 2015, ...


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