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Sacchetti v. Gallaudet University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 20, 2016

TERRYLENE SACCHETTI, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GALLAUDET UNIVERSITY and the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

REGGIE B. WALTON, United States District Judge

The plaintiffs, Terrylene Sacchetti and Robert Manganelli, in their individual capacities and as representatives of the Estate of Gianni Manganelli, bring this suit against defendants Gallaudet University (“Gallaudet”) and the District of Columbia (“District”), asserting violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213 (2012), and common law claims for wrongful death, survival, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and false arrest, arising out of the death of their son, Gianni Manganelli, in March 2014. Compl. ¶¶ 160-272. Currently pending before the Court are the defendants’ motions to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendant Gallaudet University’s Motion To Dismiss [the] Plaintiffs’ Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (“Gallaudet’s Mot.”); Defendant District of Columbia’s Motion To Dismiss (“District’s Mot.”). Upon careful consideration of the parties’ submissions, the Court concludes that each motion to dismiss must be granted in part and denied in part.[1]

I. BACKGROUND

This is a sad case, which arises from Gianni Manganelli’s (“Manganelli’s”) suicide committed near his mother’s apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland, on March 30, 2014. Compl. ¶¶ 157-59.

The following factual allegations are derived from the Complaint filed by the plaintiffs in this matter. During the spring of 2013, Manganelli, who was deaf, gained acceptance and acquired a scholarship to attend Gallaudet by virtue of his impressive academic and personal achievements. Id. ¶¶ 10, 18-20, 24. Because Manganelli had been suffering from seizures beginning in April 2013 while he was a student in California, for which the plaintiffs sought treatment, id. ¶ 23, Manganelli’s mother, plaintiff Terrylene Sacchetti (“Sacchetti”), “initiated extensive and candid conversations with Gallaudet’s Director of Gallaudet’s Mental Health Center, . . . as well as several [employees] from the housing and academic advisors departments, to ensure that Gallaudet was aware of [Manganelli’s] mental health struggles and [was] capable of treating [Manganelli].” Id. ¶ 28. “Thus, as of July 2013, through direct communication with [] Sacchetti, ” Gallaudet allegedly knew that Manganelli had a history of seizures, depression, and anxiety; had been evaluated for undiagnosed mental health and neurological issues while living in California; had been prescribed the medication Depakote but had stopped taking that medication due to adverse reactions; and that, without the medication, Manganelli was at greater risk of seizures. Id. ¶ 30. Gallaudet allegedly “assured, and reassured [] Sacchetti that Gallaudet was more than equipped to address [Manganelli’s] issues and would provide [Manganelli] with the level of care he needed, ” id. ¶ 33, and the plaintiffs purportedly “relied upon Gallaudet’s representations and assurances, ” id. ¶ 34. In August 2013, Manganelli relocated from California with his parents and sister to begin his studies at Gallaudet, where he lived on campus in a dormitory “typically reserved for students with medical or mental health needs . . . .” Id. ¶ 35.[2]

A. Manganelli’s Behavioral Decline

Signs of trouble began shortly thereafter when, on August 22, 2013, Manganelli approached a member of the Capitol Police at the United States Capitol building and demanded to speak with Congress. Id. ¶ 43. During this encounter, he was “extremely agitated and was screaming uncontrollably.” Id. The officer “immediately suspected a mental health issue, ” placed Manganelli in handcuffs, and transported him to the Department of Mental Health’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Health Program facility. Id. ¶ 44. During the transport to the facility, Manganelli struck his head repeatedly against the car door. Id. Manganelli’s father was contacted and advised about the situation, as was Gallaudet’s Department of Public Safety (“Gallaudet Police”). Id. ¶¶ 46-47. The facility determined that Manganelli was exhibiting signs of mental illness and detained him overnight “for observation and reassessment.” Id. ¶ 45. A nurse at the facility contacted Gallaudet’s Mental Health Center to advise it to follow up with Manganelli, and scheduled a psychiatric appointment at Gallaudet on Manganelli’s behalf, to take place upon his discharge from the facility. Id. ¶ 50.

