An Omaha psychiatric clinic had no duty to warn a woman that it was releasing her ex-boyfriend, who was convicted of strangling her hours after his release, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday in upholding the dismissal of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the woman’s parents. The case stems from the killing of Melissa Rodriguez, 19, on Aug. 14, 2013, the day Mikael Loyd was released from Lasting Hope Recovery Center of Catholic Health Initiatives. Rodriguez’s body was found the next morning in an open grave intended for another homicide victim in an unrelated case.
Rodriguez’s parents sued Lasting Hope and various center employees, saying the center should have warned Rodriguez that Loyd was being released. The lawsuit noted that an arrest warrant had been issued for Loyd accusing him of previously assaulting Rodriguez. Loyd, now 27, was initially found not mentally competent to stand trial in Rodriguez’s killing, but later pleaded no contest to second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 30 to 35 years in prison.
In 2017, the Nebraska Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s dismissal of the wrongful death lawsuit, finding that a jury should decide whether the clinic and its employees owed a duty to Rodriguez to warn her of Loyd’s release. But on Friday, the state Supreme Court agreed with a lower court that again dismissed the lawsuit because evidence showed Loyd had never expressed to a Lasting Hope psychiatrist any intent or desire to harm Rodriguez. “Indeed, the only reasonably identifiable victim whom Loyd conveyed an intent to physically harm was his mother,” Chief Justice Michael Heavican wrote for the court.
The clinic did call Loyd’s mother, who was living in Florida, to warn her of Loyd’s threats and his release. “When confronted by an unimaginable loss such as what the (Rodriguezes) have experienced with respect to the life of Melissa, their daughter, it is natural to ask, ‘What more could have been done?’” Heavican wrote. “But tort law requires that we begin with a different question: Whether a legal duty existed to do anything more.” The Rodriguezes’ attorney, Brian Jorde of Omaha, said the ruling was baffling, given that Melissa Rodriguez was the only person Loyd was believed to have previously assaulted and that the clinic knew he was under an active arrest warrant for an alleged assault on her. “I’m sure that if we’d been able to get in front of a jury, we would have won,” Jorde said. An attorney representing Lasting Hope did not immediately return a message seeking comment.