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Ramsey v. Southwest Correctional Medical Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 16, 2019

BENJAMIN RAMSEY, by and through his guardian and next friend, Karla Ramsey, Plaintiff,
SOUTHWEST CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL GROUP, INC.; BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE COUNTY OF DOUGLAS, COLORADO; SOUTHWEST CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL GROUP, PLLC; CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL GROUP COMPANIES, INC.; SOUTHWEST CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL GROUP, LLC; COLORADO CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL GROUP, PLLC; NURSE JENNIFER TRIMBLE, in her individual capacity; NURSE DEIMYS VIGIL, LPN, in her individual capacity; TIMOTHY G. MOSER, M.D., in his individual capacity; LINDSEY GEIGER, RN, in her individual capacity; EMILY BARRON, RN, in her individual capacity; SOPHIA HELENE NIX, LPN, in her individual capacity; TINA HOLLAND, RN, in her individual capacity; KATHRYN DAVIDSON, LPN, in her individual capacity; JOAN M. CUNNINGHAM, RN, in her individual capacity; SHAURI N. KRON, LPN, in her individual capacity; DAISHA WADE, LPN, in her individual capacity; and DEPUTY JOHN DOE ONE, in his individual capacity, Defendants.


          William J. Martinez, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Benjamin Ramsey (“Ramsey”), appearing through his mother in her role as legal guardian and next friend, alleges that the acts and omissions of numerous parties (collectively, “Defendants”) led to him being denied necessary medications while in pretrial detention at the Douglas County Jail, in turn leading to seizures and permanent brain damage. He alleges, among other things, violations of his constitutional rights (by way of 42 U.S.C. § 1983).

         On October 7, 2019, Attorney Cheryl Trine entered her appearance on behalf of Ramsey. (ECF No. 182.) Ms. Trine's and her client's intent is that Ms. Trine replace Bovo Law, LLC, and thus become Ramsey's sole counsel. (See ECF No. 185.) Before the Court, however, is Defendants' Joint Motion to Disqualify Counsel (“Motion to Disqualify”). (ECF No. 183.) This motion seeks to disqualify Ms. Trine based on information she gained regarding Defendants that is potentially subject to a protective order in a since-settled lawsuit presided by U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, Kevin Hartwell et al. v. Southwest Correctional Medical Group, PLLC, et al., Civil Action No. 17-cv-2278-RBJ (D. Colo., filed Sept. 20, 2017) (“Hartwell”).

         For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion is denied.


         “A motion to disqualify counsel is addressed to the sound discretion of the district court.” World Youth Day, Inc. v. Famous Artists Merch. Exch., Inc., 866 F.Supp. 1297, 1301 (D. Colo. 1994). The moving party bears “the burden to establish the grounds for disqualification.” Id. at 1299. With exceptions not relevant here, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado has adopted the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct (“Colo. RPC”) to govern attorney conduct in this District. See D.C.COLO.LAttyR 2(a).


         In Hartwell, Ms. Trine represented Kevin Hartwell and his wife, Barbara, in a lawsuit alleging that the Douglas County Jail failed to administer, or to properly administer, drugs needed to control Kevin's diabetes, high blood pressure, and seizures-thus leading to seizures and other serious consequences. (See generally Hartwell, ECF No. 1.)[1] For all material purposes, the Hartwell defendants and Defendants here are the same.

         The parties in Hartwell stipulated to a protective order (“Hartwell Protective Order”) which allowed any party to designate documents produced in discovery as “Confidential” if the party “in good faith believes such documents or information are protected by a statutory, regulatory, or common law right of privacy due to containing confidential medical or criminal information, or posing a jail security threat if publicly disclosed.” (Hartwell, ECF No. 76 ¶ 3 (underscoring in original).) The order further states that “Confidential Material shall be used only for the limited purpose of preparing for and conducting this civil action (including any appeals), and not for any other purpose whatsoever.” (Id. ¶ 4.) In addition, it says that “[t]he termination of this action shall not relieve counsel or any party or other persons obligated hereunder from their responsibility to maintain the confidentiality of Confidential Information pursuant to the Protective Order.” (Id. ¶ 10.)

         During the course of discovery in Hartwell, Defendants disclosed to Ms. Trine information they designated as confidential. As an example (the only example Defendants describe to this Court), they disclosed certain information about “every inmate who was transferred to the hospital [from the Douglas County Jail] between March 2016 and December 2016.” (ECF No. 183 ¶ 15.) They made such disclosure over an objection that Ms. Trine's discovery requests were a “fishing expedition” and “an improper invasion of the inmates' privacy rights.” (Id.) What Defendants ultimately disclosed, however, had all of the inmate names redacted, and Judge Jackson ruled that the information was not properly designated “confidential.” (ECF No. 184 at 2-3; Hartwell, ECF No. 159.)

         Hartwell settled in September 2019. (Hartwell, ECF No. 246.) Ms. Trine entered her appearance in this lawsuit on October 7, 2019. (ECF No. 182.) Defendants filed the Motion to Disqualify the next day. (ECF No. 183.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The Parties' Arguments

         Defendants' legal basis for seeking Ms. Trine's disqualification has shifted somewhat over the course of briefing. The Motion to Disqualify asserts Colo. RPC 1.7(a)(2), which Defendants summarize and partially quote as follows: “[The] Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct contemplate a situation where a lawyer must not represent a client if ‘there is significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer's responsibilities to another client.'” (ECF No. 183 ¶ 18.)[2] The Motion to Disqualify also cites United States v. Culp, 934 F.Supp. 394 (M.D. Fla. 1996). Defendants describe this case as one in which the district court “grant[ed] [the] government's motion to disqualify defendant's chosen counsel where vigorous representation of the current defendant would require him to violate confidentiality obligations relating to prior representation.” (ECF No. 183 ¶ 24.) The actual holding is not so generic. The district court disqualified a ...

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