Manganelli returned to Gallaudet on August 23, 2013. Id. ¶ 52. That evening, Gallaudet Police were called to Manganelli’s room, and he was described as being disproportionately “irate” in his complaints about pain in his wrists caused by the handcuffs. Id. ¶¶ 55-56. Despite having been notified of the previous day’s events, Gallaudet took no steps to follow up on Manganelli’s mental health condition. See id. ¶ 53 (stating that the Dean of Student Affairs, the Director of Gallaudet Police, Gallaudet’s Mental Health Center, and “several members of Gallaudet’s Behavioral Intervention Team” were notified about the prior day’s incident but did not “t[ake] any steps to follow-up and ensure that [Manganelli] was no longer at risk”). Two days later, on August 25, 2013, Gallaudet Police “confiscated two prescription bottles of cannabis and related items” from Manganelli’s room. Id. ¶ 57. Manganelli stated that he needed the cannabis, which “had been prescribed . . . by his doctor in California, prior to leaving for [the District], to help treat his seizures.” Id. ¶ 58. Without his parents’ knowledge, Gallaudet disciplined Manganelli for possessing cannabis on campus. See id. ¶¶ 61, 64.

On August 27, 2013, an academic advisor wrote to Gallaudet’s Behavioral Intervention Team to express her concern about Manganelli’s welfare. Id. ¶ 63(a). That same day, Manganelli met with an individual named Doris Zelaya at Gallaudet’s Mental Health Center, who later attempted to schedule “weekly sessions” with Manganelli. Id. ¶ 63(b)-(c). A few days later, on September 8, 2013, Manganelli responded that he did not “think he need[ed] them.” Id. ¶ 63(e). On September 11, 2013, Gallaudet’s Mental Health Center “closed” Manganelli’s file despite noting that Manganelli had expressed his concern that it “would not maintain confidentiality ‘if he reported he wanted to hurt himself.’” Id. ¶ 65 (emphasis omitted). Manganelli’s parents were not made aware of Manganelli’s confidentiality concern. Id. ¶ 66. And, in response to Sacchetti’s request for Gallaudet’s mental health records regarding Manganelli, Gallaudet represented that it had none because “[Manganelli] ha[d] not requested services.” See id. ¶¶ 69-71.

About a month later, in October 2013, Manganelli received an “initial screening” at Gallaudet’s Mental Health Center, which noted that he “was agitated, confrontational, defensive[, ] and guarded, ” and that he was “experiencing ‘high levels of anxiety’ and depression.” Id. ¶ 74. Despite identifying these problems, and potential symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, no further assessment was provided at that time. Id. Sacchetti asked Gallaudet’s Mental Health Center to notify her “the next time [Manganelli] is in a depression episode where he becomes suicidal” so she could “take him straight to a mental health hospital.” Id. ¶ 77 (emphasis omitted). In response, Gallaudet’s Mental Health Center informed her that in the event “emergency mental health care” was needed, Gallaudet usually sent students to George Washington University Hospital or Georgetown University Hospital. Id. ¶ 78.

After the October 2013 initial screening, Manganelli’s behavior continued to decline. Id. ¶ 80. A Gallaudet instructor named Susan Mather described an incident in which Manganelli “got on all fours and . . . began acting like a dog” in her classroom, then fled to another classroom when she attempted to confront him. Id. ¶ 82. Mather stated that this was “just one of several incidents over a couple of weeks . . . which she described as strange and worrisome.” Id. ¶ 83. She also stated that Manganelli acted “in a physically aggressive manner that scared the other students” and that she was “concerned [for] students[’] safety.” Id. (first alteration in original). Mather asked Gallaudet to remove Manganelli from her classroom, stating that she was “concerned for his mental health, ” that “he need[ed] professional health counseling as soon as possible, ” and that his situation was going “from bad to worse.” Id. ¶¶ 84-85 (emphasis omitted). Manganelli was disciplined for his behavior in Mather’s class, id. ¶¶ 86-87, without his parents’ knowledge, id. ¶ 88. Contrary to Mather’s requests, Manganelli was not required to obtain mental health counseling. See id. ¶¶ 90-91.

