Ruling allows lawsuit by parents of slain woman to proceed

AP News
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Posted: Jun 23, 2017 3:19 PM

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The parents of a young woman strangled by her boyfriend, who then dumped her body in an open cemetery grave, can pursue their lawsuit against an Omaha mental treatment facility where the boyfriend had been a patient, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The ruling opens the door for the parents of Melissa Rodriguez to proceed with a lawsuit against Lasting Hope Recovery Center of Catholic Health Initiatives, various center employees and its parent health system. Douglas County District Judge James Gleason was wrong to dismiss the lawsuit and to deny the parents a chance to amend their complaint, the high court said.

Mikael Loyd, 23, was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2013 death of 19-year-old Rodriguez.

Police say he strangled her the night of Aug. 14 following an argument after walking away from the treatment center. Rodriguez's body was found the next morning in an open grave intended for another homicide victim in an unrelated case.

Loyd pleaded no contest to the charge after initially being found not mentally competent to stand trial.

Loyd was being held at Lasting Hope at the request of police because of erratic comments he made during interviews for allegedly assaulting Rodriguez. Police said they feared he might harm himself or someone else.

The lawsuit says the center is responsible for failing to call police after Loyd walked away from the center, and then killed Rodriguez.

The lower court had granted Lasting Hope's petition for summary judgment to dismiss the lawsuit, finding that the center and its affiliates did not owe a duty to take reasonable precautions to warn or protect Rodriguez from Loyd's violent behavior.

The state Supreme Court on Friday disagreed, saying facts showed Loyd was in Lasting Hope's custody.

"We further determine that the appellants pled sufficient facts which could establish that the Lasting Hope defendants breached the duty owed to Melissa," Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman wrote in the opinion.

Brian Jorde, the attorney representing Rodriguez's parents, said they were thrilled to learn Friday that their lawsuit could proceed.

"All we've ever wanted is the opportunity to tell our story," Jorde said.

Attorneys representing Lasting Hope did not immediately return messages Friday seeking comment.