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Martin v. Smith

Supreme Court of Arkansas

June 20, 2019



          Bennie O'Neil, for appellant.

          Anderson, Murphy & Hopkins, L.L.P., by: Mark D. Wankum, for appellee.


         Meranda Martin, on behalf of her deceased father's estate, appeals the circuit court's order granting summary judgment to Dr. Leslie Smith based on quasi-judicial immunity. Because the underlying suit seeks to hold Dr. Smith liable for his performance of functions integral to the judicial process, we hold he is entitled to quasi-judicial immunity for those actions and therefore affirm.

         I. Background

         In the early hours of November 30, 2011, Kenneth McFadden brutally stabbed Virgil Brown, Jr., to death in the apartment they shared. At the time of the murder, McFadden was in custody of Greater Assistance to Those in Need, Inc. ("Gain"), as part of his conditional release under Act 911 of 1989. See Ark. Code Ann. § 5-2-315 (Repl. 2013). Under the terms of the conditional release order, McFadden was also receiving psychiatric treatment provided by Gain's medical director, board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Leslie Smith.

         McFadden had been on conditional release since 2004.[1] That year, McFadden was acquitted of third-degree battery, second offense, by reason of mental disease or defect. He was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia and conditionally released under Act 911. The controlling order at the time of Brown's murder released McFadden into Gain's custody for the purpose of receiving his prescribed treatment for schizophrenia. The order named Gain as the responsible agency for monitoring McFadden's compliance with his prescribed treatment regimen. McFadden was ordered to comply with the prescribed regimen and was required to have regular personal contact with an Act 911 compliance monitor to verify compliance. The monitor was required to periodically inform the circuit court of McFadden's compliance with the terms of release.

         Act 911 also imposes responsibilities on the "person ordered to be in charge" of the prescribed treatment regimen. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-2-315(e). As relevant here, that person was required to: (1) provide McFadden with the prescribed treatment regimen; (2) submit periodic written documentation to the Act 911 monitor regarding McFadden's compliance with the regimen; and (3) submit written notice of McFadden's failure to comply with the regimen to the Act 911 monitor, the attorneys involved in the case, and the circuit court. Id. The conditional release order commanded Gain to carry out these duties, rather than a specific person as contemplated by the statutory language of Act 911. Dr. Smith carried out these responsibilities by serving as McFadden's treating physician and informing the circuit court of McFadden's condition and compliance with the prescribed regimen.

         Meranda Martin, Brown's daughter, filed the underlying action against Dr. Smith on behalf of her father's estate. Martin claimed that Dr. Smith's alleged failure to provide adequate treatment to McFadden rendered him liable for her father's death. Dr. Smith asserted absolute quasi-judicial immunity and moved for summary judgment. The circuit court found that Dr. Smith was entitled to immunity because his treatment and medical care of McFadden arose solely from the conditional release order and was within the scope of that order. The circuit court further held that Martin failed to meet proof with proof and did not refute Dr. Smith's assertion of immunity. Martin's complaint against Dr. Smith was dismissed with prejudice as a matter of law. This appeal followed.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Arkansas Court of Appeals initially considered Martin's appeal. See Martin v. Smith, 2018 Ark.App. 452, 560 S.W.3d 787. With a 5-1 majority, that court affirmed the circuit court's decision and concluded that Dr. Smith was entitled to quasi-judicial immunity under Chambers v. Stern, 338 Ark. 332, 994 S.W.2d 463 (1999). We granted Martin's petition for review and now consider this appeal as though it was originally filed in this court. See Dachs v. Hendrix, 2009 Ark. 322, at 2, 320 S.W.3d 645, 646.

         Summary judgment is appropriate only when it is apparent that no genuine issues of material fact exist requiring litigation and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Stokes v. Stokes, 2016 Ark. 182, at 8-9, 491 S.W.3d 113, 120. In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we determine if summary judgment was appropriate based on whether the evidentiary items presented by the moving party in support of the motion left a material question of fact unanswered. Id. We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion was filed, resolving all doubts and inferences against the moving party. Id. A grant of ...

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