United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
A. ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
legal malpractice action is before the Court on Defendant W.
Rance Butler's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No.
34). The motion is unopposed. For the following reasons the
motion will be granted.
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”). 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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).
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)).
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).
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, ...