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Sawyer v. Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 18, 2019




         Plaintiffs Rachel Sawyer (“Sawyer”) and Dustin Arnold (“Arnold”) (together, “Plaintiffs”) filed claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center (“Legacy Emanuel”), James Coughlin, M.D. (“Dr. Coughlin”), Sunshine Crone (“Crone”), and Carolina Caballero (“Caballero”) (collectively, “Defendants”) violated their civil rights by removing their baby (“I.S.”) from their custody and denying their right to make medical decisions on behalf of I.S.[1] The Court granted the Legacy Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' original complaint with leave to amend, and the Legacy Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint for failure to state a claim. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). For the reasons explained below, the Court grants the Legacy Defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 24).


         In September 2016, Sawyer went into labor on a flight from Florida to Portland, Oregon. (FAC ¶ 8.) An ambulance transported Sawyer to Legacy Emanuel when she arrived in Portland. (FAC ¶ 10.) Legacy Emanuel's medical staff examined Sawyer upon her arrival at the hospital. (FAC ¶ 11.)

         During Sawyer's initial examination, a nurse asked Sawyer “to do a heartbeat radar for the baby and an ultrasound.” (FAC ¶ 11.) Sawyer told the nurse that she wanted to “use a stethoscope to check the baby's heart rate” because she did not want to use “any technology during her pregnancy.” (FAC ¶ 11.) After the nurse told Sawyer that Legacy Emanuel did not have stethoscopes and an ultrasound would reveal whether the baby was in the breech position, Sawyer told the nurse that (1) “if the baby was breech, she would stay in a squatting position for a lotus birth and allow the baby to come out on its own, ” (2) she “did not want any vaccines administered to the baby, ” (3) she was declining eye ointment and a vitamin K shot, and (4) she wanted to wait for Arnold to arrive before “deciding whether or not to allow an ultrasound.” (FAC ¶¶ 11-12.)

         After Arnold arrived at the hospital, Plaintiffs allowed the attending physician to perform an ultrasound. (FAC ¶ 16.) The ultrasound confirmed that Plaintiffs' baby was in the breech position, and prompted the physician to exclaim that Sawyer needed a Cesarean section (“C-section”). (FAC ¶ 17.) Sawyer told the physician that she did not want a C-section. (FAC ¶ 18.) Legacy Emanuel's medical staff advised Sawyer that nobody present “had any experience delivering a breech baby vaginally, ” and the medical staff never advised Sawyer that “the only service offered by the hospital in the event of a breech would be a surgical C-section.” (FAC ¶ 18.)

         Immediately afterward and before the medical staff could administer an epidural injection, Sawyer's “baby came out with only its head and left arm still in the birth canal.” (FAC ¶ 19.) The staff responded by forcing Sawyer “to her back . . . against her will.” (FAC ¶ 19.) The attending physician then “reached up and pulled on the baby” and fractured the baby's arm. (FAC ¶ 20.) The physician clamped and cut the baby's umbilical cord, even though Plaintiffs “requested delayed cord clamping.” (FAC ¶ 21.) The medical staff also took the baby to another room before Plaintiffs learned the baby's gender. (FAC ¶ 21.)

         The medical staff eventually moved Sawyer and her baby to a recovery room where they asked Sawyer to “sign forms regarding declining the eye ointment and vitamin K shot.” (FAC ¶ 22.) Several hours later, Crone, a social worker, interviewed Plaintiffs and the physician and medical staff who helped deliver I.S. (FAC ¶¶ 23-24.) Crone determined that Plaintiffs needed a car seat, but it was safe to discharge the baby into their care and custody. (FAC ¶ 24.)

         Dr. Coughlin, a pediatrician, visited Plaintiffs after Crone completed her interviews. (FAC ¶ 25.) Dr. Coughlin asked Plaintiffs why they at first declined an ultrasound, criticized Plaintiffs for not vaccinating the baby, and informed Plaintiffs that he would call social services if Sawyer continued to refuse a blood draw.[3] (FAC ¶¶ 25-27.) Sawyer told Dr. Coughlin that she was tired and hungry and asked to “talk about doing the blood test the following day.” (FAC ¶ 28.)

         Twenty minutes later, Caballero and five security officers entered Plaintiffs' room. (FAC ¶¶ 29-30.) Caballero took Plaintiffs' baby to a different room and instructed the hospital staff to proceed with “regular treatment.” (FAC ¶ 30.) The hospital staff responded by administering to I.S. a vitamin K shot, eye ointment, a Hepatitis B vaccine, and immunoglobulin. (FAC ¶ 30.) The hospital staff then placed I.S. in a separate room and would only allow Sawyer to see her “under supervision . . . for no more than 30 minutes at a time.” (FAC ¶ 31.)

         The next day, Sawyer, who the hospital had not cleared for discharge, appeared by telephone at a court hearing about the Legacy Defendants' report of medical neglect. (FAC ¶ 32.) Caballero reported to the court that Sawyer had refused to submit to a C-section. (FAC ¶ 33.) The court continued temporary protective custody of the baby, and placed the baby in a foster home upon discharge from the hospital. (FAC ¶¶ 34, 37, 41.) Prior to Sawyer's discharge, she submitted to a blood test, which was negative for HIV and Hepatitis B. (FAC ¶ 34.) Following an adjudicatory hearing, the court dismissed the petition against Plaintiffs and returned “full custody of the baby” to them. (FAC ¶¶ 35-36.)


         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility ...

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