In February or March 2014, another Gallaudet instructor, Ines Gonzales, also noticed Manganelli’s “increasingly more bizarre, paranoid, and disconnected” behavior. Id. ¶¶ 94-95. A third instructor, Roberto Herrera, shared Gonzales’ concerns. Id. ¶ 95. Also in early March 2014, a fourth Gallaudet instructor, Christina Healy, contacted Gallaudet’s Director of Academic Advisers and Behavioral Intervention Team to alert them that Manganelli’s conduct in her classroom was “bizarre” and “concerning, ” and that Manganelli had refused to meet with her to discuss his conduct on several occasions. Id. ¶ 97. Manganelli did not receive any mental health counseling following these reports. Id. ¶ 98.

Several individuals who were interviewed following their observations of Manganelli described his affect during this time as “appearing lost, ” “dissociated, ” with a “blank face, ” and often “wearing the same clothes around campus for weeks.” Id. ¶ 101. A vocational rehabilitation counselor who had previously counseled Manganelli in California, and who saw Manganelli at Gallaudet on March 25, 2014, was “reportedly so shocked by [Manganelli’s] disheveled appearance that his first question to [Manganelli] was whether he was homeless.” Id. ¶ 102. Manganelli’s parents were not aware of his condition during this period because he “was living on campus and was not communicating with them as regularly, ” and because they “were trying to allow [Manganelli] to regain independence while residing at Gallaudet.” Id. ¶ 103.

B. The Events Preceding Manganelli’s Suicide

After lunch on March 28, 2014, Manganelli confronted his roommate, Spencer Opie, in an “incoherent and aggressive manner, accusing him of being nosy and ‘lurking’ in his possessions, ” and “drawing an imaginary line across the room and angrily [telling Opie] to ‘stay on [his] side of the room.” Id. ¶¶ 104-05 (second alteration in original). “When [Opie] tried to respond, [Manganelli] raised his arm and then stormed out of the room.” Id. ¶ 105. Because Opie “was worried about [Manganelli]”, Opie and another student “decided to look for him, ” and found him “fully dressed, hiding inside a [bathroom] shower stall with the lights out.” Id. ¶ 106. Opie and the other student each notified a Gallaudet residential housing official about the incident, see id. ¶¶ 107, 114, but Manganelli’s parents were not notified, id. ¶ 107.

Manganelli then went to his 3:00 p.m. Spanish class that Friday afternoon, taught by Gonzales. Id. ¶ 108. Gonzales observed that “something was wrong” with Manganelli, as “[h]e was not making eye contact with anyone and appeared dissociated.” Id. ¶ 109. At the end of the class, when Gonzales tapped Manganelli on his shoulder to get his attention, Manganelli “erupted and angrily accused her of inappropriately touching him, ” id. ¶ 110, then held a piece of paper over his face and left the classroom, id. ¶ 111. Gonzales alerted Herrera by email and spoke to the department chairperson, Pilar Pinar, about her concerns regarding Manganelli. Id. ¶ 113. Pinar stated that she would “look into it on Monday, ” but Gonzales “insist[ed] that someone address it immediately and that [Manganelli’s] parents needed to be informed.” Id. ¶ 113.

That same day, after the incident in Gonzales’ classroom, Manganelli met a Gallaudet residential housing official named Adrienne Morgan to complain about his roommate, stating that he “felt his boundaries had been violated by his roommate; that he no longer felt comfortable in his room[, ] and that he believed he was in imminent danger and feared for his safety.” Id. ¶ 116. Morgan told Manganelli that he “did not meet the criteria for a room change.” Id. ¶ 117. Manganelli “stormed out of the [Morgan’s] office, ‘running crazy’ and ‘to the point where his shoes fell off’ . . . .” Id. Other students reported seeing Manganelli “running barefoot around the library and signing to himself.” Id. Morgan did not notify Gallaudet’s mental health providers regarding his interaction with Manganelli or conduct a “welfare check” on Manganelli, id. ¶¶ 118-19; she did, however, alert Gallaudet Police “about [Manganelli’s] bizarre behavior in case anything were to ‘arise with this student later in the evening, ’” id. ¶ 119.

Late on the night of March 28, 2014, Opie (Manganelli’s roommate) returned to their room with a friend named Jason Scherrenberg, to collect some belongings so Opie could spend the night in Scherrenberg’s room. Id. ¶ 121. Manganelli allowed Opie to enter the room; however, when Scherrenberg attempted to enter, Manganelli tried to close the door, and Scherrenberg “placed his foot against the door.” Id. ¶¶ 122-23. After Opie and Scherrenberg left, Manganelli emailed another residential housing official asking to be assigned to another room “immediately, ” that it was an “emergency situation, ” and that this latest incident was “the second violation of [his] personal boundaries . . . .” Id. ¶ 124.

