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Supreme Court declines to review Teel case; new trial date awaited

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of October 14, 2021)

After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a $10 million civil wrongful death case related to the shooting of Susan Teel by a sheriff’s deputy responding to her attempted suicide, the parties are preparing for a new trial.

The shooting was ruled justified by a lower court, but the victim’s family succeeded with an appeal to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the eight-figure civil suit against Deputy Jonathan Lozada could go forward.

Lozada’s attorney petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the appellate ruling, but instead of overturning or affirming that decision, the justices sent the case back to U.S. District Court, where attorneys for the victim’s widower Dr. Dudley Teel, Deputy Lozada and the Sheriff’s Office are awaiting a new trial date.

Todd Norbraten, serving as co-counsel to Guy Rubin of the Stuart-based Rubin & Rubin law firm representing Teel, said he expects U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks to schedule the trial for later this year.

“With the scheduling delays because of COVID, the courts are giving priority to criminal cases, but we’re ready to go now,” Norbraten said. “We were a week away in July, before the judge postponed the trial to allow the petition to the Supreme Court.

“Hopefully, we’ll go to trial in the next couple of months.”

Middlebrooks dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, ruling that Lozada’s shooting of Susan Teel was justified. His decision, however, was reversed in September 2020 with the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issuing a strongly worded, 22-page opinion that restored Dr. Teel’s lawsuit and described Lozada’s shooting of a 62-year-old, suicidal woman in her bedroom as “wholly unnecessary.”

Lozada’s Fort Lauderdale-based attorney, Summer Barranco, responded in April by filing a 33-page petition asking the Supreme Court to review the ruling in hopes the appeals court’s decision would be overturned and Middlebrooks’ dismissal of the case would be upheld.

The high court is not required to provide an explanation for denying to review such petitions, and it didn’t in this case.

A source familiar with the case said there have been no settlement discussions since the trial was delayed, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if something happens” after a new trial date is set.

“We have the civil-rights claim against Lozada and a wrongful-death claim against the Sheriff’s Office for its negligence related to Lozada’s actions,” Norbraten said, “and we’re going forward on the assumption this case is going to trial.”

Dr. Teel, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of him and his family in September 2018, remarried in December 2019. 

“I don’t know if going through something like this is good for anyone’s mental health, and he’s a stoic man who tends to hold his cards close to the vest,” Norbraten said. “But he’s a strong guy and he knows how this works.

“We’ve been good at predicting the timeline and we’ve prepared him for this,” he added. “He knew this process would be an ordeal, but he’s committed to getting justice and he’s ready to get to court.

“I think he feels a sense of obligation because, if this could happen to someone like him – to an emergency room doctor in a nice town like Vero Beach – it could happen to anyone,” Norbraten said.

The shooting occurred shortly after 8 p.m. on July 26, 2017, when Lozada responded to a 911 call for help at the Teels’ Carriage Lake home, where Susan Teel had attempted to commit suicide by slashing her wrists.