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Butte woman allegedly harmed by Butte psychiatrist wins legal step against state

District Judge Kurt Krueger

District Judge Kurt Krueger questions an attorney for the Montana Board of Medical Examiners during opening arguments in April. On Wednesday Judge Krueger ruled to deny the state's argument to dismiss its part of Ciara Rehbein’s case against the state and Dr. Bennett Braun for allegedly causing her irreparable injury.

A Butte woman suing a Butte psychiatrist for allegedly causing an irreversible movement disorder won the first step in her case Wednesday against the state for licensing the psychiatrist despite earlier allegations against him that involved cannibalism and satanic cults.

Ciara Rehbein alleges that while she was a patient of Dr. Bennett Braun’s in 2014 and 2015, he gave her antipsychotic medications called Geodon and Seroquel. Both drugs are known to cause a movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia.

Rehbein says her disease is irreversible and that it resulted from her year-long treatment. She went to Braun on referral when seeking help for mental health issues after a bad motorcycle accident. But, after a brief introductory visit, Braun diagnosed her as having bipolar disorder along with a litany of other mental health problems, then put her on anti-psychotic medications, Rehbein's suit alleges.

Rehbein is also suing the board for licensing Braun in 2003. Rehbein argues that the board knew or should have known about Braun’s former 11 lawsuits in Chicago in the late 1990s. The Midwestern suits alleged that Braun gave high dosages of drugs to women in Chicago, hypnotized them, then convinced them they were priestesses in a satanic cult. The women alleged that through drugs and hypnosis, they came to believe they had cannibalized thousands and, in some cases, they underwent abortion or tubal ligation to protect their unborn from the cult.

Despite these allegations, as well as newer claims, never proven, that Braun was practicing without a license at Helena’s Shodair Children’s Hospital in 2001, the board licensed Braun in 2003. The state is arguing that the board is immune from lawsuit due to a judicial rule that protects the government and government employees from litigation, even in the face of negligence.

Because of this, the Board of Medical Examiners asked Krueger during an April hearing to dismiss its part of the lawsuit. But Rehbein is arguing that the board cannot hide behind government sovereignty because giving a license to a doctor is similar to a hospital credentialing medical professionals in the eyes of potential patients. Rehbein argues the board should, therefore, be accountable.

Braun is currently the only licensed psychiatrist in the Mining City, according to the Department of Labor and Industry, which oversees the board.

Butte District Judge Kurt Krueger denied the Montana Board of Medical Examiners’ request to dismiss its part of the lawsuit brought by Rehbein in a short opinion filed Wednesday morning. Krueger said the board is "not entitled to dismissal."

Krueger said Rehbein “made factual allegations against the board which the court must consider.”

Katie Vaughn, policy director for the Department of Labor and Industry, said the board and the department have no comment. Justin Stalpes, Rehbein’s lawyer with Beck, Amsden and Stalpes in Bozeman, also had no comment. Braun’s lawyer, Mark Thiezsen, of Doney Crowley in Helena, did not respond to a request for comment.

The board’s lawyer, Quinlan O’Connor, argued in Krueger’s court during the April hearing that the board does have immunity from suit because of a Butte-based 1947 judicial ruling.

The 1947 rule, called the public duty doctrine, protects the state and its employees. This is the argument the state is resting upon.

But some legal experts see it differently. Wade Dahood, a 91-year-old Anaconda lawyer, calls the law “stupid” and says it is unconstitutional. Dahood was one of the delegates to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention. Dahood argued the law is a throwback to old English legal systems that protected the king.

But the public duty doctrine has remained in place because it is a judicial ruling rather than a law passed by the state’s Legislature. The two previous cases brought against the medical board, one in the 1980s and another in the late 1990s, for similar allegations of negligence by the medical board both were dismissed due to the concept of government sovereignty protecting the state’s board.

The next step isn’t necessarily a jury trial. Krueger said the board was not able to explain during its April hearing how it reviewed Braun’s application for a license or if the board “even reviewed or investigated Dr. Bennett Braun’s application.”

So Krueger wants to allow for further discovery, meaning the lawyers will do go back and do their homework.

But at the conclusion of that process, “this issue may be reviewed further,” Krueger wrote. That appears to mean that the state could revisit its attempt to have the court consider whether its part of the case should go to jury trial or not.  

If Rehbein wins her case against the Montana Board of Medical Examiners, she could overturn that 1947 judicial rule.


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Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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