Meanwhile, Opie had notified a residential housing official named Laura Crowder about what had occurred, and she called Gallaudet Police at 12:30 a.m. on March 29, 2014, to make a police report. Id. ¶¶ 125-27. However, Gallaudet’s Mental Health Center was not notified. Id. ¶ 126. Two officers from Gallaudet Police went to Manganelli’s room, and when they arrived, Manganelli “stared blankly” at them. See id. ¶ 128 (“[Manganelli] opened the door and stared blankly at Officer Bauer.”); id. ¶ 130 (“[Manganelli] remained silent, staring blankly.”). The Gallaudet Police officers handcuffed Manganelli’s hands behind his back and held him, face down, on the ground for approximately forty minutes. Id. ¶ 131. Opie subsequently returned to the room and told the Gallaudet Police officers that Manganelli “had mental health issues and might be suffering from bipolar disorder.” Id. ¶ 132. Gallaudet Police did not notify Gallaudet’s Mental Health Center or Behavioral Intervention Team about the encounter with Manganelli, id. ¶ 134, but instead, notified the District’s Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”), id. ¶ 138. MPD officers transported Manganelli to the local MPD station house, where Manganelli remained “throughout the night and well into the afternoon, ” id. ¶ 140. Neither Gallaudet nor the MPD provided an interpreter to Manganelli during the course of his detention. Id. ¶ 139. While being detained, the District’s Pretrial Services Agency “intended to conduct a diagnostic, pre-arraignment screening” of Manganelli prior to his upcoming court arraignment; however, because Gallaudet Police and the MPD failed to document or communicate Manganelli’s deafness, the Pretrial Services Agency was unaware that Manganelli “was deaf and in need of an interpreter.” Id. ¶ 142. Thus, when a Pretrial Services Agency staffer called out Manganelli’s name and received no response, the staffer “moved on, ” and Manganelli was not screened for any mental health issues prior to his arraignment. Id. At his arraignment, Manganelli was released with orders not to contact or come within fifty yards of Opie, and was only permitted to return to his dorm room with a police escort. Id. ¶ 143.

After Manganelli was released from custody during the afternoon of March 29, 2014, he returned to Gallaudet’s campus, where he was escorted by a residential housing official to collect some belongings from his room. Id. ¶¶ 143-44. Manganelli then contacted his mother and asked her to pick him up. Id. ¶ 148. When Sacchetti arrived in her car, she observed that Manganelli “looked disheveled and was sweating profusely despite the cold dark day.” Id. ¶ 150. She “sensed something was wrong” but “ha[d] no knowledge of what had occurred over the past 36 hours.” Id. ¶ 151. Sacchetti “had never seen [Manganelli] that upset before, ” id., but because there were other individuals in her car, she did not ask him what was wrong, and instead drove him to her home, id. ¶ 152. Manganelli refused to enter Sacchetti’s apartment, stated that he wanted to go back to Gallaudet’s campus, and walked away from the car. Id. ¶ 153. Sacchetti left to pick up her daughter, and when she returned “several minutes later, ” Manganelli was gone. Id. Believing he had returned to Gallaudet, Sacchetti called Gallaudet Police, but she was not informed about the previous night’s events, and instead was told to “check back Monday morning.” Id. ¶ 154.

Manganelli returned to his mother’s home at 5:00 a.m. on March 30, 2014, appearing “cold, wet, and distraught.” Id. ¶ 155. Sacchetti asked her roommate to call 911 and prepared to take Manganelli to the hospital, but Manganelli “ran out the door.” Id. Sacchetti, who is also deaf, id. ¶ 11, made several attempts to alert law enforcement, and walked to the closest emergency room, id. ¶ 156. She was able to contact the Montgomery County, Maryland police department, which joined the search for Manganelli. Id. Shortly after 6:00 a.m., Manganelli was found dead near his mother’s home, apparently due to a self-inflicted wound to his abdomen. Id. ¶¶ 157-58.

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ...


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